Conference Championship Analysis- Week 11 Edition

For the eleventh-straight season, I will be publishing weekly columns late in the season which analyze all of  the FBS conference championship races. Like my bowl bubble watch, there is not really a column like this on any other mainstream college football site.  Bolded teams have already clinched their division or conference. Italicized teams are my predicted champions of their respective conferences/divisions at this point in time.  This list is updated through all games played on November 9, 2019.

ACC AtlanticClemson (The Tigers have become the first team to officially earn a berth in their conference title game by clinching the ACC Atlantic with their dominant victory over NC State.)

ACC Coastal Virginia Tech (As we head down the stretch of the season, there is now a three-way tie in the loss column in the ACC Coastal with Virginia sitting at 5-2 and Virginia Tech and Pitt both at 3-2.  The advantage on paper goes to UVA as all they need to do is win their home finale against Virginia Tech, a game in which the Cavs will likely be favored, and Virginia will clinch the division a possibly a berth in the Orange Bowl.  The problem is that Virginia has lost 15 straight to Virginia Tech and 19 of the last 20 meetings. Because of that and because the Hokies seem to be peaking at the right time, I am picking the Virginia Tech to win out and beat Virginia for a surprise ACC Coastal Championship and Orange Bowl berth in Bud Foster’s final season.) 

Big 12Oklahoma/Baylor (In the preseason, everyone assumed that we would have another Red River title game this December between Oklahoma and Texas, but this league race has become fairly wide open.  Baylor is currently leading the way at 6-0, and even though I think Oklahoma beats them next Saturday, I believe the Bears, who were one of my preseason surprise teams, rebound to win their final two contests against Texas and Kansas to earn a berth in the title game.  The other Big 12 championship slot will go to Oklahoma who I expect to win out now that they have had their annual regular season slip-up (see 2018 Texas and 2017 Iowa State). Unlike those two seasons however, I am not sure Oklahoma can do enough to earn themselves a playoff berth.) 

Big Ten EastOhio State (Even though Penn State was upset on the road by Minnesota on Saturday, the de facto Big Ten East Championship will still likely be played on November 23rd in Columbus between the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions.  That is unless Penn State loses to a very confident Indiana team at home next Saturday. Either way though, I think Ohio State takes care of the Nittany Lions in week 13 to clinch another Big Ten East Championship.)

Big Ten WestWisconsin (The PJ Fleck feel-good story of the year in college football season continues thanks to the Golden Gophers win over Penn State on Saturday.  Unfortunately, Minnesota has two more brutal November contests, as they travel to Iowa next Saturday and then host Wisconsin to end the season.  I am predicting the Gophers drop both of those contests, which will enable the Badgers to sneak into the Big Ten title game after they win their final three games.)  

Pac-12 NorthOregon (Even though Oregon wasn’t able to officially clinch the division this past weekend, they took a commanding three game lead in the conference standings thanks to Oregon State’s loss to Washington.  Now, the Ducks just need to win any of their final three games OR have Oregon State lose won of their final three to clinch a trip to the Pac-12 title game for the first time since 2014. That should happen on Saturday as the Ducks host the sputtering Wildcats of Arizona in Autzen.)  

Pac-12 SouthUtah (The Utes currently have a one game lead over Southern Cal and UCLA as they head into their final three games of the Pac-12 slate.  Utah hosts a surging Bruin team on Saturday, but assuming they find a way to win that one, they will just need to beat lowly Arizona and Colorado to clinch a second straight trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game.  The Utah/Oregon Pac-12 title game could have some playoff implications if both teams come into it with just one loss a piece.) 

SEC EastGeorgia (The Dawgs have essentially a two game lead in this division, as they are a game up on Florida and own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Gators.  Thus, even though Georgia has a brutal final two conference games (at Auburn and vs. Texas A & M), all the Bulldogs need to to do is one one of those contests to earn a third straight trip to the SEC Title Game.)     

SEC WestLSU (I hate to brag about my bold predictions, but I did successfully pick the Bayou Bengals to upset Alabama last week in this same column.  Now, LSU just needs to win two of their final three contests (at Ole Miss, vs. Arkansas, and vs. Texas A & M) to clinch a berth in the SEC Championship Game for the first-time since 2011 and break the eight year stranglehold the state of Alabama has had on this division.)    

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AAC EastCincinnati (By virtue of Tulsa’s upset of UCF on Friday night, the Bearcats are in the driver’s seat in the AAC East, as they now hold a two-game lead over the rest of the division.  That means that even if Cincy drops its trick regular season finale at Memphis, the Bearcats will still clinch this division as long as they can knock off Temple on November 23rd.  Because that game is being played at home, I think the Bearcats will take care of business and earn their first-ever birth in the AAC Championship Game.)

AAC West Memphis (There is currently a three-way tie in the loss column in the AAC West between Navy, Memphis, and SMU.  Navy and SMU haven’t played each other yet, so one of those teams will pick up a second conference loss on November 23rd.  Memphis, on the other hand, has already played, and more importantly beaten, both SMU and Navy so they have the head-to-head tiebreaker over both squads.  The regular season finale against Cincinnati will be a tight game for the Tigers, but because Memphis will be playing at home, I am going to call for them to win out and earn a bid into the AAC conference championship game.  Interestingly enough, Memphis and Cincinnati may very well play each other in consecutive weeks as the two face off in the regular season finale and as of now are projected to play again in the conference title game a week later.  Interestingly enough, if the two teams split those games, then the AAC may get left out of the New Year’s Six bowls in favor of a one-loss Group of Five champion elsewhere like Louisiana Tech, Boise State, or Appalachian State.)

C-USA EastMarshall (The Thundering Herd are currently tied with the Owls of FAU for first in this division, but Marshall won the head-to-head meeting between the two on October 18th.  As a result, as long as long as Marshall can get by LA Tech at home on Friday night and then take care of business against Charlotte and FIU, the Thundering Herd will earn a berth to the C-USA Title Game for the first-time since 2014.  Also, even if the Herd falter against LA Tech, Florida Atlantic could also lose one of their remaining games, as they have to play a tough Southern Miss squad in their season finale.)

C-USA WestLouisiana Tech (Skip Holtz’s Ragin’ Cajun squad has essentially a two-game lead in this division as they are a game up on their closest challenger Southern Miss and own the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Golden Eagles.  Thus, even though LA Tech faces a touch stretch of games to end the season including road games at Marshall and UAB and, they just need to win one of those games and then beat UTSA in their season finale to clinch a berth in the C-USA title game.)

MAC EastMiami-OH (As a result of the Redhawks upset of Ohio on Wednesday night, Miami now has taken firm control of this division race.  They have a one game lead over their only challengers, Buffalo and Ohio, and own the head-to-head tiebreaker against both squads.  As a result, Miami can afford to drop one of their final three games down the stretch and still clinch the MAC East. In addition. two of those final three matchups are home games against cream puffs, Bowling Green and Akron, so I don’t really see a way that the Redhawks don’t play in their first MAC title game since 2010.)

MAC West- Toledo (We now have a four-way tie in the loss column in the MAC West featuring Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Toledo, and Ball State.  This is obviously a wide open division title race, but I am picking Toledo to emerge victorious from this group and clinch the MAC West just as I predicted in the preseason.)

MWC MountainBoise State (The Broncos are still undefeated in conference play, even though they continue to barely sneak by their inferior competition (see their last two games against Wyoming and San Jose State). Air Force and Utah State are both just a game back from the Broncos and can both get back in the conference title race if Utah State beats Boise on November 23rd.  However, I’m predicting Boise finds a way to win that game as well, to clinch a third consecutive Mountain Division Championship.)

MWC West Hawaii (Just as I was saying that this division title race appeared to be another battle between perennial powers San Diego State and Fresno State, both of those teams got upset on Saturday to completely shakeup this division race.  Now, Hawaii and Nevada find themselves in the thick of the MWC West title hunt, as they are both just a game back from the division-leading Aztecs and are half game up on Fresno State. At this point, I am going to predict that San Diego State knocks off Fresno at home in their huge division clash on Friday night, but then loses the following weekend at Hawaii.  That will enable the Rainbow Warriors to claim a surprise division championship as long they can knock off UNLV this Saturday on the road and Nevada loses either Fresno State or UNLV.)  

Sun Belt EastAppalachian State (It ended up being a huge weekend for the Mountaineers, as not only did App State upset South Carolina on the road but Georgia State and Georgia Southern simultaneously picked up conference losses.  As a result, App is back in the driver’s seat in this division race, as all they need to do is beat Georgia State, Texas State, and Troy to clinch a second consecutive berth to the Sun Belt Championship Game.)

Sun Belt WestUL-Lafayette (First of all, I refuse to call this team the Louisiana Ragin-Cajuns.  I am not sure how or why they got official “Louisiana” naming rights in athletics over UL-Monroe but the university still calls itself the University of Louisiana at Lafayette so they are still UL-Lafayette to me.  Anyway, back to football, as the Ragin’ Cajuns are really the class of the Sun Belt West this season. They have a one game lead over the rest of the division and will get to host one of the teams tied for second (Monroe) in their season finale.  Lafayette should win out from here and earn a spot in the Sun Belt championship game for the second consecutive season.)   

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