Conference Championship Analysis- Week 12 Edition

For the twelfth-straight season, I will be publishing weekly columns late in the season which analyze all of  the FBS conference championship races. Bolded teams below 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 28, 2020.

ACC football logo - ACCSports.com

ACC– Notre Dame/Clemson (There are no ACC divisions for 2020 so the top two teams in the league will play in the conference’s title game. Notre Dame’s victory over North Carolina on Friday afternoon followed by Clemson’s blowout win over Pittsburgh has rendered it nearly impossible for that rematch not to take place in Charlotte in three weeks. Clemson will clinch a berth in the title game with a win over struggling Virginia Tech next Saturday, and Notre Dame clinches a title game berth with either a win over lowly Syracuse or Wake Forest in the next two weeks.)

Big 12 reveals new logo, which kind of looks like a temple - SBNation.com

Big 12– Iowa State/Oklahoma (This conference title race took a surprising turn this weekend as Iowa State upset Texas in Austin. As a result, the Cyclones will clinch a berth in the championship with a home win (or a game cancellation) over West Virginia next Saturday. The second berth in the title game will likely either go to Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, and because the Sooners won Bedlam last weekend, they are in control of their own destiny for another Big 12 championship. Oklahoma will just need to beat Baylor and West Virginia in their final two games to earn title game rematch against the Cyclones, assuming Iowa State knocks off West Virginia. Should Oklahoma stumble, Oklahoma State would earn a trip to the title game with wins over TCU and Baylor. It should also be noted that if all three of these tie atop the standings at 7-2, the tiebreaker procedures get quite complicated and any of these three teams could be left out.)

File:Big Ten Conference logo.svg - Wikipedia

Big Ten East– Ohio State (The Buckeyes have this division on lock, unless they have another game cancelled and the Big Ten conference rules them ineligible for the title game. I think the conference will honestly change their rules before they let that happen, but that is really the only feasible way the Buckeyes could get left out of the Big Ten title game. If OSU is able to play out their remaining schedule, they will clinch the division crown with either a win over Michigan State next Saturday or a victory over arch rival Michigan in their season finale.)

Big Ten West– Northwestern (Like Ohio State, the Wildcats seemingly had their division crown on lock going into this Saturday’s games. Unfortunately, the Wildcats upset loss to Michigan State complicates matters a little bit. Northwestern will still clinch the Big Ten West title wins over Minnesota and Illinois, both games in which the Wildcats will be favored. And even if Northwestern loses one of those two contests, the Wildcats will likely still likely earn a berth to the title game because one-loss Wisconsin will likely not play the minimum regular season games necessary to be eligible per Big Ten rules. The Big Ten currently requires each team to play six conference games to make it to Indianapolis, and because Wisconsin has already had two games cancelled, the most they can play is five. There is one caveat to that rule though in that if the average number of conference games each team plays drops below six, then the Badgers would again be eligible for title game participation.)

Pac-12 Conference - Wikipedia

Pac-12 North– Oregon (The race of the Pac-12 North title was shook to its core this weekend as the Ducks of Oregon were upset by arch rival Oregon State. Nevertheless, Oregon still controls its own destiny for the division crown, and I believe they will still claim it with wins over Cal and Washington in their last two games.)

Pac-12 South– Southern Cal (The Trojans and Buffaloes were set to play in a de facto Pac-12 South title game this weekend, but unfortunately the game was postponed due to a covid outbreak at USC. These two squads are still the front runners to win this division, but USC now has a distinct advantage over Colorado because they will play an extra conference game than the Buffs, assuming the Trojans don’t have another contest cancelled. As a result, Southern Cal will win the Pac-12 South due to their superior win percentage if they can get victories over both Washington State and UCLA to end the season.) 

The SEC's anti-modern logo evokes Southern tradition, authenticity.

SEC East– Florida (By virtue of their win over Georgia in the world’s largest cocktail party, the Gators essentially have a two game lead over the rest of the division with only struggling Tennessee and LSU remaining on the schedule. A win in either of those contests will give the Gators the SEC East championship.)     

SEC West– Alabama (As it currently stands, the Tide actually clinched the SEC West title by virtue of their win over Auburn in the Iron Bowl. However, because the Bama/Arkansas game will likely be rescheduled for the December 12th weekend, Saban’s crew will probably still need to beat either LSU or Arkansas in their final two games to hold off Texas A & M for the division crown. Either way, Alabama is guaranteed to be in Atlanta.)

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American Athletic Conference

American Athletic Conference– Cincinnati/Tulsa (Like the Mountain West and ACC, the AAC is ditching the divisions in 2020 and rewarding the top two teams in their league berths in the conference championship game. Cincinnati and Tulsa both have two game leads over the rest of the league, and both actually improved their title game prospectus by having their respective games canceled this weekend. The Bearcats actually clinched a berth in the AAC title game by virtue of their canceled game against Temple, as now neither of the two loss teams in the league, Memphis and Houston, can catch them. Tulsa, still has two games remaining, both of which will be difficult, as the Golden Hurricane travel to Annapolis to play the tricky Midshipmen next weekend and then host # 7 Cincinnati after that. However, Tulsa could still lose both of of those games and earn a trip to the conference title game if Houston and Memphis both lose down the stretch. The Cougars and Tigers actually play each other in their respective season finales, and the Hurricane will likely win a head-to-head tiebreaker against the Cougars based on computer rankings but will lose the head-to-head breaker against Memphis due to overall win percentage. Nevertheless, I predict Tulsa keeps their dream season going with another nailbiting win over Navy next weekend to clinch a berth in the AAC Championship Game. Interestingly, if Cincinnati and Tulsa do end up being the conference championship participants, it would mark the second straight season that the AAC championship game is an immediate rematch of each of the two participants’ last regular season game.)

Conference USA Logo - JMI Sports

C-USA East– Marshall (The Thundering Herd were my division title pick at this point last year as well, but an upset loss at Charlotte cost them a chance to play for the conference crown. This season, on the 50th anniversary of their 1970 team’s tragic plane crash, Marshall is in great shape to avenge last season’s disappointment. All they need to do is beat either Rice or FIU in their final two games on 12/5 and 12/12, and they will clinch the C-USA East drown.)

C-USA West– UAB (This is a very strange division title race based on the uneven number of games each of the top teams in this division have played. UTSA stands in first place at 5-2, meanwhile, UAB sits just behind them with a record of only 2-1 due to postponements/cancellations of four different games. Nevertheless, I haven’t see anything from Conference USA requiring a certain number of games to be eligible for its title game, and because UAB beat UTSA earlier this season, I believe the Blazers will successfully defend their Conference USA West Division championship, as long as they win their season finale at Rice.)

Mid-American Conference

MAC East– Ohio (Just as I predicted in last week’s column, Buffalo took care of Kent State to secure the top spot in the MAC East with a record of 4-0. However, I think the Bobcats will knock off the Bulls at home next Saturday, and we will subsequently end up with a three-way tie between Ohio, Miami-OH, and Buffalo for this division title. In this scenario, Ohio would win the division crown, because the MAC is following the 2020 trend of valuing head-to-head performance over win percentage in cases like this where an uneven number of games will be played by each team.)

MAC West– Western Michigan  (The Broncos are sitting pretty in the MAC West standings with a one game lead on everyone else, including head-to-head victories over both Central Michigan and Toledo. They will beat rival Eastern Michigan next weekend before concluding the regular season on the road against 1-loss Ball State. However, even if the Cardinals beat the Broncos in that season finale, I am predicting Ball States loses at Central Michigan next weeekend, thus handing Western Michigan the division crown. Also, I hate to brag, but an Ohio/Western Michigan title game could be the sixth such conference championship game to match my preseason predictions: see my Big 12, Pac-12, SEC, Mountain West, Conference USA, and MAC preseason conference championship picks that I published this past July and August.)

Mountain West Conference - Wikipedia

Mountain West– Boise State/San Jose State (The Mountain West joined the anti-division movement of 2020 and decided, like several other leagues, to give its top two overall teams bids to the conference title game. They also have the same rule regarding unbalanced scheduled with head-to-head records taking precedent over win percentage when teams are tied in the loss column. By virtue of their late night loss to Hawaii, Nevada has dropped out of first place in this league, leaving only Boise State and San Jose State as the conference unbeatens. I think Boise will ultimately finish this conference season unbeaten, and San Jose State will play Nevada in the season finale with a berth in the conference title game on the line. I am predicting Sam Jose State wins that game at home and becomes the fourth astonishing Cinderella team to play in its league’s championship game this season. Northwestern, Coastal Carolina, and Tulsa are the others. It is also worth noting that Fresno State can also earn a berth in the MWC title game if they knock off Nevada on the road next weekend and San Jose State loses both of its final two games. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the Spartans will own the head-to-head tiebreaker over them based on their win over San Diego State, a team Fresno never got to play.)

Logos - Sun Belt Conference

Sun Belt East– Coastal Carolina (Speaking of Cinderella stories, there is not a greater one in college football than Jamey Chadwell’s Coastal Carolina squad. And by virtue of their road victory over Texas State on Saturday, the Chants have clinched the Sun Belt East division title. The only question now is whether this team will get to host ESPN’s College Gameday next Saturday when the Chanticleers play one-loss Liberty.)    

Sun Belt West– UL-Lafayette (The Sun Belt championship is set with an epic rematch between the Ragin’ Cajuns and the Chanticleers. This time the game will be played in Conway, instead of Lafayette.) 

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