Conference Championship Analysis- Inaugural 2021 Edition

For the twelfth 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 6, 2021.

ACC AtlanticClemson (The Tigers have gone from what is typically one of the most sure-thing division championship picks in all of college football to a true longshot to win the ACC Atlantic.  However, I think Clemson will still find a way to win this division, much to my dismay.  NC State and Wake Forest are both ahead of the Tigers currently but I think the Wolfpack lose to both Wake and UNC, and the Demon Deacons lose their last two road games to Clemson and BC.  This scenario will leave the Tigers as the ACC Atlantic champions by virtue of their head-to-head tiebreaker over Wake Forest.)

ACC CoastalMiami-FL (I know Pitt is currently in the driver’s seat of the ACC Coastal race, but I am going to stick with my preseason pick for this division… at least for the time being.  I believe the Panthers will drop one of their final three games (vs. UNC, vs. Virginia, and at Syracuse), all of which are tricky.  Meanwhile, Miami should win out which will result in a head-to-head tie between the Canes and Panthers.  Because Miami knocked off Pitt last weekend, the Canes would have the tiebreaker in this scenario, and Manny Diaz would have a division championship in Coral Gables.)  

Big 12Oklahoma/Oklahoma State (There are still four teams with a legitimate shot at the Big 12 title game: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Iowa State.  Oklahoma is in the driver’s seat with a 6-0 conference record, but unfortunately, they have to play all three of their fellow contenders, two on the road, over the final few weeks of the season.  I think Oklahoma will lose one of these games down the stretch, but an 8-1 mark should still earn the Sooners a trip to the Big 12 title game.  Meanwhile, the Cowboys from Stillwater are currently a game ahead of both Iowa State and Baylor in the conference standings, and because OK State gets to host Oklahoma, unlike Iowa State, and already has the head-to-head tiebreaker over Baylor, I am going to pick the Pokes to advance to the Big 12 title game to setup an immediate Bedlam rematch.)

Big Ten EastOhio State (The Buckeyes are currently a game ahead of both Michigan and Michigan State in the conference standings, but they do have to play both of these squads down the stretch.  However, Ohio State has absolutely owned both of these teams in recent years, so I am picking the Buckeyes to win out and return to the Big Ten title game for the fifth consecutive season. 

Big Ten West–  Wisconsin (The Badgers have won four out of the last six Big Ten West crowns, and despite their sluggish start to the season, they are in great position to make it five out of seven division crowns.  There is currently a four-way tie atop this division between Wisconsin, Minnesota, Purdue, and Iowa.  However, the Badgers already own the head-to-head tiebreaker over both Purdue and Iowa, and even though Wisconsin has to travel to Minneapolis for their season finale against the Gophers, Wisky has absolutely owned that series, winning 16 out of the last 17 meetings.  I think Paul Chryst’s crew wins all three of their remaining games to clinch another Big Ten West title.)

Pac-12 NorthOregon (Even though the Ducks are squarely in the hunt for a CFP bid, they have a lot of work to do down the stretch to just win their division.  Oregon is only a game up in the Pac-12 North race on Washington State and still has to play Wazzu, Utah, and Oregon State down the stretch.  I think the Ducks lose in Salt Lake City, but win the other two games, which would result in them winning this division despite being knocked out of the national title race.)

Pac-12 SouthUtah (The Utes technically have a one game lead in the Pac-12 South standings, but they really have a two game margin thanks to their head-to-head tiebreaker over Arizona State.  That means that Utah can still drop a game down the stretch and still clinch a berth in the Pac-12 title game.  I think Utah actually wins out from here, but even if the Utes lose their  huge home matchup against Oregon, they will just need to beat division cellar dwellers, Arizona and Colorado to win the Pac-12 South championship.) 

SEC EastGeorgia (The Bulldogs became the first team in college football to clinch a berth in a conference championship game two weeks ago.) 

SEC WestAlabama (The Tide struggled mightily on Saturday in a surprise scare versus LSU, but they are still the frontrunners to win the division, holding a one game lead over Texas A & M, Auburn, and Ole Miss.  Alabama has two conference games left, vs. Arkansas and at Auburn, and I think they will win both matchups despite their recent struggles in Jordan-Hare.)  


AmericanCincinnati/Houston– As a result of SMU’s loss at Memphis, these two teams now have a two game lead over the rest of the league, meaning even if either of them slip up down the stretch, they should both still earn berths to the conference championship game.  Cincinnati should have no trouble winning two out of their last three contests (at USF, vs. SMU, at ECU), and Houston just needs to beat either Temple next week or Memphis the week following to clinch the second bid to the American title game.  As of now, I would say this is by far the most set in stone conference championship game out there, and guess who picked this matchup way back in the preseason?)

C-USA EastMarshall (I hate to brag too much about my preseason conference championship predictions, but when you are on, you are on.  It appears I may nail not just one, but both Conference USA division champs, despite neither of those squads being the consensus preseason favorite to win their division crown!  By virtue of their huge road victory on Saturday at Florida Atlantic, the Thundering Herd remained in a tie for first atop the C-USA East standings with Western Kentucky.  These two teams play each other to end the season, and they also each have another tricky contest down the stretch (Marshall vs. UAB, Western KY vs. FAU).  Marshall gets both of their tough games at home though, so I am picking the Herd to clinch a surprise back-to-back C-USA East title with wins in both of those matchups.)

C-USA WestUTSA (The Roadrunners from San Antonio were the team I picked to play Marshall in the conference title game in my preseason conference championship predictions, and now they stand alone atop the divisions standings with a perfect 9-0 record.  UTSA still has to play the three-time defending C-USA West champions UAB in two weeks, but the Roadrunners get to play that game at home and can still clinch the division with a loss there, if UAB loses to either Marshall or UTEP down the stretch.)  

MAC EastMiami-Ohio (Another surprise preseason division championship prediction may come to fruition here, as the Redhawks are currently in a battle with the Golden Flashes of Kent State for the division crown.   Kent has a one game advantage over Miami currently, but they also have the tougher schedule down the stretch as they have to go to Central Michigan before ending the year with a potential division title game against these Redhawks.  Kent State will be the home team for their season finale against Miami, but I still think Chuck Martin’s Hawks find a way to win that one on the road and earn a sixth berth to the MAC title game.)

MAC WestNorthern Illinois (Thomas Hammock’s Cinderella Huskies can take a major step towards winning a shocking division crown this Wednesday when they host a very good Ball State team.  They are already up a game on all three teams currently tied for second in the standings, Ball State, Eastern, Michigan, and Central Michigan, and would then hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over all three if they are to outscore the Cardinals on Wednesday evening.  I am picking them to do just that next week and then to beat either Buffalo or Western Michigan to clinch the MAC West title.)

MWC MountainUtah State (So as good as some of my preseason predictions were, two teams I picked to finish in the basement of their respective divisions, the aforementioned Northern Illinois Huskies and these Aggies of Utah State, are currently in the driver’s seat of their division title races.  The Aggies are a game ahead of second place contenders Boise and Air Force and also have the easiest remaining schedule of those three teams.  I do think Utah State loses on the road next week at San Jose State, but I still think they will be the surprise Mountain Division champions by winning their last two games and seeing an inconsistent Boise team lose their finale at San Diego State.) 

MWC WestSan Diego State (We have a great three-way battle in the MWC West Division title race, as SDSU and Nevada share the lead at 4-1 and Fresno is a half game back at 4-2 and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over both of those teams.  The Aztecs and Wolf Pack play each other next Saturday, and I am giving San Diego State the edge solely because they are playing at home.  I then think that SDSU wins out from there to hold off Fresno.  Interestingly, the Aztecs season finale against Boise could very well be an inter-divisional play-in game for the conference championship as both teams may need it to clinch their respective division crowns.)  

Sun Belt EastAppalachian State (The Mountaineers and Chanticleers are tied atop the division standings, but App has the clear advantage by virtue of their head-to-head win over Coastal a few weeks ago.  The remaining schedule for the Mountaineers isn’t a cakewalk (vs. USA, at Troy, vs. Georgia Southern), but I think App State will find a way to win all three of those games to earn a rematch against UL-Lafayette in the Sun Belt Title 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 the class of the Sun Belt West again this season.  They have already clinched the division title and will look forward to playing either App State or Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt Championship Game.)   

In addition to my usual analysis above of every conference/division title race, I am going to be adding a new feature to this article this season by ranking each race based on the intrigue each provides and the importance each holds in the overall college football landscape.  Here are my initial rankings of all 18 division/conference championship races:

1. Big 12 (between Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, and Baylor)

2. ACC Atlantic (between NC State, Wake Forest, and Clemson)

3. Big Ten East (between Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State)

4. SEC West (between Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, and Texas A & M)

5. Big Ten West (between Wisconsin, Minnesota, Purdue, and Iowa)

6. ACC Coastal (between Pitt, UVA, Miami-FL, UNC, and Virginia Tech)

7. Pac-12 North (between Oregon, Wazzu, Oregon St., and Washington)

8. MWC Mountain (between Utah St., Air Force, Boise, and Colorado State)

9. Pac-12 South (between Utah, Arizona State, and UCLA)

10. MWC West (between SDSU, Nevada, and Fresno State)

11. Conference USA East (between Marshall, WKU, FAU, and Charlotte)

12. MAC West (between Northern Illinois, Ball State, EMU, and CMU)

13. Conference USA West (between UTSA, UAB, and UTEP)

14. MAC East (between Kent State, Miami-OH, and Buffalo)

15. Sun Belt East (between Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina)

16. American (between Cincy, Houston, UCF, SMU, and East Carolina) 

17. SEC East (already cliched by Georgia)

18. Sun Belt West (already clinched by UL-Lafayette)

College Football Championship Weekend Preview - MikeDropSports

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