Today’s Conference Championships: Previews & Predictions
By Staff Writer Tyler Fenwick:
Big Ten – Michigan State vs. Ohio State
It would have been a fairly sizable upset in the Leaders division had any team but Ohio State made it to the Big Ten Championship Game. So here the Buckeyes stand, and they have a tremendous opportunity lying ahead: a chance to play in the National Championship Game. Of course, whether that happens or not (even with a Big Ten championship) remains unknown because of Auburn.
In the Legends division, Michigan State really swept the competition, with the exception of a sloppy loss to Notre Dame in September. But that was back when the Spartans were considered to have nothing but a very good defense—no offense to speak of. Then the improbable happened and Michigan State began excelling on the offensive side of the ball to carry them through a perfect conference season.
These two teams will be clashing in an exotic way. It’s a fast-paced, explosive offense versus an impenetrable defense. Before last week, this looked like a game which favored the Buckeyes heavily. And even though they are still the favorites, their season finale in against Michigan exposed some serious holes in the Buckeye team—holes that can be taken advantage of by the well-coached Spartans.
If this game gets up into the 30’s I have to give the edge to Ohio State. Connor Cook has been a reliable quarterback for Michigan State, and Jeremy Langford has provided some great production on the ground, but this isn’t a team built to compete at that level on the scoreboard. They’ll be winning 70% of the battles in the trenches on both sides of the ball, which means the lower the score, the better for the Spartans.
Prediction: Michigan State-23 Ohio State- 30
Pac-12 – Arizona State vs. Stanford
I think the fact that Oregon is not competing for a Pac-12 title makes things a little more attractive for fans on the west coast. They’re probably tired of the Ducks’ reign. Except for Ducks fans, though.
Stanford suffered its first loss of the season on the road against a Utah team that finished the regular season with a mark of 5-7 (2-7). At that point, many lost faith in the Cardinal, saying they were too soft to anything legitimate this season. But after a complete domination of Oregon on November 7, much hope was restored. Stanford would receive a final blemish against USC, but it was not enough to keep them from winning the Pac-12 North.
Arizona State didn’t quite come out of thin air, but they were most certainly getting lost in the buzz of Brett Hundley and UCLA, which allowed the Sun Devils to quietly go about their Pac-12 South win. The only conference loss this season was suffered at the hands of Stanford on September 21, meaning this conference championship game is also a great opportunity to invoke some revenge.
Immediately, it’s hard to not like Stanford in this matchup. After all, the last time the Cardinal went head-to-head with an explosive offense like this, they ended up having their way for 60 minutes. The most attractive part of Stanford’s game is on the offensive line, where they completely dominate most of the time and impose their will upon the defensive line.
I like Stanford in this game because of their ability to keep control of the pace and slow down the most lethal of offensive attacks. Unless Arizona State can successfully spread the ball on the Cardinal defense, I love Stanford to win the Pac-12.
Prediction: Stanford- 24 Arizona State- 20
ACC – Duke vs. Florida State
The Duke Blue Devils are one of the great stories in college football. From being primarily known as a basketball school to shocking the world on the gridiron—it’s been an incredible 2013 season for Duke football. With just two losses on the season, they’ve beaten two ranked teams (Virginia Tech and Miami), and only one more stands in their way.
Florida State has been one of my favorite teams to follow this year. Much of it has to do with Jameis Winston and his obsession to completely prepare himself each and every week, but I also fell in love with the physical nature of this football team. It’s a good reminder of how the very best teams still get it done.
Should Duke beat Florida State on Saturday night and win the ACC, it would surely be one of the biggest upsets of the season. The Blue Devils don’t have any numbers that will blow you away, but they stay away from making costly mistakes, and they’ve shown the ability to hit the home run on offense.
Florida State obviously hasn’t lost a game yet this season. And as long as they execute and beat Duke, they’ll be competing for a national title against the likes of Ohio State or Auburn or, if things get really crazy, Missouri.
As much as I would love to see something so crazy, I don’t see a logical way to justify picking Duke to beat the Seminoles. Too physical, too hungry, too good—Florida State cannot slip up on this game. That’s the most important thing Jameis Winston has about him. He so elegantly prepares for every game, which leads to success amongst his teammates, which leads to win after win after win.
Prediction: Duke- 17 Florida State- 48
SEC – Missouri vs. Auburn
Let’s take a moment to admire the unlikelihood of the game happening. In 2012, Missouri and Auburn combined for two conference wins. Both belonged to Missouri. Neither of the Tigers made it to a bowl game. Yet, here they stand.
Auburn has had one of the craziest seasons I can ever remember seeing. From beating Georgia in a prayer that was tipped perfectly in the air to returning a missed field goal with one second remaining against Alabama, it’s easy to call Auburn a team of destiny.
Missouri broke onto the scene with a 7-0 start. But an overtime loss to South Carolina resulted in many people no longer really talking about the Tigers or what they could still do with the season. Last week, however, Missouri beat Texas A&M at home to clinch its spot in the SEC title game.
Auburn plays a very exciting brand of football. Seemingly every play has multiple options, which means they’re almost always one wise decision away from a big gain. Or they’re many wise decisions away from many chunk plays. Either way, it’s a highly effective offense. The only thing I can see holding them back is defense.
When going up against a team like Missouri, you could look back any given play and see a blown chance to do something big. Missouri will also be working to spread the ball and hit the home run when they can.
I’m expecting this to be a very high scoring affair because of the nature of the two teams. That means it could very well come down to special teams or a timely turnover. For that reason, I have to pick the Tigers of Auburn to win the SEC.
Prediction: Missouri- 38 Auburn- 42