Welcome to the most meaningful two days in college football. With ten actual titles on the line in just over 24 hours, conference championship weekend is as good as it gets.
If that weren’t enough, five of the ten games feature ranked vs. ranked matchups, only three of the 20 teams participating are defending a league title (meaning there are lots of new faces in the crowd), and five of the clubs involved haven’t won a title in more than two decades – for two of these it’s been 40-plus years.
In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “Pop a cold one, Franklin, this is why we have the internet.”
Here’s your conference championship weekend mental checklist:
(1). The action starts on Friday night with the C-USA going first at 7:30pm ET on CBSSN and the Pac-12 kicking 30 minutes later, at 8pm ET, on FOX.
(2). Saturday is so delicious that we’re going off script to break it down into three digestible bits:
- The early slot – at Noon ET – is home to both the Big 12 on ABC and the MAC on ESPN.
- The mid-afternoon begins with the Sun Belt at 3:30pm ET on ESPN and then 30 minutes later, at 4pm ET, features three contests: the SEC is on CBS, the American Athletic is on ABC, and the Mountain West is on FOX.
- Primetime provides the final two pairings, both airing at 8pm ET: the ACC is on ABC and the Big Ten is on FOX.
As a note, in addition to the ten title games there are also two regular-season contests on tap this weekend – Akron at Buffalo (Friday, 1pm ET, ESPN+) and FCS Valparaiso at New Mexico State (Saturday, 3pm ET, FloSports/Bally AZ/Comcast NM).
Friday, Dec. 2
THE CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP
NORTH TEXAS (7-5) at UTSA (10-2) – Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas – 7:30pm ET – CBSSN
North Texas has won 25 conference championships: one in the Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association, eight in the Lone Star Conference, five in the Gulf Coast Conference, five in the Missouri Valley, two in the Southland, and four in the Sun Belt, which it most recently won in 2004. This is the Mean Green’s second-ever appearance in the C-USA title game, falling 41-17 to FAU in 2017.
UTSA didn’t field a football team until 2011, last year’s C-USA West divisional and C-USA conference championships were the first in program history.
These two have met ten times previously including this season, a 31-27 home win for UTSA. The series is split at five games apiece.
Line: UTSA -8.5
While North Texas has enjoyed success offensively – it’s ranked No. 25 in the FBS in scoring – it’s struggled defensively, ranked No. 121 nationally in total D. The common thread in its five losses is an inability to stop the run, allowing an average of 141 rushing yards in its seven wins vs. 247 in the defeats. It sets up as an opportunity for a UTSA offense that while more pass-oriented – ranked No. 13 in pass offense vs. No. 51 in rushing – has gained momentum on the ground as the season has progressed. The Roadrunners averaged 115 rushing yards in their first seven outings, a number that’s almost doubled, to 212, in its last five games. Intriguingly, their worst performance on the ground came in last week’s narrow win vs. UTEP, a 76-yard day that resulted in a narrow 34-31 victory.
Players to Watch
North Texas: junior QB Austin Aune (#2) (tied for No. 8 in the FBS in TD passes), senior LB KD Davis (#1) (tied for No. 9 in the FBS in total tackles, No. 14 in solo tackles)
UTSA: senior QB Frank Harris (#0) (No. 12 in the FBS in passing yards per game, No. 11 in passer rating), senior WR Zakhari Franklin (#4) (tied for No. 6 in the FBS in TD receptions)
THE PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP
(11) UTAH (9-3) vs. (4) USC (11-1) – Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas, Nev. – 8pm ET – FOX
Utah has won 25 league titles, eight in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, five in the Big Seven, five in the Skyline, two in the WAC, four in the Mountain West and then one – last season – in the Pac-12. The Utes are 1-2 in the Pac-12 title game, falling in back-to-back appearances in 2017-18 before upending then (10) Oregon 38-10 in last year’s contest.
USC has won 39 conference crowns, all in the Pac-12 or its predecessors: the Pacific Coast Conference, the Athletic Association of Western Universities (AAWU), the Pac-8, and the Pac-10. The Trojans are 1-2 in the Pac-12 title game, falling in 2015 and 2020. The only win came in 2017 – also their most recent league title – a 31-28 victory over then (14) Stanford.
These two have met 21 times previously, the Trojans hold a 13-8 advantage, but the Utes have won two-straight including scoring a 43-42 home win earlier this season. The two programs have met twice previously in the postseason – the 1993 Freedom Bowl (a 28-21 win for USC) and the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl (a 10-6 win for Utah).
Line: USC -3
Though USC has an elite offense – ranked No. 3 in the nation in scoring and No. 6 in passing – its’ defense hasn’t had the same success, ranked No. 60 in scoring. What’s especially concerning is the Trojans’ performance vs. the pass where they’ve given up 263 yards per game, earning them a No. 110 rank out of the 131 clubs at the FBS level. It’s no coincidence that their worst performance of the year came in the only loss, giving up 424 air yards to, you guessed it, Utah. And did you know that the Utes are ranked No. 10 – in the entire nation – in scoring offense – averaging 39.4 points per game? But wait! There’s more! The Utes’ defense is ranked No. 19, again nationally, in scoring. Utah is way more than the team that only got into the Pac-12 title game because (16) Oregon got upset by (15) Oregon State.
Players to Watch
Utah: sophomore CB Clark Phillips III (#1) (tied for the most interceptions in the FBS and the second-most pick sixes)
USC: sophomore QB Caleb Williams (#13) (No. 8 in the FBS in passing yards per game, No. 6 in passer rating), junior DL Tuli Tuipulotu (#49) (No. 1 in the FBS in sacks, No. 2 in tackles for a loss), sophomore DB Calen Bullock (#7) (tied for the second-most interceptions in the FBS)
Saturday, Dec. 3
THE BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP
(10) KANSAS STATE (9-3) vs. (3) TCU (12-0) – AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas – Noon ET – ABC
Kansas State has won six league titles, three in the Kansas Intercollegiate Athletic Association, one in the Big 6, and two in the Big 12, most recently sharing the title with Oklahoma in 2012. The Wildcats are 1-2 in the Big 12 title game, losing in 1998 and 2000. The sole win came in 2003, a 35-7 victory over then (1) Oklahoma.
TCU has won 18 conference titles: one in the TIAA (Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association), nine in the old Southwest Conference, two in the WAC, one in C-USA, four in the Mountain West, and most recently sharing the 2014 Big 12 title with Baylor. The Horned Frogs are 0-1 in the Big 12 title game, falling 41-17 to (2) Oklahoma in the 2017 contest.
These two have met 16 times previously with each team winning on eight occasions. TCU won this year’s game 38-28 in Fort Worth, snapping a three-game losing streak to K-State.
Line: TCU -2.5
What stands out in TCU’s nearest-miss of the season – its’ one-point win over Baylor – is rushing yards allowed. Where the Horned Frogs have given up, on average, 145 ground yards per game, they coughed up a season high 232 to the Bears, also the only opponent to rush for 200-plus. It makes K-State – owners and operators of the No. 17 ranked rush offense in America – a compelling opponent. The Frogs’ defense managed to limit the Wildcats (which have averaged 210 ground yards this season) to 158 in its 38-28 win on Oct. 22. And that’s likely the key to beating K-State again, claiming the Big 12 title, and remaining entrenched at the top of the charts, untouchable to those who may be swayed that a one-loss Ohio State (or a two-loss Alabama) is more worthy of a bracket slot than a one-loss TCU.
Players to Watch
Kansas State: junior RB Deuce Vaughn (#22) (No. 17 in the FBS in rushing yards per game)
TCU: senior QB Max Duggan (#15) (No. 4 in the FBS in passer rating), junior RB Kendre Miller (#33) (No. 18 in the FBS in rushing yards per game, tied for No. 6 in rushing TDs)
THE MAC CHAMPIONSHIP
TOLEDO (7-5) vs. OHIO (9-3) – Ford Field, Detroit, Mich. – Noon ET – ESPN
Toledo has won 14 conference crowns, three in the Northwest Ohio League and 11 in the MAC, most recently in 2017. The Rockets are 3-3 in the MAC title game, winning in 2001, 2004, and 2017 and losing in 1997, 1998, and 2002.
Ohio Has won 11 league titles, six in the Buckeye Athletic Association and five in the MAC. The most recent crown came 54 years ago, in 1968. The Bobcats are 0-4 in the MAC Championship game, falling in 2006, 2009, 2011, and, most recently getting edged 29-23 by then (13) Western Michigan in the 2016 contest.
These two have met 54 times previously, most recently last season, a 35-23 road win for Toledo. The Rockets lead the series 32-21-1 and have won 13 of the last 15.
Line: Toledo -1.5
On paper, this combo looks like one of the best strength vs. strength matchups of the weekend. In one corner it’s Ohio’s pass offense – ranked No. 14 in the entire nation in yards per game – while in the other it’s a Toledo D ranked No. 19 – again in our America – vs. the pass. But a deeper dive raises lots of red flags for the Rockets, who held six of their opponents to, on average, 71 passing yards only to cough up 303 to the other six. Other than (5) Ohio State’s No. 15 ranked passing attack, the most elite unit Toledo has faced this season is Bowling Green, at No. 58 in the nation the Falcons are averaging 237 air yards per game. How did it go? Well, the Rockets opened the flood gates and gave up 395 passing yards in a 42-35 loss on Nov. 15. Will it be those guys who take on the high-flying Bobcats – or instead, the unit that held a Ball State offense averaging 228 passing yards (No. 67 in the FBS) to only 94 on Nov. 8? PS Speaking of defending the pass, did you know that Ohio’s D is ranked No. 131 – or dead last in the USA – against the pass?
Players to Watch
Toledo: senior DT Desjuan Johnson (#1) (tied for No. 13 in the FBS in tackles for a loss), sophomore CB Quinyon Mitchell (#27) (tied for the second-most interceptions in the FBS)
Ohio: senior WR Sam Wiglusz (#12) (tied for the third-most receiving TDs in the FBS) Injury alert! Ohio sophomore QB CJ Harris (#10) will play in relief of starting QB Kurtis Rourke (#7) (No. 11 in the FBS in passing yards per game), who is out with a torn ACL. Harris went 10-of-21 for 196 yards and one score in last week’s 38-14 win over Bowling Green.
THE SUN BELT CHAMPIONSHIP
COASTAL CAROLINA (9-2) at TROY (10-2) – Veterans Memorial Stadium, Troy, Ala. – 3:30pm ET – ESPN
Coastal Carolina first fielded a football team in 2003 and has won eight league titles since, seven in the FCS Big South (2004-14) and most recently earning a share of the Sun Belt crown in 2020. That championship game – the Chanticleers were slated to play then (19) Louisiana – was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Troy has won 21 conference titles, six in the Alabama Intercollegiate/Collegiate Conference, six in the Gulf Coast Conference, three in the Southland, and six in the Sun Belt, most recently sharing the 2017 title with Appalachian State. This is the Trojans’ first-ever appearance in the Sun Belt Championship game.
These two have met five times previously, most recently last season. Coastal Carolina leads 3-2 and has won three-straight.
Line: Troy -9
Ten-win Troy has quietly built an elite defense – currently ranked No. 8 in the country in scoring, No. 22 vs. the run and No. 28 against the pass. Its’ 16.8 points per game allowed is better than (6) Alabama and (8) Penn State’s mark of 18 (tied at No. 10). Though the Trojans ought to be able to contain Coastal Carolina’s middle-of-the-road offense (ranked No. 60 in scoring, No. 57 in rushing, and No. 54 in passing), can their offense, which has struggled, score enough points to win? The good news is, where Troy has been more successful through the air (No. 50 in passing yards per game vs. No. 100 in rushing), the Chanticleers have been better at stopping the run (No. 39) than the pass (No. 123). Also worth noting, the Trojans rushed for a total of 965 yards and 9 scores in their first ten games only to explode for 532 yards and eight scores in its’ final two outings.
Players to Watch
Coastal Carolina: junior QB Grayson McCall (#10) (No. 2 in the FBS in passer rating) Injury alert! McCall has missed the last two games due to a foot injury and as of publication is still questionable for the Sun Belt title game. McCall has been relieved primarily by junior QB Jarrett Guest (#7) who went 17-of-37 for 262 yards, one TD and three picks in his last two appearances.
Troy: sophomore RB Kimani Vidal (#28) (has rushed for 450 yards and six scores in his last two outings), sophomore DE T.J. Jackson (#98) (tied for No. 13 in the FBS in tackles for a loss), senior LB Carlton Martial (#2) (tied for No. 16 in the FBS in total tackles, set the NCAA record for career tackles earlier this season)
THE SEC CHAMPIONSHIP
(14) LSU (9-3) vs. (1) GEORGIA (12-0) – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga. – 4pm ET – CBS
LSU has won 16 conference titles: three in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA), one in the Southern Conference, and 12 in the SEC, most recently in 2019. The Tigers are an impressive 5-1 in the SEC title game winning in 2001, 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2019. The only loss came in 2005.
Georgia has won 15 league titles: two in the SIAA and 13 in the SEC, which it last won in 2017. The Bulldogs are 3-6 in the SEC Championship game, winning in 2002, 2005, and 2017 and losing in 2003, 2011-12, 2018-19, and 2021.
This is the fifth time that LSU and Georgia have played in the SEC title game, the Tigers hold a 3-1 advantage with the only loss coming in 2005. LSU also leads the all-time series 18-13-1, has won two-straight and four of the last five. The two haven’t met since the 2019 SEC Championship, a 37-10 win for the Tigers.
Line: Georgia -17.5
Georgia’s nearest misses this season (the 26-22 win at Missouri and the 16-6 win at Kentucky) share one common statistical thread, an inability to score touchdowns in the red zone. Where the Bulldogs scored, on average, six points on 65% of their combined trips inside the 20 this season, that number dropped to 40% vs. Missouri and to a season-low 20% vs. Kentucky. It’s no coincidence that the next two poorest performances came in the next two lowest margins of victory – 50% rates in both the 14-point win over (7) Tennessee and the 17-point victory over Kent State. The other seven wins – all decided by 22-plus points – included a 60% or better red zone TD success rate. What does it mean vs. LSU’s defense? Well, wouldn’t you know, the Tigers are ranked No. 7 in the nation in opponent’s red zone TD conversions, allowing, on average, six points only 42.5% of the time. If LSU can keep Georgia out of the end zone on 40% or more of its visits inside the 20, they’ll have a shot to shocketh the world.
Players to Watch
LSU: junior QB Jayden Daniels (#5) (tied for No. 9 in the FBS in completion percentage) Injury alert! LSU is “pretty optimistic” that Daniels, who suffered an ankle injury last week, will practice this week and play in the SEC title game.
Georgia: senior QB Stetson Bennett (#13) (No. 17 in the FBS in completion percentage)
THE AMERICAN ATHLETIC CHAMPIONSHIP
(22) UCF (9-3) at (18) TULANE (10-2) – Yulman Stadium, New Orleans, La. – 4pm ET – ABC
UCF has won six conference crowns – two in C-USA and four in the American, most recently in its undefeated 2018 season. The Knights are a perfect 2-0 in the AAC title game, winning back-to-back games over Memphis in 2017-18.
Tulane has won nine league titles: one in the SIAA, four in the Southern Conference, three in the SEC, and one in C-USA – in 1998, also a perfect season and its most recent conference championship. This is the Green Wave’s first-ever appearance in the ACC title game.
These two have met 12 times previously including earlier this season, a 38-31 win for UCF in New Orleans. The Knights hold a commanding 10-2 record in the all-time series, the Green Wave’s only wins coming at home in 2015 and 2006.
Line: Tulane -3.5
Tulane’s ten-win season has been powered by its defense – ranked No. 18 in the FBS in scoring allowing a mere 19.8 points per game. While it’s been super successful stopping the pass – No. 13 nationally – it’s not done as well against the run, earning a No. 74 rank. It makes UCF, which touts the sixth-best rushing offense in the nation, a tough opponent. The Green Waves’ defense has, on average, allowed 155 ground yards per game this year, a number that got blown up in its regular season loss vs. UCF, the Knights pumping out 336 rushing yards and four scores in a 38-31 decision. It amounted to the worst outing in 2022 for the Waves’ defense and the second-best day for UCF’s offense. For Tulane to win its first league title in 24 years it will need to mount a thundering defensive wave and drown out the galloping Knights.
Players to Watch
UCF: junior RB RJ Harvey (#22) (No. 15 in the FBS in yards per carry), senior LB Jason Johnson (#15) (No. 14 in the FBS in total and solo tackles)
Tulane: junior RB Tyjae Spears (#22) (tied for No. 11 in the FBS in rushing TDs), senior LB Dorian Williams (#2) (tied for No. 11 in the FBS in solo tackles)
THE MOUNTAIN WEST CHAMPIONSHIP
FRESNO STATE (8-4) at BOISE STATE (9-3) – Albertson’s Stadium, Boise, Idaho – 4pm ET – FOX
Fresno State has won 28 league titles: two in the California Coast Conference, four in the Far West Conference, ten in the California Collegiate Athletic Association, three in the Pacific Coast Athletic Association, three in the Big West, three in the WAC, and three in the Mountain West, most recently in 2018. The Bulldogs are 2-2 in the MWC title game, winning in 2013 and 2018 and losing in 2014 and 2017.
Boise State has won 20 conference titles: six in the Big Sky, two in the Big West, eight in the WAC, and four in the Mountain West, most recently in 2019. The Broncos have been to the MWC title game five times, more than any other program, and hold a 3-2 record with wins in 2014, 2017, and 2019 and losses in 2018 and 2020.
A rematch of the 2018, 2017, and 2014 MWC Championships (Boise State won all but the 2018 game), these two have met 24 times previously. The Broncos hold a 17-7 advantage in the all-time series, have won two-straight and came out ahead in this season’s meeting in Boise.
Line: Boise State -3
The compelling matchup in this one is Fresno State’s passing attack – ranked No. 24 in the FBS/No. 1 in the MWC – taking on a Boise State defense ranked No. 3 in the entire nation vs. the pass. The Bulldogs’ offense has averaged 277 air yards per game this season, a number it didn’t hit in three of its four losses. The worst outing came against, you guessed it, the Broncos, a 134-yard day that included two interceptions and resulted in a 40-20 defeat. It was the fewest passing yards a Fresno State team has managed since a 96-yard performance vs. Wyoming on Oct. 16, 2021. FSU will have to find a way to fly higher to win this one.
Players to Watch
Fresno State: senior RB Jordan Mims (#7) (tied for No. 11 in the FBS in rushing TDs), senior QB Jake Haener (#9) (No. 10 in the FBS in passing yards per game), senior DE David Perales (#99) (No. 6 in the FBS in sacks, tied for No. 16 in tackles for a loss) Injury alert! Perales suffered an ankle injury last week and is questionable for the MWC title game.
Boise State: senior S JL Skinner (#0) (tied for the third-most interceptions in the FBS), junior RB George Holani (#24) (No. 24 in the FBS in rushing yards per game)
THE BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP
PURDUE (8-4) vs. (2) MICHIGAN (12-0) – Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind. – 8pm ET – FOX
Purdue has won 12 league titles, four in the Indiana Intercollegiate Athletic Association and eight in the Big Ten, most recently in 2000. This is the Boilermakers’ first-ever appearance in the Big Ten title game.
Michigan has captured 43 conference championships, 20 in the Western Conference and 23 in the Big Ten, winning the title last year for the first time since 2004. This is the Wolverines’ second appearance in the Big Ten Championship, dismantling then (13) Iowa 42-3 last season.
These two haven’t met since 2017, a 28-10 win for the Wolverines in West Lafayette. Michigan leads the all-time series 45-14, has won four-straight and nine of the last 11.
Line: Michigan -16.5
While a lot of folks are discussing the matchup between Michigan’s top-ranked defense (No. 3 in the FBS in scoring and No. 11 vs. the pass) and Purdue’s No. 21 ranked passing attack, the key to a far-fetched upset may lie deeper. The common denominator in the Wolverines’ three closest calls in 2022 (the 19-17 win vs. Illinois, the 34-27 decision at Maryland and the 27-14 victory at Iowa) is limiting opponent’s third down conversions. UM held its’ 12 foes this season to, on average, a 30.49% success rate on third down, the eleventh best mark in the nation. It’s no coincidence that only four opponents managed better than a 34% third down conversion rate, three of which were, you guessed it – Maryland (42.86%), Illinois (38.46%), and Iowa (36.36%). In its biggest game, the win over (5) Ohio State last week, the Wolverines held a Buckeye offense averaging 46.10% on third down (No. 23 in the FBS) to 31.25%. Purdue’s offense has been successful on 38.73% of its third down tries, No. 75 in the FBS/No. 9 in the Big Ten.
Players to Watch
Purdue: senior WR Charlie Jones (#15) (No. 6 in the FBS in receiving yards per game, tied for No. 3 in receiving TDs), senior QB Aidan O’Connell (#16) (tied for No. 14 in the FBS in passing yards per game) –O’Connell is expected to start in the Big Ten title game “while handling family obligations surrounding his brother’s death and being away from campus this week.”
Michigan: junior RB Blake Corum (#2) (No. 10 in the FBS in rushing yards per game, tied for No. 3 in rushing TDs)
THE ACC CHAMPIONSHIP
(9) CLEMSON (10-2) vs. (23) NORTH CAROLINA (9-3) – Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C. – 8pm ET – ABC
Clemson has won 26 league crowns, three in the SIAA, two in the Southern, and 21 in the ACC, most recently in 2020. The Tigers have been to the ACC title game eight times, more than any other club, and hold a dominating 7-1 record. The wins came in 2011 and consecutively from 2015-20. The only loss was in 2009, a 39-34 decision vs. then (12) Georgia Tech.
North Carolina has won nine conference titles, three in the Southern and five in the ACC, last winning 42 years ago in 1980. The Tar Heels have only appeared in the ACC title game once previously, falling 45-27 to then (1) Clemson in the 2015 contest.
These two haven’t met since the 2019 regular season, a 21-20 win for Clemson. The Tigers lead the all-time series 38-19-1 and have won four-straight.
Line: Clemson -7.5
After averaging 247 passing yards per game in its first seven appearances, Clemson’s offense dropped to a 176-yard mark in its last five games. Included were a 191-yard performance in the loss at (21) Notre Dame and a season-low 99-yard mark in the defeat vs. (19) South Carolina. The good news is North Carolina’s defense has struggled epically this season, especially so against the pass where they’re currently ranked No. 118 in the nation/No. 14 – or dead last – in the ACC. On the other side of the ball, Clemson’s defense will have to gird its loins against a UNC passing attack ranked No. 8 in the entire nation in yards per game. In its’ last two outings, the Tigers’ D went from holding a Miami Fla. passing attack averaging 239 yards (No. 57 in the FBS) to a mere 68 to coughing up 360 air yards to a South Carolina offense averaging 257 (No. 41). Will the real Clemson football team please stand up?
Players to Watch
Clemson: sophomore RB Will Shipley (#1) (tied for No. 11 in the FBS in rushing TDs)
North Carolina: freshman QB Drake Maye (#10) (No. 4 in the FBS in passing yards per game, tied for No. 4 in passing TDs, No. 10 in passer rating), junior WR Josh Downs (#11) (No. 12 in the FBS in receiving yards per game), junior LB Cedric Gray (#33) (tied for No. 2 in the FBS in solo tackles, No. 4 in total tackles)