Hello, friends and neighbors, it’s the week we’ve simultaneously awaited and dreaded, as the regular season closes and championship games populate the schedule. We’re also winding down to the end of our first few weeks of our podcast experiment (comments are still welcome on how that’s going), as we continue to develop this weekly feature.
We’ll be looking at five of the more intriguing conference championship games — and Bedlam, of course — in this week’s piece. We’ll also have your weekly trivia question on the podcast, along with an audio breakdown of three of those games. To hear that podcast, click the handy little play button right below you (it may take a few seconds to display, but it will, promise) and listen away. For the rest of our weekly preview, just scroll down a bit!
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#11 Oklahoma State (9-2, 7-1 Big 12) at #7 Oklahoma (9-2, 8-0 Big 12) | Bedlam
12:30pm | FOX
- Expecting firepower: Both of these teams are capable of putting up huge offensive numbers, and one look at their national rankings backs that up. The Sooners rank third in the land (nearly 551 yards per game) in total offense, while the Cowboys rank 16th (500.2). Both clubs are in the top ten in passing offense (Oklahoma State sixth, Oklahoma 10th) and passing efficiency (Oklahoma State 10th, Oklahoma first). The Cowboys are 14th in scoring offense (40.4 points per game), while the Sooners are second (45.3). The primary point of divergence comes on the ground, as Oklahoma State ranks 79th in rushing offense, with the Sooners 25th. This is largely because of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, obviously, but the Cowboys’ 81st position in rush defense also doesn’t bode well.
- Being the benchmark: Oklahoma’s sports information department notes that a win here would give Bob Stoops his 10th Big 12 championship in 17 years in Norman. No other school has won more than three Big 12 titles, and just three others have two. (You may hear something about that last tidbit in this week’s trivia question, if you check the podcast.)
- Decades of dominance: This series has featured 110 games, of which Oklahoma has won 85. The Cowboys have won just four times since 2000, including — interestingly enough — a 44-10 victory during the lone Oklahoma State Big 12 championship season in 2011. That 2011 victory happened in Stillwater. Perhaps equally notably, the Cowboys won 38-35 in their last trip to Norman in 2014.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Oklahoma has looked like an absolute juggernaut through its unbeaten Big 12 season. Rivalry games, however, are inexplicable.
#15 Florida (8-3, 6-2 SEC) vs. #1 Alabama (12-0, 8-0 SEC) | SEC Championship (Atlanta, GA)
4:00pm | CBS
- The boys are back in town: This is, as most are aware, a rematch of two of the “blue bloods” of the SEC championship game. The teams have combined for 23 appearances in the deciding tilt, with this being Alabama’s 11th and Florida’s 12th. The Gators have seven championship trophies from this game, while the Tide possess six. Alabama beat Florida in last year’s game, 29-15, and the schools have split their prior eight matchups in this game. Alabama has won 25 of the previous 39 games between the teams overall.
- Defense wins championships: These schools are in the top six among FBS teams in three of four defensive categories apiece. Alabama is ranked first in every category except for passing defense (11th, 178.1 yards per game), while Florida falls outside the top six in rushing defense (31st, 133.9 yards per game). Florida’s defense will need to be even better than its ranking on Saturday, as it ranks 86th or lower in every offensive category.
- The century mark: Florida running back Jordan Scarlett has cracked the 100-yard plateau three times in the last six games, tallying 101 against Missouri, 134 against South Carolina and 108 against LSU. Were he to reach a fourth 100-yard effort in seven games, that would be just the 17th rusher to go for a hundred against a Nick Saban-led Alabama club. As we mentioned last week, Nick Chubb of Georgia was the last back to pull that off…in October, 2015.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: This looks — on paper, at least — to be another coronation for the Crimson Tide. Can Florida shock the world?
#6 Wisconsin (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten) vs. #8 Penn State (10-2, 8-1 Big Ten) | Big Ten Championship (Indianapolis, IN)
8:00pm | FOX
- Speaking of Alabama: (Or, at least Wisconsin’s sports information department was, anyway…) Wisconsin joins the Tide, according to the aforementioned sports information department, as the only Power 5 teams to play in their conference title games in four of the last six seasons. Wisconsin’s two championship game victories came in 2011 and 2012, representing the now-defunct Leaders Division in taking out Michigan State and Nebraska. A win in this game would be Wisconsin’s 15th league title and Penn State’s third.
- On a string: Neither of these schools has lost since October. Also, both of these schools looked to be unlikely participants in this game just weeks ago. Wisconsin found itself 4-2 on October 15, after back-to-back losses to Michigan and Ohio State. The Badgers have won six in a row after those two setbacks. If one wants to get technical, it could be said that Penn State has not actually lost since September, as its 49-10 loss at Michigan on September 24 dropped the Nittany Lions to 2-2. Penn State has won eight in a row, including a somewhat inexplicable (at the time) 24-21 victory over Ohio State.
- Follow the leader: Redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook is listed as questionable for this contest, as he sufered a head injury in the Badgers’ 31-17 victory over Minnesota last week. The 6-foot-4 passer has not been so much an aggregator of stats — he last attempted greater than 19 passes in that loss to Ohio State — as he has a stabilizing influence during his time under center. Senior signal-caller Bart Houston would be the man to take the snaps in Hornibrook’s absence, but he has attempted greater than 18 throws of his own just twice, in victories against LSU and Akron in the first and second games of the year.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: The winner of this game has a case for the College Football Playoff. They might be the most unlikely participant in its history.