Notre Dame vs. Clemson highlights a later-than-usual college football Championship Saturday
Three conference championship games are expected to impact Sunday's final College Football Playoff rankings, which will identify the four teams that qualified to play for the national title.
The odd thing about college football’s 2020 Championship Saturday is that it’s two weeks later than usual, but that’s about it.
Take this stat from ESPN courtesy of AP: Of the 23 Power 5 conference title games since 2015, only two of them were won by the point-spread underdog, one of them being Penn State over Wisconsin in the 2016 Big Ten final.
Three of the current top four in the College Football Playoff ranking – Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State – have combined for 13 CFP appearances in the tournament’s six-year history. Unless there are upsets, we will see the same three again.
ACC championship (Charlotte): No. 2 Notre Dame vs. No. 4 Clemson, 4 p.m., 6ABC
A two-loss team never has advanced to the playoff, which means the Tigers (9-1) would be sweating it out prior to Sunday’s four-team reveal if they were to lose.
Clemson’s only loss took place in the Nov. 7 double-overtime classic at South Bend, when the Fighting Irish posted a 47-40 win. This time, however, the Tigers will have Trevor Lawrence, fully recovered from COVID-19, at quarterback when they aim for their sixth straight ACC championship.
Lawrence is 33-1 as a starter in his career, tops in college football. No. 2 is Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book (30-3), who accounted for 377 total yards – 310 passing, 67 rushing – in their first meeting. The two quarterbacks last squared off in a 2018 national semifinal, in which Clemson ended the Fighting Irish’s 12-0 season with a 30-3 defeat in the Cotton Bowl, and went on to win the national championship.
SEC championship (Atlanta): No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 11 Florida, 8 p.m., CBS3
The Crimson Tide’s big three of quarterback Mac Jones (3,321 passing yards, 27 touchdowns), tailback Najee Henry (1,084 rushing yards, 22 TDs), and wide receiver Devonta Smith (83 receptions, 1,327 yards, 15 TDs) are as formidable an offensive trio as you’ll see in college football.
That means trouble for the Gators (8-2), who wounded their playoff chance last week by losing to Louisiana State, a three-touchdown underdog. No two-loss team has ever reached the field of four , but quarterback Kyle Trask (40 TD passes) will try to pull off an impressive win and make the committee think.
Alabama (10-0) looks to return to the CFP after missing out on last year’s festivities for the first time since the format began in 2014.
Big Ten championship (Indianapolis): No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Northwestern, noon, Fox29
If the Big Ten were playing by rules established in September, the Buckeyes (5-0) would be one game short of qualifying for the title contest. But the conference went logical and they’re in, and they’re a 20½-point favorite, to boot.
Ohio State may decide it needs to pile on the points to convince the committee it belongs in the CFP field, and it has the offense behind Justin Fields (1,407 passing yards, 15 TDs) needed to achieve just that. But the Wildcats (6-1) boast an experienced defense that ranks second nationally in points allowed (14.6 per game) and fifth in yards allowed per play (4.47).
Big 12 championship (Arlington, Texas): No. 8 Iowa State vs. No. 12 Oklahoma, noon, 6ABC
The Cyclones (8-2, 8-1 Big 12) are playing in a conference championship game for the first time. Sophomore Breece Hall leads FBS in rushing with 1,357 yards and has scored 15 touchdowns. Linebacker Mike Rose sparks the defense and is tied for the conference lead with four interceptions.
The Sooners (7-2, 6-2) may have no shot at a playoff berth, but the five-time defending conference champions remain the league’s gold standard. Redshirt freshman Spencer Rattler is their fourth different starting quarterback (Jalen Hurts held the job last year) in the title game in as many years, and his 24 TDs are the most nationally for a freshman.
AAC championship: No. 20 Tulsa at No. 6 Cincinnati, 8 p.m., 6ABC
The Bearcats (8-0, 6-0 AAC) haven’t played since Nov. 21, but they keep retreating in the CFP rankings (No. 9 this week), which is how the committee usually disrespects an undefeated team from the Group of 5. Still, they can gain a spot in the Peach Bowl with a win and have the offense (40.9 points per game) that can get it done. This will be the fifth time that Cincinnati and the Golden Hurricane (6-1, 6-0) have tried to play in this pandemic-plagued season.
No. 5 Texas A&M at Tennessee, noon, ESPN
The Aggies (7-1) are No. 5 in this week’s CFP rankings, and a loss by either Clemson or Ohio State would appear to be their ticket into the playoff. They have a strong running back in Isaiah Spiller, who has hit the 100-yard rushing mark six times this season, and quarterback Kellen Mond needs three TD passes to reach 93 and tie Johnny Manziel’s school career record.
Expatriates of the week
The Big Ten announced its all-conference teams this week and among those receiving honorable-mention notice were Maryland freshman defensive back Tarheeb Still (Timber Creek High School) and two Rutgers players – junior defensive back Avery Young (Coatesville) and senior wide receiver Bo Melton (Cedar Creek). Still and Melton were recognized in separate voting by coaches and media, and Young was cited by media.