Championship weekend is underway in college football, with spots in the playoff up for grabs. We had an open thread for the SEC Championship Game earlier, and we figured we should have a separate one for the three big games coming up this evening.
The Big 10 title game is the biggest of the day, with the winner going to the college football playoff, and the loser looking at a regular bowl game. The ACC title game has plenty of big implications itself. A win puts Clemson in the playoff. A win for UNC creates a little bit of confusion for the playoff.
The Pac-12 title game is of note for 49ers fans because it is taking place at Levi's Stadium. Stanford is all but guaranteed to remain out of the playoff with a win, but you never know what happens if they win and Clemson loses.
No. 20 USC Trojans vs. No. 7 Stanford Cardinal, Pac-12 Championship Game
Time: 4:45 PM PST
Online Streaming: WatchESPN
Levi's Stadium will be hosting the Pac-12 Football Championship game, where the South Division USC Trojans will get another chance to try and defeat the North Division Stanford Cardinal. The winner of this game will gain a berth to the Rose Bowl, and with a Stanford win, a place in the College Football Playoff. Since the conversion from the Pac-10 to the Pac-12 Conference in 2011, this will be Stanford's (10-2) third Conference Championship appearance with a 2-0 record, and will be USC's (8-4) first appearance. Look for Stanford to make it 3-0.
Much to the delight of USC players, interim head coach, Clay Helton, was named the permanent head coach of USC earlier this week. Since the firing of Steve Sarkisian earlier in the season, Helton galvanized the team to a 5-2 record and first-place finish in the Pac-12 South Division. Under Helton, USC has turned into a physical running team taking advantage of a three headed backfield of Justin Davis, No. 22; Ronald Jones II, No. 25; and Tre Madden, No. 23. The Trojan's also have been taken advantage of QB Cody Kessler's, No. 6, efficiency and impressive accuracy. Kessler's field intelligence has shown throughout the season, where he has displayed great vision, pocket awareness, and sound instincts efficiently passing for the Trojans with a 68.4% passing percentage in 2015.
The coaching prowess of David Shaw is impressive. When many thought he was a product under Jim Harbaugh's shadow, Shaw has continued Stanford's winning ways. In the scouting community, Stanford is highly touted as a program producing NFL ready type talent, which is a testament to Shaw and his staff's coaching abilities. A lot of the success comes from Stanford's tremendous run game, where sophomore Heisman candidate RB Christian McCaffrey, has been running through college defenses with ease. Behind Stanford's massive offensive line (averaging more than 301 pounds), the Cardinal has been averaging 222.0 yards rushing per game, which will be a key match-up verse USC's defense allowing only an average of 137.6 yards per game. Another key to the game will be the improved game of Stanford's QB Kevin Hogan, No. 8, where his strong arm, great instincts, toughness, and sneaky athleticism has been a conducive force in Stanford's success. Look for Stanford to take advantage of the length they have in their receiving corps and the reliable hands McCaffrey possesses as a receiver out of the backfield.
Prediction: With 5 of the last 6 meeting between USC and Stanford being decided in the final possession, no doubt this match-up will definitely be a close one with likely the last team possessing the ball ultimately being victorious. I have Stanford winning over USC in a close barn burner. As for the scouting aspect of the game, it has not been reported yet of any 49ers being credentialed for the game; however, since it is occurring in the 49ers' backyard, it is highly likely the 49ers' scouting department will be in full force.
No. 4 Iowa Hawkeyes vs. No. 5 Michigan State Spartans, Big Ten Championship Game
Time: 5:00 PM PST
Online Streaming: FOX Sports Go
WHAT'S AT STAKE:
Both teams have their sights set on the College Football Playoff, and with a win, you're in. Right now, Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma are holding down the top three spots. However, if Bama or Clemson gets upset today, then it will come down to the Committee selecting either Ohio State, or Stanford, two teams of which who still have playoff contention. While Iowa and MSU have either sat at the no. 4 spot, or hovered around the top four teams, this victory that will cement their spot in the College Football Playoff.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard led the Hawkeyes to a 12-0 season, but it's not over yet. Beathard has thrown for 2,354 along with 14 scores to just three interceptions. The Michigan State secondary will try to have their way with Beathard, however, they haven't impressed this season. Mark Dantonio recently stated, "I think that we're playing fast, we understand what to do, we have good skill back there." He wasn't lying, safety Demetrious Cox and cornerback Ajen Calhoun are two players who have high draft stocks. The Spartans have had to rely on their young DB's, after Vayonte Copeland and R.J. Williams were lost due to major injuries. Nonetheless, this is a toss up game, so anything can happen.
Iowa has had their share of criticism this year, despite going 12-0. The Hawkeyes have been clowned by pretty much everyone week after week due to their extremely lackluster schedule. However, Iowa does look the part and they have a good chance to beat a strong Michigan State football squad.
As for the Spartans, they had their statement win over Ohio State, but a late loss to Nebraska kept them out of the top four. To beat Iowa, they will have to play the best ball of their season.
Prediction: Iowa 27, MSU 24
No. 1 Clemson Tigers vs. No. 10 North Carolina Tar Heels, ACC Championship Game
Time: 5:00 PM PST
Online Streaming: WatchESPN
Can Clemson survive? With a win, the Tigers will have the no. 1 seed all locked up. As for North Carolina, they don't have rigidity on their resume to carve their way into the College Football Playoff, provided they beat Clemson. Rather, UNC will fight for one of the biggest upsets of the year, along with a huge confidence booster cruising into a well-known bowl game.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
North Carolina's tough secondary taking on arguably the best quarterback in the nation, DeShaun Watson. Star cornerbacks Des Lawrence and M.J. Stewart are doing phenomenal things right now, highlighting the Heels defense. Although, you must give a ton of credit to the defensive coordinator, Gene Chizik. Chizik has turned around the defensive side of the ball, transforming this team from not so good, to an excelling group of players. For example, only Penn State has allowed fewer catches of 20 yards or more to opposing receivers among Power 5 teams this season.
WHAT'S AT STAKE:
Clemson: A College Football Playoff appearance. The chance for a National Championship relies solely on the result of the scoreboard at the end of this game.
North Carolina: For North Carolina to jump the teams in front of them and squeeze into the College Football Playoff, they will have to win massively, but they won't. The Heels may pull an upset, but they are definitely not blowing out the no. 1 team in the country -- More aptly, UNC has a high-profiled bowl game heading their way.
We should see a combination of the two running backs the Heels have to offer, Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan. Hood provides more physicality in his running style, while T.J. Logan is a flat out burner. The mix between the two keeps defenses on their toes week in, and week out. Despite having a great run-game to rely on, a lot of the success for the Tar Heels has also been through the air. Quarterback Marquise Williams has battled through all types of adversity this season, but he has found a groove in the offense, leading the team to 10 straight wins.
We all know what Clemson is doing on the offensive side of the ball. However, they will arguably face the toughest defense they've seen this season. North Carolina's defense got off to a hot start, but they have steadily declined going down the stretch. Nonetheless, I believe the underdog Heels will come into this game attempting to make a statement to the nation. So, how will Heisman Trophy hopeful DeShaun Watson fare? Watson has dismantled teams week after week. He has targets everywhere on the field, including a tough running back in Jay Guillermo.
Prediction: North Carolina 31, Clemson 28