Not all of us will be braving the cold to tailgate and watch college football in person (see SMU's free ticket crowd). Some will take in the spectacle in our living rooms, basements, and favorite watering holes.
While the Divisional Round of the NFL postseason sneakily has been stronger than the Championship round lately, college football fans witnessed last year that the conference championships can be more entertaining than the major bowls are. Which of this year's games is most watchable? All times Eastern.
7. The SWAC Championship Game
Southern vs. Jackson State at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, 2 PM on ESPNU; Mark Neely, Jay Walker.
I'm sure some will scoff at the level of talent in this game, BUT know that six SWAC players signed undrafted deals with NFL teams and a former Alabama State player, WR Greg Jenkins, scored on special teams on Thanksgiving for the Raiders. I'll pop in to see some of this game because its outcome still has more objective, tangible meaning than 34 of the FBS bowl games (not that I think there are too many bowls; Just stating a fact).
6. The Dr. Pepper ACC Championship Game
(20) Duke vs. (1) Florida State at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, 8 PM on ABC; Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit.
Only one of the Seminoles' 12 opponent has gotten within 27 points of them, and that is Boston College with Heisman finalist and 2000-yard rusher RB Andre Williams. They were defeated by 14. Duke is a great story, and it's amazing to see how head coach David Cutliffe has brought school records to the football program while his old QB at Tennessee, Peyton Manning, has been approaching team and personal records for Denver.
However, another way to look at this match-up is that Florida State's worst output this season has been 37 this past week against the #2 secondary in the SEC (Florida). The Blue Devils have scored under that amount seven times, though QB ? is undefeated in these past two seasons as a starter.
The Seminoles are ranked #1 in the country, #1 in PPG allowed, #2 in PPG scored.
With both these teams having played games exactly 7 days prior, there is zero chance of one team catching the other napping. Duke should expect the Seminoles to play fast and physical to make an emphatic statement with the goal of guaranteeing their spot in the BCS Championship Game, as Jimbo Fisher has yet to allow his team to underestimate any of their first 12 opponents. Jimbo played QB in college and arena football, and Duke head coach David Cutcliffe is considered a QB guru.
I don't know if the freedom of knowing their QB will not be suspended can be a liberating X-factor in the game. Duke is by far the biggest underdog for Championship Weekend, and will be playing with a chip on their shoulder, but it likely won't be enough.
5. The Mountain West Championship Game
Utah State vs. (23) Fresno State, 10 PM on CBS; Andrew Catalon, Aaron Taylor.
Nobody has thrown for more TDs and yards in the FBS than Fresno State QB Derek Carr. Check out the completions/yards/TD stat lines he's put up across 2012 and 2013: 42-536-5 vs. SDSU,17-300-5 vs. Colorado, 38-519-6 at San Jose State, 24-371-5 @ Idaho, 27-527-7 vs. New Mexico. The problem is, Utah State is giving up a full touchdown less (16.8 PPG vs. Boise State's 23.8) than anyone else in Mountain West.
Utah State has four losses to the Bulldogs' one, and the Aggies have struggled the three times they've played 3 of the 26 FBS QBs with 22 or more TD passes.
Maybe I'm wrong, but I get the feeling the more consistent, polished team with the more NFL-ready QB will make this a less-than-close game. Doesn't mean I won't watch some of it.
4. The Conference USA Championship Game
Marshall @ Rice, 12 PM on ESPN2; Joe Tessitore, Matt Millen.
Out in the wild, wild Conference USA, the winner from last year - Tulsa - went 3-9 this year. The surprise winner from 2011 - Southern Miss - just got their first win since then on November 30th. Here is a match-up of two downtrodden colleges, where either team's win would be a major milestone.
Marshall has zero CUSA Championships, and has their most wins since the 2002 season. The Herd averages two full touchdowns more per game on offense than Rice does (44.6 to Rice's 30.6).
Rice has never won Conference USA and has appeared in just three bowl games since the 1962 season. They are 17th in rushing yards per game. Both teams are average vs. the run, allowing 17 TDs each while Marshall has a better yards-per-carry allowed (3.5 vs. 4.2).
After leading the FBS in 2012 in attempts and completions (despite not playing in a bowl game), Thundering Herd QB Rakeem Cato is throwing the ball a lot less frequently this year (and less accurately...but with a higher YPA), resulting in a slight uptick in QB rating (147.1 to 149.9). He has two more total TDs and 3 fewer INTs than last season, after losing two of his top targets (Antavious Wilson and New England Patriot Aaron Dobson). While the temptations for many will be to change channels to OU vs. OSU and UCF @ SMU due to BCS implications,Cato and the high-powered Marshall offense are the reason I'm generally only tuning into this one.
If for no other reason, watch it because Marshall's head coach is named Doc Holliday!
3. The PAC-12 Championship Game
(7) Stanford @ (11) Arizona State, 7:45 PM on ESPN; Brad Nessler, Todd Blackledge.
This is a rematch of a game from earlier in the year (the Cardinal won 42-28), and will be featuring the #1 defense in the Pac-12 - Stanford at 19.0 PPG allowed - defending the #2 offense in the conference, the Sun Devils at 43.3 PPG. Both the coaches in this game did an excellent job navigating a very competitive conference. Given that this match-up isn't new and there's minimal BCS implications, there's a solid gap between this game and the two ahead of it.
2. The Big Ten Championship Game
(2) Ohio State vs. (10) Michigan State at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, 8:17 PM on FOX; Gus Johnson, Charles Davis.
Who says no one plays defense in college football? In addition to the #1 defense in PPG being in play for their conference championship (the Seminoles), so is the #4 defense, the Michigan State Spartans.
The last two meetings between these teams were close, a 1-point victory in 2012 for Ohio State and a 3-point victory for Michigan State in 2011.
The last team to get within less than two scores of the Spartans was Iowa on October 5th who they still beat 26-14.
Some believe Ohio State's offense is a unit (highest-scoring Big Ten offense in almost 100 years) that is unstoppable by even the Seminoles. Another radical faction believe the Buckeyes have been on a 24-game mirage, having avoided playing top 10 teams until now. We'll see which school of thought is closer to reality tonight.
1. The SEC Championship Game
(5) Missouri vs. (3) Auburn at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia, 4 PM on CBS; Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson.
If Auburn and Ohio State win (the Seminoles being a lock to defeat Duke), there is gonna be a BCS controversy. With quality wins, Missouri winning could also created BCS controversy.
The two teams in this championship were a combined 2-14 in the SEC in 2012. It's just the third SEC Championship game without Georgia, Florida, LSU or Alabama since 1998 (the other two were with Auburn as well).
Missouri Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel has been at Missouri since 2001 and this marks his fourth double-digit win season with them. Gus Malzahn is in his inaugural season as Auburn head couch.
Missouri's one loss, to South Carolina, was the only time someone got within even 13 points of them until Johnny Manziel and A&M did it last week. They play with an infectious energy, while Auburn will try to slow them and the pace of the game down. I expect this to be the game of the week. The possibility that it's a play-in game for the National Championship just adds to it.
What do you think? Which games are you excited to watch? Are there any broadcast crews you wish were working these games that aren't? Do you think conferences should have championship games?
Bonus thoughts: In a broadcasting fantasy draft, I'd select Gus Johnson and Charles Davis to do the SEC Championship game in a heartbeat. I also would have given the Mountain West game to Dave Ryan with Adam Archuleta, as Ryan's excitement pays dividends in important games (he once subbed for Gus for a CBS NFL game back in 2009). Catalon's alright, though. Another caveat I have is that ESPN still can't seem to make landmark FCS and Div. II and III games more visible. I have DirecTV, so I have no way of seeing the North Dakota State Bison push for an undefeated season without buying the upgrade, nor do I have access to some of the other exciting playoff games on during the day. I believe they should do what Big Ten Network does and have alternate channels playing all these games for as many people as possible.