Week 14 college football predictions for the 10 biggest games. It’s championship week, with nine of the nation’s 10 conference titles being decided on the field.
It’s championship week in college football, that decisive time on the calendar when conference titles are awarded, playoff bids are doled out and bowl destinations are decided. Eight of the nation’s 10 conferences will stage championship games on either Friday or Saturday. And as luck would have it, the two best teams from the Big 12, which won’t play a title game until 2017, meet on the field as well.
Below are the breakdowns and predictions for the 10 most consequential and entertaining games of Week 14.
10. Baylor (6-5) at West Virginia (9-2)
There was a time midway through the season that it appeared as if this matchup, not Bedlam, would decide the Big 12 champ. But that was long before the Bears imploded and the Mountaineers failed to compete with Oklahoma or Oklahoma State.
The storylines? Likely Jim Grobe’s final regular season game as Baylor’s one-year stopgap. A chance to monitor the continuing development of Bear true freshman quarterback Zach Smith, the probable starter in 2017. And West Virginia’s quest for a 10-win season, which would be a first since the program joined the Big 12 four years ago.
Baylor looks to have packed it in. West Virginia is still bringing it, as evidenced by last week’s stampede through Ames. The ‘eers will nab that coveted tenth win behind the running of Justin Crawford, who should be back after tweaking his knee, and a veteran secondary that’ll pick Smith’s pockets when he stares down receivers.
Prediction: West Virginia 41, Baylor 21
Line: West Virginia -16
9. Louisiana Tech (8-4) at Western Kentucky (9-3)
If the sequel is half as good as the first meeting on Oct. 6, the Conference USA Championship Game ought to be a real doozy.
Two months ago, Louisiana Tech withstood a furious Western Kentucky rally to hold on, 55-52, in a shootout involving two of the nation’s highest scoring teams. But that was in Ruston, while this will be in Bowling Green since the Bulldogs blew a chance to host with Friday’s loss to Southern Miss. All eyes will understandably be on the quarterback battle between Hilltopper Mike White and Bulldog Ryan Higgins, who combined for 10 touchdown passes and no picks in the first meeting. And who both have access to a pair of 1,000-yard receivers.
Tough separating these schools, right down to the coaching matchup between Jeff Brohm and Skip Holtz. But Western Kentucky is home, hot and just a shade better than Louisiana Tech on defense. It’ll be the difference in a second straight league championship for Brohm and his Toppers.
Prediction: Western Kentucky 45, Louisiana Tech 40
Line: Western Kentucky -7.5
8. San Diego State (9-3) at Wyoming (8-4)
San Diego State was supposed to be here. Wyoming? Not even in some Cowboy fan’s wildest fantasy.
The Cowboys have already defeated the Aztecs, a one-point thriller two weeks ago. Do it again and the program will have its first outright league title since 1988. Both teams are coming off blowout losses and will need to regroup in a hurry, especially on defense. The star backs, Aztec Donnel Pumphrey and Cowboy Brian Hill, will again be the focal points, but the respective sophomore hurlers, Christian Chapman and Josh Allen, have flashed as well.
Great job this year by Wyoming and coach Craig Bohl. But the Cowboys won’t beat the Aztecs twice in the same year. True, San Diego State was rotten last week, but it still has the far better D in this game. Pumphrey will get his yards, but cornerback Damontae Kazee, linebacker Calvin Munson and defensive end Alex Barrett are going to be the sparkplugs for a second straight Mountain West crown.
Prediction: San Diego State 35, Wyoming 27
Line: San Diego State -7
7. Temple (9-3) at Navy (9-2)
If Western Michigan stumbles Friday night in Detroit, Temple and Navy hope to swoop in and parlay an American title on Saturday into a berth in a New Year’s Six bowl game.
The Owls and the Midshipmen didn’t meet in the regular season, but they’re not unfamiliar with one another, and they’re only separated by 120 congested miles down I-95. Navy has won four in a row, scoring 141 combined points in the last two games with East Carolina and SMU. A fifth consecutive win would result in the Academy’s first-ever conference title. Temple has won six straight to capture the East Division for a second straight year under Matt Rhule.
Temple has the league’s best D, led by defensive end Haason Reddick and coordinator Phil Snow. But Navy is an entirely different animal, with quarterback Will Worth and his wave of interchangeable backs operating at peak performance. The Mids will wear down the Owls, who’ll begin the regular season with a loss to Army and end it by bowing to Navy.
Prediction: Navy 34, Temple 28
Line: Navy -3
6. Ohio (8-4) vs. Western Michigan (12-0)
With all of the talk of a possible Cotton Bowl berth and perfect season, it’s easy to forget that Western Michigan is also looking for its first MAC championship since 1988.
Despite the myriad distractions, P.J. Fleck has his kids focused on the task at hand, beating Ohio to finally break through with a league title. This will be a classic study in contrasts, from the styles of play to the generational coaching gap between Fleck and Bobcat veteran Frank Solich. Ohio hasn’t beaten Western Michigan in a decade, losing the last three meetings.
Ohio can be feisty with defensive end Tarell Basham and linebackers Quentin Poling and Blair Brown in the front seven. But it won’t have nearly enough offense to keep up with Western Michigan, which is humming on both sides of the ball. With an assist from Zach Terrell, wideout Corey Davis will once again be a showstopper at the expense of the Bobcat secondary, its most vulnerable defensive unit.
Prediction: Western Michigan 37, Ohio 19
Line: Western Michigan -19
5. Clemson (8-3) vs. Virginia Tech (9-2)
Clemson heads to Orlando looking for a second straight ACC championship and another berth in the College Football Playoff.
The Tigers have been more vulnerable than they were in 2015, losing to Pitt on Nov. 12 and suffering through a handful of close calls with lesser opponents. But they’ve rallied back behind Deshaun Watson and a talent-rich defense to remain in title contention. The Hokies, meanwhile, are returning to the ACC title game for the first time in five years. Justin Fuente has had a solid debut as Frank Beamer’s successor, and now has a shot to put his rebuilding plan into hyperdrive.
Virginia Tech is good. Clemson is a notch better … on both sides of the ball. The Tigers will win the line of scrimmage, especially when the Hokies have the ball. And while the Tech secondary will make Watson earn his conversions, he has enough quality receiving options, led by big Mike Williams, to break through and open a close game up in the second half.
Prediction: Clemson 37, Virginia Tech 24
Line: Clemson -10
4. Alabama (12-0) vs. Florida (8-3)
Top-ranked and unbeaten Alabama looks for its fifth Southeastern Conference Championship in the last eight years.
The Crimson Tide is head and shoulders above everyone else in the league, and possibly the country, powering through the schedule by an average score of 39-11. The defense is predictably dominant, while the offense has been sparked by true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts. The Gators will flex their defensive muscles, too, and played in this game a year ago. However, the inability to score consistently is an issue that won’t get addressed against this week’s opponent.
Unless the Gators can produce non-offensive touchdowns, this matchup won’t be competitive after halftime. Florida will likely use backup quarterback Austin Appleby, who’ll wilt in the face of Bama’s incessant pressure. And a handful of turnovers and sacks will tee up Hurts and his deep backfield with short-field opportunities on the Florida side of the field.
Prediction: Alabama 34, Florida 9
Line: Alabama -24
3. Oklahoma State (9-2) at Oklahoma (9-2)
For the second straight year, Bedlam is the epicenter of the Big 12 universe, with the winner in Norman earning an outright league championship.
The Cowboys and the Sooners have battled back from humbling two-loss Septembers to win seven and eight in a row, respectively. There are many similarities between the two, from their veteran coaches and prolific passing attacks to vulnerable defenses that have improved over the second half of the season. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield can use this setting as a springboard to serious Heisman contention, while Sooner Dede Westbrook and Cowboy James Washington are two of the country’s most polished big-play receivers.
Mason Rudolph will ring up gaudier numbers than Mayfield, but the Oklahoma quarterback will get the Big 12-clinching W. The Sooners are hotter and home. And while Oklahoma State houses a pair of quality backs in Justice Hill and Chris Carson, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon will be difference-makers versus an average OSU front seven.
Prediction: Oklahoma 42, Oklahoma State 33
Line: Oklahoma -12
2. Colorado (10-2) vs. Washington (11-1)
For the first time since 2008, someone other than Oregon or Stanford will be crowned the Pac-12 champion.
It’s been an odd year in the Pac-12, which showcased its depth to the nation. The Huskies delivered a breakout season in Chris Petersen’s third year, finally getting beyond the Ducks and the Cardinal in the North Division. And if they win Friday in Santa Clara, their prize could include a playoff berth. Over in the Southern half, Mike MacIntyre’s Buffs emerged as one of the biggest stories of the year in college football. The team picked to finish last in the division in the preseason now stands a win away from its first conference title in 15 years.
Both defenses are physical and stout. No one in the league is tougher. But while both can score, Washington has more weapons surrounding its quarterback, Jake Browning. And the Huskies are explosive, with Myles Gaskin out of the backfield and John Ross and Dante Pettis on the perimeter. While it’ll be close throughout and very entertaining, U-Dub’s ability to swing for the fences on offense and special teams will provide the margin of victory.
Prediction: Washington 34, Colorado 28
Line: Washington -7.5
1. Penn State (10-2) vs. Wisconsin (10-2)
It’s the Big Ten Championship Game, and the whole world will be watching.
Penn State-Wisconsin will decide this year’s Big Ten champ. It could also create a mess that the playoff committee will have to unravel 12 hours later. Can the champion of arguably the nation’s best league this year be left out of the final four, or will that team join one-loss Ohio State in the title chase? Both schools exceeded expectations, though the Nittany Lions were in a league of their own, flooring the conference by beating out Ohio State and Michigan in the rugged East Division.
Defense still wins championships. At least this championship. Penn State boasts the better backfield, quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley. But the Badger run defense will neutralize Barkley, who isn’t 100%, and the secondary has been airtight all season long. Like last year, it’ll come down to the final minutes in Indianapolis, with Wisconsin hanging on in a low-scoring thriller.
Prediction: Wisconsin 23, Penn State 20
Line: Wisconsin -2