Western Kentucky (8-4) at UTSA (11-1), 7 p.m. ET (Friday)
Earlier this year, UTSA clipped Western Kentucky 52-46 on the road. Given that the Roadrunners host the matchup this time around—with the Conference USA title at stake—the easy path is favoring home-field advantage. However, UTSA has staggered to the finish with two uncomfortable wins and a loss at North Texas. WKU, meanwhile, hasn’t ceded more than 21 points in a contest during its seven-game winning streak.
Prediction: Western Kentucky 41, UTSA 27
Kent State (7-5) vs. Northern Illinois (8-4), Noon ET
Similar to the C-USA title tilt, the MAC Championship Game features a rematch of a high-scoring affair. One month ago, Kent State edged Northern Illinois 52-47. Expect more of the same in Detroit because both of these defenses are dreadful. The main concern for NIU is quarterback Rocky Lombardi—who threw for 532 yards in the last meeting—missed Week 13’s loss with an injury. If he’s not reasonably close to full health, NIU may have trouble keeping up.
Prediction: Kent State 41, Northern Illinois 31
Utah State (9-3) at San Diego State (11-1), 3 p.m. ET
Following a heart-wrenching departure from Arkansas State, Blake Anderson has turned Utah State into an immediate winner. San Diego State, though, is the deserving favorite here.
Utah and Fresno State are the only teams to surpass 21 points on SDSU, which ranks seventh nationally in yards allowed per play. The offense isn’t overwhelming, but the Aztecs can capitalize on Utah State’s shaky pass defense to earn a tight victory in a low-scoring Mountain West Championship Game.
Prediction: San Diego State 24, Utah State 20
Appalachian State (10-2) at Louisiana (11-1), 3:30 p.m. ET
Before he heads to Florida as Dan Mullen’s replacement, Billy Napier will coach his final game at Louisiana. Although his Ragin’ Cajuns blasted App State 41-13 in the October meeting, they’re actually the underdog in the Sun Belt title. App State has surrendered only 31 points in its past four outings, and that defense can contain a UL offense that hasn’t really had a great performance since mid-October.
Prediction: Appalachian State 31, Louisiana 24
Houston (11-1) at Cincinnati (12-0), 4 p.m. ET
In easily the biggest G5 game of the weekend, Cincinnati has a trip to the College Football Playoff at stake. Win the AAC crown, and the Bearcats need a loss from any of Michigan, Alabama or Oklahoma State to unquestionably earn a spot.
Does it happen? Yes. Will it be comfortable? No. Although the Bearcats own 10 double-digit wins, they have an unsettling habit of not playing a strong second half. Houston and its ninth-ranked scoring offense are built to capitalize on a late window and take Cincinnati to the wire.
Prediction: Cincinnati 38, Houston 34
Power Five Championship Games
Oregon (10-2) vs. Utah (9-3), 8 p.m. ET (Friday)
Two weeks ago, Utah obliterated Oregon 38-7. While that margin was shocking, the result was not. Utah has been the better team since late October, riding a defense that has allowed 4.3 yards per snap during a five-game winning streak. Oregon, which mustered 85 rushing yards on 20 non-sack attempts in the regular-season clash, desperately needs its rushing attack to show up in the Pac-12 title game.
Prediction: Utah 30, Oregon 24
Baylor (10-2) vs. Oklahoma State (11-1), Noon ET
It’s probably not much fun having a CFP berth at stake against Dave Aranda. Baylor’s defense doesn’t have elite numbers, but Aranda always has something to throw at opponents.
Unfortunately for the Bears, quarterback Gerry Bohanon is dealing with a leg injury and didn’t play last weekend. Oklahoma State’s fourth-ranked defense can silence any hopes of an upset, especially if Bohanon is unavailable for the Big 12 championship.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 26, Baylor 13
Georgia (12-0) vs. Alabama (11-1), 4 p.m. ET
The best version of Alabama’s offense can survive Georgia’s top-ranked defense. The problem is Alabama’s offensive line has surrendered a combined 19 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in recent wins over Arkansas and Auburn. There’s no evidence that the “best version” of the offense is ready to appear in Atlanta. Turnovers seem like the only thing that can ruin Georgia’s pursuit of an SEC title.
Prediction: Georgia 27, Alabama 20
Michigan (11-1) vs. Iowa (10-2), 8 p.m. ET
Which running game will be most effective? The likely answer is Michigan, which has a sturdy defense and just shredded Ohio State for 297 yards. Iowa’s defense is excellent, but the Hawkeyes’ run-first attack is 113th in yards per attempt—and they’ll just keep leaning on the ground game regardless of its performance. Michigan wins the Big Ten and heads to the College Football Playoff.
Prediction: Michigan 28, Iowa 17
Pitt (10-2) vs. Wake Forest (10-2), 8 p.m. ET
While the Big Ten Championship Game figures to be a low-scoring tilt, Pitt and Wake Forest might break a scoreboard. Neither team is a CFP contender, so the stakes—relative to the Big 12, SEC and Big Ten—are low. But this should be the most entertaining championship game on Saturday.
Pitt has at least played a little defense this season, allowing 23.3 points per game. Wake Forest has ceded 36.5 per outing to unspectacular competition since the beginning of October, so Pitt should hold a slight edge in this matchup.
Prediction: Pitt 45, Wake Forest 38
USC vs. Cal
USC (4-7) at Cal (4-7), 10 p.m. ET
When the Trojans are on offense, I expect the prevailing storyline will be that Lincoln Riley is leaving Oklahoma to become USC’s next head coach. And when Cal has the ball, I anticipate we’ll be focused on how Lincoln Riley is ready to take over at USC.
Somewhere amid that important conversation, we’ll probably see Cal’s defense is the best unit on the field. USC’s efficiency has dipped sharply (understandably) since Drake London’s season-ending injury.
Also, did you know Lincoln Riley will be USC’s next head coach? Yeah, he’s leaving Oklahoma to lead the Trojans.
Prediction: Cal 27, USC 24