Outside the Region Special: Conference titles, Playoff bids on the line on Championship Saturday across the College Football landscape

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI/Shutterstock (13638865q) Michigan Wolverines players pose for a photo at the 50 yard line after planting the “M” flag on the Ohio State Logo after defeating the Buckeyes 45-23 in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday, November 26, 2022. NCAA Ohio State Michigan, Columbus, United States – 26 Nov 2022

Outside the Region Special: Conference titles, Playoff bids on the line on Championship Saturday across the College Football landscape

SEC Championship Game – Atlanta, GA

No. 14 LSU Tigers (9-3, 6-2 SEC) vs. No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs (12-0, 8-0 SEC)

Game Time: 3 p.m. CT

TV/Radio: CBS/SiriusXM 84 or 191

The SEC Championship Game played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, features the defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs and the upstart LSU Tigers. While there is nothing surprising about Georgia’s fifth appearance in this game in the last six seasons, LSU’s rise to the top of the SEC West has been a massive step forward for the program in head coach Brian Kelly’s first year at the helm. The Tigers opened the season unranked and picked up a neutral site loss in Kelly’s first game to Florida State to tamp down expectations even further out of the starting gate. LSU would rattle off nine wins in their next 10 games, rising as high as No. 5 in the College Football Playoff ranks before a deflating loss to Texas A&M last weekend. Still, the opportunity to upset defending national champion Georgia – and pick up an SEC Championship trophy in Brian Kelly’s first year – leaves LSU with plenty to play for Saturday afternoon.

Georgia, meanwhile, has hardly hit a speed bump all season en route to a 12-0 record. Only the Missouri Tigers managed to hang within single digits of the Bulldogs, who have not allowed more than 22 points all season. Kirby Smart has built a program to last at Georgia, with only one loss over the last two seasons on his resume.

If LSU is to have a chance against the mighty Bulldogs, they will need to prove that the country’s top-ranked scoring defense is penetrable. Tigers’ quarterback Jayden Daniels, who transferred to LSU from Arizona State for this season, has accounted for 3,390 yards of total offense and 26 touchdowns between passing and rushing. If there’s a playmaker in the SEC capable of causing the Georgia defense trouble, it might be Daniels – but until proven otherwise, Georgia’s defense is the most potent force in college football.

AAC Championship Game – New Orleans, Louisiana

No. 22 UCF (9-3, 6-2 AAC) vs. No. 18 Tulane (10-2, 7-1 AAC)

Game Time: 3 p.m. CT

TV/Radio: ABC, SiriusXM 81

The AAC title game is a rematch from just three weeks ago. Tulane and UCF separated themselves from the pack as the best teams in the AAC, and we saw that as mid-November rolled around. Central Florida took the win in the first matchup 38-31 on the road, powered by an explosive offense. The Knights clearly have the most dynamic offense in the conference, with dual-threat quarterback John Rhys Plumlee leading the way. Plumlee has amassed 24 total touchdowns over the course of the season, including 11 rushing. He has had a remarkable season; however, this is the biggest game of the year, and he may be forced to throw the football more efficiently than he has most of the season. Though his accuracy numbers are not terrible, he has had multiple games over the course of the season where he leaves completions on the field and turns the ball over when forced to air the ball out. That said, UCF has an offense that ranks among the best in the country in most statistical categories. They run the ball exceptionally well, ranking in the top 12 in the nation. The Knights convert on half their third-down tries and average nearly 500 yards per game. This is a real offense, and if they can control the pace of the game and keep the ball out of Tulane’s hands, UCF should have no problem taking down the Green Wave for a second time to capture the AAC title.

This is Tulane’s first ten-win season since 1998, and nothing would cap off a historic season like winning a historic title, as they have not won a conference title game since that same year. Going 25 years without a title adds a ton of pressure to a game that already has so much to it. Central Florida beat Tulane in their own building just three weeks ago. Tulane, who has been touted as the best team in the AAC all year, cannot go down to the same team twice in less than a month. In order for Tulane to win this game, they need Tyjae Spears to be the game’s leading rusher. Not only that, but they need him to be the catalyst to controlling the pace of the game. As the Knights try to keep the ball away from Tulane, the Green Wave will be running the same game plan. Spears is the most effective tailback in this game, and Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt is less turnover prone than Plumlee. If Tulane can keep the mistakes to a minimum, a long-awaited title could be on the horizon.

ACC Championship Game – Charlotte, North Carolina

No. 9 Clemson (10-2, 8-0 ACC) vs. No. 23 North Carolina (9-3, 6-2 ACC)

Game Time: 7 p.m. CT

TV/Radio: ABC, SiriusXM 81 or 193

Clemson looked like a lock for the College Football Playoff through the first two months of the season. But a tough November essentially crushed any shot it had of earning a spot with losses to Notre Dame and South Carolina. With that said, the Tigers have yet to lose a conference game this season against a much-improved ACC. Teams like Wake Forest, NC State, Syracuse, and Florida State were solid programs this year and Clemson conquered them all. A big reason for that is the play from their quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei who has put together his best season since coming to Clemson. Uiagalelei is completing 62% of his throws with 22 passing touchdowns and has added seven touchdowns on the ground. However, the Tiger QB has had trouble at times with decision-making and accuracy and is coming off his worst game of the season. The troubling part of Clemson’s offense is that it seems to go as D.J. goes. If he plays poorly, Clemson struggles, with most of his success coming in the first two months of the season. Since then, it has not been the same story. In order for Clemson to win this game, it need to focus on what it does best. It need to run the ball with Will Shipley and wreak havoc with its defensive line. This team gets after the quarterback and stops the run. The Tigers should be the favorites in this game, but are prone to mistakes, and it could get away from them.

North Carolina’s offense has been centered around star quarterback Drake Maye who has quietly been one of the most dynamic players in all of college football. Maye is completing almost 68 percent of his throws for over 3,800 yards with 35 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He is also the team’s leading rusher, with 629 yards on the ground with six rushing touchdowns. He is overwhelmingly the most important player on this team which is both a blessing and a curse. Maye has had a similar issue to Uiagalelei. Most of his success came in the first two months of the season. His worst two games of the season were his last two outings. With that said, he is a beast and is not easy to contain. If he is on, Clemson will need to focus strictly on him, which could open up the rest of the offense. The Tar Heels are not a running team which could prove to be an issue given how well Clemson runs the ball. North Carolina needs to do what it can in the short to intermediate passing game in order to maintain possession of the football. UNC ranks among the best in the country in most offensive statistical categories outside of running the football. The other issue the Tar Heels face is their defense which has been subpar all season. Any team they have played this season with some semblance of an offense has been able to take advantage of this defense. This simply puts more pressure on Maye to be as efficient as possible. If Maye drops below his expected level of play, it could be a long night for North Carolina.

2022 Big Ten Football Championship Game – Indianapolis, IN

Purdue Boilermakers (8-4, 6-3 Big Ten) vs. No. 2 Michigan Wolverines (12-0, 9-0 Big Ten)

Game Time: 7 p.m. CT

TV/Radio: FOX/SiriusXM 83 or 84

The 2022 Big Ten Football Championship Game features a College Football Playoff probable in No. 2 Michigan and an eight-win Purdue team hoping to pull off a massive upset. The Purdue Boilermakers’ heartbeat is quarterback Aidan O’Connell, who has not been on campus this week in advance of Saturday’s game. O’Connell has been out of state mourning the death of his brother, but still intends to lead the Boilermakers into this matchup with the Wolverines, despite a heavy heart. Purdue enters the game having won three in a row, a stretch in which O’Connell has passed for seven touchdowns and just one interception.

The No. 2 Wolverines head into Saturday’s showdown like a freight train, carrying the incredible momentum gained in their blowout win over rival Ohio State on the road last Saturday. Michigan’s 45-23 win was especially impressive without incredible running back Blake Corum, who tried to play briefly in “The Game” before heading to the sidelines for good. Corum is unavailable for Michigan again against Purdue, but Jim Harbaugh’s team seems to have found a worthy replacement in Donovan Edwards. Edwards ran for 216 yards behind the Wolverines’ bruising offensive line last week, icing the game with two late touchdown runs to silence more than 100,000 fans at Ohio Stadium.

The biggest challenge for Michigan Saturday night may very well be overcoming themselves. It would only be natural to somewhat overlook Purdue, a clearly inferior opponent in theory sandwiched between a rivalry win over Ohio State and the likely looming College Football Playoff at the end of this month. Jim Harbaugh has undoubtedly spent the week urging his team to focus on the task at hand. The Wolverines have won games all season by controlling their opponents with an elite rushing offense and the nation’s third-ranked scoring defense. If Michigan can find the motivation necessary to exert their will on Purdue in the early going, they ought to coast to an easy win and set themselves up to make a run at a national championship.

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