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Tunney: Top 5 conference championship games

| Wednesday, November 30, 2022

5. Purdue vs. No. 2 Michigan (-16.5), 8 p.m.

Michigan is coming off of the best win in the college football season, a 45-23 dismantling of Ohio State. After big plays from quarterback JJ McCarthy and receiver Cornelius Johnson kept the Wolverines in striking distance at halftime, the bruising offensive line opened big holes for Donavan Edwards to sprint the field and ice the game. The Michigan defense stepped up, allowing just three points in the second half in addition to forcing two turnovers against a  vaunted Buckeyes offense. McCarthy was quick to say that the Wolverines “weren’t finished,” in his postgame interview, and they now travel to Indianapolis to face Big Ten West Champion Purdue.

The Boilermakers are coming off of an emotional rivalry win of their own against Indiana. After his older brother, Sean, passed away, quarterback Aidan O’Connell threw for 290 yards and two touchdowns to lead Purdue to a 30-16 win. Purdue is a feel-good story, they have back to back 8 win seasons for the first time in 15 years. They also have a history of upsets, including 9 wins over the second-ranked team while being unranked themselves. Michigan is number two. Can the Boilermakers become the Spoilermakers once again?

4. No. 22 UCF vs. No. 18 Tulane (-3), 4 p.m.

UCF and Tulane are scheduled to play for the second time in a month this Saturday. Last month, the Golden Knights won 38-31 behind the play of quarterback John Rhys Plumlee. However, Plumlee has struggled to stay healthy since. Backup Mikey Keene, who has filled in for Plumlee in previous games, is in line to start if Plumlee can’t play. Last week, Keene filled in for Plumlee in the second half of a 46-39 win over rival South Florida. The two teams are the highest ranked among the Group of 5 conferences, meaning that the winner will head to a New Year’s Six bowl game.

UCF got the best of Tulane in the first round, and there is now uncertainty around the Green Wave. Head coach Willie Fritz has been rumored to be negotiating with Georgia Tech for their coaching position. It remains to be seen whether the rumors will affect the play of his team on Saturday. The Green Wave are coming off of a huge win over Cincinnati that got them to the conference championship game, and they have the benefit of being the home team. Green Wave running back Tyjae Spears is a player to watch. He has over 1,000 yards on the season and a conference-leading 16 touchdowns.

3. No. 11 LSU vs. No. 1 Georgia (-17.5), 4 p.m.

LSU has shown flashes of brilliance where they can defeat any team at any time. Their success will revolve around two players, quarterback Jaylen Daniels and linebacker Harold Perkins. Daniels suffered an ankle injury in LSU’s loss to Texas A&M last week, but head coach Brian Kelly said he is optimistic that Daniels will play in the SEC Championship game. However, his best attribute could be limited. Daniels has made the Tigers offense go this season due to his amazing scrambling ability in addition to his passing. With Daniels banged up, he may be less mobile against a frightening Georgia defense. Linebacker Harold Perkins is a star for the Tigers. He had four sacks against Arkansas earlier in the season.

Georgia, on the other hand, has a lethal defense and two weapons at tight end. Both Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington are semifinalists for the Mackey award, given to the best tight end in the nation. Georgia’s defense hasn’t allowed more than 22 points the whole season. Head coach Kirby Smart and his Bulldogs are the favorites to win the national championship for the second year in a row, but in order to do it they have to defeat a talented LSU team. 

2. No. 13 Kansas State vs. No. 3 TCU (-2.5), 12 p.m.

Kansas State is coming off of a 20-point victory over rival Kansas to clinch a spot in the Big 12 Championship game. Deuce Vaughan ran for 147 yards and a touchdown to earn their trip to the Big 12 Championship game. Vaughan has 1295 yards on the year and is one of the best running backs in college football. The Wildcats are looking for revenge, they lost the first matchup against TCU 28-38. However, Kansas State had an 18-point lead before TCU roared back with 28 straight points to win.

TCU is coming off of their most dominant performance of the season, a 62-14 demolition of an Iowa State team that had the best statistical defense in the Big 12. TCU has had many doubters throughout the season due to their inability to win games in a convincing fashion. However, the Horned Frogs have an unblemished 12-0 record. Quarterback Max Duggan has led the horned frogs the whole season, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions. Head coach Sonny Dykes and the Horned Frogs are just one game away from the first playoff berth in program history. 

1. No. 12 Utah vs. No. 4 USC (-3), 8 p.m. Friday

The best game of the weekend surprisingly takes place on Friday night. USC needs a win to keep their spot in the College Football Playoff. Quarterback Caleb Williams is the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman after his four-touchdown performance against Notre Dame. Williams has been superb the whole season, throwing for 3712 yards, 34 touchdowns and 3 interceptions as a sophomore. Head coach Lincoln Riley seems to have the Trojan offense humming on all cylinders, despite the loss of starting running back Travis Dye to a season-ending injury. What remains to be seen is if the defense can hold against the Utes.

Earlier in the season, the defense folded, allowing 43 points and a game-winning two-point conversion for Utah. Utah is the only team in the Pac-12 that is statistically top 20 in both scoring offense and scoring defense. They are looking to defend their PAC-12 Championship from last season in pursuit of a New Year’s Six Bowl Game. If USC (or TCU) loses this week, chaos will ensue for the fourth spot. Would the committee put in Ohio State? Alabama? This weekend is the ultimate factor in determining who will be in the playoff come the end of the calendar year.

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