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Beyond a couple of makeup games, the 2018 regular season is in the books. Conference championship week, at long last, has arrived and will provide the results that will shape bowl season.
Most important, of course, are the clashes that will determine which teams reach the College Football Playoff. Notre Dame has sealed a spot in the four-team tournament for the national title, but three more programs will join the Fighting Irish this weekend.
Each preview includes the matchup information, the favorite, what’s at stake and a key storyline to monitor.
All game lines are courtesy of OddsShark. Rankings reflect the AP poll because the CFP Top 25 was not available at publish.
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Matchup: Memphis (8-4) at No. 7 UCF (11-0)
Info: 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, Dec. 1; Spectrum Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
Favorite: UCF -3.5
Stakes: As the highest-rated “Group of Five” program, UCF would secure a berth to either the Fiesta or Peach Bowl with a victory. The programs will otherwise be included in the non-specific AAC selection process, which aims for the best possible matchups.
Key storyline: McKenzie Milton guided the Knights on their 24-game winning streak, but a horrific injury in Week 13’s game against South Florida will sideline the dual-threat quarterback. He engineered a 16-point second-half comeback during UCF’s regular-season win at Memphis too. To say Milton’s presence will be missed is an understatement. Freshman backup Darriel Mack Jr. will assume control of the offense.
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Matchup: No. 2 Clemson (12-0) vs. Pitt (7-5)
Info: 8 p.m. ET Saturday, Dec. 1; Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
Favorite: Clemson -25.5
Stakes: Not only is a fourth straight conference title on the line for Clemson, but the powerhouse could also extend its CFP streak to four. The Tigers would be assured of a No. 2 ranking at worst. Pitt has a fascinating bowl outlook. Should the Panthers upset Clemson, they’ll make a New Year’s Six game—perhaps the Peach Bowl. If not, they’re in line for a Tier I ACC selection such as the Sun Bowl.
Key storyline: In Week 13, Pitt fell 24-3 to Miami, which has a tremendous defense but an uninspiring offense. Clemson is coming off its worst defensive showing of the season, but it shredded South Carolina for 744 yards for a 21-point win. Can a run-first Panthers offense even hang around into the fourth quarter?
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Matchup: No. 9 Texas (9-3) vs. No. 5 Oklahoma (11-1)
Info: Noon ET Saturday, Dec. 1; AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
Favorite: Oklahoma -6
Stakes: Oklahoma is seeking its fourth consecutive Big 12 crown. Although a win doesn’t assure OU of a place in the College Football Playoff, the Sooners would put themselves in a decent spot. The alternative is a spot in the Sugar Bowl, though Texas should head there with a victory or the Alamo Bowl with a loss.
Key storyline: In October, Texas downed the Sooners 48-45 thanks to a last-second field goal. However, the Longhorns also coughed up a 21-point advantage in that contest. Without a plus-three turnover margin, they wouldn’t have pulled off the upset. If Texas doesn’t catch the same breaks, will an inconsistent offense take advantage of Oklahoma’s suspect defense to keep up with quarterback Kyler Murray and Co.?
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Matchup: No. 21 Northwestern (8-4) vs. No. 6 Ohio State (11-1)
Info: 8 p.m. ET Saturday, Dec. 1; Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Favorite: Ohio State -14
Stakes: The dismantling of Michigan might be enough to convince the CFP committee that Ohio State deserves a Top Four spot. Even if the Buckeyes win as expected, they’ll be sweating out Selection Day. If not, though, Northwestern will make a surprise Rose Bowl appearance. The ‘Cats are more likely bound for the Holiday or TaxSlayer Bowl. Northwestern last won an outright Big Ten title in 1995.
Key storyline: Northwestern tends to perform at the level of its competition. That explains the losses to Akron and Duke and four-quarter fights with Michigan and Notre Dame. So, the Wildcats figure to give Ohio State a battle. But can they finish? That didn’t happen opposite UM and ND.
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Matchup: UAB (9-3) at Middle Tennessee (8-4)
Info: 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday, Dec. 1; Floyd Stadium, Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Favorite: Middle Tennessee -2.5
Stakes: Neither team has ever won a Conference USA championship. The league doesn’t have a defined selection order, so the postseason destinations for both UAB and Middle Tennessee are unknown. The only certainty is Florida International will represent C-USA against Toledo (MAC) in the Bahamas Bowl.
Key storyline: UAB did a whole lot of nothing during the Week 13 clash in Murfreesboro, trudging to 89 total yards behind a short-handed offensive line in a 27-3 loss. The return of senior quarterback A.J. Erdely (shoulder injury) didn’t help out the Blazers. If they’re healthier up front, things get interesting. If not, is another blowout coming?
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Matchup: Northern Illinois (7-5) vs. Buffalo (10-2)
Info: 7 p.m. ET Friday, Nov. 30; Ford Field, Detroit
Favorite: Buffalo -4
Stakes: NIU last won the MAC in 2014, while Buffalo’s most recent title was 2008. Toledo is locked in for the Bahamas Bowl, so the MAC has three remaining bowl tie-ins with no specific selection order. The programs will represent the conference in two of the Dollar General, Famous Idaho Potato and Camellia Bowls.
Key storyline: Northern Illinois isn’t built for a shootout, considering it ranks 122nd nationally in scoring offense at just 19.9 points per game. Buffalo has dynamic potential with Tyree Jackson, but the redshirt junior quarterback has been frustratingly inefficient lately. Will the Bulls run away, or can NIU steal an ugly, low-scoring slugfest?
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Matchup: No. 25 Fresno State (10-2) at No. 19 Boise State (10-2)
Info: 7:45 p.m. ET Saturday, Dec. 1; Albertsons Stadium, Boise, Idaho
Favorite: Boise State -2.5
Stakes: For the third time in six seasons, the MWC title game features these two programs. Boise State holds a 2-0 mark, including last year’s 17-14 win. Fresno State last won the Mountain West in 2013. If UCF loses, the winner has a chance to appear in the Fiesta Bowl. Otherwise, the victor will go to the Las Vegas Bowl.
Key storyline: Both teams wasted scoring chances in the November matchup, which Boise State won 24-17. The Broncos had an interception inside the 30, a missed field goal and a turnover on downs, while Fresno State missed two kicks and lost the ball on downs. Which offense will best capitalize on its opportunities?
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Matchup: No. 17 Utah (9-3) vs. No. 10 Washington (9-3)
Info: 8 p.m. ET Friday, Nov. 30; Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.
Favorite: Washington -5
Stakes: The winner seals a place in the Rose Bowl. Washington last appeared in the Pac-12’s prized game to close the 2000 season, while this would mark Utah’s first trip to the “Granddaddy of Them All.”
Key storyline: When the programs met in September, the Huskies won 21-7 and limited Utah to one gain of 20-plus yards. Tyler Huntley started that game for the Utes but has since broken his collarbone. Freshman quarterback Jason Shelley hasn’t yet faced a defense of this caliber. Utah’s stingy unit should keep the team competitive, but Shelley must provide a game-changing play for an upset to happen.
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Matchup: No. 4 Georgia (11-1) vs. No. 1 Alabama (12-0)
Info: 4 p.m. ET Saturday, Dec. 1; Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
Favorite: Alabama -13
Stakes: The SEC Championship Game is the only showdown in which the winner is guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoff. If the perfect mixture of chaos happens, Alabama could sneak into the playoff despite a loss. It’s unlikely but possible. In all likelihood, the loser in Atlanta is headed to the Sugar Bowl against a Big 12 foe.
Key storyline: In a rematch of last season’s national title, Georgia has an experienced quarterback in Jake Fromm, talented running backs, including D’Andre Swift, and an intriguing group of low-volume receivers. The secondary has been terrific all season. But can the Dawgs stop Tua Tagovailoa (36 passing touchdowns to just two interceptions)? That question will shape this result.
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Matchup: Louisiana-Lafayette (7-5) at Appalachian State (9-2)
Info: Noon ET Saturday, Dec. 1; Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, N.C.
Favorite: Appalachian State -17.5
Stakes: The winner is destined for the New Orleans Bowl—which has featured Louisiana in five of the last seven years. After that, it’s an unknown. The Sun Belt factors in geography and a desire to create the most appealing matchups for its postseason games.
Key storyline: Appalachian State boasts a 5-0 record at home and surrendered no more than 17 points in each of those games. Louisiana’s offense has explosive potential, but the Ragin’ Cajuns averaged only 21.7 points on the road during the regular season.