Championship Weekend isn't the only college football happening this weekend. Dave Preston offers his picks in the big games, as well as for our local teams still competing.
WASHINGTON — College football begins its annual transition from the best regular season in sports to a most unwieldy postseason.
Conference Championship Weekend kicks off with a defensive duel by the Bay and ends with a pair of mismatches. Two local teams are in action: one fighting for a potential FCS title game rematch; the other, attempting to reach the Pinstripe Bowl. Hey, we all have to have dreams.
For those who already have their college hoop hats on, a primer to insert yourself into conversations this weekend.
Pac-12: No. 11 Washington (9-3) vs. No. 17 Utah (9-3), 8 p.m. Friday (FOX)
At Stake: A berth in the Rose Bowl. Before the BCS and then the playoff, this was all you hoped for. Now, it’s effectively the kid’s table at holiday functions.
Rematch?: The Huskies won the Sept. 15 meeting 21-7 in a game where Myles Gaskin rushed for 143 yards. Since coming back from injury, the senior is averaging 151 yards on the ground.
Who to Watch: The top two defenses in the conference boast the necessary difference-makers, with Washington’s Benn Burr-Kirven leading the conference in tackles (155) and Utah’s Bradlee Anae topping the league with eight sacks.
Fun Fact: Nine of the 12 schools have played for the championship in the conference’s eight-year history.
Presto’s Pick: Huskies handle the Utes, 24-10.
Big 12: No. 5 Oklahoma (11-1) vs. No. 14 Texas (9-3), noon (ABC)
At Stake: The Sooners are playing for a potential spot in the Playoffs and should get in with a win plus a loss by Georgia or Clemson. The Longhorns are trying to make everyone forget they began the year with a loss at FedEx Field to Maryland.
Rematch?: Oh my Gus, yes. UT won 48-45 on a last-second field goal after OU rallied from 21 points down in the second half. How is this game not on FOX?
Players to Watch: Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray may not be Baker Mayfield, but the future baseball prospect did throw for 3,674 yards and 37 touchdowns. The Longhorns hope defensive standouts Charles Omenihu (DE), Gary Johnson (LB), and freshman Caden Sterns (S) can slow Murray and company down.
Fun Fact: This is the first time these two schools have played twice since 1903. Although Texas did play Penn Radio School twice in 1918.
Presto’s Pick: Sooners take another thriller, 44-34.
Virginia Tech (5-6) vs. Marshall (8-3), noon (ACC Network)
How did this game even happen? Oh yes, Hurricane Florence canceled the Hokies’ game with East Carolina.
At Stake: A win sends the Hokies to their 26th straight bowl, while a loss ends a massively frustrating season. And after the way this team played down the stretch (four losses in five games), many would rather not watch another sixty minutes of VT football this fall.
Rematch?: The two schools last met in 2013, a 29-21 Hokies victory decided in triple overtime.
Players to Watch: VT quarterback Ryan Willis has played admirably since taking over for the injured Josh Jackson. Thundering Herd freshman Isaiah Green has led Marshall to three straight wins, including an upset of FIU that kept the Panthers out of the Conference USA Championship Game.
Fun Fact: While the Hokies currently own a 15-game winning streak against in-state foe Virginia, the Thundering Herd has yet to beat West Virginia in 12 tries.
Presto’s Pick: Hokies are humbled, 39-31.
FCS Second Round: James Madison (9-3) at No. 8 Colgate (9-1), 1 p.m. (ESPN3)
At Stake: A berth in the quarterfinals, likely against defending national champ North Dakota State.
Rematch?: The two teams met in the 2015 FCS Playoffs, with the Raiders upsetting the Dukes 44-38 in what would be Everett Withers’ final game as head coach in Harrisonburg.
Players to Watch: Colgate’s James Holland led the Patriot League in rushing, and the Raiders’ defense allowed 5.7 points per game. JMU led the CAA in scoring behind quarterback Ben DiNucci, who might not be Bryan Schor but threw for 223 yards and a touchdown in last weekend’s win over Delaware.
Fun Fact: Just like Withers was on his way out the door for the Texas State job three years ago, current Dukes coach Mike Houston is on his way to Charlotte after the 2018 tournament run.
Presto’s Pick: Dukes advance to another date with North Dakota State, 23-10.
At Stake: A potential second straight unbeaten season for the Knights, who can declare a “national championship” for themselves while watching the Playoff take place.
Rematch?: UCF won 31-30 Oct. 13 in Memphis as McKenzie Milton rallied the Knights back from a double-digit deficit. This time the junior is on the sidelines in street clothes — his season ended with a broken leg against South Florida.
Players to Watch: Freshman Darriel Mack starts at QB. Cause for confidence — he rushed for 120 yards in a game against East Carolina. Cause for concern — he is completing less than 50 percent of his passes this fall. Tigers running back Darrell Henderson rushed for 199 yards against UCF in October and finished with 1,698 yards on the season (8.6 average).
Fun Fact: UCF is coming off a win against Alabama … on the men’s basketball court. The Knights beat the Crimson Tide 70-64 Thursday. Amazing how Bama can fit them on their hoops schedule.
Presto’s Pick: Knights minus Milton lose their unbeaten paradise, 30-20.
At Stake: The Bulldogs can punch their ticket to a second straight Playoff with a win, while the Crimson Tide are pretty much in the Playoff as long as they don’t lose by 50. Makes you buy into the “every Saturday counts” mantra the college game feeds you.
Rematch?: Last year, the Tide topped Georgia on a Tua Tagovailoa 41-yard TD pass in overtime of the National Championship Game.
Players to Watch: Tagovailoa has completed 70 percent of his passes this year for 3,189 yards plus 36 touchdowns and just two interceptions. The Bulldogs boast a tailback tandem in sophomore D’Andre Swift and junior Elijah Holyfield, each averaging over six yards per carry.
Fun Fact: Nick Saban is 5-1 in SEC Championship Game appearances.
Presto’s Pick: Tide triumph, 27-6.
Big Ten: No. 6 Ohio State (11-1) vs. No. 21 Northwestern (8-4), 8 p.m. (FOX)
At Stake: The Buckeyes need a win plus help to make the Playoff, while the Wildcats are one win away from their first Rose Bowl berth since 1996.
Rematch?: The two schools last played in 2016, a 24-20 win by OSU in Columbus.
Players to Watch: Potomac, Md., native Dwayne Haskins completed 69 percent of his passes and threw for 42 touchdowns this year. The Wildcats’ defense is anchored by linebacker Blake Gallagher, who finished second in the conference (behind Maryland’s Tre Watson) with 112 tackles.
Fun Fact: Maryland and Rutgers have both been to as many Big Ten Championship games as Michigan has.
Presto’s Pick: Buckeyes begin the waiting game by winning 23-13.
At Stake: The Tigers need a win or losses by Ohio State and Oklahoma to feel safe about another berth in the College Football Playoff. The Panthers are playing for a shot at their first prestige bowl since the 2008 Sun (no offense to the Pinstripe or the BBVA Compass).
Rematch?: Pitt won the last meeting, a 43-42 upset at Clemson decided on a last-second field goal. The Tigers went on to win the national title that season.
Players to Watch: Both teams boast outstanding rushing attacks, with Clemson’s Travis Etienne gaining 1,307 yards on 8.0 per carry, and Pitt providing a terrific tandem in Qadree Ollison (235 yards against Virginia Tech) and Darrin Hall (229 yards against Virginia).
Fun Fact: The Coastal Division has been won by six different schools over the last six years. Virginia — get ready to roll in 2019!
Presto’s Pick: Tigers pound the Panthers, 38-14.
Last Week: 3-2.
Ed. Note: With legal sports gambling coming soon to a state near you, we’re including two more picks this year: Chris Cichon’s “The Big Chee’s” will pick a Top 25 game each week, while Noah Frank’s “Frankie’s Flyer” will pick an underdog of at least 7 points to cover and possibly spring an outright upset.
The Big Chee’s: Northwestern (+14.5) vs. Ohio State
Last Week: Loser | Season: 5-6
Georgia (+12.5) vs. Alabama
Last Week: Loser vs. spread, loser outright | Season: 6-10 vs. spread, 5-11 outright
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