We’re finally at the finish line! And just like the entire college football season has been marked with multiple fits and restarts, the final week before the bowls/playoff selection offers up the usual off-the-field news.
Maryland’s Big Ten Championship Week matchup with Michigan State is one of those casualties as 15 positive player and six positive staff tests for COVID-19 hold the Terps at five completed games in 2020.
While the Terrapins can still go bowling, Virginia and Virginia Tech have each opted out of postseason play. And the Hokies lose quarterback Hendon Hooker (15 starts over the last two years) to the transfer portal.
The national scene doesn’t emerge unscathed as the Cinderella showdown between No. 12 Coastal Carolina (unbeaten and unheralded) and No. 19 Louisiana has been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
Meanwhile, the Power Five Conferences crown their respective champs this weekend with eyes toward the bigger prize that at least one of them won’t be playing for (actually, the Pac-12 and Big 12 championship games are merely window dressing this fall).
Once more into the breach…
Pac-12 Championship — No. 13 USC (5-0) vs. Oregon (3-2), 8 p.m. (FOX)
What’s at stake: For the Trojans, the right to say they got hosed by the committee. For the Ducks, a chance to win consecutive league titles despite being the underdog in both games.
Previous meeting: Oregon took last year’s game 56-24 while USC won the previous matchup in 2016 by the score of 45-20.
Players to watch: Ducks running back Travis Dye averages 7.5 yards per carry while Trojans defensive lineman Nick Figueroa has 3.5 sacks this fall.
Fun fact: The South Division is 1-8 in this game, with six of those eight losses coming by double digits (and four by 20+ points).
Presto’s pick: Ducks dominate, 36-28.
Big Ten Championship — No. 3 Ohio State (5-0) vs. No. 15 Northwestern (6-1), noon (FOX)
What’s at stake: A playoff berth for the Buckeyes and spoiler status for the Wildcats, whose lone loss was a 29-20 defeat at Michigan State one week before OSU outscored the Spartans 52-12.
Last meeting: OSU won the 2019 regular season meeting 52-3 in Columbus. The Wildcats’ last win in the series came back in 2004.
Players to watch: Quarterback Justin Fields (78% completion rate, 280 yards passing per game, 15-3 TD-INT ratio) is one of eight Buckeyes to be voted First Team All-Big Ten (eight others show up on the second and third teams this fall).
Linebacker Paddy Fisher leads the Wildcats with 65 tackles and was voted First Team All-Conference and won the Butkus-Fitzgerald Award for the league’s linebacker of the year.
Fun fact: Maryland and Rutgers have been to as many Big Ten title games as Michigan.
Presto’s pick: Buckeyes in a blowout, 38-14.
Big 12 Championship — No. 8 Iowa State (8-2) vs. No. 12 Oklahoma (7-2), noon (ABC)
What’s at stake: The Cyclones are playing in the title game for the first time ever, while the Sooners are looking to add to their already crowded trophy room (OU has won three straight championship games and the Big 12 thirteen times this century).
Previous meeting: Iowa State handed OU a 37-30 defeat Oct. 3 at a time when nobody thought the Cyclones would be anything more than a middling Big 12 program. The Sooners have won six in a row since that night.
Players to watch: OU freshman Spencer Rattler (2,512 yards and 24 touchdowns passing) threw for 300 yards in the October meeting, while ISU sophomore Breece Hall (1,357 yards rushing on 6.1 per carry) ran for 139 yards and two scores that evening.
Fun fact: The Cyclones last won their conference in 1912, when they were a member of the Missouri Valley Conference. Since then they’ve been a member of the Big Six, Big Seven and Big Eight before becoming a charter member in the Big 12 in 1996.
Presto’s pick: Sooners shine, 48-30.
ACC Championship — No. 2 Notre Dame (10-0) vs. No. 4 Clemson (9-1), 4 p.m. (ABC)
What’s at stake: The winner wraps up a playoff berth — and in 2020s sliding scale — the loser is likely to make the field as well, giving even more endorsement to the importance of the regular season.
Previous meeting: The Fighting Irish outlasted the Tigers 47-40 in double-overtime on Nov. 7. Trevor Lawrence was the most notable player to sit due to COVID-19 concerns.
Players to watch: Ian Book recently became Notre Dame’s winningest starting quarterback while Trevor Lawrence has been living up to the hype since he starred as a freshman on a National Championship team.
If defense is your dish, ND’s Adetokunbo Ogundeji (5.5 sacks) and the Tigers’ Baylon Spector (team-high 56 tackles and 3.5 sacks) deserve your attention.
Fun fact: The previous seven years saw each Coastal Division team play in the title game, and so I guess it’s only fitting that non-Atlantic Division member Notre Dame find its way into the rotation.
Presto’s pick: Tigers triumph, 31-16.
SEC Championship — No. 1 Alabama (10-0) vs. No. 11 Florida (8-2), 8 p.m. (CBS)
What’s at stake: Seeding for the Crimson Tide, who will make the Playoff even if they lose by 50. And frustration for the Gators, who threw away their slim homes last week (along with a shoe) with a loss to the sub-500 LSU at home.
Previous meeting: Bama won the 2016 SEC Championship Game 54-16 in what would be Gators head coach Jim McElwain’s final full season in Gainesville.
Players to watch: Mac Jones (76.4% with 3,321 yards passing and a 27-3 TD-INT ratio) has emerged as the new standard-bearer for the Crimson Tide while the Gators Kyle Trask (70.2% with 3,717 yards and 40-5 TD-INT) tossed a pair of picks in last week’s loss.
Fun fact: The Crimson Tide (8-4) and Gators (7-5) have combined for 15 championship game wins, while the rest of the league has won a combined 13 titles in that span.
Presto’s pick: Tide roll, 45-20.
Last Week: 1-2.