College Football on DISH: Complete Guide to Conference Championship Weekend

Art for the Big 12 Championship

It all comes down to this weekend, folks. This is the last time programs can put a stamp on the 2023 season before the college football Playoff committee decides their fate. The reality we face is that college football has been uncharacteristically chalky this season. There have been plenty of close calls, but in the end, the team that was ‘supposed’ to win has typically come out on top. Top 15 teams are actually 66-1 at home vs unranked teams, the only loss being North Carolina to Virginia (tellingly, the Tar Heels are 2-3 since that loss). The point is, without a lot of upsets this season, we have a lot of good teams and not enough playoff spots. Aside from the inevitable loss that was going to come from either Ohio State or Michigan (for the third straight year, it was Ohio State), we can copy paste what we’ve written for the last five weeks or so: Georgia, Michigan, Washington, Florida State, Oregon, Texas, and Alabama are the teams vying for the College Football Playoff.

There are a lot of chaotic scenarios on the horizon and we won’t totally dive into those here, but it’s safe to say that three teams can solidify spots in the Playoff with a win on Saturday: Georgia, Michigan and either Oregon or Washington are ‘win and get in’ teams. One could argue that Florida State should be as well, but the above teams are clear cut. An Alabama win makes things complicated, while a Louisville win actually helps smooth things out. But with this many variables, let’s forget about the future and just get to the exciting set of games we have this weekend.

Here’s a look at Conference Championship weekend on DISH.

Pac-12 Championship

#5 Oregon vs #3 Washington – Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas, NV

Friday, Dec. 1 at 8:00pm ET on ABC

The last Pac-12 title game will be the first conference championship of the weekend. The curtain is unfortunately closing on the ‘Conference of Champions’, as it lost ten of its members to the Big 12, Big Ten and ACC. Only Oregon State and Washington State remain, and have yet to find a ‘home’ next season. Meanwhile, their in-state rivals are headed to the Big Ten and will meet in Las Vegas for what should be a ‘win-and-get-in’ rematch in the Pac-12 title game.

Washington snuck out a 36-33 win against border rival Oregon back in October and since then, the narrative between these two teams has changed. Oregon rebounded from the loss ferociously and has looked dominant, while Washington has been living clean, sneaking out win after win in close call after close call. Against common opponents, the Ducks have won by an average of 27-points, while Washington has won by an average of 9-points. Can you ever remember a time when a team that lost its first matchup enters the rematch as a 9.5 point favorite? That’s how highly Vegas thinks of Dan Lanning’s Ducks. Led by quarterback Bo Nix, Oregon is incredibly balanced on both sides of the ball. It was Lanning’s questionable but aggressive 4th-down calls that arguably cost the Ducks a win in Seattle a month ago. Going into Friday’s tilt, the Ducks know that if they can contain Huskies QB Michael Penix Jr. and receiver Rome Odunze while not making unforced errors, they have the better chance to win the final Pac-12 title.

On the other side, Washington’s defense has survived and done just enough to get the Huskies to this point, but it’s hard to see them having enough juice to stop Bo Nix, WR Troy Franklin, plus slippery running back Bucky Irving. Beating a team two times in one season is enough of a challenge, but doing it against a team like the one they assembled in Eugene seems almost impossible. This is no slight to Kalen DeBoer’s team; they are talented and have had a great year. But there have been concerns in each and every game since their win over Oregon. Still, winning is winning, and if the game remains close, Washington has proven they can make the timely play that can swing a game. But can it continue another week? Oregon is going to come out flying in this one and it’s Washington’s job to weather the storm and hope that the ball is in Penix Jr’s hands at the end. If they can’t shake off a hot start by the Ducks, this one could get ugly. Get ready for a big one in Sin City.


Big 12 Championship

#18 Oklahoma State vs #7 Texas – AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX

Saturday, Dec. 2 at 12:00pm ET on ABC

It surprised us to learn that the Texas Longhorns have not won a Big 12 Conference title since 2009. In that time, Oklahoma has won it eight times, Baylor three times, Kansas State twice, while Oklahoma State and TCU have a single title (figures include shared titles). The fact is, with all the resources and talent surrounding the University of Texas, they haven’t sniffed a Big 12 title in 13 years. Now, they have the opportunity to ride off into the sunset before they leave for the SEC next year. Texas’ one blemish is their loss to Oklahoma in a game that the Longhorns should not have lost. But when you have three inexplicable turnovers, it happens. Texas hasn’t looked ‘elite’ since the loss, but similar to Washington, they have simply won the games in front of them. Texas does boast one of the toughest strength of schedule resumes, but many believe they will need help to secure their first-ever spot in the College Football Playoff.

Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State team stands in their way. The Cowboys started the season 2-2 with sloppy wins against bad teams (Central Arkansas and Arizona State) and bad losses to South Alabama and Iowa State. Then Gundy’s team rattled off five straight wins, including victories over Kansas State, Kansas and Oklahoma. The Pokes did get boat-raced in a 45-3 loss to UCF, and almost blew their spot in the title game last weekend to BYU. On paper, the Longhorns should win this game. But Texas has a reputation, one that starts with ‘C-H-O’ and ends in ‘K-E’. Oklahoma State will rely heavily on star running back Ollie Gordon II. If Texas can stop the run, and if they avoid turnovers, they should have no problem here. But crazy things happen in Jerry World, and the last four Big 12 title games have been one possession tilts.

MAC Championship

 Miami (OH) vs Toledo – Ford Field, Detroit, MI

Saturday, Dec. 2 at 12:00pm ET on ESPN

The Mid-American Conference (or MAC) Championship also features a rematch. The 11-1 (8-0) Toledo Rockets will take on the 10-2 (7-1) Miami (Ohio) Redhawks in Detroit. Toledo beat the Redhawks 21-17 earlier in the year, and the Rockets’ only loss came in the first week of the season against power five opponent Illinois. Beside Toledo, Miami’s other loss was also to a power five opponent, when they caught a beat down from their better-known namesake, Miami (FL). Last time out, Toledo got off to a hot start and a 21-3 lead, which they never relinquished. Both teams rely heavily on the run game, and the game will likely be decided by whichever team can limit the explosive plays. Toledo quarterback Dequan Finn is more of a threat than backup Miami (OH) quarterback Aveon Smith. Smith has filled in for Brett Gabbert, but doesn’t provide the same aerial threat for the Red Hawks. However, as we mentioned before, beating a team twice is tough. The winner should get the opportunity to play a power five team in a bowl game.


Mountain West Championship

Boise State vs UNLV – Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, NV

Saturday, Dec. 2 at 3pm ET on FOX

A day after Boise State’s 41-14 win over New Mexico on Nov. 11, the program fired head coach and alumni Andy Avalos. With two games remaining, defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson took over the then 5-5 Broncos, who won the last two games of the season vaulting them to 7-5 overall. However, with a 6-2 conference record, Boise State, UNLV, and San Jose State finished tied atop the Mountain West with identical conference records. Since UNLV and Boise State didn’t play eachother during the regular season, the three way tie was broken by computer rankings, and the machines chose the Broncos and the Rebels to face off in Las Vegas for the Mountain West crown. In his first year with the program, head coach Barry Odom has the Rebels seeking their first 10-win season since 1984. Behind the innovative offense of OC Brennan Marion, it’s the Rebs first winning season in over a decade. These two teams have differing styles, as the Broncos like to run the rock, while UNLV has the edge in the passing game. This should be an interesting one in the desert.


SEC Championship

#1 Georgia vs #8 Alabama – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA

Saturday, Dec. 2 at 4:00 PM ET on CBS

If we learned nothing else this season, it’s that you can fly under the radar while being the No. 1 team in the country from start to finish. While the Pac-12 teams have been beating each other up in the top 10 and Michigan won its clash then-No. 2 Ohio State, the highest-ranked team the Bulldogs have beaten is No. 9 Ole Miss. With respect to Georgia’s perfect record, No. 8 Alabama is their first real test, and it’s one we’ve known they’ll have to pass for months. Although their only loss is to Texas, Alabama has been stuck at No. 8 since the beginning of November as they nonchalantly blew out their competition until last weekend’s close shave in the Iron Bowl. The fact they won that game portends great or terrible things for the Tide in the SEC Championship: either they’re a team of destiny that could pull of a surprise win (a rare thing for ‘Bama), or they’re not nearly as good as Georgia, who is not above humiliating them if the game gets out of hand. One group that is definitely not rooting for Alabama? The College Football Playoff committee, which could already have its hands full figuring out Florida State’s spot in the rankings.


AAC Championship

SMU vs #22 Tulane – Yulman Stadium, New Orleans, LA

Saturday, Dec. 2 at 4:00 PM ET on ABC/ ESPN3

Two programs that have been pretty successful these last couple years. Tulane coach Willie Fritz has rattled off back-to-back double-digit win seasons as the 11-1 (8-0) Green Wave take on the 10-2 (8-0) SMU Mustangs coached by Rhett Lashley. Fritz was a candidate for the Georgia Tech job last year but decided to stay in New Orleans, and now his name is coming up for the Houston job left vacant by Dana Holgerson. Tulane’s only loss came at the hands of Ole Miss, while SMU’s losses came from two power five programs, Oklahoma and TCU. Unfortunately, SMU lost starting quarterback Preston Stone last week to a broken leg against Navy, and will start freshman Kevin Jennings start in his place. The Mustangs will hope Jennings can make some plays alongside running back Jaylan Knighton. The only problem is, the Green Wave boast one of the best rushing defenses in the conference. Tulane and senior QB Michael Pratt, on the other hand, are on the fringe of another New Year’s 6 bowl game. The SMU defense is stingy enough to make Pratt’s life difficult, so Tulane still needs to bring it despite lining up against a freshman QB.


Sun Belt Championship

Appalachian State vs Troy – Veterans Memorial Stadium, Troy, AL

Saturday, Dec. 2 at 4:00pm ET on ESPN

Thanks to the NCAA, Appalachian State are back in the Sun Belt title game. James Madison won the East division but are ineligible to play due to a rule that states, “every program that moves up to the Football Bowl Subdivision is required to undergo a two-year transition period, during which time programs are ineligible to participate in postseason play.” But despite that rule, it was just announced that the Dukes will be eligible for a bowl game (ironically, due to the lack of eligible bowl teams). JMU is in year two of moving up from the FCS to FBS and boasts a 11-1 (7-1) record, with their one loss coming to, drumroll please…Appalachian State. So, in typical college football fashion, we have a wacky situation where the Mountaineers, who finished second in the East division, will try to take advantage of getting slotted into the conference championship (no slight to App State, this one’s on the NCAA). Meanwhile, Troy won the Sun Belt last year and heads into this game as a 6.5 point favorite. We’ll see if Shawn Clark’s team can take advantage of James Madison’s misfortune of missing out on the conference title.


Big Ten Championship

 #16 Iowa vs #2 Michigan – Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

Saturday, Dec. 2 at 8:00pm ET on FOX

For the third straight year, the University of Michigan will head to Indianapolis and face off against a representative from the Big Ten West that comes in severely overmatched. Last year, Purdue was on the losing end of a 43-22 beatdown, and now Iowa will get their second chance in three years at a Big Ten title (they lost to the Wolverines 42-3 in 2021). For the record, the Big Ten West division hasn’t won the title since 2012, and it doesn’t look like that will change in 2023. To their credit, Iowa have defied odds all year en route to a 10-win season. But the Hawkeyes played just one ranked opponent this season, the Penn State Nittany Lions, and lost that game 31-0. Kirk Ferentz’s team has averaged only 18 points per game, making them the 9th worst offense in the country. So it’s safe to say that expectations are low for this one.

How low? Vegas has set the line for Iowa’s team total at 6.5 points. Yes, the gurus in the desert are not sure if Iowa will even score a touchdown Saturday night in Indianapolis (remember, this is a team that had the lowest over/under line in any game this century against Nebraska…and they still didn’t cover the total). We don’t want to sound overly dismissive of the Hawkeyes’ chances; despite the chalkiness of this season, this is college football, after all. That said, some serious witchcraft would have to happen for the Wolverines to lose this game. Michigan is coming off of their massive win over Ohio State and will look to control the game while moving on to the Playoff with no injuries.


ACC Championship

#4 Florida State vs #14 Louisville – Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC

Saturday, Dec. 2 at 8:00pm ET on ABC

Aside from something shocking happening in the Big Ten title game, most of the dust will have settled before the start of the ACC Championship. But the Seminoles actually pose a very complicated problem to the College Football Playoff Committee. Assuming a victory Saturday night against Louisville, are they automatically in the CFB Playoff? They would be an undefeated, power five conference champion…whose best player, quarterback Jordan Travis, suffered a terrible ankle injury two weeks ago. Strength of schedule also isn’t on the Noles side. The fact is, two competing ideologies are at work: The principle of going undefeated in a power five conference; and the committee’s job to ‘put the four best teams’ in the playoff. Are the Noles a top four team without Jordan Travis? They sure didn’t look like one against Florida. Florida State fans would argue a precedent was set in 2014 when Ohio State made the Playoff and eventually won the National Championship with backup Cardale Jones (for what it’s worth, in Jones first-ever start, he beat #13 Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten title game to put away any doubt the voters may have had).

As bad as it sounds, the best thing to happen here would be for Louisville to squash this potential headache. If FSU wins, there are legitimate reasons for them to be both in and out of the playoff. Backup quarterback Tate Rodemaker did not do what Cardale Jones did to Wisconsin back in 2014. He was a modest 12-25 for 134 yards en route to FSU’s comeback win in the Swamp against a rebuilding Florida team that had a first time starting quarterback themselves. Louisville’s loss to Kentucky this past week also doesn’t help the Seminoles resume. So, assuming Florida State wins this weekend, the question remains: do the players, coaches, and staff that went 13-0 in a power five conference deserve to lose a spot in the playoff just because they lost their QB? One could say, “Yes, because they aren’t as good anymore,” which isn’t wrong. But shouldn’t the Seminoles’ unblemished season be bigger than one player? Robbing them of that opportunity would be a tough call to make, and based on the Vegas odds of the Noles getting into the Playoff (currently a favorable -134), it doesn’t seem like it’s one the committee is ready to make.

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