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MC&J: Who takes home the crowns on Conference Championship Weekend?

Picks for the Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten, and seven other conference championship games this weekend.

Ohio State v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

Last week ATS: 10-5 (5-3 National, 5-2 B1G)

Season ATS: 108-98-1 (50-57-1 National, 58-41 B1G)

Despite missing on Ohio State, the rest of the final week of the regular season went really well when it comes to the picks. Now we hope to have another big week before diving into bowl season.


Conference championship games

Conference USA: New Mexico State v. No. 24 Liberty (-10.5) - Friday 7:00 p.m. ET - CBS Sports Network

All the pressure is on Liberty in this game as the Flames look to stay undefeated in Jamey Chadwell’s first season as the team’s head coach. Kaidon Salter has been phenomenal at quarterback for Liberty this year, tossing 29 touchdowns. Along with Salter, running back Quinton Cooley has been a force, rushing for over 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns.

After a 2-3 start to the season, New Mexico State enters this game on an eight-game winning streak, with one of those wins being a 31-10 win at Auburn a couple weeks ago. Jerry Kill’s team might not be as flashy as Liberty, but they make up for it with toughness. So far this season quarterback Diego Pavia has accounted for 28 total touchdowns..

In the first meeting between the schools back in early September, New Mexico State had a 17-13 lead in the second quarter before Liberty ran off 20 unanswered points to earn a 33-17 victory. The Aggies have improved since then and are playing with a ton of confidence after knocking off Auburn. While I think Liberty beats New Mexico State again, the Aggies hang around in this one and make Chadwell and the Flames work hard to stay undefeated

Liberty 28, New Mexico State 24


Pac-12: No. 5 Oregon (-9.5) v. No. 3 Washington - Friday 8:00 p.m. ET - ABC

The Ducks and Huskies played a classic in mid-October, with Washington squeaking by Oregon 36-33 in Seattle. Since then, the Ducks have been rolling their opponents while the Huskies have won all of their six games following their win over Oregon by 10 points or less. Despite finishing the regular season undefeated, the Heisman Trophy buzz around quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has cooled since his numbers have dropped off following the win over Oregon.

On the other side, Oregon quarterback Bo Nix has been outstanding all year long. The former Auburn quarterback is in the mix for the Heisman, as he enters this game completing over 78 percent of his passes and has 43 total touchdowns. Washington will have their hands full with receivers Troy Franklin, Tez Johnson, and running back Bucky Irving.

Since their first meeting, Oregon looks like a team on the mission, while Washington has essentially been playing Tresselball. The Ducks aren’t like Oregon State or Washington State where Washington can mess around and still earn the victory. I’m not scared of this spread being nearly double digits since Dan Lanning has been a man possessed since blowing the game in Seattle with some of his coaching decisions.

Oregon 41, Washington 27


Big 12: No. 18 Oklahoma State v. No. 7 Texas (-14.5) - 12:00 p.m. ET - ABC

Oklahoma State feels like they peaked with their win over Oklahoma in the final installment of Bedlam. Since then, the Cowboys were obliterated by Central Florida, beat Houston, and need a couple overtimes to beat BYU. Ollie Gordon II has been one of the running backs in the country this year, rolling up 1,580 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns.

Texas will be playing their final game in the Big 12 on Saturday. Since I’m a wrestling fan, I imagine Steve Sarkisian doing with the Big 12 trophy what Madusa did with the WWE Women’s Championship after she joined WCW: throwing it right in the trash. If there wasn’t so much money involved if Texas works their way into the playoff, it would be funny to see Big 12 commissioner Brent Yormark channeling Vince McMahon and having the refs pull off the Dallas Screwjob.

Even though Texas lost running back Jonathon Brooks a few weeks ago to a knee injury, the Longhorns enter this game with a ton of momentum after beating Texas Tech by 50 last week. Texas know they need a convincing win in this game if they want to have any shot at making the College Football Playoff.

Texas 45, Oklahoma State 21


MAC: Miami (OH) v. Toledo (-7.5) - 12:00 p.m. ET - ESPN

This game will certainly be interesting since these two teams play different styles of football. Miami is all about defense, while Toledo has quarterback DeQuan Finn leading a potent offense. In their meeting earlier in the season, the Rockets beat the RedHawks 21-17 in October in Oxford.

In a game like this, I feel a lot more comfortable taking the points. Even if Miami falls behind early, they know they aren’t out of it, as Toledo opened up a 21-3 lead in their first meeting before the RedHawks closed the deficit to 21-17. I think Toledo wins this game, but we see a final score that is similar to what we saw in the first meeting. The RedHawks keep this game within a score.

Toledo 24, Miami (OH) 20


Mountain West: Boise State (-2.5) v. UNLV - 3:00 p.m. ET - FOX

This game feels so odd to me since Boise State fired head coach Andy Avalos a couple weeks ago and now they are playing for a conference title. The Broncos are led by running back Ashton Jeanty, who has rushed for over 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns this year. After losing to Fresno State early in November, Boise State has won three straight games.

UNLV is having one of their best seasons in school history under former Missouri head coach Barry Odom. Ricky White has been the favorite target of quarterback Jayden Maiava, with White hauling in 75 passes for 1,300 yards and seven scores so far this year. The Rebels will have to put last week’s loss to San Jose State behind them if they want to win the conference crown.

Even though Boise State has rallied around their interim head coach, I like UNLV in this game, especially since this contest is being played in Las Vegas. The Rebels secure just their second 10-win season in program history by taking the down the Broncos on Saturday afternoon.

UNLV 31, Boise State 23


SEC: No. 1 Georgia (-5.5) v. No. 8 Alabama - 4:00 p.m. ET - CBS

Ohio State fans will certainly be rooting for Georgia on Saturday, since a loss to the Crimson Tide could see the SEC place two teams in this year’s playoff. The Bulldogs are riding a 29-game winning streak, and are looking to win their third straight national title, but they might have to win this game without Brock Bowers or Ladd McConkey, who are both banged up heading into the weekend.

Alabama is looking to throw a curveball at the college football world by beating Georgia in Atlanta on Saturday. The Crimson Tide needed a miracle last week to beat Auburn last week, but that’s just what they got from Jalen Milroe on 4th & 31 to beat the Tigers 27-24. Milroe has been one of the most improved players from the start of the season, coming back from a benching against South Florida to become a contender for the Heisman.

While it’s tough to go against Nick Saban in a game like this, I still like Georgia even though they might not be at full healthy. Neither team is quite as dominant as they have been over the past few years, but I think Georgia is closer to being the more complete team. Give me the Bulldogs by at least a touchdown.

Georgia 34, Alabama 27


American: SMU v. No. 22 Tulane (-3.5) - 4:00 p.m. ET - ABC

SMU enters this game with one of the most potent offenses in the country, while Tulane has used their defense to try and return to a New Year’s Six bowl game. What the Green Wave will try and do is lean on quarterback Michael Pratt’s experience and running back Makhi Hughes to keep the football out of the hands of the SMU offense.

Preston Stone is the leader of an SMU offense that hasn’t scored less than 30 points in a game since losing to TCU back in September. The Mustangs have had a couple close calls in conference play, which should help them if this game is close late. If there was gonna be a team to keep Tulane from repeating as conference champs, SMU feels like the squad that could do it.

SMU 38, Tulane 28


Sun Belt: Appalachian State v. Troy (-5.5) - 4:00 p.m. ET - ESPN

Over the years, Appalachian State have been kings of the big upset, and they added another feather to their cap this year when they beat undefeated James Madison a few weeks ago. Most of what the Mountaineers do on offense is through the air, with quarterback Joey Aguilar throwing for 3,271 yards and 33 touchdowns so far this season.

Troy has really hit their stride after losing to Kansas State and James Madison early in the season, rolling off nine straight wins since the loss to the Dukes. The Trojans have a strong defense to compliment quarterback Gunnar Watson and running back Kimani Vidal. Troy will be a little too much on Saturday for Appalachian State, especially since they’ll have a home-field advantage in this one.

Troy 28, Appalachian State 20


ACC: No. 14 Louisville v. No. 4 Florida State (-2.5) - 8:00 p.m. ET - ABC

Neither team enters this game with a ton of confidence. Louisville is coming off a loss to in-state rival Kentucky last week, while the Seminoles lost star quarterback Jordan Travis a couple weeks ago to a gruesome injury. Florida State was able to beat Florida last week to stay undefeated, but they’ll face an even tougher challenge on Saturday night.

I’m not putting a ton of stock in Louisville’s loss last week since it doesn’t change much. The Cardinals weren’t going to the playoff anyway, so really all they lost was bragging rights. I just feel a lot more comfortable taking the team that didn’t have to break in a new quarterback so late in the year. Sorry Florida State, you don’t have a Cardale Jones walking through that door.

Louisville 27, Florida State 21


Big Ten: No. 2 Michigan (-21.5) v. No. 16 Iowa - 8:00 p.m. ET - FOX

Remember a couple years ago when Michigan beat Iowa 41-3 in the Big Ten title game? This game is going to look a lot like that. The Hawkeyes have a great defense, there’s no doubt about that. Unfortunately for Iowa, Michigan has too much talent on offense for them to handle, especially since they’ll be without star defender Cooper DeJean. The Wolverines pull away in the second half as they wear out the Iowa defense.

Michigan 38, Iowa 10