Power Five conference championship game previews, picks against the spread

·9-min read

Welcome to conference championship week.

With the College Football Playoff rankings set to be revealed on Sunday, all that’s left to do is play some of most pivotal games of a wild 2021 season. There’s plenty on the line from the first CFP berths for Michigan and Oklahoma State to Georgia trying to snap its losing streak to Alabama.

The action begins with the Pac-12 title game on Friday night before a Saturday that will be filled with action all day long. 

This is going to be a lot of fun.

(Note: All times ET, odds from BetMGM)

STILLWATER, OK - NOVEMBER 27: Oklahoma State Cowboys wide receiver Brennan Presley (80) and [os22o[ celebrate in the end zone after a play against the Oklahoma Sooners on November 27th, 2021 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma. (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Oklahoma State could be a win away from the playoff. (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Big 12: No. 9 Baylor vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State

Time: Noon | TV: ABC | Line: OSU -5.5 | Total: 46.5

How these teams got here

Baylor (10-2, 7-2 Big 12): Baylor went just 2-7 in its first season under Dave Aranda. The second season has gone significantly better. The Bears lost to Oklahoma State in Stillwater on Oct. 2, but closed out the year by winning six of their last seven games in order to reach the Big 12 title game. Along the way, BU defeated Iowa State, BYU, Texas and Oklahoma to reach 10 wins. A big key to BU’s turnaround was the hire of Jeff Grimes as offensive coordinator. He helped turn one of the Big 12’s worst offenses in 2020 into one of the league’s best in 2021.

Oklahoma State (11-1, 8-1 Big 12): For years, Mike Gundy’s program was led by a high-powered offense with a potent passing attack. But the 2021 Cowboys have been much stronger on defense and more consistent running the ball than passing. It has proven to be a winning formula. Oklahoma State ranks third nationally in total defense and fifth in scoring defense, allowing just 281.4 yards and 16.4 points per game. OSU is also coming off its biggest win of the year, a 37-33 victory over rival Oklahoma that snapped a six-game losing streak in the series.

What’s on the line

Baylor: Baylor has the chance to win just its second outright Big 12 championship. The Bears were the outright winners in 2013 and co-champions in 2014. From there, there were several down years as the program dealt with the off-field scandal before Matt Rhule got the Bears to the Big 12 title game in 2019 — a game they lost to Oklahoma. Additionally, Baylor can tie a program record by getting to 11 wins and give itself a chance to get to win No. 12 in a bowl game.

Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State has won just one Big 12 title in program history, and that came in 2011. On an even bigger scale, the Cowboys — currently No. 5 in the rankings — can reach the College Football Playoff for the first time with a win and some help elsewhere. The simplest path into the top four could come if No. 3 Alabama loses to No. 1 Georgia in the SEC title game. Alabama would then have two losses and would likely drop out of the top four.

Players to know

Baylor RB Abram Smith: 215 rushes, 1,366 yards, 12 TDs

Oklahoma State LB Malcolm Rodriguez: 100 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks

Picks: Nick: Baylor +5.5; Sam: Baylor +5.5

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 27: Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart prepares to lead his team to the field before a college football game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Nov. 27, 2021 at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Georgia has been the most dominant team in college football in 2021. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

SEC: No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 3 Alabama

Time: 4 p.m. | TV: CBS | Line: Georgia -6.5 | Total: 49.5

How these teams got here

Georgia (12-0, 8-0 SEC): Georgia has been the best team in the country this season by a significant margin. It started with a 10-3 win over Clemson in Week 1 and continued from there. The Bulldogs cruised through conference play en route to an SEC East title and an undefeated regular season. Georgia has had a historic season defensively, leading the nation in yards allowed per game (229.7), yards per play allowed (3.67) and points allowed per game (6.9). The most points allowed in a single game this season were a measly 17.

Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC): The travels have not been as smooth for Alabama, the SEC West champions and defending national champions. The Crimson Tide have been dominant at times, but also have a loss to Texas A&M and one-score wins over Florida, LSU, Arkansas and Auburn. That Auburn win, which featured a late-game comeback and four overtimes, kept Alabama’s College Football Playoff hopes alive.

What’s on the line

Georgia: It’s hard to envision Georgia missing the playoff even with a loss here, but this game is still mighty meaningful. The Bulldogs won the SEC title in 2017, Kirby Smart’s second season, and are looking to make that a much more consistent occurrence. Before that, Georgia’s three previous conference titles came in 2005, 2002 and 1982. Georgia also has a six-game losing streak to Alabama, including the 2017 national championship game and the 2018 SEC title game. Smart has never beaten Nick Saban, his former boss. Georgia’s last win over Alabama came in 2007.

Alabama: For Alabama, a trip to the College Football Playoff is on the line. There’s a small chance the Tide could crack the top four if some of the other top teams lose on Saturday, but Saban doesn’t want to take that chance. Additionally, Alabama is looking for its eighth SEC championship during the Saban era. The Tide have won seven of the last 12 SEC titles.

Players to know

Georgia DT Jordan Davis: 24 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks

Alabama LB Will Anderson: 86 tackles, 30.5 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks

Picks: Nick: Georgia -6.5; Sam: Georgia -6.5

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN - NOVEMBER 27: Hassan Haskins #25 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates with teammates after his touchdown against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the second quarter at Michigan Stadium on November 27, 2021 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)
A win gives Michigan its first playoff berth and first Big Ten title since 2004. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

Big Ten: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 13 Iowa

Time: 8 p.m. | TV: Fox | Line: Michigan -10.5 | Total: 43.5

How these teams got here

Michigan (11-1, 8-1 Big Ten): The Wolverines have been running all over opponents in 2021. Michigan is averaging 226 passing yards per game and 224 rushing yards per game while scoring nearly twice as many rushing touchdowns (35) as passing touchdowns (18). Michigan’s lone loss of the season came in a 37-33 defeat at Michigan State on Oct. 30. The Wolverines rebounded with four straight wins to close out the regular season, including that 42-27 smashing of Ohio State on Saturday.

Iowa (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten): The Hawkeyes got a big win in the second week of the season with a 27-17 win over Iowa State. That vaulted Iowa into the top five of the AP poll and the Hawkeyes stayed there until a 24-7 home loss to Purdue on Oct. 16 after a 23-20 win over Penn State a week earlier. That Purdue loss was then followed by a drubbing at Wisconsin that dropped Iowa out of the top 10 and has forced the Hawkeyes to play catchup ever since.

What’s on the line

Michigan: Believe it or not, this is Michigan’s first Big Ten title game appearance. The game started in 2011. The Wolverines are the fourth winner of the East division since the conference went to East and West divisions in 2014. A win gets the Wolverines into the College Football Playoff for the first time and their first outright Big Ten title since 2003.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes are looking for their first Big Ten title since 2004 and the first in the Big Ten championship game era. That title was a shared title with … Michigan. The last outright Big Ten title for Iowa came in 1985. A win would also mean Iowa’s first Rose Bowl trip since the end of the 2015 season.

Players to know

Michigan RB Hassan Haskins: 244 rushes, 1,232 yards, 18 TDs

Iowa RB Tyler Goodson: 238 rushes, 1,101 rushing yards, 7 TDs

Picks: Nick: Michigan -10.5; Sam: Michigan -10.5

Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett looks to pass against Syracuse during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett could be the first QB taken in the 2022 NFL draft. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

ACC: No. 15 Pittsburgh vs. No. 16 Wake Forest

Time: 8 p.m. | TV: ACC | Line: Pitt -3 | Total: 72.5

How these teams got here

Wake Forest (10-2, 7-1 ACC): The Demon Deacons have scored 43 points a game and started the season 8-0. That stretch included a wild 70-56 game over Army in which the Black Knights had the ball for over two-thirds of the game. Wake’s win streak came to an end in a 58-55 shootout with North Carolina and its national title hopes ended in a 48-27 loss to Clemson. That UNC loss was not an ACC loss, however. It was part of a non-conference scheduling agreement between the teams. That allowed Wake to clinch the ACC Atlantic with a 41-10 win over Boston College in the last week of the season.

Pittsburgh (10-2, 7-1 ACC): Pitt took care of Tennessee on the road in Week 2 and promptly lost to Western Michigan 44-41 at home in Week 3. If Pitt had beaten Western Michigan, the Panthers are probably in the College Football Playoff conversation. The Panthers beat Clemson 27-17 on Oct. 23 and then lost to Miami 38-34 on Oct. 30. Pitt then ended the season with four consecutive wins, including victories over North Carolina and Virginia.

What’s on the line

Wake Forest: Whoever wins the ACC on Saturday night is breaking a Clemson streak. The Tigers have won the ACC in each of the last six seasons. Florida State in 2014 is the last non-Clemson team to win the ACC. Wake Forest’s last ACC title came in 2006 when it beat Georgia Tech for the conference title.

Pittsburgh: The Panthers have never won the ACC since joining the conference. A first ACC title would be the third conference title in school history. The Panthers first won the Big East in 2004 and again in 2010. A Peach Bowl appearance would be the biggest bowl game in school history since Pitt went to the 2004 Fiesta Bowl.

Players to know

Wake Forest WR A.T. Perry: 56 catches, 1,112 yards, 13 TDs

Pitt QB Kenny Pickett: 314-of-464 passing, 4,066 yards, 40 TDs

Picks: Nick: Wake Forest +3; Sam: Pitt -3

FRIDAY RESULTS

Pac-12: No. 17 Utah 38, No. 10 Oregon 10

Line: Utah -2.5 (covered) | Total: 59.5 (under)

Picks: Nick: Utah -2.5; Sam: Oregon +2.5

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