Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Peyton Manning for Coach/Athletic Director/Faith Healer bumper stickers sold separately in Knoxville):
PICKING THE TITLE GAMES
The Dash was a zesty 9-2 picking rivalry games last week, including the Iron Bowl winner. But now come the games with rings attached, as conference championships are decided and playoff berths are doled out. The breakdown:
Atlantic Coast (21): Clemson-Miami.
Time: 8 p.m. ET Saturday
Playoff stakes: Winner is in
Line: Clemson by 9½
Previous 2017 meeting: None
History: Miami has never won an ACC title; Clemson has won 16.
Area to watch: A Miami offense that has been faltering (just 10th in the ACC in November production) against a Clemson defense that leads the league in November and overall.
Dash pick: Clemson 27, Miami 14. Team Turnover Chain had a reality check last Friday away from South Florida, losing at 5-7 Pittsburgh. Clemson fans will make this a heavy homefield advantage for the Tigers, who are the better team anyway.
Southeastern (22): Auburn-Georgia
Time: 4 p.m. Saturday
Playoff stakes: Winner is in
Line: Auburn by 2½
Previous 2017 meeting: Auburn 40, Georgia 17
History: Auburn has won seven SEC championships, Georgia has won 12.
Area to watch: How healthy is Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson’s injured shoulder, and can he replicate the career-high 233 all-purpose yards he dropped on the Bulldogs on Nov. 11? Johnson left the game against Alabama on Saturday; Monday he said he was “banged up” but confident he would play against Georgia.
Dash pick: Georgia 28, Auburn 24. ‘Dogs had a sky-is-falling game last meeting and should be more composed on a neutral field. Tigers might have emptied the emotional well for the Iron Bowl, and have been much better at home than on the road this year.
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Big Ten (23): Wisconsin-Ohio State
Time: 8 p.m. Saturday
Playoff stakes: Wisconsin is in with a win. Ohio State would likely need some help to get there.
Line: Ohio State by 6½
Previous 2017 meeting: None
History: Wisconsin has won 14 Big Ten titles, Ohio State has won 35.
Area to watch: How healthy is Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett, and how effective can he be against the nation’s No. 1 defense? Barrett is recovering from hurting his knee either before or during the Michigan game Saturday, depending how seriously you want to take Urban Meyer’s call for a grand Big Ten inquisition into the matter.
Dash pick: Ohio State 20, Wisconsin 17. Let’s end the charade. Badgers finally play a good team, Badgers finally lose.
Big 12 (24): TCU-Oklahoma
Site: Arlington, Texas
Time: 12:30 p.m. Saturday
Playoff stakes: Oklahoma is in with a win. TCU would need help.
Line: Oklahoma by 7
Previous 2017 meeting: Oklahoma 38, TCU 20
History: TCU has won one Big 12 title; Oklahoma has won 10.
Area to watch: Can Horned Frogs QB Kenny Hill successfully take his show outside of Fort Worth? His pass efficiency rating in home games in an excellent 178; away from home it is a sub-mediocre 121.
Dash pick: Oklahoma 36, TCU 28. Baker Mayfield’s efficiency rating over the last four games is a blistering 220, including a big showing the last time he faced the Big 12’s top defense.
Pac-12 (25): Stanford-USC
Site: Santa Clara, California
Time: 8 p.m. Friday
Playoff stakes: If USC wins big and things go haywire elsewhere, maybe the Trojans have a very slim chance. Stanford is out regardless.
Line: USC by 3
Previous 2017 meeting: USC 42, Stanford 24
History: Stanford has won 15 championships, USC has won 38.
Area to watch: Can Bryce Love grit out one more game on a bad wheel? The brilliant Stanford running back has been slowed for weeks by an ankle sprain, and has been in and out of games trying to play through it. The Cardinal needs him badly.
Dash pick: USC 27, Stanford 23. Trojans offense hit high gear against Arizona State four games ago and really hasn’t stopped since. If Love isn’t a big factor, Cardinal will not be able to match points.
American Athletic (26): Memphis-Central Florida
Time: Noon Saturday
Playoff stakes: None, to the undefeated Knights’ dismay.
Line: UCF by 7
Previous 2017 meeting: UCF 40, Memphis 13
History: UCF has won two AAC championships, Memphis one.
Area to watch: Are both coaches dialed in, and do their teams look prepared? This is a big-time game, but both UCF’s Scott Frost (Nebraska) and Memphis’ Mike Norvell (various potential options) could be headed elsewhere shortly after the game ends. How successful have they been at blocking out deliberations with other schools and concentrating on this game?
Dash pick: Central Florida 38, Memphis 35. Knights are coming off a dramatic, draining rivalry victory over South Florida, while the Tigers are coming off a 70-13 milk run against East Carolina. That will keep it close, but UCF will still prevail.
Mountain West (27): Fresno State-Boise State
Time: 7:45 p.m. Saturday
Playoff stakes: Nah
Line: Boise State by 9½
Previous 2017 meeting: Fresno State 28, Boise State 17
History: Each school has won two MWC titles.
Area to watch: Can the remarkable Fresno defense do it one more time? The Bulldogs played the Broncos last week and held them to their fewest points in a Mountain West game since September 2014, bending but never breaking. Boise coach Bryan Harsin said he would have a different gameplan this time around; will it work?
Dash pick: Fresno State 28, Boise State 26. The Dash is befuddled by the apparent 20-point homefield advantage Vegas has assigned to Boise, going from 11-point losers last week on the road – in a game unaffected by turnovers – to being favored by more than a touchdown this week at home against the same opponent. The blue turf isn’t worth that much.
Mid-American (28): Akron-Toledo
Time: Noon Saturday
Playoff stakes: Ummm, no.
Line: Toledo by 21
Previous 2017 meeting: Toledo 48, Akron 21
History: Akron has won one MAC title, Toledo has won 10.
Area to watch: Can the Zips maintain their turnover karma? Akron has eight takeaways in the last three games and is a plus-seven in that span, which is a big reason why they squeezed into this game with a 7-5 record. Toledo doesn’t give the ball away often, though, with just 10 turnovers overall and four interceptions this season.
Dash pick: Toledo 41, Akron 24. Tune in for the Logan Woodside show – Rockets quarterback is third nationally in efficiency, with 24 touchdown passes and just three interceptions.
Conference USA (29): North Texas-Florida Atlantic
Site: Boca Raton, Florida
Playoff stakes: Not in this lifetime
Line: FAU by 10½
Previous 2017 meeting: FAU 69, UNT 31
History: Neither team has won a C-USA championship.
Area to watch: Lane Kiffin is always the area to watch when his team is involved. The Head Wiseass of college football has done a brilliant job coaching in his first year at FAU, taking the Owls from 3-9 to 9-3. And this team is fun to watch offensively.
Dash pick: Florida Atlantic 48, North Texas 31. No, the Owls aren’t going to roll up an ungodly 804 yards of total offense on the Mean Green again, like they did in October. But they’re still going to win.
Sun Belt (30): Troy-Arkansas State, with a side helping of Appalachian State taking on Louisiana-Lafayette. The Trojans, Red Wolves and Mountaineers all are tied for first in The Belt at 6-1, and there is no title game. But the winner of Troy-Arkansas State will clinch at least a tie for the title and possibly the outright crown if UL-L upsets App State. Troy has been the league’s headline team, going 9-2 and shocking LSU in Baton Rouge.
Dash picks: Troy 30, Arkansas State 27; Appalachian State 35, Louisiana-Lafayette 20.
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