With conference championships on tap in college football this weekend, that means that most of the regular season play is finished, and it’s a much lighter schedule than normal as result. The reduced workload leaves us time to do other important things — like ranking the six conference championship games to be played this week. I don’t care about their media exposure or general sexiness. All that matters to me is their attractiveness for bettors:
1. SEC, Alabama vs. Georgia
I’m sick to death of the SEC success, so I really didn’t want to rank the SEC Championship this high. I just couldn’t avoid it. The two schools are ranked second and third, they have potent defenses, and the winner will play for — and likely win — the National Championship. This is by far the most compelling game of the weekend. Neither team has played a particularly tough schedule despite playing in such a strong league, so we can’t be completely sure how the teams will match up. There is also the risk, as with any SEC game, that it will be a defensive battle decidedly short of thrills — like the last umpteen times Alabama and LSU have played, for example. The quality of the teams and all that is at stake, though, makes this one must-see TV for college football fans.
2. MAC, Northern Illinois vs. Kent State
This Friday night battle at Ford Field in Detroit wouldn’t be this high on the list of casual fans, but it has tons to offer in my view. Both teams have gone unbeaten in the tough MAC this year, and both have just one loss overall. Northern Illinois’ one-point loss to Iowa at home looks better than Kent State’s humiliating blowout at Kentucky, but the losses came in the first two weeks of the season. Therefore, both teams are riding long winning streaks and have improved since then. Northern Illinois has the incredibly impressive and criminally underrated Jordan Lynch at QB, so Kent State will have their hands full containing him. That matchup alone would be enough to make this game thrilling. There is an outside chance, though, that the winner of this game — especially if it is Kent State — could climb up into the Top 16 in the rankings and therefore automatically qualify for a BCS at-large bid. That should add intensity to what could be an instant classic.
3. Pac-12, UCLA at Stanford
Last year the Bruins played in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game, and it was a disgrace. They lost badly to Oregon to fall to 6-7, begged to be allowed into a bowl game despite a losing record, and lost again to finish 6-8. This is a much better UCLA team, though, so this edition against Stanford is far more compelling. From a handicapping perspective, what makes this one so great is that that the teams met just last week. Stanford won fairly easily, but they needed to win to clinch their division while UCLA had little to prove. It’s very unlikely, then, that UCLA gave anything close to a full effort. Will it make a difference now that they will be playing at full steam? Hard to tell, but it will sure be fun finding out.
4. Big Ten, Nebraska vs. Wisconsin
Last year’s first Big Ten Championship game, a 42-39 Wisconsin win over Michigan State, was a classic. This one almost certainly won’t be. Nebraska won their division in large part because Denard Robinson was hurt early in the game when they played Michigan, and third-string QB Russell Bellomy was a disaster. Wisconsin has the third best record in their division, but with Ohio State and Penn State ineligible they are the best that can be offered. Neither team is particularly compelling — and rumors are flying that Bo Pellini is spending his prep time this week shopping around for an SEC coaching gig. There is a chance this one could be a good game, but I’m not betting that it will.
5. C-USA, Central Florida at Tulsa
It’s hard to get too excited about this game. Central Florida likely cares little about the C-USA crown because they are bolting for the Big East next year — along with most of their conference. Tulsa has a major distraction to deal with as their athletic director was suspended on Tuesday for gambling on college and NFL games. The teams are well-matched — they played a 23-21 thriller just a couple of weeks ago — but this game doesn’t exactly pack a punch.
6. ACC, Florida State vs. Georgia Tech
I could care less about a game than I do about the ACC Championship Game, but it wouldn’t be easy. Florida State has been a disappointment this year because, well, Florida State is always a disappointment. It’s what they do. Georgia Tech is just plain lousy — like UCLA last year they will likely have to beg for a bowl game despite a losing record after coming into this game at 6-6. The Yellow Jackets have been blown out by every good team they have faced — and by a pretty underwhelming team to thanks to the 21 point home loss to Middle Tennessee. Florida State is much the better team, but they are coming off a big loss to Florida, and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops just took the head coaching job at Kentucky. Therefore, focus won’t be as intense as it could be. This is just a bad game from a bad conference.