3 Showdowns to set up CFB Championship Weekend
The 2019 College Football regular season has its final hurrah this Thanksgiving weekend. We’ve been treated to drama, excitement, ecstasy, and agony, all in equal measure for the past 14 weeks. This final regular week is billed as “Rivalry Week” with some of the games being amongst the biggest rivalries in the whole of sports. However, for some teams, a much bigger prize awaits. Some of this weekend’s clashes will determine which team goes to their Conference Championship Game.
Unlike the SEC Championship Game, which will see LSU and Georgia face off in a game that could shape the College Football Playoffs, or the Mountain West Championship Game, most of the Championship Game schedule is still to be filled.
Some, although not definite, are a forgone conclusion.
Utah, for example, are highly unlikely to lose to Colorado and lose out to USC in the race for the PAC 12 Championship Game. It could happen, but it’s unlikely. Likewise, it’s almost certain that Baylor and Oklahoma will face off in the BIG 12 Championship Game.
However, in amongst the rivalry games such as the Apple Cup and the Egg Bowl, are three games that will directly impact the Conference Championship.
Cincinatti @ Memphis
At first glance at the Week 14 schedule, Cincinnati @ Memphis isn’t a game that will immediately jumps off the page. However, this game means so much to both teams.
Depending on the result, it could be a preview to the American Athletic Championship Game next Saturday.
It’s a game that has multiple connotations.
Currently, the Cincinnati Bearcats lead the way in AAC West with a perfect 7-0 conference record, a 10-1 overall record, and the 19th ranking in the latest rankings. Their only defeat this season came at the hands of Ohio State, a 42-0 drubbing back in Week 2. They rebounded to go on a winning run to bring them to today’s game with Memphis.
The Memphis Tigers sit atop the AAC West with a similar 10-1 record, and an 18th placed ranking from the CFB Playoff committee. However, they have a 6-1 conference record after suffering a defeat to Temple in early October.
Here come the connotations that make this game so interesting.
Cincinnati are already guaranteed a seat at the AAC Championship Game table. A win for them, however, would give them homefield advantage for the game. If Memphis win, they’ll have the homefield advantage and we’ll have a repeat game next weekend.
A Memphis defeat sets up an exciting chain of events.
If Navy goes into Houston and wins, with a Tigers defeat, the Midshipmen would go to the game.
However, if Memphis and Navy both lose, then the Tigers would travel to Cincinnati for the AAC Championship Game as they would hold the tiebreaker over Navy and SMU.
Still with me? Good, back to tonight’s game.
Bearcats and Tigers to tussle in Tennessee
Cincinnati historically haven’t had the best of times against Memphis.
The Tigers hold a 21-13 head to head advantage, going back to the first game between the two in 1966. They haven’t met since 2016 but Memphis have won the last three games and hold the largest win differential with a 46-point winning margin from their 1969 clash. The Tigers have outscored the Bearcats by an average of five points per game over the 34 games.
It’s likely to be a similar story tonight.
The Memphis offense has been a juggernaut in 2019. They’re averaging over 42 points and nearly 490 yards of offense per game. With quarterback Brady White (3074 yards, 30 TDs, 7 INTs), and star running back Kenny Gainwell (1294 yards, 12 TDs), the Tigers are a tricky proposition for any side, as they showed against SEC powerhouse Ole Miss in Week 1.
Although the Bearcats have some offensive talents of their own, notably running back Michael Warren II, the game is likely to come down to which defense can hold its own.
The Cincinnati defense, whilst allowing less average points per game, have allowed more yardage. In particular, their pass defense has been an issue and against Brady White, it could be their downfall.
If Memphis wins tonight, at least the Bearcats will have their chance at revenge in just over a week.
Virginia Tech @ Virginia
The battle between the Virginia Tech Hokies and the Virginia Cavaliers is a rivalry game with a difference.
Unlike the battle for the AAC Championship Game, this matchup for a spot in the American Coastal Championship Game has no connotations.
It’s win and you’re in.
The winner will not only represent the Coastal division in the ACC Championship but will also take home the Commonwealth Cup Trophy.
The two programs have met annually to battle it out for the trophy since 1970. Up until that point, surprisingly, this wasn’t either team’s biggest rivalry game, with the Cavaliers rivalry with UNC taking precedent.
Virginia Tech are on a hot streak in the matchup. They’ve won the last 15 games and only lost once since 1999. The streak is the longest in rivalry history and they currently lead the all time series 58-37-5.
Coming into today’s clash both teams are 8-3 with a 5-2 conference record.
Although the bookmakers have the 24th ranked Hokies as a slight favourite, there really hasn’t been much to choose between them all season. Virginia have a 2.5 point per game advantage but Virginia Tech shade the Cavaliers in yards per game. As such, we should be treated to a close game.
Hokies and Cavaliers to keep it close?
If it’s as close as last year’s game, then treated will be the right word.
Virginia Tech were victorious in a 34-31 overtime game. Virginia had a streak ending victory in sight as quarterback, Byrce Perkins, led them down the field. However, he fumbled whilst driving for the win, and the Hokies recovery ended the game.
Perkins has the chance for revenge today, as well as leading the Cavaliers to their first ever ACC Championship Game, in his senior season for the program. He’s accounted for 2638 passing yards, whilst adding a team high 523 rushing yards this season.
His opposing QB could be the real difference maker in this game. Virginia Tech started the season with a 2-2 record. After losing 45-10 to Duke, head coach Justin Fuente turned to Hendon Hooker and the program has never looked back.
Hooker is undefeated as the starter this season, missing the defeat against Notre Dame with an injury.
The momentum is truly with Virginia Tech. Despite both being undefeated in their last three games, the Hokies have shut out Georgia Tech and Pitt in back to back weeks going into this game.
A win would give Virginia Tech their seventh ACC Championship Game appearance since its introduction in 2005. Their most recent appearance was in a 2016 defeat to Clemson.
The reigning College Football Nation Champions await the victor.
Wisconsin @ Minnesota
Back in 1890, a rivalry was born as big as the legendary giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan, whose mythical axe is now the basis of the trophy that awaits the winning program.
However, this rivalry takes on new proportions this weekend.
This game will provide the opponent for Ohio State in the BIG Ten Championship Game.
This is Wisconsin @ Minnesota.
It’s win and in for the Championship Game. It’s the winner taking the lead in the head to head record, currently 60-60-8 after Minnesota’s win last season. For Minnesota, it’s a must win to keep any slim hope of a place in the College Football Playoffs alive. The game is so big that College Gameday will be in Minneapolis for it.
It’s not the first time that this fixture will decide one half of the Big Ten Championship Game.
Back in 2014, the Wisconsin Badgers took down the Minnesota Golden Gophers and booked their date with destiny. Or Ohio State, as destiny was more commonly known. Destiny was not the friend of the Badgers that day, as the Buckeyes trounced Wisconsin 59-0. After losing to OSU during this regular season, they’ll be motivated by revenge.
Despite having 18 Big Ten Championships to their name, Minnesota has never been to the Championship Game since its introduction in 2011. A trip to Indianapolis would be the happily ever after to their fairytale season.
The Gophers have been the feel-good story of the 2019 College Football season. Whether it’s their motivational coach with his “Row The Boat” mantra, or the inspirational Casey O’Brien, their journey through the season has been a joy to watch. They looked unbeatable, especially after destroying Penn State, but couldn’t achieve perfection. With just one defeat, to Iowa, on their resume, they lead the way in the West.
Badgers to sink the boat?
The Wisconsin Badgers had an unbeatable air about them too. They rattled off to a 6-0 start, trampling all before them with a dominant power run game led by Jonathan Taylor, and a stifling defense that at one point was allowing an average of under five points per game.
Since the shock defeat to Illinois and the defeat to Ohio State, the Badgers have given up 20+ points a game. That strangling defense has disappeared as mysteriously as the Slab of Bacon trophy that was once the symbol of victory in this almighty rivalry.
The game is too close to call.
It will come as no surprise to College Football fans, or even the casual observer, that Jonathan Taylor is the key to the game. The record setting running back for the Badgers has been virtually unstoppable this year. He has hit 200+ yards in his last three games, and it is difficult to anticipate him ending the season on anything but a high.
When you combine that with the fact that Minnesota has given up 100+ yards rushing in all bar two games this season, the odds seem stacked against the Gophers.
That is when Minnesota is at it’s most dangerous, however. They were a strong underdog against Penn State but came out and played the Nittany Lions off the park. Sophomore quarterback, Tanner Morgan, has come of age this year and if he can give the Gophers an early lead in the game, forcing Wisconsin to conserve clock and therefore keep the ball out of Jonathan Taylor’s hands, then there’s a chance.
If the team that wins the rivalry game isn’t the current holder of Paul Bunyan’s Axe, they get to “steal the axe” back.
If the Badgers can accomplish that on Saturday, they’ll chop a hole in the Gophers boat, sinking their BIG Ten Championship dreams along with it.
Oliver Hodgkinson is a College Football writer for The Touchdown. He also writes on the NFL for the Pro Football Network. You can hear his opinions on all things College Football as one third of the College Chaps Podcast.