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Winners and Losers: The conference championship matchups are getting clearer

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

There won’t be a whole lot of movement in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday, but the conference championship weekend matchups are beginning to take shape.

The participants for the ACC title game — Clemson and Miami — were sealed last weekend, but more materialized on Saturday with the possible conclusions of many other conference races coming into focus.

Let’s go through them all, in alphabetical order.

All times Eastern:

AMERICAN (Saturday, Dec. 2 – Noon)

East: UCF and USF both won this weekend, adding increased stakes to the War on I-4. No. 15 UCF took care of Temple 45-19 to improve to 10-0 (7-0 AAC) on the year while USF held off Tulsa, 27-20, and is now 9-1 (6-1). The two will meet in Tampa next week with the AAC East crown on the line. On top of that, UCF is the current leader in the clubhouse to represent the Group of Five conferences in a New Year’s Six bowl game. Next week — and the AAC title game — remain must-wins.

West: Memphis overcame an early deficit and a 57-minute weather delay to knock off SMU and claim the AAC West title. The No. 21 Tigers, now 9-1 (6-1 AAC) on the year, put up 664 yards of offense in the 66-45 win. Memphis finishes out the regular season next week at home against three-win East Carolina before the conference title game. If Memphis takes care of business against ECU, the AAC title game would likely clinch a NY6 berth for the Tigers.

ACC – Clemson vs. Miami (Saturday, Dec. 2 – 8 p.m.)

Atlantic: No. 2 Clemson clinched the division title last week with a win over Florida State and improved to 10-1 (7-1 ACC) with a blowout 61-3 win over The Citadel. Clemson, which closes out the regular season next weekend on the road against rival South Carolina, is in good position to return to the College Football Playoff. The Tigers just need to keep winning.

Coastal: No. 3 Miami (10-0, 7-0) clinched the division last week before its triumphant win over Notre Dame. That win removed any doubt that the Hurricanes are a legitimate contender, but things were a bit shaky on Saturday. The Canes fell behind Virginia but stormed back with 30 unanswered points in a 44-28 win. Miami finishes off its season with a trip to Pittsburgh before meeting Clemson for the ACC crown. Provided both teams win next week, the Miami-Clemson game is likely a CFP elimination game.

BIG 12 (Saturday, Dec. 2 – 12:30 p.m.)

No. 4 Oklahoma took care of Kansas without much resistance to improve its record to 10-1 (7-1 Big 12). The Sooners, who clinched a spot in the revived Big 12 title game, close out the regular season at home against West Virginia, which will likely be without star quarterback Will Grier after he suffered a grisly finger injury in a loss to Texas. With the potential for one ACC team to knock the other out of the CFP picture, OU’s chances are good if it keeps winning.

No. 12 TCU (9-2, 6-2) is the overwhelming favorite to go for revenge against the Sooners. Without its starting QB and RB, the Horned Frogs took care of Texas Tech 27-3 behind a strong defensive effort. And because Oklahoma State lost to Kansas State, TCU will officially clinch a spot in the title game with a win over one-win Baylor on Friday.

Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor runs past Michigan’s Josh Metellus during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

BIG TEN – Ohio State vs. Wisconsin (Saturday, Dec. 2 – 8 p.m.)

East: No. 9 Ohio State demolished Illinois as expected on Saturday and clinched the Big Ten East. Because of that silly loss at Iowa, the Buckeyes (9-2, 7-1) are seemingly on the outside looking in for the College Football Playoff, but can do a ton of damage to its conference counterpart Dec. 2 in Indianapolis.

West: No. 5 Wisconsin (11-0, 8-0) already had the division wrapped up entering Saturday, but had its biggest test of the season with No. 24 Michigan visiting Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers fell behind 10-7 in the third, but stormed back and won 24-10, passing that test with flying colors. The Badgers have no margin for error at this point and need to take care of things at Minnesota next week before squaring off with the Buckeyes. An undefeated Big Ten champion won’t get left out of the College Football Playoff.

CONFERENCE USA – Florida Atlantic vs. North Texas (Saturday, Dec. 2 – Noon)

East: Florida Atlantic, yes Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic Owls, clinched its first appearance in the C-USA title game. The Owls registered a commanding 52-24 victory over rival Florida International on Saturday to improve to a perfect 7-0 in C-USA play (8-3 overall). FAU closes out the regular season at Charlotte next week.

West: North Texas (8-3, 6-1), which eked out an impressive 52-49 non-conference win over Army on Saturday, locked up its first division title by crushing winless UTEP last week. UNT will play Rice on the road before a likely trip to Boca Raton for the C-USA championship. It’s been an impressive turnaround for the Mean Green under Seth Littrell, who is in just his second season as UNT’s head coach. In the season before he arrived, the team went 1-11.

(Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

MAC (Saturday, Dec. 2 – Noon)

East: Akron (6-5, 5-2 MAC) shook things up by upsetting Ohio (8-3, 5-2) on Tuesday night. Now the Zips can wrap up the division title — their first since 2005 — with a home win over bottom-dweller Kent State on Tuesday. Ohio, which would have clinched the East with a win over the Zips, now needs a Zips loss, plus a win over Buffalo to go back to the MAC title game.

West: After beating Bowling Green, Toledo (9-2, 6-1) can now go to the MAC title game for the first since 2004 with a win over Western Michigan on Friday night. If Toledo loses, Northern Illinois (8-3, 6-1), which lost to Toledo earlier this year, would earn the trip to Detroit with a win over Central Michigan.

MOUNTAIN WEST – Boise State vs. Fresno State (Saturday, Dec. 2 – 7:45 p.m.)

Mountain: No. 25 Boise State (8-2, 6-0) clinched the Mountain division before its game against Air Force kicked off thanks to Wyoming’s loss to Fresno State. Entering Saturday, the Broncos had won six games in a row. Last week, Boise overcame a 52-38 deficit in the final three minutes to force overtime and shock Colorado State, 59-52. That win helped Boise appear in the CFP rankings at No. 25. The Broncos need to win out and some AAC chaos to creep into a New Year’s Six bowl.

West: As previously mentioned, Fresno State beat Wyoming, 13-7. That clinched the West for the Bulldogs. It’s been quite the turnaround for Fresno in year one under Jeff Tedford. Fresno went 1-11 last year without winning a single conference game. After Saturday’s win, Tedford’s group is 8-3 with a 6-1 mark in MWC play.

Boise State and Fresno State will meet in the regular season finale in Fresno next weekend before playing again in the MWC title game on Dec. 2. Yes, really.

Washington State quarterback Luke Falk (4) passes the ball against Utah in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

PAC-12 (Friday, Dec. 1 – 8 p.m.)

North: The most simple North division scenario can play out in Seattle next weekend. No. 14 Washington State (9-2, 6-2) will clinch the division if it beats rival No. 18 Washington (8-2, 5-2) in the Apple Cup. No. 22 Stanford also has a shot. Stanford (7-3, 6-2), because it beat Washington last week, would win the division if UW beats WSU next week because the Cardinal beat the Huskies.

South: Across the conference, No. 11 USC clinched the South for the second time in three seasons by beating Colorado in Boulder last week. A win over rival UCLA Saturday gave the Trojans a 10-win regular season for the first time since 2011. It’s hard to believe, but USC hasn’t won a conference championship since 2008. That can change in two weeks.

SEC (Saturday, Dec. 2 – 4 p.m.)

East: Georgia (10-1, 7-1), which already has the SEC East locked up, dropped from No. 1 to No. 7 by losing to Auburn last week. The Bulldogs bounced back Saturday by beating Kentucky, 42-13, ahead of next week’s season finale against rival Georgia Tech. There is no margin for error against the Yellow Jackets.

West: What more could you want? Next week’s Iron Bowl between No. 1 Alabama (11-0, 7-0) and No. 6 Auburn (9-2, 6-1) will decide the champion of the SEC West with the winner moving on to face Georgia in Atlanta. Both the Crimson Tide and Tigers took care of non-conference opponents with ease on Saturday in their annual pre-Iron Bowl tune-ups. In addition to the SEC, the Iron Bowl will have CFP stakes, too. There are a lot of hypotheticals. Would a one-loss, non-SEC champion Alabama — with or without a division title — crack the top four? Would a two-loss SEC champion Auburn? Could two SEC teams make the CFP?

Sun Belt: Troy (8-2), Arkansas State (6-3), Georgia State (6-3) and Appalachian State (6-4) are all tied atop the conference with 5-1 records. Louisiana (5-5) is 4-2 and is still alive. All five teams have two games remaining. The Fun Belt is real, y’all.

WINNERS

Lamar Jackson: The reigning Heisman Trophy winner should get some consideration behind Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. Jackson had 381 total yards and four touchdowns as the Cardinals rolled 56-10 over Syracuse.

The win knocked Syracuse from the ranks of bowl eligible and put Louisville in a good position to finish the season 8-4. Jackson has thrown for 23 touchdowns in 2017 while rushing for 17. Yeah, the 40 combined scores are 11 less than what he had in 2016, but Jackson still has two games to go. Let’s not forget that he’s still one of the best players in college football.

Texas defensive back Brandon Jones (19) tackles West Virginia quarterback Will Grier (7) short of the goal line during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Morgantown, W.Va. Grier injured his hand in during the play and left the game. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)

Texas: The Longhorns are going bowling. We figured Texas would need a win over Texas Tech next week to get to six wins, but it was taken care of with a win over West Virginia in Morgantown on Saturday.

The Longhorns dominated, jumping out to a 14-0 halftime lead and cruising to a 28-14 win. Freshman QB Sam Ehlinger was 12-19 passing for 136 yards and two touchdowns and had nine carries for 68 yards. A win over Tech would ensure a winning season in Tom Herman’s first campaign.

Saquon Barkley: As we implore you to not forget about Lamar Jackson in the Heisman race, don’t forget about Barkley either. The Penn State running back had three touchdowns and set the PSU record for most rushing touchdowns in a career in a 56-44 win over Nebraska.

Barkley has 39 career touchdowns and tallied 224 total yards. He should be a Heisman finalist in a few weeks even though Penn State won’t repeat as Big Ten champion.

AJ Brown: Defenders really have to stop falling for Brown’s jukes. Here’s how he scored Ole Miss’ first touchdown of the night. It’s the same juke he pulled last week against Louisiana-Lafayette.

(via ESPN)

Jake Bennett: The Colorado State center proposed on senior day. He got a yes. Congratulations to the happy couple.


UMass: Congratulations on getting a road win, UMass. Road wins are hard to come by for programs that play a lot of games for paychecks. The Minutemen won 16-10 on Saturday over BYU for the program’s second win over an FBS opponent on the road.

BYU’s season is an abject disaster. The loss was its ninth of the year. But UMass, a team that has to put together a schedule as an independent like BYU, deserves a lot of credit. It’s the first time the program has scored four wins in a season as an FBS team.

Notre Dame: The Irish find themselves right outside the playoff picture, but deserve credit for fighting past Navy in a 24-17 victory. The Midshipmen certainly tested Notre Dame, holding onto the ball for 43 minutes of game time and putting up 300+ yards of offense. A nine-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Wimbush at the start of the fourth quarter proved to be the game-winning score and the Irish were able to hang on from there. This was exactly the type of hard-earned win Notre Dame needed after getting demolished by Miami last week.

Florida: In a demonstrably awful season, Florida’s 36-7 victory over bowl-bound UAB is certainly worth enjoying. The Gators nearly shut out a 7-4 team while allowing just 180 yards of offense. UAB has enjoyed a rather charmed season in C-USA, so it’s not like this win was a sure thing, and not many would have been truly shocked if the Blazers pulled off the upset. Simply put, it’s a solid win for a Gators team that desperately needed one after losing five straight.

Stony Brook: Hail Mary plays are not supposed to work. Especially when a receiver is covered by five defenders. That’s what happened on Saturday and yes, it worked for Stony Brook. A berth in the FCS playoffs seems likely after the 20-19 victory over Maine on Saturday. The Seawolves desperation play brought them to nine wins on the season, including five straight to end the year.

LOSERS

Cincinnati: What are you doing losing to East Carolina, Cincinnati? It wasn’t even close either. The Bearcats lost 48-20 to the Pirates, who now 3-8 and showing signs of life after a disastrous start to the season.

Cincy is now 3-8 as well — it’s not the start that new Bearcats coach Luke Fickell was looking for after taking over for Tommy Tuberville. East Carolina quarterback Gardner Minshew threw for 444 yards and four touchdowns while wide receiver Trevon Brown had nine catches for a whopping 270 yards and two touchdowns.

Houston: Here’s another head-scratching loss. The Cougars lost 20-17 on the road at Tulane on Saturday. The win gets Tulane to 5-6 with a chance at a bowl game and drops Houston to 6-4.

Tulane quarterback Jonathan Banks threw for 251 yards and found Terren Encalade for a 64-yard touchdown pass with 6:31 left for the win. A Cougar win would have kept the school at third in the AAC pecking order when it comes to bowl selection. Now Houston could be as low as fifth or sixth depending on how things shake out.

Oregon: Seriously Ducks? Y’all are copying Miami’s turnover chain? Shameful.

(Via Pac-12 Network)

Nebraska: The tackling drills by Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco aren’t going very well. The Huskers allowed over 600 yards of offense to Penn State to drop to 4-7 and ensure no bowl berth at the end of the season.

It’s been quite a precipitous fall for Diaco, who is likely out of a job at the end of the season. He came to Nebraska earlier this year after he was fired from his head-coaching gig at UConn. He came to the Huskies after he was the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame. He’ll likely be looking for work pretty soon, along with head coach Mike Riley.

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders were gifted an upset opportunity on Saturday against TCU and completely blew it. The Frogs were on the road and missing both their starting quarterback and running back against a TTU team averaging 38 points per game. Tech had a legitimate chance to pick up its sixth win of the year and instead came out flat, falling 27-3. If there’s such a thing as an embarrassing loss as a touchdown underdog to a No. 12 ranked team, the Red Raiders pulled it off. That’s a brutal way to close out the home slate for coach Kliff Kingsbury.

Iowa: What on Earth was Iowa thinking going for a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter against Purdue? The Hawkeyes were down 24-15 after scoring with about a minute left in regulation. Even with a successful two-point attempt, they still needed another touchdown. Taking the PAT would’ve still kept it a one-score game at 24-16. Instead Iowa took an unnecessary gamble and was still down two possessions with very little time left. Yes, the Hawkeyes lost 24-15.

Syracuse: This season de-escalated quickly for the Orange. Once 4-3 after the upset win over Clemson, Syracuse has lost four straight after Saturday’s 56-10 blowout at Louisville. The Orange has been outscored 174-96 over that stretch. A season-finale matchup with Boston College at home next week gives the Orange a chance to get to five wins on the year and halt a horrible streak before it bleeds into the offseason. Syracuse went 4-8 in head coach Dino Babers first season in 2016, so even a little improvement would be encouraging here.