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HomeSportsConference championship Saturday preview: Possible chaos on the horizon

Conference championship Saturday preview: Possible chaos on the horizon

College football will look drastically different next year. 

Prior to the start of the 2023 season, conference realignment took center stage as the Pac-12 conference imploded. Conference realignment had been occurring for years, but the mass exodus from the “Conference of Champions” felt like the final curtain. 

In 2024, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah will play in the Big 12 while Texas and Oklahoma will head to the SEC. 

USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington will play in the Big Ten, while Cal and Stanford will head east to play in the ACC. 

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It’s going to look different in college football, especially as the 12-team postseason playoff kicks off. 

But before all the changes are implemented, college football has one last trip around the sun, putting conference championship Saturday in the spotlight with the potential results posing a possibility for chaos for the College Football Playoff (CFP). 

While Washington’s win over Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game means that only three spots are up for grabs, there are still a few possibilities for the final four. 

Let’s take a look the matchups that will decide the final four-team playoff before college football takes on a different look.

Big 12 championship game: No. 7 Texas vs. No. 18 Oklahoma State – 12 p.m. ET

Texas is looking for its first conference title since 2009, while Oklahoma State will be playing for its first championship since 2011. 

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A Texas win on Saturday would be a shot to the gut of the Big 12 as the Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners prepare to leave the conference for the SEC. 

“With us leaving the Big 12 and some of the great matchups over the years, for us to get to play (Oklahoma State) in the championship game is kind of fitting, knowing we’re going to be playing OU every year going forward,” Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian said. 

Sarkisian has never defeated Oklahoma State, losing in 2021 and 2022. 

Oklahoma State running back Ollie Gordon II leads the nation in rushing, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. He’ll be facing a Texas rush defense ranked at the top of the Big 12 at just 85 yards per game. 

“Tough on guys rushing the football against them,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “More of a traditional defense, they can play gaps and play coverage. …. Most people have struggled in a big way blocking their down guys and their backers, so they don’t have to overload the box for the rush.”

Even with a win over the Cowboys, Texas will need help to make the CFP. They likely need Florida State to lose in the ACC title game while paying close attention to the SEC championship game between Alabama and Georgia. 

Texas defeated Alabama in Week 2, but if the Crimson Tide find a way to end Georgia’s 29-game winning streak, a major debate will ensue. 

SEC championship game: No. 8 Alabama vs. No. 1 Georgia: 4 p.m. ET

After Week 2, no one thought Nick Saban would have his team playing for an SEC title with a possible playoff spot on the line. 

Since losing to Texas in September, the Crimson Tide have ripped off 10 consecutive wins as they look to snap Georgia’s 29-game winning streak. 

The last team to beat the Bulldogs? Alabama in the 2021 SEC championship game. 

Alabama’s own winning streak has come as quarterback Jalen Milroe has solidified himself as the guy under center in Tuscaloosa, accounting for 26 touchdowns since the loss to Texas. 

“This is a tremendous opportunity for our team,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “They sort of created that for themselves by making a tremendous amount of improvement throughout the season. I’m very proud of the transformation of our team from the beginning to the end.”

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Even with an Alabama win in Atlanta Saturday, the Crimson Tide won’t be a lock for the CFP depending on the results around the country. The loss to Texas looms large. 

For Georgia, Saturday presents an opportunity for a second straight SEC title and a third consecutive trip to the CFP. 

The Bulldogs will look to win their 30th straight game on their path to a three-peat.

“It’s an amazing, amazing blessing,” Georgia offensive lineman Sedrick Van Pran said of the streak, according to the SEC website. “It’s something that I could have never in my life imagined, something that God has allowed me to be a part of, and I’m so, so grateful for it.”

Alabama allowed 244 rushing yards last week to Auburn, while Georgia running back Kendall Milton has averaged 8.5 yards per carry over the last three games. 

An Alabama win in the SEC title game will create a difficult scenario for the selection committee. 

Big Ten championship game: No. 16 Iowa vs. No. 2 Michigan – 8 p.m. ET

Jim Harbaugh’s absence for the last three games didn’t make a difference as Michigan won all three contests during his suspension, including a third consecutive win over Ohio State. 

Harbaugh returns to the sidelines for the Big Ten championship game against Iowa, a matchup in which Michigan is heavily favored. The Wolverines were 22-point favorites as of Wednesday, according to Caesars Sportsbook. 

“Yeah, we’ve been here before,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Sunday, according to Fox Sports. “We’ve actually won a couple of games like this in the last 25 years. We’ve got to play our best football. And, you know, anything is possible in sports. I think we’ve all seen that.”

This should be a defensive battle as Iowa struggles to score and both Michigan and Iowa boast defensive units in the top seven.

The Hawkeyes have failed to score 20 points in five of their last six games and sit at the bottom of the Big Ten in yards per game (247.3). 

Michigan running Blake Corum, who missed last year’s Big Ten championship game due to a knee surgery, has rushed for at least two scores in the last four games and leads the nation with 22 rushing touchdowns. 

“I wanted to be there so bad, but everything happens for a reason, and look at me now,” Corum said.

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ACC championship game: No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 14 Louisville – 8 p.m. ET

Florida State has done what it needs to do to put itself in a position to make the CFP. And yet, fair or not, the Seminoles appear to be the weakest of the eight possible CFP teams due to the season-ending injury to Jordan Travis. 

With junior Tate Rodemaker under center, Florida State entered the fourth quarter against Florida in Week 13 down 15-14 before rallying for its 12th victory of the year.

On Friday, ESPN reported Rodemaker will be a game-time decision after taking a late hit to the head against the Gators. Rodemaker left the game for two plays before returning. 

If the junior QB is unable to go, Florida State will turn to freshman Brock Glenn for the ACC title. 

Louisville will be playing in the ACC championship game for the first time after going 10-2 in Jeff Brohm’s first season as head coach. 

Louisville has played at an elite level throughout this year,” Florida State head coach Mike Norvell said. “They’ve got a great offense, a great defense. … We believe we’ve got some of those same characteristics, and that’s why we’re both getting a chance to compete in this game.”

Louisville is coming off a loss to in-state rival Kentucky in Week 13. 

“We know against this type of team that the margin for error is very small,” Brohm said. “You can’t have those type of errors, or it’s going to cost you. We have to understand that it’s very hard to overcome anything like that when you’re playing this type of team, so we’re going to have to really be sharp.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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