College football championship weekend preview: Georgia, Michigan, TCU look to cement CFP spots
Fans of college football have finally reached the weekend when everything will be decided, when we’ll have a solid idea of who will be playing in the College Football Playoff following a wonderful Saturday of football.
Unfortunately, barring something bizarre, a great deal of drama does not appear to be on the horizon.
No. 1 Georgia faces a three-loss LSU team with no shot at reaching the CFP, and even a loss by Georgia won't drop the Bulldogs' out of the top four.
No. 2 Michigan faces a four-loss Purdue team, and even a slip-up by the Wolverines should have them in the CFP.
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Prior to fourth-ranked USC’s loss to No. 11 Utah Friday night in the Pac-12 Championship Game, a loss for No. 3 TCU to No. 10 Kansas State would have made things interesting.
But No. 5 Ohio State is in prime position to slide into the final CFP spot following USC's loss, and with only two-loss teams behind the Buckeyes, the top three teams should not be in any jeopardy.
There’s a reason why we play the games, and with the CFP being decided by a committee of human beings, anything can happen.
Let’s look at the games that will impact the CFP as Championship Saturday is upon us.
Big 12 Championship Game: No. 10 Kansas State vs. No. 3 TCU – 12 p.m. ET, ABC
TCU can solidify its first trip to the College Football Playoff with a victory over Kansas State in Arlington, Texas.
In Sonny Dykes first year as head coach of the Horned Frogs, he has his team in the championship game for just the second time in program history one year after going 5-7.
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“A majority of our team, we took a lot of (losses) last year,” running back Kendre Miller said. “We’re just proving to ourselves really that this is who we could be. … I feel like it shocked lot of people, like even people on our team, that we were going to do this good, me included.”
If TCU wins Saturday, there will be no nervous faces on selection day, as they’ll be just the second team from the Big 12 conference to make the playoff.
It’s the second matchup of the year between the two schools, with TCU getting the better of Kansas State in October, 38-28.
In that game, the Wildcats held a 28-10 lead in the second quarter before failing to score again for the rest of the game.
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“I was sick after that game,” Kansas State center Hayden Gillum said. “It was probably one of the harder losses in the year. … We know we owe these guys one.”
Kansas State used three quarterbacks in the first game against TCU after Adrian Martinez got hurt on the opening drive. Will Howard took over and gets the start on Saturday.
“We have an opportunity to play one of the best teams in the country. We earned the opportunity to get to this point,” fourth-year Wildcats coach Chris Klieman said. “Never looked ahead and never looked behind.”
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TCU enters the game with an offense scoring the fourth most points in the nation at 41.3 points per game, led by quarterback Max Duggan.
Duggan leads the Big 12 in passing yards (3,070) and touchdowns (29) with just three interceptions.
Kansas State’s defense is allowing just 19.4 points per game.
SEC Championship Game: No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 14 LSU – 4 p.m. ET, CBS
Georgia is in the College Football Playoff after running the table in the regular season for the second straight year.
Now the question is whether they’ll win their first SEC Championship since 2017 and enter the playoff undefeated.
LSU’s loss to Texas A&M, the third of the season for the Tigers, means the SEC Championship is devoid of meaning, but don’t tell that to Georgia head coach Kirby Smart.
“It's about that next step and having an opportunity to put a number on the wall that stays there forever,” Smart said. “It's an SEC championship. You don't belittle those. Those are hard to come by.”
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Last season, Georgia entered the SEC Championship Game undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country, only to lose to Alabama before beating the Crimson Tide in a national championship rematch.
An SEC title would mean a lot to Smart and the fans of Georgia.
“There's such a respect, especially in this part of the country, for the Southeastern Conference, that winning a Southeastern Conference championship is extremely impressive for the quality of football and the number of NFL players that come out of our conference,” Smart said. “I think our players take a lot of pride in that.”
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LSU dropped from No. 5 in the CFP ranking to No. 14 after a devastating defeat in Week 13 against the Aggies. Prior to the loss, LSU had a chance to make the CFP in Brian Kelly’s first year as head coach with a win on Saturday.
While that hope was dashed, an SEC Championship for Kelly would be an amazing turnaround for a program that went 6-7 in 2021.
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“Our guys know it, and they care about that,” Kelly said Monday, according to the Lafayette Daily Advertiser. “And you can sense it and feel it over the last couple of days. From after the game in the locker room to yesterday when they had to be here for a meal.
“Even today in the training room, our guys know they let something slip away, and they're upset about it.”
Big Ten Championship Game: No. 2 Michigan vs. Purdue – 8 p.m. ET, FOX
The Michigan Wolverines are coming off their second straight win over Ohio State and have an opportunity to win the Big Ten in back-to-back years for the first time since 2003-04.
“There's no feeling like it,” Michigan tight end Luke Schoonmaker said. “We've been through this week before. We know what it takes and what it's going to take to grind it out and get another win.”
The Wolverines are in the same spot as Georgia, in that a loss is unlikely to knock them out of the CFP.
But while it’s been another dream season for Michigan, not all news has been positive.
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Heisman hopeful running back Blake Corum will reportedly undergo left knee surgery and will miss the rest of the season, according to ESPN.
Corum accounted for 18 of Michigan’s 35 rushing touchdowns and was eighth in the country in yards with 1,463. Donovan Edwards will now be the primary back after rushing for 687 yards and six touchdowns on the season.
Purdue enters the championship game winners of three in a row and with an offense averaging 406.5 yards per game.
Quarterback Aidan O'Connell will get the start even as he deals with the death of his older brother.
“He's got things he's got to deal with this week as well, but we'll be there to support him. And whenever we can get him back here and get back to work, we'll look forward to that,” Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm said, according to Lafayette Journal & Courier.
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O'Connell has thrown for 3,124 yards and 22 touchdowns while throwing 11 interceptions on the season. Twelve of those touchdowns have been caught by wide receiver Charlie Jones, who leads the Big Ten with 1,199 receiving yards.
But Purdue will be facing its toughest test of the season. The Michigan defense rolls into Indianapolis allowing just 262.2 yards and 12.7 points per game.
The Boilermakers have played spoiler in Brohm’s time at Purdue, beating three top-three teams in the last four years, including taking down No. 2 Iowa in 2021.
Other games of note:
AAC Championship Game: No. 18 Tulane vs. No. 22 UCF – 4 p.m. ET, ABC
ACC Championship Game: No. 22 North Carolina vs. No. 9 Clemson – 8 p.m. ET, ABC
The Associated Press contributed to this report