Luke's Triple Option: Ranking every conference championship game

In this Oct. 6, 2018, file photo, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws a pass against Texas during the first half of an NCAA college football game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. (AP Photo/Cooper Neill, File)

Conference championship week is upon us, which means we get an honest-to-goodness week of football to round out the season and determine who will take part in what bowl games. I’ve taken the liberty of ranking them all [the top five] by watchability, so you can decide how to pick and choose your games to watch this weekend.

10. Pac-12: Utah vs. Washington, Friday, 8 p.m. on FOX

Don’t watch this game. It’s gonna suck out loud. You’ll be watching boring defensive football with two defenses that aren’t exciting in the least. The only entertainment value you’ll get out of it is the one or two mind-numbing mistakes that Washington quarterback Jake Browning makes per game.

9. Big Ten: Northwestern vs. Ohio State, Saturday, 8 p.m. on FOX

The only reason to watch this game is the off chance Ohio State pulls a redux of the Purdue game this year (and the Iowa game last year) and gets their boots knocked clean off by an inferior team.

Admittedly, Northwestern is a pretty cool story. Pat Fitzgerald won Big Ten coach of the year for his job winning the Big Ten West with them, but they’ve gotten massively lucky in their run and don’t play a particularly-exciting brand of football so I feel comfortable putting them here.

8. ACC: Clemson vs. Pittsburgh, Saturday, 8 p.m. on ABC

No. 2 Miami in 2017. No. 3 Clemson in 2016. Does Pitt have one more earth-shattering, giant-killing victory left in 2018 now that they’re actually a good football team? I don’t know, but we’re about to find out.

This is one of those games that you keep in the back of your mind; you keep an eye on the score just in case.

7. Sun Belt: Appalachian State vs. Louisiana Lafayette, Saturday, noon on ESPN

Appalachian State will run the ball 40 times a game and look fun while doing it, former Alabama assistant Billy Napier has Louisiana-Lafayette far ahead of schedule as he tries to turn the Ragin’ Cajuns into Tuscaloosa West, but this game just won’t be that interesting beyond the surface level.

Also hurting this matchup is the lack of Appalachian State star running back Jalin Moore, who is out for the season with a hip injury. It’s going on at the same time as a game much higher up on my list, so keep it on a second screen if you have one.

6. MAC: Buffalo vs. Northern Illinois, Friday, 7 p.m. on ESPN2

This game deserves the No. 6 spot because not nearly enough people have been able to witness what Buffalo’s quarterback-receiver duo of Tyree Jackson and Anthony Johnson have been able to do together these past few years. Both will likely hear their names called in the NFL Draft in April, so I’ll allow you to get in on the ground floor here.

On the other side, Northern Illinois defensive end Sutton Smith has been one of the best pass rushers in football, ranking third in the nation with 13 sacks and fourth with 24 tackles for loss, he’s had a huge hand in making the Huskies the eighth-best defense in the country.

5. Conference USA: Middle Tennessee vs. UAB

This is a sleeper among Group of Five conference title games featuring two of the most exciting defenses in the nation.

Just two years ago, UAB didn’t have a football team at all. Head coach Bill Clark and the upperclassmen who stuck with him got to a fortunate 8-5 last year in a feel-good story of a season. This year they’re 9-3, No. 55 in the nation per S&P+, and they’re out for blood.

Havoc rate is the percentage of plays that a defense either records a tackle for loss, breaks up a pass, gets an interception or forces a fumble, and these two teams do it a heck of a lot: UAB on 20.9 percent of their plays (4th in the country) and Middle Tennessee on 18.5 percent (26th).

If you’re one to complain about how college football rarely showcases good defense, this is the one for you.

4. American: Memphis vs. UCF

The American Championship is a rematch of one of the most entertaining games on 2017, where the two teams combined for nearly 1,500 yards of total offense and 117 points, and a more modest 2018 regular season game which saw the UCF edge out Memphis 31-30 in their biggest test of the season to date.

UCF brings back familiar faces like running back Adrian Killins and receiver Dredrick Snelson combined with new face Greg McRae, who now leads the team with an absurd nine yards per carry

Memphis grinded out a win over Houston last week to earn a spot in the American Championship for the second year in a row. They’re not quite as good as last year’s team, but they can still put up some points, ranking sixth in yards per play right behind UCF.

The only thing holding this game back from a higher spot is it’ll lack the best player on either team, UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton who suffered a nasty leg injury that ended his season.

3. SEC: Alabama vs. Georgia

They might be ubiquitous, overwhelming and obnoxious, but sometimes the McDonald’s, the Walmarts, the Coca Colas of college football just so happen to be right up there in quality, and that’s just what the SEC Championship represents.

Alabama should have a healthy Tua Tagovailoa, so their offense should be as explosive as it has been all year, while Georgia’s athletes have as good of a chance as any to hang with Alabama for at least two quarters.

It’ll be college football at the highest level until Alabama inevitably pulls away, so watch Gary Danielson and Vern—I mean Brad Nessler for one last time this season on Saturday afternoon.

2. Mountain West: Boise State vs. Fresno State

The Mountain West has had a sneaky good season. The conference boasts seven bowl-eligible teams, three elite ones in Boise State, Fresno State and Utah State, and a resurgent Hawaii and Nevada.

Sitting at the top of the two divisions are Boise State and Fresno State. Brian Harsin and the Broncos are a well-balanced team with a 59th-ranked offense and a 23rd-ranked offense led by quarterback Brett Rypien, who’s thrown for 3580 yards and 29 touchdowns on the year

On the other side, Fresno State is just plain fun as hell. Quarterback Marcus McMaryion has completed 70 percent of his passes on the year for an average of 12.7 yards, and he just doesn’t make mistakes. He’s gotten sacked just 10 times this year, and thrown 24 touchdowns to just three interceptions.

Neither team has much of a run game to speak of, both defenses are pretty good but not great, so expect a highly-competitive shootout on a Saturday night.

1. Big 12: Texas vs. Oklahoma, Saturday, noon on ABC

The Big 12 title game returns after an eight-year hiatus with a bang. The Zombie Red River Rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma will feature a lot of points, a lot of hate, and one of the best uniform matchups in sports.

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray is the most exciting player in the nation, and the national media has woken up to his dominance — he currently has the second-best odds to win the Heisman, and could easily overtake Tagovailoa with a great performance on Saturday.

There’s drama surrounding Murray and this game as well. He and Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger got into a heated discussion after Texas’ win over the Sooners in October, and Murray refused to comment on Ehlinger’s play in a press conference this week.

Ranked No. 5 in the Playoff Rankings, a win here likely sends Oklahoma to the playoffs as well, so this game has high stakes on top of all that. Appointment viewing.


Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at luke.swanson@uconn.edu.