An Underage Sports Journal For Students of the Game

Jason Canlas

Jason Canlas

2021 College Football Conference Title Weekend Preview

The 2021-22 college football regular season is in the books and it’s on to conference championship weekend. Filled with wild finishes and upsets, this season was one to remember. As we head into the upcoming weekend, all the matchups for each FBS conference title have been set. Georgia and Alabama meet in a critical top-four showdown for the SEC title while Michigan and Oklahoma State are both one win away from earning a College Football Playoff berth. There is nothing like college football. Here we go. 

Conference USA Championship, Friday @ 7:00 PM on CBSSN

Western Kentucky vs. UTSA

Championship weekend kicks off with an intriguing matchup between the Hilltoppers of WKU and the previously-unbeaten UTSA Roadrunners. The last time these two teams met: this season when UTSA beat WKU 52-46 in Bowling Green on October 9. This game could turn out to be another slugfest since both teams have explosive offenses. Western Kentucky is second in the nation in both total yards per game (525.1) and points per game (43.3) while UTSA ranks 14th in points per game (36.9). On one side, WKU QB Bailey Zappe, the nation’s leader in passing yards (4,968) and touchdowns (52), pairs up with Midseason All-America WR Jerreth Sterns to form one of the best QB-WR duos in college football. On the other side, UTSA QB Frank Harris and top-10 RB Sincere McCormick will look to win their school’s first-ever conference title after suffering their first loss of the season against North Texas last week. That loss dropped the Roadrunners out of the latest rankings. Nonetheless, this has been a season to remember for UTSA and they have a chance to finish as a 12-1 Group of 5 team. Western Kentucky vs. UTSA should be one of the most entertaining title matchups in the history of the conference. 

Pac-12 Championship, Friday @ 8:00 PM on ABC

#10 Oregon vs. #17 Utah

For the second time in three years, the Ducks meet the Utes for the Pac-12 title. This year’s storyline is all about payback for Oregon, a team that reached as high as #3 in the playoff rankings before their CFP hopes ended with an embarrassing loss to Utah on November 20. Despite the result of that first meeting, both teams are still evenly matched on paper. They both average roughly the same amount of points per game and total yards per game (434). Both teams also have a talented run game. The duo of Oregon QB Anthony Brown and RB Travis Dye, who have stepped up in a huge way to fill in for the injured C.J. Verdell, make up the tricky Split Zone RPO offense that the Ducks have success with. On Utah’s side, RB Tavion Thomas has 978 rushing yards and is fifth in the country with 18 rushing touchdowns. This will be a huge test for Oregon defensive end and potential #1 overall pick Kayvon Thibodeaux on his run defense. The winner of this game automatically earns a trip to the Rose Bowl. Will Oregon get its revenge, or will Utah prove it’s the superior team? We’ll find out in Vegas.

Big 12 Championship, Saturday @ 12:00 PM on ABC

#9 Baylor vs. #5 Oklahoma State

We should be grateful for a lot of things that happened this season, but perhaps nothing is greater than seeing a team other than Oklahoma compete for the Big 12 title. Thank Oklahoma State and Baylor for making it happen. OSU is in the Big 12 title game for the first time in program history and they’ve earned it. Over the years, Mike Gundy’s OSU teams have been known to put up lots of points on the board, but this year’s team has been one of the best on the other side of the ball. The Pokes defense leads the nation with 47 sacks and is in the top five in both points per game allowed (16.4) and yards allowed (276.3). RB Jaylen Warren has carried the workload of the Cowboys’ offense with another 1,000 yard rushing season. Meanwhile, Baylor’s offense has been stellar. They lead the Big 12 in total yards per game (446) and have been led by power RB Abram Smith, who had himself a productive year by totaling 1,366 rushing yards. Baylor’s excellent run game against Oklahoma State’s stifling defensive line is a true matchup to watch. If Oklahoma State wins, they could sneak into the CFP as a one-loss Big 12 champ, but they would also need help from a loss by either Alabama or Cincinnati. There’s no better way to kick off this Saturday slate than this top-10 showdown.

MAC Championship @ 12:00 PM on ESPN

Kent State vs. Northern Illinois

If you’re a fan of teams that rely on the run game, look no further than this matchup. Kent State and Northern Illinois both rank top-five in the nation in rushing yards per game (Kent State is third with 247.3 and Northern Illinois is fifth with 231.7). The Golden Flashes’ run game is centered around RB Marquez Cooper, a 5’7 sophomore who totaled 1,075 rushing yards this season. But the Huskies also have multiple running backs they can utilize in their run-heavy offense, which could be the difference if it comes down to which team runs the ball better. The last time Kent State was in the MAC title game was in 2012 when they fell to Northern Illinois in double overtime. These two teams should deliver another fabulous showcase on Saturday.

Mountain West Championship @ 3:00 PM on FOX

Utah State vs. #19 San Diego State

The Mountain West was a fun conference to watch all year. It came down to four teams: San Diego State, Fresno State, Utah State, and Air Force. With the MWC title on the line, SDSU will look to win their 22nd in their temporary home on a soccer pitch against Utah State. The Aztecs have been excellent on defense. They’re second in the nation in rushing yards per game allowed (78.7) and only giving up 17.3 points per game to opponents. It will be a challenge for Utah State, whose offense is ranked 18th in FBS in total yards per game (457.9). The Aggies do have an efficient passing attack. Their receiving core consists of three WRs with over 630 receiving yards. Their No. 1 wideout, Deven Thompkins, took college football by storm this year after finishing as the nation’s leading receiver with 1,543 yards and 9 TDs. The Mountain West may not be the most popular conference, but it’s an exciting one to watch. The winner of the Mountain West title will also get a special treat: a trip to the LA Bowl game at a $1 billion structure called Sofi Stadium. Sounds awesome, right?

Sun Belt Championship @ 3:30 PM on ESPN

Appalachian State vs. #24 Louisiana 

For the third time in the short four-year existence of the Sun Belt title game, App State and Louisiana meet again at Cajun Field. The Mountaineers won the previous two title games against Louisiana and are looking to make it three in a row. Both teams don’t give up points easily. They both rank 13th and 14th in the nation in that category, allowing under 19 points per game. Louisiana lost their opening game against Texas and then went on to win 11 games in a row, allowing them to jump into the top 25. For App State, they lost their regular-season meeting to Louisiana in October before closing the season out on a six-game winning streak, pulling off a huge upset over rival Coastal Carolina during that stretch. Both teams are looking to end on a high note with a Sun Belt title after wild seasons. Can the Ragin’ Cajuns end the curse with their school’s first-ever title? They’ve got the home-field advantage and that could ultimately be the deciding factor. 

SEC Championship @ 4:00 PM on CBS

#1 Georgia vs. #3 Alabama

In terms of playoff seeding, this is the biggest game of the weekend. Georgia vs. Alabama for the 2021 SEC title is for real now. I’d never thought I would say this, but the Georgia Bulldogs, not ‘Bama, have been the most dominant team in the country this year. The Dawgs’ defense has been historic and beyond elite all season. They’re on pace to be the best scoring defense ever. UGA is allowing 6.9 points per game, the best in the nation. Six. Point. Nine. It’s absurd. They’re also leading FBS in total yards allowed per game (230.4). Georgia DL Jordan Davis has looked like a Heisman candidate all year and while he hasn’t put up insane stats, he disrupts his opponents’ gameplan like no other. On the opposite side, the Tide have been vulnerable all year, most recently coming off a dramatic 4OT Iron Bowl win over Auburn. QB Bryce Young is still one of the best QBs in the country and is making a Heisman case for himself (3,901 passing yards, 40 TDs). Nick Saban’s offense is also top-ten in FBS in every offensive category. It won’t be easy for ‘Bama to roll into the playoff. They have to beat Georgia to make the CFP as a one-loss SEC champ, or else the teams behind them in the rankings will jump them. We’ve seen Georgia on the wrong side of history against Alabama in recent years (Tua Tagovailoa winning the national title to beat Georgia in 2018 and Jalen Hurts’ eliminating UGA from the playoff the next season). Is 2021 Georgia’s year? Or will ‘Bama hang around for one more showdown with the Dawgs? This game sure has the feel of a main event fight.

American Athletic Championship @ 4:00 PM on ABC

#21 Houston vs. #4 Cincinnati

Is Cincy for real? The Bearcats have been one of the biggest stories in college football all year after finishing the regular season with a 12-0 record and their highest CFP ranking ever. Of course, they have to get past Houston first and that won’t be easy. Like Louisiana, Houston lost their opening game and then won 11 in a row after that. Both Houston and Cincinnati have incredible defenses. The Bearcats are allowing 15.8 points per game and 161.5 passing yards per game (both 3rd in FBS) while the Cougars are sixth in both total yards allowed and sacks. Houston QB Clayton Tune and Cincy QB Desmond Ridder both have similar stat lines and will look to overcome each other’s tough defenses. The real matchup to watch? Cincy WR Alec Pierce vs. Houston CB Marcus Jones. Pierce is known as a deep-threat WR while Jones, a masterful ball hawk, is tied for first in the nation with five interceptions. All Cincinnati needs to do is win and they’re in the playoff. The college football world has been split on the Bearcats all year about whether they can compete with the top teams in America. Cincy is one step closer to making history and proving to the world that they can do it.

Big Ten Championship @ 8:00 PM on FOX

#2 Michigan vs. #13 Iowa

If you thought a week ago that it would be Ohio State and Wisconsin playing for the Big Ten title, I’m in the same boat as you. Michigan beating Ohio State for the first time in ten years was a defining moment for college football. Now the Wolverines are one win away from their first College Football Playoff. They have a tough test against the Hawkeyes, who ended up winning the Big Ten West division after beating Nebraska with help from a Wisconsin upset loss to Minnesota. Iowa has a defense that can force a lot of turnovers. They’re allowing only 17.3 points per game and have the third-best turnover margin in the nation. That could be a problem for Michigan’s talented run game. Michigan running backs Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum may be the best running duo in college football. The last time we saw them, they piled up 247 rushing yards against Ohio State (Haskins also scored 5 TDs). Going up against a much tougher Iowa run defense, the duo will look to have an even better performance on Saturday. After years of frustration, coach Jim Harbaugh will look to cap an unforgettable season with a Big Ten title. Can Michigan finish the job? Or will Iowa crush the Wolverines’ dreams? We can’t wait to see what happens.

ACC Championship @ 8:00 PM on ABC

#15 Pittsburgh vs. #16 Wake Forest 

To cap off the weekend, we got an incredible ACC title matchup down in Charlotte, and neither Clemson nor Notre Dame are in it. The Panthers and the Demon Deacons clash in what could be a high-scoring affair. Pitt QB Kenny Pickett (4,066 yards, 40 TDs), the Heisman front-runner, will duel with Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman and the high-flying Deacons offense. Pickett is projected to be one of the first quarterbacks selected in the upcoming NFL draft and Hartman had himself a breakout season as a sophomore. This will also be a wide receiver battle between Pitt’s Jordan Addison (1,353 yards, 17 TDs) and Wake’s A.T. Perry (1,112 yards, 13 TDs). Pitt and Wake both rank in the top five in scoring offense and top ten in total yards per game. That gives us even more optimism that this game could go either way. The ACC champion will likely be in a New Year’s Six Bowl. There’s a lot on the line for both teams. Pitt is an entirely different team than the one that got smacked by Clemson in 2018 and is performing way above expectations this season. And Wake Forest gave coach Dave Clawson a contract extension after he won the ACC Coach of the Year award. The pressure is on.