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College football: Championship weekend previews and predictions

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NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn
Auburn Tigers fans react in the stands against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

College football has seen madness throughout this season, and the slew of games this weekend will determine who makes the final four of the college football playoffs.

For some, it’s win and you’re in.

For others, it’s win and hope for some help.

This will be one of the most memorable and impactful weekends that college football has ever seen. Let’s see what’s on the menu.

Appetizers

(12) Stanford at (10) USC

Friday, Dec. 1, 8:00 p.m.

Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, CA

Stanford is coming off an impressive win against Notre Dame last weekend, while USC edged UCLA at home. Stanford’s defense has turned it on at the right time. The Cardinals have not given up more than 24 points since week four against UCLA. Quarterback K.J. Costello is playing terrific and the Cardinals look like a well-balanced offense for the first time all season.

However, Trojans QB Sam Darnold has dominated the Cardinals once before, and could be the best player on the field come Friday night. Darnold has had a challenging season any USC — some may say he’s unworthy of the hype he receives — but he has the talent to take a game over. It’s never easy to beat a good defense twice in one season, but Darnold knows a thing or two about winning big games.

He’ll prove that again Friday night and win the Pac 12 Championship.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Southern California
Southern California Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) throws the ball during the first half against the UCLA Bruins at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

(11) TCU at (3) Oklahoma

Saturday, Dec. 2nd, 12:30 p.m.

AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX

If you’re a fan of shootouts then don’t leave your couch. QB Kenny Hill has been great for TCU’s offense, but with the hiccup to Iowa State earlier in the season and failure to match Oklahoma score-for-score three weeks ago; the Horned Frogs suddenly look vulnerable.

Sooners QB Baker Mayfield is one of the most exciting players to watch in college football, and it would be shocking if he didn’t perform at a Heisman level against the TCU defense — who he dropped 38 on already this season.

The score won’t reach the 50’s like some of these Big 12 games have, but the game will be horrifying for the defense coordinators of both teams. Mayfield will shine brightly in the fourth quarter, and OU will pull away to win by double digits and capture the Big 12 Championship. See you in the college football playoffs, Sooners.

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Oklahoma
Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) after the game against the TCU Horned Frogs at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Main Course

(8) Ohio State at (4) Wisconsin

Saturday, Dec. 2nd, 8 p.m.

Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN

Say what you want about Wisconsin’s strength of schedule — they won’t listen to you. The undefeated Badgers have rolled all year against anyone on their schedule, winning with defense and power running. Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor rushed for 149 yards in the Badgers' win over Minnesota, bringing his season total to 1,806 such yards, the third-most by a freshman in FBS history, per ESPN.com.

But if there’s a team that can match Wisconsin’s defense, it’s Ohio State. Despite the slips ups the Buckeyes have had this season, coach Urban Meyer will have his team ready for this Big 10 clash. While both teams have outstanding athletes on defense, the Buckeyes have something the Badgers don’t — J.T. Barrett. While Barrett has had a few inconsistencies this season, he has had his share of Heisman moments despite not being a serious contender for the trophy. This game will be defensive throughout, but Barrett and the Buckeyes will make a few more plays through the air on offense than the Badgers can.

Ohio State pulls off the upset, edging Wisconsin in the final minutes of the game to win the Big 10 Championship.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Ohio State
Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) drops back during the first quarter against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Ohio Stadium.
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

(6) Georgia at (2) Auburn

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA

Saturday, Dec. 2nd, 4 p.m.

Contrary to the OU-TCU shootout, this game will be all about defense. Georgia’s tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel combined to run for only 48 yards in the Dogs' 40-17 loss at Auburn on Nov. 11. It was an offensive nightmare for Georgia, who were shocked by Auburn’s tenacity on the road. The Bulldogs will have to be way better in all facets of the game if they plan to pull off the upset, but the tailbacks must have more success on the ground to give the offense more balance.

Auburn is the hottest team in the country, and just bullied Alabama for four quarters -- something that hasn’t been done in years. The Tigers have beat teams up in the trenches, but playing a game against Georgia on the road — who have also bullied teams all year — is a much taller task. This game won’t be pretty and there won’t be many heroes on offense. Whoever takes advantage of field position and turnovers will win the game, but don’t expect a lot of scoring. This game has a vintage Pittsburgh Steelers-Baltimore Ravens fight that is decided in the final seconds of the game.

Auburn wins on a game-winning field goal, winning the SEC Championship and punching their ticket into the college football playoffs.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn
Auburn offensive lineman Calvin Ashley (70) celebrates after beating the Alabama Crimson Tide at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn defeated Alabama 26-14.
Montgomery Advertiser-USA TODAY NETWORK

Dessert

(7) Miami at (1) Clemson

Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC

Saturday, Dec. 2nd, 8 p.m.

The most meaningful game Miami has played in 15 years will be played Saturday night. But the poor display in Pittsburgh may have buried their college football playoff dreams. Had they beaten Pitt, Miami may be able to still squeeze in even if they lose to Clemson. However, QB Malik Rosier missed four open touchdown passes, and could never get a rhythm going. To make matters worse, the lack of run game by RB Travis Homer who received zero help from the offensive line, really sealed Miami’s fate in the second half. The icing on the cake was Miami’s below-average defensive showing, which was carved by a freshman quarterback making his first start ever. The Hurricanes have had an outstanding year — and have expedited the rebuilding process by a year — but they now find themselves as significant underdogs without tight end Christopher Herndon, who is a huge loss for the offense. Miami’s defense is stellar, but they have hid a couple of their deficiencies on offense all year, which both got exposed last Friday.

Clemson comes off an emphatic road win against South Carolina, pounding the Gamecocks into the ground from start to finish. This Clemson offense isn’t as dynamic as the one lead by former QB Deshaun Watson, but the Tigers still have some of the best athletes in the country. Clemson’s defense seems to play like men against boys in primetime games, and it’d be foolish to expect anything less this Saturday. QB Kelly Bryant can beat a team multiple ways, and could give Miami fits with his arms and legs. Clemson has been here before and this feels like just another day at the office for them.

However, don’t count out Miami who has been resilient all year. Losing a starting RB and TE isn’t easy, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that Miami plays best when the country overlooks them. Playing with a chip on their shoulder may be the only way they beat Bryant, who will have to fall victim to the famous turnover chain if the Hurricanes are to have a chance.

Miami impresses many for four quarters, but Kelly Bryant makes plays that Malik Rosier is unable to match. Quarterbacks and defenses win games, and betting against Clemson’s is ill-advised. Clemson squeaks past Miami to win the ACC Championship and head to the playoffs, while Miami will be reminded that they’re still a year away.

NCAA Football: Clemson at South Carolina
Clemson Tigers quarterback Kelly Bryant (2) and wide receiver Hunter Renfrow (13) and defensive lineman Christian Wilkins (42) celebrate a Renfrow touchdown against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the first half at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports