Rare is the time when conference championship games takes a backseat to what is happening at other programs.
But this is 2021 and, as one legendary college coach would always tell his players before big games, “expect the unexpected!”
It all started with Lincoln Riley suddenly switching from red and cream to the cardinal and gold. And you thought Bedlam was in Sillwater last weekend; there’s been bedlam in Norman ever since Riley stepped aboard the USC private jet and was rushed out to LaLa Land. The total price of his 10-year package is $110 million. That is not a typo.
That hot news lasted less than 24 hours when LSU – its Athletic Director determined to make a “big splash” hire after being shut down by Jimbo Fisher and outflanked by Scott Stricklin – paid $100 million to turn Brian Kelly from kelly green to purple and yellow. With that kind of money Kelly does not need any golden dome to look at on campus; he’s got his own in his bank account, as well as a golden parachute should he fail to succeed. Heck, since it was paying $6 million a year to Coach Oh No and $16.8 million for him to leave, LSU is tossing money around on the bayou like crawfish into a boiling pot.
Lost in all this is that Florida is getting the coach LSU should have secured two months ago (and for a lot less cheeseburger money to paraphrase Coach O), Billy Napier from Louisiana. This has – so far – left two media-hot coaching names on the sideline: Luke Fickell and Matt Campbell. But the dangling carrot is the suddenly-vacant Notre Dame job, which, a day after this was initially published, went to first-year defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman.
Did you get that all college football fans? If you need more, PubClub has the best breakdown of the coaching hires and grading the choices, so click here to read it.
This week’s trivia question: What is the name of USC’s white horse that runs on the Coliseum field?
Answer to last week’s trivia question: Alabama is the Crimson Tide with an elephant mascot because the team’s original name is the Red Elephants. When the then-Red Elephants went out to the Southern California for the 1926 Rose Bowl they upset titan Washington, which led an LA Times sportswriter to type out “undefeated Washington was swept away by a powerful Crimson Tide.”
Now onto the games. All times Pacific because the Prognosticator lives on the West Coast.
Friday, Dec. 3
Oregon vs. Utah (5 p.m., ABC, Pac 12 Championship, Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas)
It is difficult to imagine the where-did-they-come-from Utes going from dominant in the regular-season matchup to dormant in the league championship, but winning two games in a season against the same team often proves difficult in college football. That is because it allows the savvy coach from the previously-beaten team to come up with a new strategy of, say, throwing quick passes to negate a pass rush that stalled his offense in the first game. Except, of course, in the case of Mario Cristobol. He can’t recruit his way out of this one.
Still, the Prognosticator feels the Waddlers are more comfortable under the glow of the bright lights of Sin City than the boys from Utah. It fits them like those whacky uniforms. That, and breaking free on some long runs and passes with their superior speed will somehow light a fire under them and send them to the Rose Bowl. Winner: Oregon
Saturday, Dec. 4
Baylor vs. Oklahoma State (9 a.m., Big 12 Championship, Jerry’s World, Dallas)
The Pokies not only beat OU last week but may have sent its coach out of Norman and out to Los Angeles. There was more to it than that, of course, but the fact is they have been hiding in the tumbleweeds all year, have ambushed the Big 12 and maybe will do the same to the College Football Playoffs. They already beat the Bears once this year and the Waco Kids have played too many close games to give the Prognosticator much trust in them. Winner: Oklahoma State
Utah State at San Diego State (Noon, FOX, Mountain West Conference Championship, Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson, CA)
Hey it’s championship football you can see in LA! The all-black-clad Aztecs have helped Brady Hoke gain a measure of coaching respectability after his disaster at Big Blue as they are 11-1. And the weather is way better in San Diego than Ann Arbor, anyway. The Aggies not from Texas are 9-3 with losses to BYU (no, they are not in the Pac-12!), Boise and Wyoming. There’s not likely to be much offense in this one, so much so that one San Diego columnist even suggested the team’s punter should win the Heisman. The punter! The game may be as ugly as SDSU’s uniforms but the Cali Sunshine Boys will be the one’s basking in the conference title’s glow at around sunset. Winner: San Diego State
Appalachian State at Louisiana (12:30 p.m.,, ESPN, Sun Belt Conference Championship, Cajun Field, Lafayette, LA)
Every Florida fan in the Sunshine State and across the country will be tuned in to see their new coach on the sideline. The Ragin Cajuns will provide them with more cheers than UF was able to produce the last half of the season. Winner: Louisiana
Georgia vs. Alabama (1 p.m., CBS, SEC Championship, Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta)
Prove it, Georgia. Prove that you can beat Alabama, that you can beat Alabama in a championship game and that Kirby can outsmart Nick on game day. This is the concern of the Canine fans and the optimism of Crimson Tide fans. Of course, if the Pachyderms can’t get their offensive line to block and protect, then all the past magic won’t make a danged bit of difference.
These new-era Junkyard Dawgs are as fierce as any in school history and they can rip into an opponent’s offense like paper going through a shredder. The question mark is their offense, especially against “Where There’s A Will There’s A Way” Anderson, Alabama’s unstoppable defensive force. If things go sour for Georgia’s offense, will Kirby have the guts to pull his starting quarterback like Saban so boldly did in that memorable “Second and 26” game?
On paper, this game has all the makings of a blowout. Alabama is down to a lone scholarship running back, its offensive line couldn’t block LSU or Auburn and its defensive secondary often gets as confused as a freshman during fraternity rush. But it does have Cool Hand Bryce and an emerging new offensive weapon in Iron Bowl hero receiver Ja’Corey Brooks. As previously mentioned, until the Dawgs prove they can beat the Tide, look out for more crane kicks from the Bama players. Winner: Alabama
Houston at Cincinnati (1 p.m., ABC, American Athletic Conference Championship, Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati)
It’s going to be nippy in the ‘ol Nipper on Saturday and that’s not exactly favorable conditions for the visiting felines, who have won 11 straight since dropping their season opener to Texas Tech. The Bearcats, of course, have not lost at all, although they have escaped quite a few traps to get to this point. The Prognosticator feels it’s impossible for Cincinnati to go undefeated and crash the College Football Playoffs for no reason in particular other than it’s hard to believe it can happen based on the sport’s history.
Then there’s the Notre Dame factor. Fickell seemed to be the obvious replacement – after all, the Irish plucked Kelly from the same school and that’s where Freeman was DC until moving to the Irish this week – and will this early speculation turn out to a distraction to the players? Now that it’s not happening it could rally the players behind him.
So how’s this instead: the Mini Bears win the game, get passed over by Oklahoma State which had the better schedule and plays in a New Year’s Six bowl game against a Power 5 team that’s not happy to be there. They win and some fans and media will howl like it’s Central Florida. It’s that schedule, folks, and not even a win against over-inflated Notre Dame or in a meaningless bowl game can convince me otherwise. Winner: Cincinnati
Michigan vs. Iowa (5 p.m., FOX, Big 10 Championship, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis)
Here’s the thing with Michigan. The Prognosticator is not sure if they are any good or not. I really didn’t think Ohio State was that great after they got whipped by Oregon so easily this year and the defense was exposed several other times as well as the offense, so what am I to make of the Wolverines?
It’s always so hard to judge Big 10 teams because they seldom play out of conference and the league simply is not strong enough to provide weekly challenges.
For their part, the Flightless Birds are like a pesky fly at a picnic; they just hang around and when you let your guard down the next thing you know they are nibbling on your hamburger bun and are in your potato salad.
In the end, the Wolverines will be able to shoo them away to enjoy the rare recent taste of a Big 10 title. Winner: Michigan
Pittsburgh vs. Wake Forest (5 p.m., ABC, ACC Championship, Bank Of America Stadium, Charlotte)
With no Clemson or National Championship on the line, this game is as hidden on the college landscape as a bottle of whiskey is on a fan entering a stadium. ROC the Panther may be pacing like a caged animal watching the WF offense often leaving the Pitt defense in its wake but the Deacons D can’t even slow down a corn hole bag. Winner: Pittsburgh
USC at Cal (8 p.m., FS1, The Waiting On Lincoln Riley Game)
Anxious Trojans fans will be watching this game only be able to sit back with a drink in another year or so and say to each other “remember when we were really bad!?” If there’s one game Troy can win – rescheduled because of a COVID outbreak at Cal – is this one against the tame Bears. Winner: USC
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