The best upset picks for the college football conference championships
It is conference championship weekend in college football, and after a wild final week of the regular season that saw plenty of upsets — including four outright winners picked in this column — we are going to find a few more barking dogs to send us off to the postseason with some extra cash.
Here are four live underdogs for championship weekend.
Wake Forest vs. Pittsburgh
Sun, December 5 2021, 1:00 AM
For the first time since 2008, neither the Clemson Tigers nor Florida State Seminoles are playing in the ACC Championship Game.
Even the conference’s other top-ranked teams entering the season, Miami and North Carolina, failed to make it.
Wake Forest is a 3.5-point underdog to Pittsburgh in the championship game, in a matchup that should be another shootout for the Demon Deacons.
Wake Forest is led by quarterback Sam Hartman, who has Wake eighth in all of football in points per play. Pittsburgh isn’t far behind at 18th, and each team has an excellent quarterback, as Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett finished fifth in the country in total passing yards.
The Pittsburgh defense is a bit better, thus the favoritism in this matchup, but it is likely going to come down to which offense makes the most plays.
The Demon Deacons have shocked the country all season long en route to a 10-2 record, and it would be very Pittsburgh-esque for the Panthers to lose as favorites in a spot where a win would send them to a New Year’s Six bowl.
Iowa vs. Michigan
Sun, December 5 2021, 1:00 AM
A week ago, nobody would have confidently predicted this would be the Big Ten Championship matchup, but 2021 hasn’t exactly been predictable.
Now we get the Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Michigan Wolverines, each coming off a big win against their rivals and potentially ripe for a letdown.
Following their victory against Ohio State, Michigan acknowledged that it spent its entire offseason and regular season looking for a way to defeat the Buckeyes. A national championship is undoubtedly now on head coach Jim Harbaugh's goals list, but first and foremost was last week’s win.
Harbaugh calls this Michigan-Ohio State game a “true playoff game,” and says in his eyes, this is the start of the college football playoff.— Zach Shaw (@_ZachShaw) November 22, 2021
College football is an emotional sport, and this matchup against a perpetually unexciting Iowa squad may see the Wolverines put forth a lackluster effort, especially in the first half.
Iowa’s defense is stout and effective with its bend-but-don’t-break approach. The Hawkeyes are seventh in the nation in points allowed per play defensively.
If the Michigan running game isn’t as effective against a better defense, more chaos at the top of the rankings could ensue.
Alabama vs. Georgia
Sat, December 4 2021, 9:00 PM
Georgia is without a doubt the best team in the country. Despite all the chaos of 2021, the Bulldogs have risen to the top in a way that not even Alabama has been able to do in recent years.
Georgia has secured its spot in the four-team playoff. Even if the Bulldogs were to lose this weekend against Alabama, everyone knows they will still get an opportunity to win the title. That makes this game nearly meaningless from a national perspective.
Winning the SEC Championship is a huge deal. Securing the top overall seed is important. And exerting dominance over an Alabama team they could easily face again is psychologically significant.
But make no mistake, winning this game will not define the success or failure of this Georgia team’s season. For a proud program that hasn’t won a national championship since 1980, winning the final game will become the benchmark of success in 2021.
Alabama is a seven-point underdog in this game because it hasn’t looked like itself this season, but there is still plenty of talent on this roster and a stalwart defense that should keep it in the contest. The Crimson Tide are seventh in the nation in yards allowed per play and boast the likely Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Bryce Young.
Very rarely will you get an opportunity to take Alabama at plus odds to win a football game, so it is worth taking your shot when it comes along.
Utah State vs. San Diego State
Sat, December 4 2021, 8:00 PM
San Diego State
San Diego State has achieved a 10-win season and is the favorite in this Mountain West Championship Game because of its defense, but the Aztecs will get a real test against Utah State this weekend.
Aggies quarterback Logan Bonner is 16th in the nation in passing yards and 10th in touchdowns. He plays alongside arguably the best player in this game in wide receiver Deven Thompkins, who led all of Division I with 1,543 receiving yards.
The Aztecs are just 104th in the country in yards per play offensively and have failed to cover in their last four games as a favorite. If Thompkins can get loose a few times, this San Diego State team could find itself in too big a hole to dig out of.