Conference championship weekend is almost here.
Sporting News has run down the scenarios about how that will impact the Playoff picture, and it centers around three games more than most.
The Big Ten championship features No. 3 Ohio State against No. 15 Northwestern in a rematch from 2018. That leads into the ACC championship rematch between No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 4 Clemson. No. 1 Alabama will cap the night against No. 11 Florida in the SEC championship game. Are these games a foregone conclusion? Or will there be a shakeup on the final weekend of the regular season?
Here is a look at our track record in picking games straight-up in 2020:
- Last Week: 8-3 S/U, 4-7 ATS
- Season: 161-47 S/U, 104-95 ATS
- Top 25: 151-42 S/U, 99-91 ATS
With that as the mind, below are our picks and predictions for this week's conference championship games.
Friday, Dec. 18
- UAB vs. Marshall (-5)
Friday, 7 p.m., CBSSN
The Blazers have played one game since Oct. 31, but that was enough to get into the C-USA championship for the third straight season. UAB was just 2-6 ATS this season, and that low spread favors the Thundering Herd.
Pick: Marshall wins 27-20 and COVERS the spread.
- No. 23 Buffalo (-13.5) vs. Ball State
Friday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
The Bulls have a chance to run the table in an abbreviated MAC season, and this is one last showcase game for running back Jaret Patterson, who averages 205 rushing yards per game. It's a rematch of the 2008 MAC championship game, and it will come with a similar result.
Pick: Buffalo wins 41-26 and COVERS the spread.
- No. 13 USC (NL) vs. Oregon
Friday, 8 p.m., ESPN
The Trojans can make their Playoff case with a victory against Oregon, which replaced Washington in the Pac-12 championship game. The Ducks had two disappointing losses, but this is a unique opportunity to play spoiler. We'll wait until the line comes out, but for now we like the Trojans to cap off a 6-0 season. How will the CFP view that success?
Pick: USC wins 28-24 but FAILS TO COVER the spread.
Saturday, Dec. 19
- No. 8 Iowa State vs. No. 12 Oklahoma (-5.5)
Saturday, 12 p.m., ABC
This is one of two rematches among the Power 5 championship games. Iowa State won the first meeting 37-30 on Oct. 3; a game in which both teams put up more than 400 yards of total offense. The Sooners win the rematch, but it makes sense to take the points knowing that it should be another close one.
Pick: Oklahoma wins 34-31 but FAILS TO COVER the spread.
- No. 15 Northwestern vs. No. 3 Ohio State (-20.5)
Saturday, 12 p.m., Fox
The Buckeyes are huge favorites against Northwestern, which will represent the Big Ten West for the second time in three seasons. The Wildcats would need to take advantage of every Ohio State mistake just to have a chance in the fourth quarter, and we don't expect the Buckeyes to give that away. The Buckeyes tack on the cover score late to leave no doubt with the CFP.
Pick: Ohio State wins 41-17 and COVERS the spread.
- No. 17 Louisiana vs. No. 9 Coastal Carolina (-4)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
(UPDATE, Dec. 18: The Sub Belt Conference canceled the game Thursday night after a positive COVID-19 test result in the Coastal program led to a position group being unavailable.)
This should be a fun matchup between two programs that have taken turns elevating the Sun Belt's profile this season. Quarterbacks Grayson McCall and Levi Lewis should put on a show, but in the end the Chanticleers will complete their dream season. Will a New Year's Day Six bowl be the reward?
Pick: Coastal Carolina wins 34-27 and COVERS the spread.
- No. 2 Notre Dame vs. No. 3 Clemson (-10.5)
Saturday, 4 p.m., ABC
The rematch comes with huge Playoff implications, and Trevor Lawrence will be on this time around. Clemson still must establish a running game against the Irish and contain Ian Book, who has elevated his play since the Nov. 7 double-overtime thriller. The Tigers get the win, but the Irish hang around long enough to secure their Playoff berth.
Pick: Clemson wins 33-24 but FAILS TO COVER the spread.
- No. 25 San Jose State vs. Boise State (-6.5)
Saturday, 4:15 p.m., Fox
The Broncos are 13-0 all time in this series, so a Spartans victory would be an incredible achievement. Boise State has split two of its past four MWC championships, but they make it three titles in five years.
Pick: Boise State wins 31-23 and COVERS the spread.
- No. 6 Cincinnati (-14.5) vs. No. 20 Tulsa
Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC
The Bearcats can't just win here. They have to pour it on enough to give the CFP something to think about. Tulsa is 6-1 ATS this season and will hang around long enough to make it tough for Cincinnati to leave that impact.
Pick: Cincinnati wins 31-21 but FAILS TO COVER the spread.
- No. 1 Alabama (-17) vs. No. 6 Florida
Saturday, 8 p.m., CBS
The Gators need a win here just to be considered for the CFP, and that's a debate knowing that no two-loss team has made the Playoff. Alabama is the larger concern right now. The Crimson Tide have covered in seven straight games. Florida's passing attack will give Alabama some issues, but it's hard to bet against that trend (we've tried the past two weeks).
Pick: Alabama wins 44-24 and COVERS the spread.