The football gods are smiling down, for today will be an epic day in college football. The trifecta of conference championships are going down and Buffalo Wild Wings® is lead blocking for this incredible day of football. Get to B-Dubs® to experience the SEC, ACC and BIG TEN Championships like no other place in town.
By Jason Catania
Sponsored by Buffalo Wild Wings
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Game: No. 1 LSU vs. No. 14 Georgia
Stadium: Georgia Dome
Date: Saturday, December 3
Time: 4:00 PM EST
The No. 1 team in all the land takes on one of the hottest squad’s in the country, with a berth in the BCS National Championship on the line. Nothing too out of the ordinary for the SEC.
The LSU Tigers (12-0 overall; 8-0 in conference), led by head coach Les Miles, sit atop the BCS standings with their perfect record and all-around team, while Mark Richt and his Georgia Bulldogs (10-2; 7-1) have reeled off 10 straight Ws after losing their first two games of the season.
Perhaps the only issue facing LSU is how confident the team is in the quarterback under center Saturday. Jordan Jefferson is the starter, thanks to his ability to both run and throw, whereas fellow QB Jarrett Lee is a pocket passer. However, it was Lee who got the Tigers off to an 8-0 start to this historic season, including five wins over ranked opponents, before Jefferson took over the reigns following his performance against Alabama. If Jefferson struggles early, it’s not out of the question that Lee could get a chance to put his mark on the game.
Getting to the quarterback might be Georgia’s best plan of attack because there’s no question that the ground game is LSU’s biggest strength. The Tigers go four deep in the backfield, with Michael Ford (team-high 733 rushing yards, 7 TDs), Spencer Ware (707 and 8), Alfred Blue (449 and 6) and Kenny Hilliard (252 and 6), a freshman who has worked his way into more action as the season has progressed. That’s how this team wins, by wearing down opponents with a non-stop, four-headed monster of a rushing attack. In fact, LSU averages only 176.5 passing yards per game compared to 215.8 rushing. Still, WRs Rueben Randle (team-highs of 48 catches, 889 receiving yards and 8 TDs) and Odell Beckham (36 for 437) do enough damage to keep defenses honest. Put it all together and the Tigers lead the SEC with 38.2 points per game.
Not that the Bulldogs’ D isn’t capable of handling the challenge. Georgia has totaled 32 sacks and forced 29 turnovers, including 17 INTs, while allowing just 17.8 points per game. The front seven is anchored by NTs John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers, who will need to clog the middle if Georgia hopes to slow down LSU’s vaunted rushing attack. The Bulldogs’ two biggest playmakers are LB Jarvis Jones – 13.5 sacks – and S Bacarri Rambo – 7 picks – both of whom rank No. 2 in the NCAA in those stats.
On offense, the Bulldogs strike a good balance with just over 255 passing yards and 180 rushing yards. The latter is going to be a very tough go, though, against an LSU team that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in any game this season and ranks No. 2 in both total defense and scoring defense. Not exactly a welcome invitation to return for RB Isaiah Crowell, who is hoping to recover from an ankle injury in time for the title game. The freshman leads the team with 876 rushing yards and 5 TDs.
That just means that more of the burden will fall on QB Aaron Murray, who has performed admirably with a 61% completion rate and 32 passing TDs against 10 INTs. There’s no dominant pass-catcher on the Bulldogs, but four players – Orson Charles, Tavarres King, Malcolm Mitchell and Michael Bennett – have caught at least 30 passes and scored at least 4 TDs each.
Murray is going to have to be at his best to avoid surrendering big plays to a Tigers defense that has a knack for making them, including 16 picks and 33 sacks. CBs Morris Claiborne (team-best 5 INTs) and Tyrann Mathieu are the biggest playmakers in the secondary – Mathieu is also a threat on special teams with his elite return skilles – and up front, DEs Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery lead the team with 8 sacks apiece.
There’s a lot stacked against the talented Georgia squad, but the Bulldogs are capable of a huge upset, if everything clicks on offense and they can frustrate Jefferson on defense. If not, though, even playing in-state at the Georgia Dome won’t help.
ACC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Game: No. 5 Virginia Tech vs. No. 20 Clemson
Stadium: Bank of America Stadium
Date: Saturday, December 3
Time: 8:00 PM EST
Ever since one team ruined what would otherwise have been an undefeated season for the other, these two squads have gone in different directions.
On Oct. 1, the Clemson Tigers (9-3 overall; 6-2 in conference) went into Blacksburg, and made Virginia Tech (11-1; 7-1) look bad at home with a 23-3 upset. It was the first time Clemson beat the Hokies at home since 1989. While revenge in the rematch, on the stage of the ACC Championship Game, won’t wipe away the pockmark put on Virginia Tech’s schedule that night – the Hokies’ lone loss – it will be sweet consolation in the form of a trip for to the Orange Bowl.
Since the first matchup, in which Clemson’s defense held Virginia Tech to just 258 total yards – including only 133 on the ground by a team that averaged 200 rushing yards per game for the season – the Tigers have stumbled and gone just 4-3. The Hokies? A perfect 7-0.
Much of the credit for the success that Frank Beamer’s Coastal Division champion squad has had in that time belongs to RB David Wilson, who was recently named the ACC Player of the Year. The junior has emerged as one of the nation’s top rushers, with 1,595 yards – third-best in the country – and 9 TDs. He did his job in the October contest, gaining 123 yards, one of his 10 games with 100-plus.
Aside from Wilson, QB Logan Thomas has had a solid campaign, passing for 2,530 yards and 18 scores (7 INTs) and showing he can do some damage with his feet, too, gaining 414 rushing yards and leading the team with 10 rushing TDs. When Thomas is using his arm, he’s connecting with WRs Jarrett Boykin (673 yards), Danny Coale (776) and Marcus Davis (449) to balance out all the work Wilson does on the ground.
Speaking of which, Dabo Swinney’s Atlantic Division champion team is going to have its hands full on defense, considering the unit is surrendering 27.5 points per game. Clemson’s D needs to prove it can get to the quarterback as it did the last time these two played, when the Tigers sacked Thomas four times and picked him off once. A lot of the load lands on DE Andre Branch, a one man wrecking crew with a team-high 10.5 sacks and 72 total stops, second-most on the squad.
But Clemson, which is averaging 33.3 points per game behind its spread offense, does have the goods to keep up with the Hokies on the scoreboard, as long as the Tigers can avoid making too many mistakes – something that has become a big problem behind their struggles of late.
QB Tajh Boyd was the top player in the ACC through the first half of the season, and while he’s put up some monster stats (3,338 passing yards and 28 TDs), he’s also thrown 10 picks, including 7 in the past four games. During that stretch, Clemson as a whole has been turnover-prone, with 12 total givebacks.
The Tigers, though, average nearly 306 passing yards per game, good for 15th-best in the country, and Boyd makes good use of his top targets. WR Sammy Watkins, who has notched 1,073 yards and 10 TDs, is a stud, while fellow wideout DeAndre Hopkins (55 catches for 779 yards and 4 TDs) and TE Dwayne Allen (46-545-6) can be just as dangerous. RB Andre Ellington has done enough to keep defenses honest, putting up 937 rushing yards and 9 TDs.
But the Hokies’ defense, which allows just 3.1 yards per carry, could keep Ellington in check, which would leave Boyd to his own devices. He’s certainly capable of some magic, but he’s just as capable of trying to do too much, and that could get him in trouble, especially since the Tigers haven’t been particularly effective in protecting Boyd, having surrendered 29 sacks. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, features DEs James Gayle (7 sacks) and J.R. Collins (6) and LB Bruce Taylor (5), who have combined for almost half of the Hokies’ 37 sacks, a total that ranks in the Top 10 in the NCAA. CB Kyle Fuller, with 4.5 sacks and a team-high 12.5 tackles for loss, is another key for a D that is allowing just 15.5 per.
BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Game: No. 13 Michigan State vs. No. 15 Wisconsin
Stadium: Lucas Oil Stadium
Date: Saturday, December 3
Time: 8:17 PM EST
If this contest is anywhere near as entertaining and dramatic as the last time these two teams matched up, it’s going to be a fun Big Ten Championship Game.
Back on Oct. 22, the Spartans pulled out a win on a 44-yard Hail Mary with no time remaining to beat Wisconsin, 37-31, in East Lansing. It was the Badgers’ first loss of the year. In that one, Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins threw for 290 yards and three TDs without a pick, while Russell Wilson, the Badgers QB, was intercepted twice.
Aside from that outing, though, Wilson has been the better passer, with just one other interception against 28 passing TDs in total. The redshirt senior also leads the nation with a 192.9 rating and just tied the NCAA record by throwing for a score in 36 straight games, matching former Texas Tech star Graham Harrell’s mark. WR Nick Toon – son of former New York Jets great Al Toon – is Wilson’s top target, leading the team with 52 catches, 788 yards and 9 receiving TDs.
But the real offensive star for Wiconsin is RB Montee Ball. The junior has amassed a ridiculous 34 TDs (29 rushing, 5 receiving), placing him behind only Barry Sanders on the NCAA single-season touchdown list, as Sanders notched 39 total for Oklahoma in 1988. Ball, who ranks second with 1,622 rushing yards, helped get the Badgers into the title game by scoring four times in the 45-7 trouncing of Penn State last week, which gave Wisconsin (10-2 overall; 6-2 in conference) the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Nittany Lions in the Leaders Division.
Indeed, head coach Bret Bielema’s team is a juggernaut, with Ball and Wilson leading an offense that is averaging nearly 250 rushing yards per game, good for 10th-best in the country. What’s more, Wisconsin is at its best in the red zone, where the Badgers have come away with points 95 percent of the time, including a crazy 86 percent touchdown rate. Combined with just 8 Wisconsin turnovers all season, and Michigan State’s defense is going to have its work cut out for it.
Fortunately, that’s where head coach Mark Dantonio’s Spartans shine. As a whole, the unit is allowing just over 15 points per game, while racking up 38 sacks – second-most in the FBS – and 16 picks (10th-best total in the nation). LB Denicos Allen leads the squad with 13 tackles for loss and 7 sacks.
The Legends Division-winning Spartans (10-2; 7-1) aren’t quite as imposing on offense – their 30.2 points per game pales in comparison to Wisconsin’s fourth-best scoring offense at 44.8 per – but Cousins has had a strong season (21:6 TD:INT ratio and 64.3% completion), and he’s done a good job of getting the ball to WR B.J. Cunningham, who has 9 TDs on his 67 catches for 1,125 yards, including seven 100-yard games. RBs Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell share the load for Michigan State, with 794 and 624 yards, respectively, and Baker’s 10 scores on the ground lead his team.
As for Wisconsin’s defense, the leaders are LBs Mike Taylor and Chris Borland, who have a whopping 128 and 124 total tackles, respectively. Borland tops the team with 16.5 tackles for loss. CB Antonio Fenelus and safety Aaron Henry earned All-Big Ten selections for helping the Badgers post the No. 3 pass defense.
While Wisconsin is coming off its third straight season of 10-plus wins, Michigan State just posted the program’s first back-to-back campaigns with 10 or more wins.
The winner of the Big Ten Championship will have the chance to play in the Rose Bowl.