It's conference championship weekend in college football and thus the final week of the regular season. If we have a chalk weekend in the four Power 5 title games.
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#5 Michigan State vs. #4 Iowa
This is a College Football Playoff play-in game in Indianapolis. The winner between the Spartans and Hawkeyes likely will finish at No. 3 in the final rankings; I'm going to assume the winner jumps current No. 3 Oklahoma. I'm also assuming No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama take care of business in their conference championship games. The loser will head to the Rose Bowl against the Stanford-USC winner (most likely). Michigan State and Iowa are very similar teams, relying largely on a running game and stout defense. Both teams are tied atop the Big Ten in turnover margin (+14). The Spartans' passing offense is No. 48 in the FBS, compared to Iowa's 92nd-place standing. The quarterback edge would have to go to MSU's Connor Cook assuming full health. His shoulder wasn't 100 percent in Saturday's rout of Penn State and you could tell that fact in that Cook didn't throw deep downfield much if at all. Another week should mean closer to 100 percent. He still played very well against the Nittany Lions. One small advantage for Sparty could be that Iowa played Pittsburgh earlier this season. The Panthers are coached by Pat Narduzzi, the former long-time defensive coordinator under Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio. They remain close and Dantonio admits he will pick the brain of Narduzzi this week for a scouting report.
USC vs. #7 Stanford
This matchup is in Santa Clara, Calif. If Southern Cal wins, it will head to the Rose Bowl. Stanford would at a minimum with a victory, but the Cardinal still have a shot at the College Football Playoff if a couple of team ranked above them lose this weekend. The Trojans beat UCLA -- ending a three-game skid in the series -- on Saturday to win the Pac-12 South Division. USC is 5-2 under interim head coach Clay Helton and that was enough for Athletic Director Pat Haden to name Helton the full-time coach on Monday. That's somewhat surprising, but the players love the guy. The Cardinal ended Notre Dame's playoff hopes with a 38-36 last-second win on Saturday. Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey has one more shot to prove his worthiness to Heisman voters, although I think Alabama's Derrick Henry has that award locked up. Unranked Stanford visited No. 6 USC on Sept. 19 and pulled off a 41-31 upset -- the Trojans were given an 82 percent chance of winning that game. McCaffrey rushed 26 times for 115 yards, while Remound Wright had three TD runs. USC's Cody Kessler threw for 272 yards and three scores. Steve Sarkisian was still the USC coach then. Five of the last six meetings between these two have been decided by eight points or fewer.
#20 Temple vs. #17 Houston
This is the American Athletic Conference title game and Houston will host it. The winner earns the Group of Five's New Year's Six bowl bid. That will probably be in the Fiesta Bowl, with some projecting a Houston-Ohio State matchup. Of course the Cougars are coached by Tom Herman, the former Ohio State offensive coordinator. I previewed Houston's game this past Saturday against Navy here at SBR and recommended taking the Cougars if star quarterback Greg Ward Jr. played. He did, and the Cougars won 52-31. Ward threw for 308 yards and three scores and ran for 83 yards and another touchdown. That guy is a difference-maker and why I believe Houston wins this game as well. Temple does have an excellent defense, however. The Owls have won 10 games for the first time in school history and are looking for their second conference title ever and first since they won the 1967 Mid-American Conference title. These teams didn't meet in the regular season but Houston won 31-10 at home vs. Temple in 2014.