Conference Championship Preview – Group of Five
There are eight conference title games this weekend. Four of them will have a lot to say about the College Football Playoff. The other four are mostly for a trophy and a good tie-in bowl. But one means a huge payday for the winner.
Here's a look at the title games from the AAC, Conference USA, Mountain West and Mid-American conferences:
MAC CHAMPIONSHIP--BOWLING GREEN (9-3) vs. NORTHERN ILLINOIS (8-4) (+12)--Friday 7pm, ESPN 2, Detroit, MI--Falcons coach Dino Babers is a hot name right now in the coaching search circles. He was reported to be all but signed to UCF before the Orlando school went with Oregon's OC. His name is now being linked with Maryland. Babers came from Baylor and his team has been one of the more exciting offensive teams in the country. Northern Illinois went into the MAC driver's seat, then fell out with a loss to Ohio and then got right back in when Toledo was upset in the season finale. This hasn't been your typical Huskies' team, but the "been there, done that" attitude might make a difference in this one. Look for plenty of points to be scored (O/U 70.5).
CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP--SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI (9-3) at WESTERN KENTUCKY (10-2)(-7.5)--Saturday, 11am, ESPN2--Bowling Green, KY.--The battle of two really good quarterbacks. Brandon Doughty has thrown for 4,184 yards with 42 TD's and only six interceptions. Nick Mullens, meanwhile, has 3,964 yards with 35 touchdowns and nine picks. Southern Miss lost to Marshall, who WKU beat by a couple of touchdowns a week ago. But that USM/Marshall game was the better part of two months ago. Jeff Monken's squad is one of the better comebacks stories in college football this year. This one may need a pinball machine to keep score. Doughty has now thrown for 91 touchdowns the past two seasons. Whew.....
AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP--#22 TEMPLE (10-2) at #19 HOUSTON (11-1) (-6)--Saturday, 11am, ABC--Houston, TX--Houston's powerful offense against one of the AAC's stingiest defenses. Tom Herman, the coach at Houston, has agreed in principle to a new contract that will pay him about $3 million per year. Houston bounced back from their unlikely loss to Connecticut to dominate a very good Navy team last week. Temple has a "good" loss to Notre Dame and a league loss to USF. To the winner? Money. Lots of money. The AAC wins either way, but the winner of this game will get the coveted Access Bowl berth and a huge payday. There's a LOT at stake in this one.
MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP--AIR FORCE (8-4) at SAN DIEGO STATE (9-3)(-4.5)--Saturday, 6:30, ESPN2--San Diego, CA--Air Force stumbled in its season finale last week at New Mexico, but they're forgiven after the emotional win at Boise State the week before, which clinched a berth in the title game. They're running into a pretty hot club in the Aztecs, who have won eight straight after stumbling to a 1-3 record out of the gate. Two of those losses, to Cal and Penn State, are explainable. The loss to South Alabama is not. The Mountain West has had great moments as a conference in past years. But this year, the league has taken a step back, with only SDSU avoiding four losses. The Aztecs are the home favorites, but this one really is a toss up.