I’m still pinching myself, but it is time to believe the Michigan Wolverines will be playing in the Big Ten Championship this Saturday against the Iowa Hawkeyes. It will be no easy matchup, but the Wolverines’ fate of a College Football Playoff is on the line.
But it’s not just Michigan, as several teams' hopes of a championship could come to an end this weekend. Let’s take a look at Conference Championship Weekend.
No. 9 Baylor Bears vs No. 5 Oklahoma State Cowboys
- Date & Time: Saturday, Dec. 4, noon ET
- Channel: ABC
- Location: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas
- Weather: 62 degrees and partly cloudy (but under a dome)
- Betting Line: OKST -5.5 O/U: 46.5
This should be a really interesting matchup. Baylor has snuck by a lot of teams this season on its way to a 10-2 season. However, the Bears did beat a good Oklahoma team just a few weeks ago and are on a three-game winning streak while playing some great football at the right time.
The Cowboys are likely the Big 12’s only chance at a College Football Playoff spot. But they have only two wins against teams currently ranked in the top 25: Oklahoma last week and this Baylor team early in the season.
That was a tight game heading into the 4th quarter. Baylor made it a three-point game at the top of the last frame. With about five minutes remaining, the Cowboys marched down the field and sealed the victory. Oklahoma State had 401 yards and was 8-for-19 on third down, but three interceptions from Spencer Sanders kept Baylor in the game. If Oklahoma State plays to its full capacity, it should win this game and have a shot at a College Football Playoff depending on how the rest of the weekend shakes up.
No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs vs No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide
- Date & Time: Saturday, Dec. 4, 4 p.m. ET
- Channel: CBS
- Location: Mercedes Benz-Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia
- Weather: 71 degrees and partly cloudy (but under a dome)
- Betting Line: UGA -6.5 O/U: 49.5
This is the matchup the committee will be watching the closest on Saturday. There is no question the committee believes the SEC is the best conference in college football and they are dying to get their darling Crimson Tide into the final four. A win over Georgia would certainly solidify that, but a loss makes it a little more interesting.
If Alabama loses in a close game, it would need a loss from Oklahoma State, a loss from Cincinnati and for the committee to rank them ahead of Notre Dame without Brian Kelly. It’s a laundry list, but it is not out of the question. And we all know the committee would think Alabama was the best two-loss team around.
Now, Bama is coming off an unconvincing 4OT win in the Iron Bowl while Georgia has steamrolled everyone this season. The Bulldogs are allowing an astounding 6.9 points per game this season. That is because their defense has held opponents to a touchdown or less in eight of their 12 games, including three shutouts. A win and the Bulldogs are in; a loss and they are still probably in if they can keep it close. Simply, they deserve it with how dominant they have been all season long.
No. 2 Michigan Wolverines vs No. 13 Iowa Hawkeyes
- Date & Time: Saturday, Dec. 4, 8 p.m. ET
- Channel: FOX
- Location: Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana
- Weather: 41 degrees and partly cloudy (but under a dome)
- Betting Line: MICH -11 O/U: 43.5
Michigan fans will be absolutely stirring all day long having to wait for this game. But what’s a couple more hours after 10 years of waiting to be in this game and nearly two decades without a conference title?
While we are all still riding high off the win over Ohio State, I think we may be underestimating Iowa just a little bit. The Hawkeyes' defense has been really good this season, particularly their rush defense. They allow just 105.8 rushing yards per game, and we have seen the Wolverines fall apart if they can’t move the ball on the ground.
Now, I expect Jim Harbaugh to go back and see what Wisconsin did a couple weeks back when it rushed for 166 and held the Hawkeyes to just 24 in what was easily Iowa’s worst loss of the season.
It appears Spencer Petras will take over the starting role at quarterback for Kirk Ferentz, which is both a good and bad thing for the Wolverines. Frankly, Petras is a statue in the pocket and if Michigan’s pass rush gets home, he will have a tough go of it. And Iowa’s pass blocking has been far from ideal at different portions of this season because of that.
However, the Hawkeyes excel in run-blocking this season and win a majority of their games in a similar style to the Wolverines: strong defense and running the football. According to Pro Football Focus, Iowa boasts the No. 8 run-blocking offensive line in the country. And the Wolverines have the No. 8 rushing defense in the country by their standards.
Last week was the biggest game of Harbaugh’s tenure at Michigan. Now, this week will take that honor. It’s his first shot at a Big Ten title, his first opportunity for a College Football Playoff team and a chance to pull a complete 180 on the narrative of his tenure and this program from this time a year ago.