After 13 weeks of jam-packed action, the 2021 college football season has finally reached its final weekend before bowl season. Conference championship week is upon us and is shaping up to be a fitting conclusion to a crazy year.
A number of games this upcoming weekend will have College Football Playoff ramifications, but none more so than the SEC Championship between No. 1 Georgia and No. 3 Alabama. The undefeated Bulldogs will likely be in the Top 4 regardless of a win or loss, but the Crimson Tide, who nearly fell in overtime to Iron Bowl rival Auburn last weekend, will need to come out on top to keep their hopes of a National Championship alive. No two-loss team has ever made the playoff and Alabama would be hard-pressed to buck that trend if it were to lose on Saturday.
No. 2 Michigan will take on No. 13 Iowa in the Big Ten Championship just a week after the Wolverines downed the Ohio State Buckeyes for the first time in a decade. Jim Harbaugh finally got his first win against the program’s dreaded rivals and now stares a date with the College Football Playoff in the face.
No. 4 Cincinnati is poised to do something that no Group of Five team has ever done before: make the final four and play for a national championship. The Bearcats are still undefeated, have a quality win over Notre Dame and now just need to get past a strong, No. 21 Houston program to lock up their spot in the playoff. Well, so long as the committee doesn’t get up to any funny business.
No. 5 Oklahoma State is just on the outside looking in and has a path to the Top 4 should it win the Big 12 Championship game over No. 9 Baylor on Saturday afternoon. The Cowboys might have a number of Top 25 wins this year, but their loss to Iowa State could hold them back from jumping Cincinnati or even staying ahead of No. 6 Notre Dame, which won’t be in action this week.
The above four games might be the most consequential from a College Football Playoff standpoint, but a number of other teams will play for conference championships over the weekend. On Friday night, Western Kentucky will try to steal away the Conference USA crown from 11-1 UTSA, while No. 10 Oregon looks to get revenge on No. 17 Utah in the Pac-12 Championship.
Northern Illinois takes on Kent State in the MAC Championship on Saturday before No. 19 San Diego State looks to wrap up a Mountain West title against Utah State. No. 24 Louisiana, which made headlines this week for head coach Billy Napier leaving to take over at Florida, will square off with a talented Appalachian State team for the Sun Belt crown. No. 15 Pittsburgh and No. 16 Wake Forest will round out the championship slate in the ACC title game on Saturday night.
#CFBPlayoff spots are on the line this weekend.
Our staff breaks down which games they're clearing their schedules to watch https://t.co/JKa23Aa8bf
— SI College Football (@si_ncaafb) December 2, 2021
Entering the final week of the season-long pick contest, a familiar name stands alone at the top. Steve Driscoll continues to hold onto the lead that he’s had for most of the year, but a number of challengers are within striking distance. After a stunning week that saw him go 33-4, Alek Arend leapt into second and is three picks back, while Andrew McCarty sits alone in third, trailing by four picks.
Here are the standings after Week 13:
1. Steve Driscoll: 394-116
2. Alek Arend: 391-119
3. Andrew McCarty: 390-120
T4. Dan Lyons: 388-122
T4. Zach Koons: 388-122
6. Matt Audilet: 386-124
7. Tzvi Machlin: 381-129
8. Chris Rosvoglou: 380-130
9. Matt Lombardi: 379-131
10. Andrew Holleran: 378-132
11. Matt Hladik: 373-137
Staffers tried to get crafty this week with their picks to make up some ground in the final week. The biggest splits came in some of lower-profile games such as Western Kentucky-UTSA, Louisiana-Appalachian State and a non-championship game between California and USC.
However, four of the Power 5 conference championship games also featured notable divides. Oregon-Utah, Oklahoma State-Baylor, Georgia-Alabama and Pittsburgh-Wake Forest all contained at least some division.
We also decided to tack on picks for the annual Army-Navy game, scheduled for Week 15, though every staff member chose to take the 8-3 Black Knights over the Midshipmen.
Here are our picks for Week 14 (and Week 15) of the 2021 college football season:
Each week, we pick every college football game involving Power Five and/or ranked teams. Check back as we update our standings.