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2020 College Football Picks: Week Sixteen (Conference Championship Week)


Ian Book, Notre Dame

Current Picks Record: 44-19 (3-7 Upset)

ACC Championship: (#3) Clemson Tigers vs. (#2) Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Line: Clemson -10.5

Over/Under: 60.5

Clemson and Notre Dame's first meeting of the 2020 season was one of the most exciting games of the year, and now the two meet in a rematch in the ACC Championship Game. Trevor Lawrence did not play in the first meeting as he had COVID-19, but the superstar quarterback is back to run the show, and the Tigers are also healthier defensively than they were in the prior matchup. Lawrence has been tremendous in what should be his final collegiate season, and Clemson has their usual collection of playmakers surrounding him. Amari Rodgers, Cornell Powell and tight end Braden Galloway will all test an experienced Notre Dame secondary, while Travis Etienne operates out of the backfield. Etienne should be eager and ready to go in this one, as he was held to just 28 yards on 18 carries in the last game. The key for Clemson might not end up being the skill positions, but how the offensive line holds up. This is not an elite group, but it held up against a physical ND defensive front last time, holding them to just two sacks. If they can have another strong showing, you get the feeling the Tigers will put up points, even against a really quality Irish defense. Something to note on the ND offense: coordinator Clark Lea recently took the Vanderbilt job and while he remains committed to the Irish for now, he's also been forced to focus on the Commodores' recruiting and all the other distractions that come with a new gig. With his hand in two cookie jars at the same time, I wonder if the Irish defense will be properly prepared.

Notre Dame's offense looks much the same it has for the last couple seasons, although it has been generally more productive overall. Quarterback Ian Book is still running the offense and while his receiver corps has been depleted most of the season, he's put together his best year in college so far. It will be fascinating to see how aggressive Book is in attacking the Clemson secondary. It's a talented group but an inconsistent one, and if Book makes the necessary throws Notre Dame wins this football game. He is going to need more help from his receivers beyond just Javon McKinley and Ben Skowronek. At running back, Kyren Williams has been a pleasant surprise. He won the feature back job coming out of camp and has responded with 1,011 yards and 12 touchdowns. Williams is the type punishing runner that really seems to work in this Irish offense, but they do have a nice change of pace in true freshman Chris Tyree. With all that being said, ND's offensive success may also come down to the play in the trenches. This is one of the best offensive lines in the nation and a major reason for the Irish success the last few years. But Clemson is loaded with absolute freaks on the defensive side of the ball, including Myles Murphy, Baylon Spector, and Xavier Thomas. Also notable is the health of the "quarterback" of the defense, hard-nosed linebacker James Skalski. He missed about a month in the middle of the season, including the previous matchup, but is back healthy now. His return comes at the right time for Clemson, who needs his leadership if they want to win another National Title.

The expectation around most of the college football community is that Clemson will get vengeance in this rematch, essentially guaranteeing the ACC gets two teams in the College Football Playoff. It's an understandable point of view, with the Tigers back at full strength and the two playing at a neutral site this time around. With that being said, I truly believe Notre Dame is a Top 3 team in college football this season, and I don't hate their chances to sweep the season series. This program has proven they can not just hang with the likes of Clemson, but they can beat them. I think they definitely cover the 10.5 point spread here, and I've considered taking them to win outright. But, Clemson is the smarter pick, only because beating the Tigers twice in one season is a near impossible task. Dabo Swinney's team should respond with a hard-fought, thrilling victory.

The Pick: Clemson, 31 Notre Dame, 27

SEC Championship: (#1) Alabama Crimson Tide vs. (#7) Florida Gators

Line: Alabama -17

Over/Under: 74.5

Life in the SEC is an unforgiving one, a lesson that Florida is proving first-hand. The Gators lost a heart-breaker last weekend to LSU and now they travel to Atlanta to square off against an Alabama team that is beating their opponents by an average of nearly 38 points the last seven games. Any hopes of Florida springing an upset rely not only on an improved defensive performance but a huge game from their Heisman contender, Kyle Trask. Trask has been tremendous all season before a sloppy showing against LSU that eventually doomed the Gators. The good news is that his favorite target, tight end Kyle Pitts, is back healthy for this game after missing against the Tigers. Pitts leads a group of pass-catchers that can break open games in a heartbeat with Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes. Even a deep and talented Alabama defense is going to have a tough time slowing them down. LSU was able to have moderate success, primarily because Pitts was not only out but because they made Trask very uncomfortable. The formula is there for 'Bama to do the same thing, especially with the freaks they can put out there on the D-Line. Florida's lack of offensive balance is another major concern for the Gators. The rushing attack has been nearly non-existent the last two seasons, and I have serious doubts Alabama is the defense they'll get it rolling against. If the Tide aren't forced to be honest and at least consider stopping the run, Florida's going to be in for a tough game.

The Gator defense is awfully talented, but the poor numbers speak for themselves. This unit will now have to go up against an Alabama offense that may be the best of the Nick Saban era, spearheaded by Heisman frontrunners Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith. Personally, Smith is my pick for college football's most prestigious award. He's tallied 83 catches for 1,327 yards and 15 touchdowns in just ten games and also proven he can do damage on special teams. There is nobody on this Gator roster that can defend him for the entire sixty minutes, even talented Kaiir Elam. If Smith isn't enough to finish you off, the Tide can hit you with their usual ground-and-pound, led by Najee Harris and Brian Robinson. Harris has been a touchdown machine in 2020, with 22 scores on the season. Also important to note: there was some hope speed demon Jaylen Waddle may be able to come back and play in this one after missing a big chunk of the year with a broken ankle. Saban seemed to squash those rumors earlier in the week so it's unlikely, but at least a distant possibility. The thing is, Alabama doesn't even really need Waddle to put up points in this game. They are the third scoring offense in the nation at 49.5 points per game, going up against the 80th scoring defense.

There still remains a chance if Florida is able to pull off the upset here that they could sneak into the Top 4 come Sunday, but I don't think that's anything the Selection Committee will have to worry about. Alabama looks absolutely unstoppable right now, and the only teams that could possibly beat them are Clemson, or Ohio State. The Gators simply don't have enough defensively and while their offense might be able to keep things close into the second half, picking against the Tide here would be foolish.

The Pick: Alabama, 49 Florida, 28

Big Ten Championship: (#14) Northwestern Wildcats vs. (#4) Ohio State Buckeyes

Line: Ohio State -21

Over/Under: 57.5

There has been plenty of debate about the Big Ten Championship and whether Ohio State deserves a spot despite not meeting the six-game threshold originally set out by the conference. But here the Buckeyes are, looking for one more win to add to a relatively thin resume (compared to the other serious Playoff contenders). The Buckeye offense has looked about what we expected them to, guided by one of the best quarterbacks in college football in Justin Fields. In his first game back from a three INT showing against Indiana, Fields went for 199 through the air and 104 on the ground against Michigan State. He has a collection of elite receivers on the perimeter in Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, who both have gone over 500 yards on the shortened season. The big question offensively is whether the ground game can keep up. The Buckeyes pretty clearly miss superstar tailback J.K. Dobbins, even with Master Teague and Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon leading the charge. Northwestern's physical defense is one built to stop the run, and they do a fairly good job against the pass. They don't have the athletes that Ohio State has, but they're well-coached and disciplined. Ohio State is going to be able to create some big plays, but don't expect this offense to get anything easy. In fact, I wouldn't be shocked if this turns into more of a defensive battle than anything else.

Northwestern has been a great story, recovering from a disastrous 3-9 record in 2019 to win the Big Ten West. The arrival of Indiana transfer Peyton Ramsey has been huge for the offense, giving them a veteran signal-caller who has proven he can win in the league. The thing is, Ramsey doesn't really strike fear into opposing defenses. While he can make plays with his legs, Ramsey does leave a lot to be desired as a passer. He may get some opportunities against a weak Buckeye pass defense, but we will see just how many. The Wildcats do have several interesting offensive weapons, namely Kyric McGowan and Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman. They'll make Ohio State's defense work, but how much remains to be seen. Unsurprisingly, Northwestern does have a powerful ground attack split up amongst a trio of Drake Anderson, Isaiah Bowser, and Evan Hull. But, the Ohio State front is certainly the strength of the defense and they have an experienced linebacker corps. I'm just not sure there's enough here for the Wildcats to put up the necessary points.

Ohio State would love nothing more than dominating victory to leave no doubt in the eyes of the Playoff Selection Committee, but Northwestern is a tough team to blow out. Their defense allows them to be competitive in each game and they have a roster full of fighters. They're going to make the Buckeyes work for every point they score and the offense may be able to find a spark. But, Ohio State's just too talented up and down this roster to lose this game. Perhaps things may be interesting going into the second half, before the edge on the depth chart really begins to show. I'm not sure it will be pretty, but I like the Buckeyes to win relatively comfortably.

The Pick: Ohio State, 31 Northwestern, 14

Other Picks

American Athletic Championship: Cincinnati, 34 Tulsa, 20

Big 12 Championship: Oklahoma, 35 Iowa State, 28

Conference USA Championship: Marshall, 27 UAB, 20

MAC Championship: Buffalo, 28 Ball State, 18

Mountain West Championship: Boise State, 30 San Jose State, 21

Pac-12 Championship: USC, 37 Oregon, 27

Minnesota @ Wisconsin: Wisconsin, 24 Minnesota, 20

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