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College Football Picks 2021: Week Fourteen (Championship Week)

Stetson Bennett, Georgia

Current Picks Record: 77-40

Upset: 6-7

Superdogs: 7-6

SEC Championship: (#1) Georgia Bulldogs vs. (#3) Alabama Crimson Tide

Georgia has put together one of the best seasons in program history and are one victory away from their first SEC Title since 2017. The only thing that stands in their way? The program that has had their number over the course of the last decade-and-a-half, the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Bulldogs enter the game as a touchdown favorite, but can they finally get the monkey off their back and beat Nick Saban?

While their defense may get the attention (and for good reason), Georgia's offense has been no slouch. They're averaging nearly 41 points per game and have an abundance of weapons that can hurt you. The rushing attack is the obvious strength, as the Bulldogs can lean on four different options in Zamir White, James Cook, Kendall Milton, and Kenny McIntosh. Milton hasn't played since mid-October, but is listed as questionable for this game and has returned to practice, which could add another element to this Georgia offense. In fact, this entire UGA offense has been beat up all season long. Quarterback J.T. Daniels began the year as the starter, but has essentially ceded the job to former walk-on Stetson Bennett, who has been a tremendous story. Bennett could've easily transferred over the off-season but instead stuck around in Athens and has put together a 1,985-yard, 21 touchdown season. It helps that the Bulldogs have one of the deepest wide receiver corps in the country and a loaded offensive line helping him out. Tight end Brock Bowers has emerged as the most consistent weapon in the passing game, but there are so many more that can make plays. Ladd McConkey, Jermaine Burton, Adonai Mitchell, and a healthy Kearis Jackson give the Alabama secondary plenty of reason to worry. Jackson is yet another Bulldog that has dealt with injury problems this fall, but he's currently listed as probable for this weekend. Another name to watch is tight end Darnell Washington, who has taken a backseat to Bowers in 2021 but is a true matchup nightmare. He's 6'7", 265 pounds who moves incredibly quick for his size; even against the talented 'Bama linebacker corps, he's going to be a problem. In general, I am curious to see how UGA chooses to attack this Tide defense. This is clearly a run-first offense, but the receiver corps is one of the healthiest it's been the entire season and the Alabama pass defense has been shredded consistently all year long. They shouldn't be afraid to air it out, even if it isn't necessarily the program's style.

Compared to the Georgia offense, Alabama offers significantly less playmakers, but they've still been awfully effective. A lot of that can be credited to quarterback Bryce Young, who is hoping one more dominant performance will secure him the Heisman. Young has been brilliant all season and seems to be playing with even more confidence down the stretch. However, it has not been clear all season who else will show up for the Tide offense, behind Biletnikoff frontrunner Jameson Williams at wide out. Tailback Brian Robinson Jr. and receiver John Metchie have provided steady playmaking alongside Young and Williams, but you feel like Alabama will need more than just that quartet to score enough points against this historical Georgia defense. There's been the occasional flash from supporting pieces like Slade Bolden, JoJo Earle, and Trey Sanders, but 'Bama simply doesn't have the deep plethora of weapons they had on the 2019 and 2020 rosters. Overall, you have to wonder if the Alabama offense has the explosiveness to put up enough points against a Bulldog defense that is one of the best we've seen all-time. Georgia is loaded at every single level and has the type of depth that you only see at truly elite programs. They'll be just fine if Alabama wants to slow the game down, because this defense is going to make you work for every single yard. The greatest concern for Alabama, however, is whether the offensive line will be able to hold up. Simply put, this has been one of, if not the, worst offensive lines a Nick Saban-coached team has ever had. Do they have any chance against this relentless, particularly the interior of the group, which has to deal with Jordan Davis and company?

Although Alabama enters this game 11-1, it's not hyperbolic to say this is the weakest Tide team we've seen in a long time. With that being said, Saban teams always seem to put it together at the right time and they've owned this series for some time now. They're going to find a way to push the Bulldogs, but I think this UGA program has turned a corner. They're ready to not just compete, but beat, the truly elite programs of the college football landscape. It seems only fitting they continue their National Championship run by finally getting over the top against Saban and the Tide.

The Pick: Georgia, 31 Alabama, 24

Big 12 Championship: (#9) Baylor Bears vs. (#5) Oklahoma State Cowboys

For the first time in over a half-decade, we will have a new conference champion in the Big 12. Since 2015, Oklahoma has ruled the league with an iron fist, but now their in-state rival Oklahoma State and Baylor will square off, with a shot at the CFB Playoff still on the line. Not only will the two programs usher in a new era in Big 12 football, they play a completely different brand of football than the league is known for; there will be a whole bunch of defense and ball control, in contradiction of the wide-open, up-tempo offense the Big 12 was once synonymous with. 

Oklahoma State has put together a magical season, with an 11-1 record and a statement victory against OU. Impressively, they've done so with an offense that has been one-dimensional most of the season, leaning heavily on tailback Jaylen Warren all year. Warren has been held in check the last several weeks, meaning the Cowboys have had to open things up more. To Spencer Sanders' credit, he's playing some of the best football of his entire career in Stillwater over the last several weeks. Although his two turnovers threatened to turn the game against the Sooners, he's been extremely efficient down the stretch. Can he continue his hot play against possibly the best secondary he's seen all season? Sanders will need help from the Cowboy receiver corps, which has been injured most of the season but appears to be getting healthy at the right time. Senior Tay Martin is the playmaker Baylor has to be worried about the most, but he'll likely get matched up against Jim Thorpe Award finalist Jalen Pitre, who plays all over the field. Instead, expect names like Blaine Green and John Paul Richardson to continue to see their roles expand. The key will be Sanders' decision-making; at times, he's clearly felt forced to make plays. If this game remains close deep into the second half, he still has to show that he's able to play within himself and not take unnecessary shots against the ball-hawking Bears.

Baylor has also relied heavily on their ground game all year long, putting together one of the most effective rushing attacks in the nation. The leading rusher is Abram Smith, who is known as more of a power guy but is averaging over six yards per carry and has proven he can break games open. Trestan Ebner has proven to be an effective mate in the backfield with Smith, while QB Gerry Bohannon's ability to run adds another element to the offense. It will be interesting to see whether Bohannon is good to go for this game, as he did not play last week against Texas Tech. Freshman Blake Shapen took over in his place and threw for 254 yards, but the Cowboy defense is a significant step-up from the Red Raiders. Considering how stout Oklahoma State has been against the run all season long, thanks to a talented and deep D-Line and one of the game's best linebackers in Malcolm Rodriguez, you do figure Baylor is going to have to manufacture something through the air. Tyquan Thornton and R.J. Sneed have been an effective 1-2 punch all year long, but can they keep it going in the biggest game of the season? It would be nice if other supporting pieces could step into the limelight, such as tight end Ben Sims or senior receiver Drew Estrada, but the Cowboys might not be the team for that to happen against.

I don't envision this game being the most high-scoring or fun game of the weekend, but I actually think it may end up being one of the most interesting. Oklahoma State is looking to secure their first CFB Playoff berth in program history and become just the second Big 12 to do so, while Baylor has a good shot at a New Year's Six Bowl one year after going 2-7. Additionally, both of these teams have strengths that match up really well against each other; Oklahoma State's passing offense against the Bear secondary, Baylor's ground attack against the Cowboy defensive front. Oklahoma State won the last meeting 24-14 and I think they're the smarter pick with the way they've been playing, but it will be a tight one.

The Pick: Oklahoma State, 23 Baylor, 20

Big Ten Championship: (#2) Michigan Wolverines vs. (#13) Iowa Hawkeyes

Jim Harbaugh and Michigan finally did it. For the first time in a decade, they managed to topple Ohio State, putting them in a great position to secure their first-ever Playoff appearance. However, they must get past Iowa in Lucas Oil Stadium to do so. The Hawkeyes might not be the toughest Big Ten West representative to ever make it to Indianapolis, but they're a physical team that matches up well with the Wolverines. They'd love nothing more than to spoil UM's chances at making the four-team field.

Michigan showed last week that even though their offense is not among the most explosive in the country, they can still produce against defenses full of future NFL talent. Quarterback Cade McNamara didn't put together jaw-dropping numbers, but was good enough to get the Wolverines where they need to be. McNamara needs to do much the same in this one; he doesn't need to throw for 300 yards, but needs to take care of the ball and make the right reads on third downs. Iowa's ball-hawking secondary has slowed down quite a bit following their history-defining start to the season, but Riley Moss and Matt Hankins will still be hungry for turnovers. Hassan Haskins is coming off the game of his life, rushing for 169 yards and a gaudy five touchdowns against Ohio State. The Hawkeye defensive front isn't as athletic as Ohio State's, but still attacks downhill in much the same way. Haskins' powerful rushing ability should still put him in great position to move the ball, while a healthier Blake Corum provides the lightning to his thunder. I am interested to see how the Michigan offensive line performs in this game. They had a tremendous performance against the Buckeyes, but OSU doesn't quite have the same pass rushers they've had in past years. Iowa isn't dotted with four and five-stars along the D-Line like the Buckeyes, but they'll still find a way to get after you.

It's actually miraculous Iowa managed to win ten games and the Big Ten West Title with an offense that is among the most inept in Power Five football. They rank low in just about every offensive category you could think of, including passing yardage, rushing, total yardage, and of course, points per game. Running back Ty Goodson has been their main source of offense all season long, but is averaging a mediocre 4.6 yards per carry. Iowa has worked two other tailbacks, Ivory Kelly-Martin and Gavin Williams, into their offense more in the season's second half, but the ground game is not explosive. As for the passing game, it's unclear who will even start at quarterback. Spencer Petras started all 2020 and most of this fall, but Alex Padilla started against Nebraska and has played more down the stretch. The fact that neither has been able to grab control of the offense should tell you everything you need to know about how effective they've been in 2021. The thing is, the Hawkeyes actually have a nice collection of pass-catchers, beginning with tight end Sam LaPorta. Nico Ragaini, Tyrone Tracy, and Charlie Jones can all open up the game on the perimeter, especially the ultra-versatile Jones, but it's just a matter of getting them the football. As for the offensive line, the typical strength of the Iowa program has been stout once again, but faces easily their toughest test of the fall. Aidan Hutchinson has been arguably the best player in college football over the past month, but he shouldn't overshadow fellow future NFL Draftee David Ojabo. In fact, Hutchinson shouldn't overshadow this entire Michigan defense, which has seen a major turnaround after a down 2020. This is a defense that not only executes much better than past Wolverine units, but plays with significantly more energy and fight.

This is the type of game that should perfectly fit the Big Ten's brand. Two teams that rely on their run and play tough, physical defense will likely result in a field position battle, at least early. With that being said, I feel much more confident about what this Michigan offense can do, particularly with McNamara coming off such a strong showing. They won't need to play perfect, but as long as they can score three touchdowns against the Hawkeyes, that should probably be enough for this defense.

The Pick: Michigan, 24 Iowa, 10

Other Picks

Pac-12 Championship: (#10) Oregon, 27 (#17) Utah, 21 -- The Utes might have blown out Oregon just a few weeks ago, but this Ducks team will be ready with a response. They are way too talented to lose multiple games to the Utes in 2021. 

ACC Championship: (#15) Pittsburgh, 41 (#16) Wake Forest, 31 -- Could be a fun little shootout between two of the best offenses in the league. Pittsburgh's slight edge at both QB and defensively gives them the nod in this one.

AAC Championship: (#4) Cincinnati, 31 (#21) Houston, 24 -- I don't see Cincinnati tripping on the goal-line of an undefeated season here. They'll get a test from Houston, but the Bearcat defense is too much for the Cougars.

Sun Belt Championship: (#24) Louisiana-Lafayette, 35 Appalachian State, 30 -- On a neutral site, this game is a true coin flip. But, considering the game will be played at Cajun Field, I like the Ragin' Cajuns to win the conference.

Mountain West Championship: Utah State, 28 (#19) San Diego State, 27 -- Brady Hoke and the Aztecs have had a marvelous 11-1 season, but Utah State's explosive passing offense helps them pull off the upset.

C-USA Championship: UTSA, 37 Western Kentucky, 34 -- UTSA won't complete a perfect season, but they should still have enough left in the tank to overcome Bailey Zappe and the Hilltoppers.

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