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2022 College Football Picks: Week Fourteen (Championship Week)

Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State
Current Picks Record: 69-48

Upset: 5-8

Superdogs: 5-8

Pac-12 Championship: (#4) USC Trojans vs. (#11) Utah Utes

Line: USC -3

O/U: 67

For years, the Friday night Pac-12 Championship Game has been more of a Championship Week sideshow than a truly important game. That's not the case this week, as this matchup between fourth-ranked USC and 11th-ranked Utah has major CFB Playoff implications. One would assume USC is in with a victory, but they won't have anything easy against the Utes, who handed 'SC their lone defeat earlier in the year.

Last Saturday wasn't the most dominant performance of the season for Caleb Williams, but another stellar week likely looked him in as the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner. The true sophomore has demonstrated an explosive playmaking ability all season long and unlike last year, he's done it week-in, week-out. He's set to become the third USC quarterback since the turn of the millennium to take home the award, and he did it all in his first season in Southern California. Williams has had the luxury of a truly special supporting cast around him, with star receivers Jordan Addison, Mario Williams, and Tahj Washington terrorizing opposing defenses all season. The supporting cast did take a bit of a hit late in the year when they lost Travis Dye for the remainder of the season, but the duo of Austin Jones and Raleek Brown should be able to pick up the slack. The Trojans will remain a pass-first team following the injury to Dye, and they should have opportunities against the Utes. This remains a good Utah defense, but they've been more susceptible through the air than past editions. Williams went for 381 yards and five touchdowns last time they played, and that was in Salt Lake City. On a neutral field, USC should be able to move the ball comfortably, and Williams should be eager to show out in the biggest game of the year up to this point.

This year's Utah offense looks very similar to many of the previous Kyle Whittingham-coached offenses. They aren't the most explosive group in the league, but run a ball-control, methodical offense that does just enough to get this team over the top. Quarterback Cam Rising continues to be one of the most underrated in college football; he doesn't jump out at you with his arm strength or athleticism, but he's an accurate, intelligent, consistent signal-caller. He's also a much more effective runner than people give him credit for, which USC knows firsthand, as he went for three rushing scores against them in mid-October. Rising's backfield mate, Tavion Thomas, hasn't quite built on his huge 2021 the way many had hoped, but he remains a major factor. Thomas has dealt with injuries and hasn't been able to find his rhythm, but it wouldn't be shocking at all to see him return to form against a mediocre USC defense. Micah Bernard and Jaylon Glover offer more shiftiness and playmaking prowess to this ground game, although Glover is banged up entering this one. Unsurprisingly, the pass-catchers are led by a tight end, another staple of the Whittingham era. However, it's not the one many had expected to be starring for this team at the start of the season, Brant Kuithe, but Dalton Kincaid instead. Kincaid was a proven commodity entering the season, but he's turned it up a notch since a season-ending injury to Kuithe, and he should be a real matchup problem for the Trojans. In fact, Utah should be able to have success moving the ball in general against this USC defense. It's very much a typical Lincoln Riley team; they'll put plenty of points in a dazzling display, and let up nearly just as many the other way.

I give Utah a lot of credit for finding a route to the Pac-12 Championship Game. After an underwhelming showing in a loss to UCLA, the Utes were 4-2 and could have mailed in a disappointing season. Instead, they won five of their final six and now have a great opportunity to play spoiler. Considering this is the Pac-12, a league known for beating each other up, it would not be shocking if they manage to pull off the upset. But, on a neutral field, the Trojans are the better team, and they should be able to stick the landing, as long as the defense can be at least serviceable. 

The Pick: USC, 38 Utah, 30

SEC Championship Game: (#1) Georgia Bulldogs vs. (#14) LSU Tigers

Line: Georgia -17.5

O/U: 52

Georgia enters the weekend as the clear National Title favorite (particularly with Michigan's Blake Corum officially done for the year), but they have to avoid falling short on the goal-line against LSU. The Tigers managed to win the SEC West in Year One of the Brian Kelly era, but a humiliating loss to Texas A&M showed this team still has some issues to work out as they head to Atlanta.

The Georgia offense has been by no means perfect despite their 12-0 record, but they've done everything necessary to keep this team humming. Quarterback Stetson Bennett has followed up his incredible run last season with another impressive campaign, leading a pass offense that is in the Top 20 nationally. He's helped by a deep receiver corps that also includes the nation's most imposing 1-2 punch at tight end, Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington. Then there's the ground game, which hasn't been quite as dominant as past Bulldog groups, but remains productive. All of that operates behind a capable and experienced offensive line that should be well prepared for a ferocious LSU pass rush that includes B.J. Ojulari and Harold Perkins. What makes this Bulldog offense so difficult to stop is that depth; they don't lean on 1-2 pieces and struggle if those guys are having an off day. They have so many different weapons that can overwhelm a defense, and OC Todd Monken has been very adept at spreading the ball in creative ways. It's always a guessing game which Bulldog will have a coming out party offensively each week, which is a testament to this unit. My pick this week is wide out Kearis Jackson; he's had a quiet two years after being their most productive pass-catcher in 2020, but always seems to show out in big games near the end of the year.

I will be the first to admit, I did not see this 2022 season coming for Jayden Daniels. The veteran quarterback was cast off of Arizona State and entered an intense quarterback competition in Baton Rouge. It wasn't a shock that he came out as the Day One starter, but it has been surprising just how productive he's been. Daniels won't air the ball out too often, but he's a capable deep-ball thrower and can absolutely decimate defenses with his legs. He's second among all FBS quarterbacks with 824 rushing yards, and his ability to create will give this Georgia defense something to think about. The rest of the offense has been rather pedestrian statistically, although receivers Malik Nabers and Kayshon Boutte are not your typical perimeter duo. Boutte in particular is a supreme talent who just hasn't been used the right away this fall; could the SEC Championship Game be his return to the spotlight? With that being said, this is a brutal matchup for this LSU offense. Georgia is just so stacked on this side of the ball, and they're so unbelievably athletic. LSU has moved the ball against good defenses, but the 'Dawgs are a different breed, and I'm just not sure whether there is enough here to compete with Georgia going the other way.

The SEC Championship Game has been dominated by the favorites since its inception; prior to Georgia losing as a favorite last year to Alabama, the last underdog to win was Auburn in 2013 over Missouri, and they were just two points 'dogs. I don't see that trend reversing this year; the Bulldogs are simply too overwhelming, and this LSU team is the weakest West Division winner in years. 

The Pick: Georgia, 31 LSU, 17

Big 12 Championship Game: (#3) TCU Horned Frogs vs. (#10) Kansas State Wildcats

Line: TCU -2.5

O/U: 62

TCU's miraculous turnaround has been a constant talking point among national media this fall, but I still don't believe we are giving it the respect it deserves. The Horned Frogs were an absolute disaster a season ago and fired longtime head coach Gary Patterson. A year later, they're 12-0 and within reach of their first CFB Playoff appearance. The only thing standing in their way is Kansas State, a feisty underdog who would love nothing more than to ruin TCU's perfect season. 

Quarterback Max Duggan has a very real chance to end his TCU career as a Heisman finalist. Amazingly, the veteran signal-caller wasn't even the Day One starter in 2022, but has made the most of his opportunity following an injury to Chandler Morris. He's always been a powerful, hard-nosed runner, but it's Duggan's growth as a passer that has been a joy to watch. He has gone for over 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns, and Sonny Dykes has adjusted his scheme to fit Duggan's strengths. Duggan is likely to finish the year as the Horned Frog with the most accolades, but tailback Kendre Miller has been arguably more important. Miller has 1,260 yards on the season and 16 touchdowns, while notching over six yards per carry. He was building a streak of five games with at least 100 yards before Baylor was able to keep him in check in TCU's thrilling, come-from-behind win. Add in Quentin Johnston, who missed against Iowa State but is expected back for this week, and do-it-all Taye Barber, and it's no shock why the Horned Frogs have been so successful moving the ball this fall. I like their chances to put up points in this game, even against a solid K-State defense. The Horned Frogs went for nearly 500 yards in these two team's first meeting, and should be ready to roll once again.

Chris Klieman's Kansas State program has been one of the most consistent in the Big 12 since he took over, but they have their first opportunity for a league title since he took over. This year's team has been built on a similar formula to previous editions. They have a strong defense, effective rushing attack, and they control the line of scrimmage. However, tailback Deuce Vaughn isn't your typical K-State back; he's a danger to score every time he touches the ball and OC Collin Klein has been very creative in getting him the ball. Vaughn has had to take on an extra load with the injury to starting quarterback Adrian Martinez, although the offense has really found a groove under backup Will Howard. Howard has looked in complete command in his last four starts, with an 11-1 TD-INT ratio, and the Wildcat offense hasn't looked back. That doesn't mean Howard is going to be chucking the ball all over the field, but Kansas State has more balance these last few weeks than they did to start the season. That's a good thing, because this TCU defense is very gettable. This isn't the same program that was churning out elite defenses at the peak of Patterson's leadership; they're prone to the big play and aren't as physical at the line of scrimmage.

I've said it time and time again this fall: I don't believe TCU is going to finish the regular season undefeated. Each time that I've picked against them, they've made me look like a fool, and have completed comeback after comeback. However, I remain under the belief that somebody is going to get them, and Kansas State matches up well against them. The Wildcats are playing hot right now and have the roster composition to muck this one up and control the tempo. I'm picking them to complete the "upset" and win the Big 12 for the first time since they earned a share of it back in 2012.

The Pick: Kansas State, 28 TCU, 24

Other Picks

ACC Championship: (#9) Clemson @ (#23) North Carolina -- A very tough matchup to pick at this moment. Drake Maye should give this Clemson defense fits, but the Tigers are the better team top to bottom, even if they've been underwhelming down the stretch.

The Pick: Clemson, 35 UNC, 32

American Athletic Championship: (#22) UCF @ (#18) Tulane -- I have picked against Tulane on several occasions this year, and been wrong each time. I hate to do it once again, but UCF's offense puts them over the top.

The Pick: UCF, 34 Tulane, 24

Big Ten Championship: Purdue @ (#2) Michigan -- Purdue emerged from the chaos of the Big Ten West to took the division, but I don't see an upset here. Corum may be out, but Michigan's suffocating defense is the real fuel of this team.

The Pick: Michigan, 29 Purdue, 14

C-USA Championship: North Texas @ UTSA -- Expect plenty of fireworks as these two offenses collide, but the scorching hot UTSA Roadrunners are the smarter pick.

The Pick: UTSA, 40 North Texas, 28

MAC Championship: Toledo @ Ohio -- This is essentially a coin flip in my eyes. Ohio has reeled off seven straight wins, but just lost star QB Kurtis Rourke for the rest of the year. Even so, they're the better team, and should come out on top.

The Pick: Ohio, 27 Toledo, 21

Mountain West Championship: Fresno State @ Boise State -- Kudos to both these teams for how they have managed to completely turnaround horrific starts to the season. Boise in particular has been a great story, winning seven of their last eight.

The Pick: Boise State, 37 Fresno State, 26

Sun Belt Championship: Coastal Carolina @ Troy -- Coastal was already without star QB Grayson McCall and now rumors are swirling head coach Jamey Chadwell could be on his way to Liberty. Even if that doesn't end up materializing, Troy is the better football team, with an elite defense.

The Pick: Troy, 27 Coastal Carolina, 18

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