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College Football Picks 2023: Week Fourteen (Championship Week)

Michael Penix, Washington 

Current Picks Record: 77-31

Upsets: 7-5

Superdogs: 7-5

Locks: 9-3

Pac-12 Championship Game: (#5) Oregon Ducks @ (#3) Washington Huskies

Line: Oregon -9.5

O/U: 65.5

For so long, the Pac-12 was the butt of the joke when it came to the Power Five conferences. It's TV network was a mess, they couldn't get a team in the College Football Playoff, and it became synonymous with late-night chaos. As we prepare for the final Pac-12 Championship Game ever, at least in its current state, things have changed in a big way. Oregon and Washington are playing in what is essentially a Playoff quarterfinal game, with a Heisman Trophy potentially on the line. How can you not be romantic about college football?

If you love points, this is the game for you, as they will be coming early and often on Friday night. Oregon boasts their own Heisman frontrunner, quarterback Bo Nix, who engineers a balanced, efficient group that can attack defenses in a variety of ways. Nix isn't afraid to take shots deep, but his ability to extend plays with his legs requires defenses to often use a spy to slow him down. That leaves more space for the other skill position players to factor in, including wide outs Troy Franklin and Tez Johnson. Both have been dominant all season long, and should have a field day against a Washington secondary that has not only struggled most of the year, but had difficulties containing this offense in their previous matchup. If that wasn't enough, Oregon is able to hit you with the two-headed monster of Bucky Irving and Jordan James out of the backfield, running behind an experienced, ferocious offensive line. Irving and James are excellent complements to each other - Irving's shiftiness and big play ability is a joy to watch, while James brings the thunder. The Huskies are a better rush defense than pass, but finding a way to contain those two, along with Nix, is going to be a tough challenge.

Washington will counter with their own Heisman frontrunner, Michael Penix, who out-dueled Bo Nix in this game earlier in the fall. Penix has slowed down slightly in the season's second half, but still boasts a rocket arm and is helped out by an impressive receiver corps. Biletnikoff finalist Rome Odunze is the headliner, but Jalen McMillan, Ja'Lynn Polk, and Germie Bernard can all get in on the action. Washington will look to take plenty of shots with the nation's second best passing offense, especially as they go up against a Duck secondary that has been susceptible through the air, but Dillon Johnson's contributions on the ground should not be overlooked. The former Mississippi State transfer gives this offense some semblance of balance, forcing defenses to give this ground game a second thought, which should not be overlooked. He hit the century mark against Oregon earlier in the year and should give this Duck defense reason to still load the box, especially as they battle against a quality Washington offensive line.

Washington and Oregon's battle earlier in the fall was one of the best games of the season so far, and I think the encore has a chance to be even better. The stakes are higher, the game's in Las Vegas, and both teams are playing tremendous football. I picked the Ducks earlier on and was proven incorrect, but I'm going back and rolling with them again to take home the Pac-12 crown. I'd argue they outplayed Washington in the first matchup and I believe top-to-bottom this is one of the best teams in college football - they'll get the job done Friday night and make their second Playoff berth in school history.

The Pick: Oregon, 38 Washington, 30

SEC Championship Game: (#1) Georgia Bulldogs @ (#8) Alabama Crimson Tide

Line: Georgia -5.5

O/U: 49.5

Georgia's quest for a three-point remains in focus, but standing in their way is a familiar foe: the Alabama Crimson Tide. After a shaky start to the season, Nick Saban has his team playing greta football, and looking to sneak into the College Football Playoff with an upset win in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Georgia's offensive makeover has been one of the most intriguing storylines of the 2023 season. An offense that was known for it's ground-and-pound nature has leaned heavily on a vertical passing attack, with Carson Beck putting together an impressive campaign as first-year starter. The junior has nearly 3,500 yards of passing and leads the nation's eighth-best pass offense, a remarkable feat when you consider tight end Brock Bowers has missed a big chunk of the regular season. Bowers appears to be working his way back to 100 percent at the right time, while others in the Bulldog passing game have stepped up, most notably Ladd McConkey, although he's a bit beaten up himself heading into the home stretch. This trio will look to be aggressive against an Alabama secondary that features a star corner, Kool-Aid McKinstry, and rising star safety in Caleb Downs, but has still been frightfully inconsistent. The secondary does seem to have found its footing after a rough start, much like the rest of this roster, but it's fair to have concerns about how they'll look against a dynamic passing attack. And then, the Bulldogs can still hit you underneath with a power run game, led by Daijun Edwards and Kendall Milton. Yet, the matchup I'm most curious about has to be the battle in the trenches, featuring a whole list of future NFL contributors. The Georgia O-Line doesn't quite have as much talent as we've seen in year's past, but remains a fearsome group - how will they fare against the combo of Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell off the edge?

Life after Bryce Young has been turbulent at times for the Alabama offense, but they've certainly found their stride at this point in the year. Quarterback Jalen Milroe has seemingly gotten better each and every week, and enters the Championship Game playing some of his best football yet. He's always a threat to run, and his huge arm gives this Tide offense real bite, but they still have to live with some of the questionable decisions that come along with it. It hasn't been as much of a problem as of late, but facing a Georgia secondary loaded with talent? You do wonder if it's a major turnover that ends up swinging the tide - no pun intended - in the favor of the Georgia Bulldogs. The rest of the Alabama supporting cast isn't quite as dynamic as what we've come to know under Saban, but there are enough quality pieces to get the job done. Roydell Williams and Jase McClellan provide a nice punch at running back, while the receiver corps adds enough explosiveness to complement Milroe and company. But much like Georgia's offense, it's the blockers I'm watching here. The Tide have shown tremendous growth up front, but things remain a work in progress, and they face a relentless Bulldog defensive front.

Georgia has found a way to outclass Alabama in their last two meetings, and they're the better team this fall. But, you can never be too sure with Saban and the Crimson Tide - they're going to test Kirby Smart for the entire four quarters, and it wouldn't shock me if they found a way to squeak this one out. I'm still rolling with the Bulldogs, but this one feels like it could be in coin flip territory.

The Pick: Georgia, 31 Alabama, 27

Big Ten Championship Game: (#2) Michigan Wolverines @ (#16) Iowa Hawkeyes

Line: Michigan -22

O/U: 34.5

With USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington all set to join the Big Ten next fall, it's officially the final year of the East-West Championship Game format. And, what a way to go out - with Michigan battling Iowa in a game where they very well could be more defensive points scored than offensive. The Wolverines are hoping for their third straight Big Ten Title and another trip to the CFB Playoff, while Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes are just fine playing spoilers on Saturday night.

Michigan's offense doesn't jump out at you statistically, but this has been a remarkably consistent and efficient group throughout the entire fall. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy provides a stabilizing force under center, an efficient signal-caller who can create plays with his legs as necessary. He's joined by the combination of Donovan Edwards and Blake Corum out of the backfield, the nation's premier backfield duo, as well as a solid, reliable receiver corps. Edwards and Corum have been the focal point of the Wolverine offense all season, but it will be interesting to see if they choose to attack down the field more consistently in this one. I thought that may be the case against Ohio State, but that didn't turn out to be the case - against Iowa, things may be different. The Hawkeyes feature an elite defensive front, one that has its usual collection of future NFL players. They are still strong on the back-end, but the season-ending injury to Cooper DeJean robs them of their chief playmaker. 

Years from now, we are going to look back at this Iowa offense and marvel that this football team ended up winning ten regular season football games. This unit has set new records for just how inept it has been and yet, the Hawkeyes have still found a way to come out on top most Saturdays. Will that be the case in this one? They are going to need something, anything, from quarterback Deacon Hill, who replaced an injured Cade McNamara mid-season. Hill's numbers are hideous - a 48% completion rate and 5-6 TD-INT ratio - but the Hawkeyes don't exactly ask for much from their quarterback. As long as he's able to take care of the ball and make the occasional play downfield, Iowa still has a chance to pull off the upset. The ground game will be the main source of offense once again, but even here, there's a lack of explosiveness. Leshun Williams finished as their leading rusher, with 779 yards, but with defenses stacking the box at every opportunity, he struggled to create big plays. That's just a reality of the Iowa offense this season - they are going to have to find a way to manufacture yards. Unfortunately, that's not exactly an easy task against a Michigan defense that has been shutdown all year, ranking first in the nation with 10.3 points allowed per game.

Few things would be quite as hilarious as watching this particular Iowa somehow find a way to win a Big Ten Title, but I just don't see it happening. Even if their defense and special teams provides a boost, the offense is so inept that it will be hard to match whatever Michigan does. As long as the Wolverines do just enough, they should ride into the College Football Playoff with a perfect record.

The Pick: Michigan, 17 Iowa, 7

Other Picks

Conference USA Championship: New Mexico State Aggies @ (#24) Liberty Flames -- What a story New Mexico State has been this fall, but the undefeated Flames are just a better football team top-to-bottom.

The Pick: Liberty, 28 New Mexico State, 21

Big 12 Championship: (#18) Oklahoma State Cowboys @ (#7) Texas Longhorns -- Texas still has Playoff hopes that are very much alive, and they could actually be helped out in a big way by an Alabama upset. But first, they much finish business themselves - which seems likely against an inconsistent Cowboy team.

The Pick: Texas, 34 Oklahoma State, 21

MAC Championship: Miami (Ohio) Redhawks @ Toledo Rockets -- Toledo head coach Jason Candle has flirted with several Power Five openings, but has stayed put. Perhaps that should ensure his team is focused for Ford Field this Saturday.

The Pick: Toledo, 27 Miami, 24

Mountain West Championship: Boise State Broncos @ UNLV Rebels -- If you haven't gotten a chance to tune into UNLV this fall, this is your chance. They run a thrilling offense, and are on the cusp of their first 10-win season in program history.

The Pick: UNLV, 37 Boise State, 24

American Athletic Championship: SMU Mustangs @ (#22) Tulane Green Wave -- Before the season-ending injury to quarterback Preston Stone, I was leaning towards picking SMU in this one. But without their star quarterback, the Mustangs come up short against Tulane, who is likely to clinch a New Year's Six Bowl berth.

The Pick: Tulane, 35 SMU, 31

Sun Belt Championship: Appalachian State Mountaineers @ Troy Trojans -- After a 1-2 start, the Troy Trojans have quietly ripped off nine straight victories - their defense should ensure it's ten this Saturday.

The Pick: Troy, 24 Appalachian State, 17

ACC Championship: (#14) Louisville Cardinals @ (#4) Florida State Seminoles -- The Jordan Travis injury has thrown a wrench into Florida State's National Title hopes, but this is the far more talented team. They should find a way to still come out on top against the upstart Cardinals.

The Pick: Florida State, 28 Louisville, 21

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