College Football Picks: Awkward trophy ceremonies, CFP implications highlight championship weekend

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Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh holds the trophy as he celebrates with his team after defeating Purdue in the Big Ten championship NCAA college football game, early Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Indianapolis.
AP Photo/AJ Mast, File

By RALPH D. RUSSO AP College Football Writer

There could be some awkward trophy ceremonies around college football’s championship weekend.

On Friday night in Las Vegas, the Pac-12 will crown a champion that is heading to the Big Ten with a commissioner in George Kliavkoff, who oversaw the collapse of the conference.

In the Big 12 on Saturday, Commissioner Brett Yormark might be handing the trophy to a Texas team he was outwardly rooting against in the Longhorns last season in the league before joining the Southeastern Conference.

Then there is the Atlantic Coast Conference title game in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Commissioner Jim Phillips might be congratulating Florida State, a school with leaders who have publicly talked about leaving the league.

None of those tops what’s likely coming in the Big Ten, where No. 2 Michigan is a huge favorite to make it three straight titles. Coach Jim Harbaugh is returning from a conference-imposed suspension just in time to collect a trophy from the guy who suspended him, Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti.

Ten conference championship games will be played this weekend. All the Power Five leagues have at least one College Football Playoff contender alive.

That means all the games are intriguing. (Odds provided by FanDuel Sportsbook.)

No. 1 Georgia (minus 5 1/2) vs. No. 8 Alabama, SEC championship at Atlanta, Saturday

For the third time since 2018 and fourth time overall, it will be Bulldogs-Crimson Tide for the SEC title. The matchup has produced some classic games, all won by Alabama.

Here’s a twist: If Alabama wins, there is at least a possibility the SEC could be left out of the College Football Playoff for the first time.

Georgia is looking for its 30th straight victory. The NCAA record book recognizes 11 major college football winning streaks of at least 30 games. It does not include USC’s 34-game streak from 2003-05, because the NCAA vacated 14 victories.

PICK: Georgia 28-21.

No. 2 Michigan (minus 23 1/2) vs. No. 18 Iowa, Big Ten championship at Indianapolis, Saturday

The Hawkeyes won the Big Ten West in excruciating fashion, with half their wins coming in games where they didn’t crack 15 points.

Punt-to-win is a tough way to beat Michigan, which can lock up a third consecutive trip to the playoff.

PICK: Michigan 31-6.

No. 3 Washington (plus 9 1/2) vs. No. 5 Oregon, Pac 12 championship at Las Vegas, Friday

The final championship game for the Pac-12 as we know it will be the best one it has ever had. The winner is almost a lock for the CFP.

In fact, this is the first top-five matchup of Pac-12 teams since 1976 when No. 3 USC beat No. 2 UCLA.

PICK: Oregon 35-27.

Florida State linebacker Kalen DeLoach (4) celebrates with defensive lineman Patrick Payton (11) after he intercepted a Florida pass late in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, in Gainesville, Fla.AP Photo/John Raoux

No. 4 Florida State (minus 2 1/2) vs. No. 15 Louisville, ACC championship at Charlotte, North Carolina, Saturday

Unbeaten Power Five teams are usually a lock to make the CFP. Florida State might not be.

As CFP selection committee chairman Boo Corrigan said Tuesday, the Seminoles are a different team without injured quarterback Jordan Travis.

Florida State is still a better bet to get in with a win than not — even with backup QB Tate Rodemaker.

PICK: Florida State 31-17.

No. 7 Texas (minus 14 1/2) vs. No. 19 Oklahoma State, Big 12 championship at Arlington, Texas, Saturday

The Longhorns might need some help to reach the playoff if they win the Big 12 for the first time since 2009.

The Cowboys are trying to score one for the remaining Big 12 members against the flat-leaving Longhorns behind Ollie Gordon II, the nation’s leading rusher.

PICK: Texas 38-17.

Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers warms up before an NCAA college football game against Iowa State, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in Ames, Iowa.AP Photo/Matthew Putney

No. 17 Tulane vs. No. 25 SMU (plus 3 1/2), American Athletic Conference championship at New Orleans, Saturday.

SMU is trying to win its first AAC title on the way out the door. The Mustangs are moving to the ACC next season.

Tulane is looking for a second straight league title and New Year’s Six bowl invite.

SMU will try to pull the upset with its backup quarterback after Preston Stone was injured last week.

PICK: Tulane 21-20.

No. 20 Liberty (minus 10 1/2) vs. New Mexico State, Conference USA championship at Lynchburg, Virginia, Friday

The Flames, with the nation’s No. 1 rushing offense, could be in line to scoop up a New Year’s Six bowl bid if Tulane slips up in the ACC.

Liberty won the regular-season meeting 33-17 in early September.

PICK: Liberty 35-21.

No. 23 Toledo vs. Miami, Ohio (plus 7 1/2), MAC championship at Detroit, Saturday

The Rockets could become the first repeat MAC champs since Northern Illinois in 2011 and ’12.

PICK: Miami 21-18.

Boise State at UNLV (plus 2 1/2), Mountain West championship, Saturday

Boise State fired its head coach with two game left in the season and is now a victory away from winning a conference title.

First-year coach Barry Odom has directed a remarkable season by UNLV. The Rebels are in their first Mountain West title game and have not won a conference since taking the Big West in 1994.

PICK: UNLV 28-27.

Appalachian State at Troy (minus 6 1/2), Sun Belt championship, Saturday

The Trojans are looking for a second straight Sun Belt title against App State, which won the first two championship games in the conference back in 2018 and ’19.

PICK: Troy 24-16.