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Ranking the Watchability of College Football's 2015 Conference Championship Games

Marquise Williams

Marquise Williams

Conference championship games are a key part of every college football season. It’s the last chance for Heisman candidates to make an impression, there’s playoff implications among the Power 5 leagues, and these games also play a role in determining how the top 10-15 rank on Sunday for New Year’s Six bowl matchups.

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Eight conference championship matchups are slated for Week 14, including two games directly impacting the playoff seeding. Clemson has ranked as the No. 1 team in the committee’s rankings since the first release in November. However, the Tigers must defeat an improving North Carolina team to secure their spot in the top four. Additionally, the showdown between Michigan State and Iowa is an elimination game for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

With eight championship games on tap for Week 14, it can be a little overwhelming deciding which games to watch and their impact on the national scene. To help with your weekend viewing and channel surfing, we ranked the conference championship games in terms of must-see value.

Ranking the Watchability and Importance of Conference Championship Games in 2015

1. Big Ten Championship: Iowa vs. Michigan State (Indianapolis)

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. ET

TV Channel: FOX

Spread: Michigan State -3.5

This is essentially a play-in game for the College Football Playoff. The winner of this game is going to the four-team playoff, while the loser is off to the Rose, Fiesta or Chick-fil-A Peach Bowls. The Hawkeyes are college football’s biggest surprise this season. Behind a strong ground attack, the efficient play of quarterback C.J. Beathard and a solid defense, Iowa is off to its first 12-0 start in program history. But the Hawkeyes are facing their toughest obstacle of the season on Saturday. Michigan State lost on a questionable call to Nebraska and struggled to put away teams early in the season. However, coach Mark Dantonio’s team is finding his rhythm at the right time. The Spartans won 17-14 at Ohio State and defeated Penn State 55-16 last Saturday to clinch the Big Ten East title. Both teams have excelled in turnover margin this year (+14). In a tight game, one or two mistakes might be all that decides this playoff elimination game.

Related: Big Ten Championship Preview and Prediction

2. ACC Championship: North Carolina vs. Clemson (Charlotte)

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ABC

Spread: Clemson -5

The stakes are high for both teams on Saturday night. With a win over North Carolina, Clemson would clinch a playoff spot. The Tigers would also earn their first conference championship since 2011, and this game is potentially a good showcase for quarterback Deshaun Watson and his Heisman resume. Clemson’s offense will be tested by an improved North Carolina defense under the direction of new play-caller Gene Chizik. Stopping Watson and the rest of the Tigers’ skill players won’t be easy, but the Tar Heels have allowed only 19 plays of 30 yards or more this season. A similar theme is set to play out when North Carolina has the ball. Quarterback Marquise Williams and running back Elijah Hood headline an explosive offense for coach Larry Fedora, while the Tigers quickly reloaded on defense after the departure of several key starters last season. If North Carolina pulls off the upset, how high will this team climb in the polls next week? 

Related: ACC Championship Preview and Prediction

3. Pac-12 Conference Championship: USC vs. Stanford (Santa Clara)

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 5 at 7:45 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Stanford -4.5

Saturday night’s matchup in Santa Clara, Calif. is the second meeting between these two programs in 2015. Stanford and USC met during the regular season, with the Cardinal winning 41-31 in Los Angeles. Will get the Trojans get revenge and earn their first victory in the Pac-12 Championship Game? This is a huge opportunity for USC coach Clay Helton – promoted to the full-time gig this week – to make a statement on Saturday night. Both teams want to establish the run and control the battle in the trenches. The Cardinal have an edge on offense in that department, as well as one of the nation’s top all-around players in Christian McCaffrey.

Related: Pac-12 Championship Game Preview and Prediction

4. American Athletic Conference Championship: Temple at Houston

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 5 at Noon ET

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TV Channel: ABC

Spread: Houston -6

The inaugural American Athletic Conference Championship features one of the league’s best offenses (Houston) against one of the conference’s top defenses (Temple). The Owls have allowed only three opponents to manage more than 25 points this season and limit opponents to just 4.85 yards per play. This defense will be challenged by Houston’s dynamic offense, which is led by quarterback Greg Ward (33 total touchdowns this year). Ward’s mobility is critical with a makeshift offensive line for the Cougars going against a Temple defensive front that generated 32 sacks in 2015. This game also features two of college football’s rising stars in the coaching ranks – Houston’s Tom Herman and Temple’s Matt Rhule. 

Related: American Athletic Conference Championship Preview and Prediction

5. Conference USA Championship: Southern Miss at WKU

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 5 at Noon ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

Spread: WKU -7.5

If you like offense, this game is the one to check out on Saturday. The over/under of 74 in Vegas for this matchup is the highest of any Week 14 contest. WKU’s high-scoring offense is led by senior quarterback Brandon Doughty and ranks fourth nationally with an average of 44.2 points per game. The Golden Eagles aren’t far behind, averaging 41.7 per contest. Southern Miss is one of the most improved teams in the nation, increasing its win total by six games from 2014-15. Quarterback Nick Mullens is an underrated quarterback (35 TDs, 9 INTs), but the defense also made marked improvement (second in C-USA in points allowed). This one should be high in entertainment value.

Related: Conference USA Championship Game Preview and Prediction

6. SEC Championship: Florida vs. Alabama (Atlanta)

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 5 at 4 p.m. ET

TV Channel:CBS

Spread: Alabama -18

It may seem odd to list the SEC this low, but Alabama is nearly a three-touchdown favorite over Florida and there’s little to suggest this game will be close. The Gators have scored over 20 points just once in their last four games and have struggled to play with consistency on the offensive line. That’s a huge concern for coach Jim McElwain, as Alabama’s defensive line is the best in the nation and is adept at stopping the run, as well as getting to the quarterback on passing downs. A low-scoring affair would benefit Florida, and it’s not out of the question this team can hang around in the first half thanks to its defense. However, the combination of Alabama running back Derrick Henry, as well as the talent on the Crimson Tide roster is too much to overcome.

Related: SEC Championship Preview and Prediction

7. MAC Championship: Northern Illinois vs. Bowling Green (Detroit)

Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 4 at 8 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

Spread: Bowling Green -12

There’s a lot of mystery sounding this game. Northern Illinois’ lost starting quarterback Drew Hare in early November to a ruptured Achilles, and backup Ryan Graham left last week’s game against Ohio with a leg injury. Freshman Tommy Fielder is poised to make his first career start on Friday night, which means the Huskies are going to lean on a heavy dose of running back Joel Bouagnon and one of the MAC’s top defenses (4.98 yards per play allowed). Bowling Green’s Dino Babers is reportedly the favorite to be Syracuse’s next coach, so this could be his final game with the Falcons. Babers’ offense is among the best in the nation, averaging 44.2 points per game behind quarterback Matt Johnson and a talented group of skill players. If Bowling Green jumps out to an early lead, it’s tough to see the Northern Illinois’ offense keeping up, especially with a quarterback making his first start. The Huskies want a low-scoring game. This is also the third-straight season these two teams have played in the MAC title game.

8. Mountain West Championship: Air Force at San Diego State

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 5 at 7:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

Spread: San Diego State -6.5

This game features one of the nation’s most underrated players in San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey. The junior averages 122 yards per game and has rushed for 100 yards in eight consecutive games. Pumphrey will be asked to carry the offense for San Diego State, especially with starting quarterback Maxwell Smith out with a knee injury. The formula for success isn’t going to change for the Aztecs in this game. Coach Rocky Long is one of the nation’s top defensive masterminds, and this team will lean on its defense and a strong ground game to win on Saturday night. Air Force will counter with an offense averaging 34.4 points per game and a unit that ranks first in the Mountain West by generating 38 plays of 30 yards or more. Can the Falcons stuff the run and force San Diego State to take to the air? Or will the Aztecs’ stout defense and ground attack win this one?