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Pickin’ the Champs: Conference champions with a Christmas theme

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Break out the egg nog and the tinsel, grandma. It is time to pick some champs.

South Alabama v Georgia Southern Photo by Todd Bennett/Getty Images

We all have a choice to make. Thanksgiving is behind us. Black Friday has come and gone. Cyber Monday is a memory.

If you are like me, those events do nothing more than remind me that I need to get a list going. The real shopping for holiday cheer begins this weekend. Or, at least, it traditionally has.

Ever since NCAA conferences introduced the notion of a conference championship game, I have found myself more and more conflicted about how to actually spend my time on this critical weekend. Christmas spirit or team spirit?

This guy?

Or that guy?

These are tough choices. But, let’s be honest here. There is football to be played on Saturday and it just might have implications for your Washington Huskies should they win their big game tonight.

The truth is that you have to do both. I’m here to help you with that. My handy-dandy, holiday-themed, conference championship projections guide will fill your heart with the holiday spirit. It will also provide you the insights that you need to ensure that nothing is lost by opting to listen to the game on your TuneIn stream while shopping HomeGoods for just the right Nutcracker collection instead of hanging out on your couch.

Multi-tasking is a good thing.

The Picks

MAC: #17 Western Michigan vs Ohio (+16.5)

“The Early Christmas Celebration Bowl”

When you know that you won’t be home for Christmas so you decide to celebrate it early.

By all reports, the fans, administrators and players of Western Michigan really like their coach, P.J. Fleck. “Row the Boat” (which really is copyright infringement on UW) and all that jazz. Given all the rumors swirling around Fleck and his attractiveness to the Oregon Ducks as their new coach, it is a good bet that this game will be the last Christmas for P.J. and his MAC fans.

Oh, P.J., say it ain’t so.

Fortunately, this looks like a butt-stomping ready to happen. It will serve as a nice tune-up for whichever assistant gets the honor of being the interim Bowl coach.

The Pick: WMU 45, Ohio 27

AAC: Temple at Navy (-2.5)

“The Christmas Eve Gift Bowl”

Everybody looks forward to it, but nobody expects that much from it.

The winner of the American Athletic Conference will emerge from what looks like a very tight matchup against two very different and very surprising teams. There will be some emotion in this game as this is the first time in their 136-year history that Navy will have the chance to compete for a conference championship.

The Midshipmen and their high-powered triple option will be taking on one of the top statistical defenses in the nation. The Temple Owls are mentioned in the same breath as Alabama and Michigan when it comes to total defense. This is their second straight conference championship appearance.

Tis the season for feel-good stories. While my head tells me to put that second Christmas Ale down and to pick Temple, my heart tells me to go for it and to pick Navy.

The Pick: Temple 24, Navy 28

SEC: Florida vs Alabama (-24)

“The Socks, Pajamas, and Underwear Bowl”

Useful, but almost an afterthought in the grand scheme of things.

I like Alabama as much as the next man, but am I the only person south of the North Pole who finds this line ridiculous? Rumor is that Santa is way behind in toy production because all of his elves took unscheduled holidays to Vegas specifically so that they could bet this game.

Unfortunately, Vegas sports book don’t take bottle caps or Monopoly money.

I think Alabama will handle business rather easily, not so much because Lane Kiffin is going to be able to run up the score, but because that ‘Bama defensive front seven will completely contain the Gator attack. There really isn’t much more to analyze than that.

The Pick: Florida 10, Alabama 24

Big Ten: #6 Wisconsin vs #7 Penn State (+3)

“The Rich Kid with the New Car Bowl”

The kid that has everything who doesn’t deserve what he got.

I would never accuse Santa of not treating his ‘naughty and nice’ list with integrity. But, let’s face it, some of those elves can be bought. And, while we are on the subject, I think it is fair that we question the motives of Mrs. Claus. She seems just a little too sweet and innocent.

Kind of like a College Football Playoff committee that seems hell-bent on getting three Big Ten teams into the playoffs.

The hubbub around one of these two teams propelling themselves over other conference champions has dominated much of the playoff debate this week. That has been a distraction. Fortunately for football afficianados everywhere, this game does present us with a compelling matchup on the field. Wisconsin and Penn State are evenly matched teams in much the same way that Utah and Stanford are good matches.

Both teams feature strong rushing attacks: Wisconsin’s Corey Clement vs. Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. However, the Badgers will try to beat you with a solid defense that is top 10 nationally while the Nittany Lions will counter with an offense that has averaged over 40 points a game the second half of the season.

I like Penn State in this one, but in a nail-biter.

The Pick: Wisconsin 24, Penn State 27

ACC: #23 Virginia Tech vs #3 Clemson (-10.5)

“The You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out Bowl”

Be careful. Something very wrong can happen here.

If you are looking for an upset pick, look no further than the ACC Championship game. Clemson has been such a sparkling darling of the media all season that very few have been paying attention to the warts that keep popping up all over this damaged team.

There is talent, to be sure. But turnovers, poor rush defense, lousy red zone efficiency, and a middling rushing attack are all issues with this team. I’m always skeptical of teams that don’t run, don’t stop the run and turn the ball over. We’ve seen evidence of these struggles as Clemson has struggled putting away marginal teams such as Troy (should’ve lost), NC State (basically, did lose but for a shanked FG), and Pitt (who they actually did lose to).

The Tigers are taking on a Virginia Tech team that is just finding their identity under new coach Justin Fuente. Man for man, the Hokies are overmatched, but I think that VT is playing more inspired football right now. Their JC transfer QB Jerod Evans is playing hotter football than his Clemson counterpart Deshaun Watson.

Clemson ought to win this one, but I think VT has the momentum. Plus, I want them to win.

The Pick: Virginia Tech 38, Clemson 37

Big 12: #9 Oklahoma at #10 Oklahoma State (+11)

“The Jack Frost Christmas Special Bowl”

Everybody knows it is on but nobody is going to be watching.

I feel for the Big 12. I really do. They have been led to believe that it is the lack of a conference championship game that has kept them on the periphery of the college football playoffs. Yet, here we are with a de facto championship game between two teams, with nary a hope of the playoffs in play.

Let’s tell the truth here. The Committee hates the Big 12. Or, perhaps more accurately, they hate the no-defense, Baylor-scandals, Texas-smugness aspects of the Big 12.

So, we have an important game—with a double-digit home underdog who happens to be ranked just one slot lower than their opponent—with no important outcomes on the line.

Oklahoma is the rightful favorite here. I get that OK State has put up a good season. They have a good offense with a very good QB (who Husky fans will remember well). But Oklahoma has two legitimate Heisman contenders and a better all-around offense. I’m not sure that either team plays enough D to stop the other, but I’m pretty sure the Sooners can outscore the Cowboys.

The Pick: Oklahoma 48, Oklahoma State 35