The American has been been a tight race all season, with three teams finishing with 10 wins or more. The American Athletic Conference Championship has narrowed the race down to two elite teams, Cincinnati and Memphis, who also happened to face off in the final week of the regular season, resulting in a 34-24 Memphis win. Cincinnati was on a hot streak all season, with 9 straight wins, only interrupted by their loss to Memphis last week. That being said, Memphis is also currently on a hot streak with 6 straight wins coming into the conference championship. When Cincinnati faced Memphis last week, they were disadvantaged due to the unfortunate injury of their QB Desmond Ridder. The status of Ridder is essential to predicting the outcome of the big game this weekend. Ridder has passed for 1,826 yards, rushed for 432, and scored 18 touchdowns during Cincinnati’s regular season run. Cincinnati’s decision on their starting QB for this weekend will most likely not be released until late this week. Memphis enters the conference championship in stellar health; the Memphis team taking the field this weekend will be the same high powered and aggressive team that has dominated the conference all season. Having fallen short in the two previous conference championships to UCF, Memphis will take a third shot at claiming the American title, this time against a different opponent. On the other hand, Cincinnati is motivated to claim their sixth conference title in the past thirteen seasons with a win over Memphis. Also at stake is a chance for either team to play in the Cotton Bowl if they are able to win and climb in the CFB rankings.
This year’s C-USA Conference Championship features a matchup between the two previous C-USA Champions. The UAB Blazers lost a considerable amount of seniors after last seasons conference championship, but that hasn’t stopped the Blazers from returning to the field as a similarly dangerous team. In fact, even after replacing 8 starters, the Blazers defense has dominated C-USA, and leads the way in several defensive statistical categories, including points allowed at just 18.5 PPG. Offensively, the Blazers are led by three receivers who have given second string QB Dylan Hopkins plenty of targets as he takes on the starting job, which he has done very well. The UAB Blazers finished their regular season with wins over Louisiana Tech and North Texas, but those wins have a combined differential of only 11 points. While UAB has been able to overcome tough defenses with a strong offense, the FAU offense has shown to be one of the most productive in C-USA. Putting up 34.1 PPG this season, the FAU offense leads C-USA in PPG. Not only has FAU won 9 of their last 10 games, but they have also won all of those games by double digit differentials. Florida Atlantic’s only conference loss this season came in October, when Marshall RB Brenden Knox scored a touchdown with only seconds left in the game, giving Florida Atlantic limited time to return the favor. This weeks championship between the Owl’s top scoring offense in C-USA and the Blazer’s top scoring defense in C-USA will be a matchup fans have been hoping to see all season, and to make things even better, a conference title is on the line.
The MAC has been a pretty close race throughout the season, with Central Michigan clinching a spot in the conference championship in the last week of conference play after beating Toledo 49-7. Miami (OH), on the other hand, clinched their spot in the conference championship three weeks ago, on November 14th. The matchup this weekend is one that nobody expected at the beginning of the season, in fact, Central Michigan was predicted to finish last in the MAC this season after going 1-11 last year. Both teams were considered underdogs in a majority of their games this year, Miami (OH) played against the odds in nine games, while Central Michigan was predicted to lose in seven games. Additionally, Central Michigan is now the most improved program in the FBS, going from 1-11 last year to 8-4 this year. The Chippewas massive turnaround is in large part due to first year head coach Jim McElwain, who has head coach experience at Florida and Colorado State, and offensive coordinator experience at Alabama. It is clear that both teams have worked hard to get where they are, even with the odds, predictions, and expectations relentlessly working against them. Making it to the conference championship is an achievement on it’s own, as neither team has played in the championship in the past nine years. Both teams are proud of their achievement thus far, but the greatest crown is still at stake this weekend. Miami (OH) does not lead any statistical categories in the MAC, but they have proven their ability to dominate by clinching a division crown weeks before conference play concluded, and pulling through to win in close games continuously throughout the course of the season. The RedHawks lost Freshman QB Brett Gabbert to injury in the second half of their final conference game against Ball State, which resulted in a loss for Miami (OH), however, Gabbert is considered “more than probable” for this week by head coach Chuck Martin. Central Michigan did not clinch their division title until the final week of conference play, but they overall, they appear to be a very dangerous team, ranking third in total offense, and second in total defense. The combination of the Chippewas productive play both offensively and defensively has put up some wild final scores this season; often holding opponents to limited points, while stacking up scores offensively. This unlikely championship matchup will be an exciting conclusion to the tight race in the MAC.
The Mountain West championship returns to Boise, Idaho for the third consecutive year, as Boise State will face Hawai’i on Saturday afternoon. Boise State lost in a heartbreaking overtime loss to Fresno State in last years conference championship, and since then, has had a deep motivation to avenge their unfortunate loss. Hawai’i will come to the mainland for their first ever appearance in the Mountain West conference championship. One of the biggest factors of this game is actually unrelated to statistical arguments, as the brutally cold and wet weather in Boise has proven to provide a challenge for visiting teams not acclimated to the weather, especially when the visiting team is Hawai’i, where temperatures in the 30’s and 40’s are unheard of. When the two teams faced off earlier in the season, Boise State crushed Hawai’i 59-37 in Boise, but since then, Hawai’i has won five of seven games and feels prepared to face Boise State again. The key to the Rainbow Warriors success has been a trio of receivers and two quarterbacks that have put up big numbers all season. The Rainbow Warriors aerial attack has led them to an average of 332.5 YPG in the air, which is the second highest passing YPG in the Mountain West, and helps them lead the Mountain West in overall offense. Last time Boise State faced Hawai’i, the Broncos did a phenomenal job of shutting down the trio of receivers, forcing Hawai’i to attempt running the ball more than usual. However, this time around, Hawai’i has grown more comfortable running the ball over the past few weeks, and is prepared to employ running the ball if they face problems in the air. Boise State is coming off of a historic season, finishing 8-0 in Mountain West conference play for the first time ever. The Broncos have held strong on defense all season, ranking #4 in total defense, and shutting down some offensive attacks that no other team has been able to conquer. The biggest asset of the Boise State defense is LB Curtis Weaver; his ability to overcome offensive linemen and get to the quarterback ranks him #5 in the nation and #1 in the Mountain West by far with 13 sacks. Hawai’i definitely prefers to have some time in the pocket so they can launch the ball up to one of their three star receivers, but Curtis Weaver will be there to interrupt the pace. As both teams look to make up for previous losses, this game will be emotional and exciting.