Big Game Hunting: College football’s Power Five championship previews

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Senior quarterback J.T. Barrett has Ohio State in prime position to storm back into the playoff. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Power Five championship game previews and picks:


The facts: Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN, Santa Clara, Calif.

The records: Stanford 9-3, 7-2 Pac-12; USC 10-2, 8-1 Pac-12.

The storyline: This is the only one of the Power Five championship games without a playoff berth at stake; the winner almost certainly will settle for a New Year’s Six assignment, most likely the Fiesta Bowl (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The Trojans, led by quarterback Sam Darnold and running back Ronald Jones II, dominated the first meeting between these teams, a 42-24 game in which they piled up 624 yards of offense, nearly doubling the Cardinal’s output. Stanford has put redshirt freshman quarterback K.J. Costello into the starting lineup since then, and maybe he’ll make a difference. It’ll be moot if his superstar running back, Bryce Love, is slowed by ankle issues.

The line: Trojans by 3½.

Greenberg’s pick: USC, 27-24.


The facts: 11:30 a.m., Fox-32.

The records: Oklahoma 11-1, 8-1 Big 12; TCU 10-2, 7-2 Big 12.

The storyline: Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson put all the pressure on his opponent this week, saying it’s “all gravy here” for his dangerous team. Yet TCU must prove it can hold up its end against a team it trailed 38-14 at the half in a 38-20 defeat in Norman three weeks ago. OU quarterback Baker Mayfield is the Heisman frontrunner, but running back Rodney Anderson — carrying and catching the ball — has been as good as anyone in college football down the stretch. Can TCU hold its ground against OU’s dynamite offensive line? Neither defense can be counted on.

The line: Sooners by 7.

Greenberg’s pick: Oklahoma, 38-30.


The facts: 3 p.m., Ch. 2, Atlanta.

The records: Auburn 10-2, 7-1 SEC; Georgia 11-1, 7-1 SEC.

The storyline: Winner goes to the playoff, simple as that. Three weeks ago at Auburn, then-No. 1 Georgia was taken apart 40-17. The Bulldogs couldn’t get anything going in the run game with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, leaving freshman quarterback Jake Fromm in a hopeless position. But the stands will bleed red in the rematch, in a setting that will be monstrously loud. The health of Tigers running back Kerryon Johnson is a huge question. Another huge one: Is two-loss Auburn actually the best team in the land? A whole lot of folks believe so.

The line: Tigers by 2½.

Greenberg’s pick: Auburn, 24-20.


The facts: 7 p.m., Ch. 7, Charlotte, N.C.

The records: Clemson 11-1, 7-1 ACC; Miami 10-1, 7-1 ACC.

The storyline: They’ve been playing one final ACC game for all the marbles since 2005. Hard to believe that Miami, which joined the league in 2003, is in it for the first time. With this one, too, it’s winner to the playoff — no doubt about it — and Clemson has been as dominant as any program outside of Alabama in the playoff era. The defending national champs are decided favorites as they shoot for their third ACC crown and playoff berth in a row. Deshaun Watson is gone, a factor not to be overlooked, but his replacement at quarterback for the Tigers, Kelly Bryant, has been outstanding. The Tigers’ defensive line — stars all — has been even better.

The line: Tigers by 9.

Greenberg’s pick: Clemson, 34-17.


The facts: 7 p.m., Fox-32, Indianapolis.

The records: Ohio State 10-2, 8-1 Big Ten; Wisconsin 12-0, 9-0 Big Ten.

The storyline: Has an unbeaten team from a big-boy league ever reached this point in a season with a quarterback as shaky as Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook? It’s tempting to view this as Hornibrook vs. longtime Buckeyes starter J.T. Barrett and pick a winner based on that alone. Yet that would be too disregardful of the Badgers’ drop-dead-great defense, led by a linebacking crew that never stops coming. The battle of running backs will be sublime: UW’s Jonathan Taylor is one of the best freshmen we’ve seen in ages, but OSU’s J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber are big-time trouble.

The line: Buckeyes by 6½.

Greenberg’s pick: Ohio State, 31-24.

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.

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