Devy Primer: Conference Championship Week (2021 Fantasy Football)
In Week Thirteen, it finally happened, Jim Harbaugh got the Ohio State monkey off his back. Alabama survived a close Iron Bowl against Auburn to set up Championship Week. Georgia, Michigan, Alabama, Cincinnati, and Oklahoma State are the primary threats to grab the four playoff spots and all play this weekend. Notre Dame and Ohio State are still lingering in hopes the crazy college season continues and lets them capture a place. Kevin Coleman, Christian Williams, Jeff Bell, & CJ Lang guide you through the conference championship action.
The College Football Playoff (Jeff)
The college football world can feel comfortable on one fact this weekend, Georgia is in the college football playoff. Outside of that, it is chaos. Michigan and Alabama will make it with wins. Cincinnati and Oklahoma State are likely relying on style points. Suppose all four of those teams lose; lookout. Notre Dame sits waiting, but given the news Brian Kelly is leaving, the door is not closed for Ohio State either. The playoff field has never felt this wide open, setting us up for a great week of meaningful action on Championship Weekend.
College Football Free Agency (Christian)
This period is wild.
That’s the first sentence that comes to mind when over 200 players entered the transfer portal since the beginning of this week. The college football transfer rules changed drastically last year, and between COVID and the high-profile coaches playing musical chairs, it has been a frenzy. Highly-regarded prospects such as Jahmyr Gibbs and Zach Evans entered the portal. Rumors have Marvin Mims considering it. No one knows how many more Oklahoma players will follow Lincoln Riley to USC. We’ve joined the realm of “college football free agency,” and while that’s exciting, it’s going to be quite the headache for devy and C2C players. Most players who transfer will be immediately eligible, but NIL money may disincentivize the desire to do so. It’s hectic. It’s chaos. It’s a ton of fun.
Michigan Wins (Kevin)
As the resident Michigan fan on our show, The Devy Royale, I must talk about Michigan beating Ohio State last weekend 42-27. The Wolverines dominated their game against the Buckeyes and now find themselves the number two college football team. The Michigan program needed that win. It’s the first win over their rival in eight seasons, and had Harbaugh not gotten that win, I don’t know if he’s allowed back into the stadium. Michigan is now just one win away from making their first-ever college football playoff.
The Spinning Tea Cups of Coaches (CJ)
If you were stuck under a rock this week, know that USC, LSU, Florida, and nine other schools have new head coaches. You may be familiar with some names like former UCLA head coach Jim Mora taking over UConn and former Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown taking over UMass. The three big ones, though, are former Ragin’ Cajun coach Billy Napier taking over the Florida Gators. Florida has a wealth of talent and is not that far from becoming a team that could push Georgia for the SEC East. Brian Kelly, the former Notre Dame head coach, takes over at LSU, and former Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley takes over at USC in two shocking moves. This season Brian Kelly became the winningest coach in Notre Dame history. There are some names on that list, like Holtz, Rockne, and Parseghian. So it’s baffling to think that he would leave for the LSU job a month after he surpasses all of those coaches. He has no direct ties to LSU and insisted this is a job he cannot pass up. He loves the team’s direction, and I’m sure the ten-year $95 million contract doesn’t hurt either. The biggest shocker of the week would have to be Lincoln Riley leaving Norman for Los Angeles. Many people think that he cannot win in the SEC with the Sooners, so he would take the easy way out to coach the Trojans, who seem to have the inside track to the Pac12 for the next umpteen years. He also has one of the most lucrative contracts in college football history for a head coach as USC is giving him a $110 million contract. Rumors also state that USC bought him a $6 million home in LA and gave him and his family unlimited use of the Trojan’s private aircraft. There are still some coaching holes to fill, but for now, these are some gigantic head coaching moves, and we may never see a week like this again.
Kenny Pickett (RS SR – Pittsburgh) 6’3″, 220 lbs
In this week’s Devy Primer, both of the quarterbacks have been in earlier editions, but no two quarterbacks have more to gain than Kenny Pickett and Desmond Ridder. Pickett will declare for the 2022 NFL Draft next week, and his play in 2021 has cemented him in first-round discussions (whether those discussions are justified is a topic for another day). If Pickett lights it up in the ACC Championship Game against Wake Forest, it could mean millions of dollars and heightened expectations in 2022 and beyond. Wake Forest has an exploitable defense, so this could very well become a reality.
Desmond Ridder (SR – Cincinnati) 6’4″, 216 lbs
Desmond Ridder has a lot more riding on his performance. The discussion has placed him as a hopeful Day 2 NFL Draft pick, displaying inconsistencies in ball placement and a lack of touch at times. But his play over the last six weeks has been nothing short of remarkable; one can make an argument that his play has rivaled Pickett’s. If Ridder flops this weekend, that could be the end of his rise, the end of Cincinnati’s playoff hopes, and ultimately, the end of an era for Cincinnati (Luke Fickell has been mentioned for every job so far). Ridder does get a tough Houston pass defense that’s allowing just 192 yards per game.
Hassan Haskins (SR – Michigan) 6’1″, 220 lbs
On Saturday, Haskins etched his name forever in the lore of The Game. The Michigan senior’s five rushing touchdowns tied a school record and scored the most in the fabled rivalry game against Ohio State. Haskins spent much of the season as the least heralded of the trio of Michigan backs. Blake Corum burst onto the scene early, and freshman Donovan Edwards earned praise accompanying the fourth overall RB recruit. As the weather turned cold in Big Ten country, Haskins put the team on his back, averaging 28.5 touches and 160.25 total yards in the four games following the Michigan State loss. The tests continue as the weather will be eliminated in Michigan’s remaining games, but Corum’s injury status will force the team to continue to ride Haskins. He could see a season close similar to the one that propelled rival Trey Sermon into the third round of the 2020 draft.
Tavion Thomas (SO – Utah) 6’2″, 221 lbs
Utah’s season and mainly their backfield have been one of the most emotionally driven college football storylines all year. The tragic deaths of RB Ty Jordan and DB Aaron Lowe have been a galvanizing force for coach Kyle Wittingham’s squad on the way to their berth in the Pac 12 Championship game. The Utes are playing for their first-ever Rose Bowl appearance in school history, and Thomas is a key reason. Thomas emerged during the second half of the season; over the last seven games, he has averaged 120.54 ypg with 16 touchdowns as Utah has enjoyed an 8-1 season-closing run after a slow 1-2 start. The Utes deployed a physical run game in their week 12 blowout victory over number 3 Oregon and will look to duplicate that effort. After this year, Thomas will have to make a decision; he entered Cincinnati in 2018, but a transfer season and Covid year leave him with two more years of eligibility. If he continues his intense stretch, the NFL may be too tempting to avoid.
Jerreth Sterns (JR – Western Kentucky) 5’9″, 195 lbs
Jerreth Sterns has had a fantastic season at Western Kentucky. Sterns has caught 127 balls for 1,539 yards and twelve touchdowns in the high-powered Hill Topper’s offense. Sterns has some of the best hands in college football and gets peppered with targets each game. The former two-star recruit is explosive and challenges defenses over the top each game. He’s an elite pass-catcher who has shown the ability to win inside and outside. He already has a defined route tree and looks to be one of the more polished receivers in his respective class. Look for him to put up big numbers in his bowl game this weekend.
Nathaniel Dell (SO – Houston) 5’10″, 155 lbs
Dell has slowly turned into quarterback Clayton Tune’s top target this season. He is a first-team ALL AAC performer who leads the Cougars in receptions (71), receiving yards (1,027), and receiving touchdowns (11). Dell is Houston’s big-play threat and averages over fourteen yards per catch. Dell’s real threat is catching the ball in space and gaining YAC. He is exceptionally talented. If Houston wants to secure an upset over #4 ranked Cincinnati, they will need a big game out of Dell.
Erick All (JR- Michigan) 6’4, 245 lbs.
A guy from Ohio is the second leading receiver on the Michigan Wolverines this year, and that guy is junior tight end Erick All. He was the 13th ranked tight end in the 2019 class as a four-star in Fairfield, OH. After having only one catch in his freshman season, during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, he had 12 receptions for 82 yards. This season he has become a more integral part of the offense catching 32 passes on 42 targets for 331 yards and one TD. In Michigan’s only loss this season vs. Sparty, he had his biggest game with ten catches for 98 yards. He followed that up with a 64-yard, one TD effort against Penn State. The Wolverines have a solid running game this season, and the fact that Iowa runs a 4-2-5 defense means that All will see a linebacker for much of the game. He could be Cade McNamara’s security blanket during this weekend’s Big10 Championship. Look for him to establish himself in the middle of the field and pull down All of his targets.
Lucas Krull (SR- Pitt) 6’6, 260 lbs.
This season, the graduate transfer from the University of Florida has significantly impacted the Pitt Panthers. He has the third-most receptions and the second-most touchdowns for Pitt. He has a great rapport with senior quarterback Kenny Pickett and has helped the Panthers into the ACC Championship Game this weekend vs. Wake Forest in a game with the highest over-under of the weekend (70pts). Krull spent his first two years at Florida, and he did not make much of an impact catching only nine balls for 108 yards. He was mainly a blocking tight end who saw usage on special teams. On 57 targets this season, Krull has 35 catches for 405 yards and six TDs. He is 10th overall in the ACC for receiving touchdowns and is peaking at the right time. Over the last three games, he has 12 catches for 117 yards and one TD, averaging 10 yards per catch. This game will be a high-scoring affair in a game where we could easily see each quarterback throw 40 times. Look for Krull to have his breakout game to maybe put himself in a position to become a day three draft pick.
Games Of The Week
#16 Houston vs #3 Cincinnati (-10.5)
The line in this game is pretty astounding. Houston is on a tear, winning 11 games in a row after dropping their opener to Texas Tech. They’ve scored over 30 points in all but two games this season, and their passing defense has been shockingly great, as well. Houston is a good football team, but they match up against a team currently sitting in a playoff spot. Cincinnati has played well after hitting a midseason struggle. Desmond Ridder and Alec Pierce have formed a reliable connection. Jerome Ford has been impressive. The Cincinnati defense boasts Sauce Gardner, one of the 2022 NFL Draft’s top corner prospects. The defense will decide this matchup. If Houston can push through Cincinnati’s defense and score points, there’s a real shot they win, let alone cover this large spread. On the other hand, Cincinnati knows they need style points to ensure they make the playoffs and could run up the score. This game should be fascinating, no matter the outcome.
#9 Baylor vs #5 Oklahoma St (-5.5)
The Big 12’s round-robin regular season leads to rematches, though few would have expected we would see this game again back when Oklahoma State topped Baylor 24-14 in week 5. The previous matchup was a defensive struggle; given the way, both teams want to play and the implied total of 45.5 points, the expectation would remain the same. Baylor is led primarily by Abram Smith, a player previously profiled in this series. Smith’s conversion from linebacker to running back and his subsequent 1,366 rushing yard season is one of the best stories of 2021. Experienced 3rd-year QB Spencer Sanders leads the team, and the Cowboys have a 1,000 yard back of their own in Jaylen Warren. Given the emotional high the Cowboys are riding following a win over rival Oklahoma in Bedlam and the pressure of playing for the school’s first college football playoff berth, taking the points on Baylor’s side is a comfortable play.
#2 Michigan (-11) vs #13 Iowa
Michigan is competing for a Big Ten championship, but they are also looking to secure their first-ever playoff bid against #13 Iowa. Michigan will need to make sure they bring their A game against a tough Iowa team and not allow for an emotional letdown after beating Ohio State. Iowa’s only chance is if it controls the TOP and keeps Michigan’s offense off the field. This game will be closer than people think, but I expect Michigan’s rushing attack to be too much, and they will pull away in the 2nd half.
#3 Alabama vs #1 Georgia (-6.5)
Alabama head coach Nick Saban went on quite the rant this week complaining about the Alabama fans having an issue with the team not blowing opponents out. Saban feels that the Tide could barely win a game when he came to Alabama, and now winning is not good enough for the fans. The fact of the matter is Alabama has struggled to put games away. Five of their eleven games have been decided by one score, unlike a Nick Saban-coached Tide team. But even after winning six games in a row and beating rival Auburn in overtime last weekend, the Tide finds themselves #3 in the CFP and #4 in the AP Top 25. The only way they will be in the playoffs this year is to beat #1 Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Georgia has been taking care of business handily this season. The Dawgs only have one victory of seven points or less, which was in week one versus #3 Clemson.
Georgia touts the #1 ranked defense in the nation, and all they have to do to get into the Playoff is to beat Alabama. Surprisingly Georgia QB senior Stetson Bennett has been starting over a healthy J.T. Daniels since Daniels went out in Week 4 versus Vanderbilt. Bennett has not just been a game manager either; he has 1,985 passing yards, 21 TDs, and five INTs on the season. He has thrown for over 200 yards in five of his seven starts. Imagine where this team would be with injured junior wide receiver sensation George Pickens. Alabama’s defense is nothing too shabby either, as they have the 7th best defense in the nation. On paper, and especially how these two teams have been playing over the past month, it looks like Georgia should run away with this game. Yet, Alabama has won six SEC championships over the past eight years, and Georgia only has one. Hence, you better believe Nick Saban will have his team ready to go. It should be a fun game to watch.