College football picks, schedule: Predictions against the spread, odds for conference championship weekend

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This weekend’s conference championship games are all that stands between some of the top teams in the nation and an appearance in either the College Football Playoff or New Year’s Six bowl games. The opportunities are limited for teams to jockey for position, but the opportunities nevertheless exist across five specific league title games being played over the weekend.

The weekend off got off to an unexpected start with No. 11 Utah surging past No. 4 USC to capture its second straight Pac-12 crown and a Rose Bowl appearance — all while effectively hindering the Trojans’ College Football Playoff hopes. 

Should USC fall out of the top four, a door suddenly opens for No. 5 Ohio State to join the four-team field as it sits home after falling last week in The Game. That’s not to say the Trojans are necessarily eliminated, but with two losses to the Utes, it would likely be tough for the CFP Selection Committee to put USC into the limited field. If Ohio State makes the field the Big Ten would become just the second conference to get two teams into the playoff in the same season (SEC).

Elsewhere, Saturday’s showdowns are mostly about seeding. CBS Sports bowls expert Jerry Palm contends that current No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 TCU are all likely in the playoff, win or lose. The Wolverines have the easiest road to the top seed as a more than two-touchdown favorite over unranked Purdue. The Bulldogs have taken a firm hold on the first spot but must contend with No. 14 LSU, which seemed like a legitimate challenger before being upset by Texas A&M last week. And then there’s the Horned Frogs, which have the toughest test of the bunch as they battle No. 10 Kansas State, which it barely beat on the road earlier this season.

Be sure to stick with CBS Sports throughout the weekend for college football coverage from Friday’s first couple championship games through Selection Sunday. Let’s take a look at our expert picks for the best games during Championship Weekend.

ACC: No. 9 Clemson vs. No. 23 North Carolina

Featured Game | North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Clemson Tigers

8 p.m. | ABC, fuboTV (Try for free) — Clemson is the better team, but the door is open for an upset in a way that we haven’t seen in a long time when it comes to these conference championship showdowns against the ACC Coastal. North Carolina has some injury concerns and its been far from a consistent team this season, but it has a market edge at quarterback and should be playing with considerably less pressure given the preseason expectations. Prediction: North Carolina +7.5 — Chip Patterson

Big Ten: No. 2 Michigan vs. Purdue

Featured Game | Michigan Wolverines vs. Purdue Boilermakers

8 p.m. | Fox, fuboTV (Try for free) — I don’t give Purdue much of a chance of winning this game, but I don’t think the Boilermakers are pushovers. This is a team that could give the Wolverines some problems offensively, but the concern is how many stops will the Purdue defense get? It’s a solid unit but not one that matches up well with the Wolverines. Considering that, as well as the fact this game will be played indoors and on turf, I can see more points being scored than anticipated. Because of this, I like the over more than anything. Prediction: Over 52 — Tom Fornelli

SEC: No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 14 LSU

Featured Game | Georgia Bulldogs vs. LSU Tigers

4 p.m. | CBS, CBSSports.comCBS Sports App — Georgia will suffocate an LSU team that has to be demoralized after last week’s stunning loss at Texas A&M. Jayden Daniels absolutely has to establish himself as the centerpiece of the Tigers ground game, otherwise it won’t click. That’s easier said than done against this Georgia defense that will force Daniels to win this game with his arm. That won’t happen. However, Georgia knows that it needs to get this game over with as quickly as possible. The Bulldogs will build an early lead and take their foot off the gas pedal to allow the Tigers to cover. The game, however, will never be in doubt. Prediction: LSU (+17.5) — Barrett Sallee

American: No. 18 Tulane vs. No. 22 UCF

Featured Game | Tulane Green Wave vs. UCF Knights

4 p.m. | ABC, fuboTV (Try for free) — The Green Wave are hitting their stride right as the Knights are struggling. Tulane topped two-time champion Cincinnati and crushed fourth-place SMU by 35 points. UCF lost 17-14 against Navy and needed a late push to escape a horrid South Florida team. Willie Fritz’s team won’t let this opportunity pass them by and earn a conference championship for the first time since 1998. Prediction: Tulane -4 — Shehan Jeyarajah

Pac-12: No. 4 USC vs. No. 11 Utah (Friday)

Featured Game | USC Trojans vs. Utah Utes

8 p.m. | Fox, fuboTV (Try for free) — USC had to grind out a 38-27 victory over Notre Dame last week, while Utah coasted to an easy win at Colorado. On a short week and in a game between two evenly matched teams, wear and tear could be a factor. Utah won the first meeting by a point on Oct. 15, and the Utes have experience on this stage as the reigning Pac-12 champions. While beating the same team twice in a season can be tough, Utah did it last season against Oregon. The Utes can do it again as they take on a USC team that remains shaky defensively and overly reliant on an uncanny ability to force turnovers. Prediction: Utah +3 — David Cobb

Big 12: No. 3 TCU vs. No. 10 Kansas State

Featured Game | TCU Horned Frogs vs. Kansas State Wildcats

Noon | ABC, fuboTV (Try for free) — Kansas State outplayed TCU for most of its first matchup in Fort Worth, Texas, before quarterback injuries, but the Horned Frogs have improved mightily over the past month. TCU posted 62 points with ease despite missing key pieces against Iowa State, and it certainly has kept the earlier matchup against K-State at the front of its mind. In a rematch, take the better team to emerge on top — that’s TCU. Prediction: TCU -2.5 — Shehan Jeyarajah

Which college football picks can you make with confidence during Championship Week, and which big favorites will get a scare? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned almost $2,500 in profit over the past six-plus seasons — and find out.

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