FBS Conference Championship Weekend - Games and Players To Watch

November 30, 2023 by Joseph Santoliquito and CollegeFootballPoll.com staff

Ten conference championship games are on deck, and all are worthy of your viewing attention. Unfortunately, the broadcast times overlap so that's not a viable proposition. But if you want to do some flipping back-and-forth, here is the complete schedule:

Friday, December 1
7 pm - CUSA - New Mexico State at Liberty, CBSSN
8 pm - PAC-12 - Oregon vs. Washington, ABC

Saturday, December 2
Noon - BIG 12 - Oklahoma State vs. Texas (at Arlington), ABC
Noon - MAC - Toledo vs. Miami (O.) (at Detroit), ESPN
3 pm - MWC - Boise State at UNLV, FOX
4 pm - SEC - Georgia vs. Alabama (at Atlanta), CBS
4 pm - AAC - SMU at Tulane, ABC
4 pm - SUN BELT - Appalachian State at Troy, ESPN
8 pm - B1G - Michigan vs. Iowa (at Indianapolis), FOX
8 pm -  ACC - Florida State vs. Louisville (at Charlotte), ABC

Select Previews

Oregon (11-1) vs. Washington (12-0) - Friday, 8:00 p.m. ET (ABC)

It’s the sequel between the Ducks and the Huskies. This time, the final Pac-12 Championship as we know it and a likely playoff berth awaits the winner.

These two Pacific Northwest rivals played a classic on Oct. 14, with Washington holding serve at home on a late touchdown. But that was in Seattle and this is at a neutral site, Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium. Plus, Oregon was the better team over the second half of the year. The Ducks have won six in a row, rarely getting challenged as they’ve steadily risen in the CFP rankings. Meanwhile, U-Dub’s last eight games have been decided by 10 or fewer points. While the Huskies have the resilience of a champion, close calls with Arizona State, Stanford and even Washington State in last week’s Apple Cup could be a warning sign heading into this matchup. On an individual level, two of the three Maxwell Award finalists, quarterbacks Michael Penix Jr. and Bo Nix, will square off with plenty of hardware potentially hinging on the outcome.

Oklahoma State (9-3) vs. Texas (11-1) (at Arlington) - Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET (ABC)

Texas is on the playoff periphery, but winning a Big 12 championship for the first time since 2009 would still be a very big deal in Austin.

The Longhorns need to win here and then root for upsets to climb into the top four. Still, whatever happens the rest of the day, a title and a 12-win season would mean that Texas is legitimately back under the leadership of third-year coach Steve Sarkisian. Oklahoma State was picked in the preseason to finish seventh in the league. And getting to Arlington seemed even more improbable after early losses to South Alabama and Iowa State. However, the Cowboys rallied around Ollie Gordon II, the nation’s rushing leader. It’ll be strength versus strength Saturday afternoon. OSU must establish the run to deliver an upset, but Texas boasts the league’s best D-line and is top 10 nationally at stopping the run and preventing chunk plays.

Georgia (12-0) vs. Alabama (11-1) at Atlanta - Saturday, 4:00 p.m. ET (CBS)

The Dawgs and the Tide facing off in Atlanta for a championship… just like the SEC football gods would want it.

The SEC’s two heavyweights are set to meet for the sixth time in the last six years and the fifth time with a conference or national title at stake. Georgia has won 29 straight since losing to Alabama in this game almost two years ago to the day. And after some close calls early on, the Dawgs have once again rounded into postseason form. Fingers are crossed in Athens that star TE Brock Bowers will be at full strength after he sat out last week’s Georgia Tech game. Fresh off a miracle win over Auburn, Alabama hopes to carry that momentum into Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Since falling to Texas in Week 2, the Crimson Tide has ripped off 10 straight wins, but needed a 4th-and-31 conversion to pull out the Iron Bowl. Bama wants to pound between the tackles against a Georgia run D that’s as vulnerable as it’s been in the last five years.

App State (8-4) at Troy (10-2) - Saturday, 4:00 p.m. on ESPN

The Trojans will host the championship game for the second-straight season, while App State will make its fourth appearance in the six-year history of the event, tying Louisiana for the most appearances all-time. Troy is 12-0 against Sun Belt West Division opponents since joining the division in 2022 and 21-2 overall since losing on a Hail Mary to App State in Week 3 of the 2022 season. Troy junior running back Kimani Vidal became the Trojans single-season rushing leader with 1,349 yards. App State claimed the Sun Belt East with a 55-27 win over Georgia Southern in the Deeper Than Hate rivalry. A four-time championship game qualifier since the event’s inception in 2018, the Mountaineers will aim to become the first road victor in the contest. Home teams are 4-0 all-time in the championship game, but App State owns 35 road wins since joining the FBS in 2014—trailing only Ohio State (40), Boise State (39), Alabama (37) and Clemson (37). App State leads the series with Troy, 8-3, and has taken the last 5 in-a-row.
- sunbeltsports.org.

Michigan (12-0) vs, Iowa (10-2) at Indianapolis - Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET (Fox)

If you think about it, it's pretty incredbile that Michigan has made it to this point after a season of turmoil that saw half its games played without the head coach on the sideline. Jim Harbaugh missed the first 3 games, and the final 3 games. Assistants - including his son Jay, and especially Sherrone Moore - were instrumental in holding things together. The Congrove Computer Rankings has had Michigan at the top for the entirety of the season. No one expects this contest to be close as the Wolverines have won 24 straight conference games and Iowa has practically no offense. But the Iowa defense and special teams are a different matter. Tory Taylor, a favorite for the Ray Guy Award has had to punt 80 times, but he has made the most of it with a 44.51 Net, a long of 62, and a whopping 29 inside the 20 with just 5 touchbacks. Another 26 were fair caught and only 25 of those 80 were returned at all for a measly 142 yds.

Louisville (10-2) vs. Florida State (12-0) at Charlotte - Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET (ABC)

Every one-loss team clinging to playoff dreams will be watching the ACC Championship Game and rooting for Louisville.

Florida State survived its first test without injured QB Jordan Travis to remain undefeated. While it wasn’t pretty and points came at a premium, the Seminoles' defense hunkered down in a 24-15 win in the Swamp. Win and they are in—probably. To be safe, tacking on some style points will help, if that’s even possible Saturday night in Charlotte. FSU faces a breakout Louisville squad that’ll need to have a short memory. It's been a great year for the Cardinals and first-year head coach Jeff Brohm who’s pushed all the right button in his return to his alma mater. However, the team lost the Governor’s Cup to rival Kentucky last Saturday, falling apart on defense in the second half. Even without Travis under center, the Cards must flex their muscles to stop Florida State’s talented skill players.

Players To Watch - Offense

The Maxwell Football Club honors the nation’s best offensive player with the Maxwell Award. Here’s a look at last week’s standout offensive players.

QB Byrum Brown, South Florida

Brown accounted for five touchdowns Saturday, passing for four and running for one, as the Bulls humbled Charlotte to clinch the team’s first bowl berth in five years. The redshirt freshman totaled 296 yards while becoming the first 3,000-yard passer in school history. Brown ranks No. 7 nationally in total offense and No. 12 in points responsible for per game and joins LSU’s Jayden Daniels as the only FBS players with more than 3,000 yards passing and 700 rushing.

RB Audric Estime, Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish ran past Stanford Saturday night, 56-23, led by a career night from their 227-pound junior back. Estime rumbled for a career-high 238 yards and four touchdowns on only 25 carries. The Nyack, NY native became just the 17th player in Notre Dame history to rush for more than 200 yards in a game, and his four scores gave him the school single-season record with 18 total touchdowns.

RB Ashton Jeanty, Boise State

Jeanty has recaptured the form that made him one of the nation’s premier backs before a late October injury. In his second game back at full strength, he was too much for the Air Force defense in a 27-19 win Friday afternoon. Jeanty compiled 225 total yards and two scores from scrimmage, rushing for 107 yards on 14 carries and catching five passes for 118 yards. His scores were from 50 yards and 75 yards to help ignite the victory.

QB Joe Milton III, Tennessee

The Vols’ offense looked like the 2022 edition that took the SEC by storm, which was bad news for the Vanderbilt D. Milton saved his best performance of the year for Senior Day as Tennessee cranked out 617 yards and doubled up its instate rival, 48-24. In his final start at Neyland Stadium, Milton accounted for six touchdowns – a career-high four passing and two rushing – becoming the first Vol to accomplish the feat since 2009. Through the air, he completed 22-of-33 for 383 yards and no turnovers.

RB Abu Sama III, Iowa State

With a backfield comprised of freshmen, the future is very bright in Ames. Redshirt freshman Rocco Becht threw three touchdown passes on just eight completions and Sama schussed through snowy Manhattan in a 42-35 upset of Kansas State. In his first season out of Southeast Polk High School in Des Moines, Sama began to flash in November. The true freshman used 16 carries to rush for an Iowa State freshman record 276 yards and scoring runs of 60, 71 and 77 yards.

RB Cody Schrader, Missouri

The legend of Schrader, the former walk-on whose career began at Division II Truman State, continued Friday in Fayetteville. The Tigers crushed Arkansas, 48-14, to win 10 games for the first time since 2014 while remaining firmly in the New Year’s Six bowl chase. Schrader was the offensive MVP, going for a season-high 217 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. He’s scored in eight straight games and tied a school record with his fifth straight 100-yard game.

WR Drake Stoops, Oklahoma

The Stoops legacy in Norman lives on. The son of former Sooner head coach Bob Stoops capped a dominant November with his third 10-catch, 100-yard effort in the last four games. Even though opponents knew where QB Dillon Gabriel was looking, they could not keep the ball away from No. 12. Oklahoma steamrolled TCU Friday, 69-45, as Stoops hauled in a dozen balls for 125 yards and a touchdown in his final home game.

WR Casey Washington, Illinois

An improbable shootout broke out in Champaign between rivals Illinois and Northwestern Saturday afternoon, with Washington emerging as the game’s brightest offensive playmaker. The big-play senior hauled in a career-high nine passes for a career-best 218 yards and three touchdowns to tie a school single-game record. Washington’s five receptions for 181 yards and two scores in the final quarter nearly rallied the Illini to a comeback victory.

Players To Watch - Defense

The Maxwell Football Club honors the nation’s best defensive player with the Chuck Bednarik Award. Here’s a look at last week’s standout defenders.

S Daijahn Anthony, Ole Miss

The Rebels capped an underrated 10-win regular season with an Egg Bowl defeat of Mississippi State Thanksgiving night. The Landshark defense led the way in Starkville by allowing just seven points. Anthony capped his senior year in style, nearly doubling his career-high with 15 total tackles, six of which were solo stops. He's the first Rebel to have 15 tackles in a game since Lakia Henry did it versus Vandy more than four years ago.

NB Khalil Barnes, Clemson

Clemson will carry momentum into the bowl game after closing the regular season with four straight wins. Defense propelled the Tigers to another win over rival South Carolina, 16-7, as the Gamecocks were held to just 169 yards, their lowest output in the series since 1989. Barnes continues to play well in his debut season out of high school. He had four tackles, an interception, two pass breakups and a scoop-and-score to earn Pro Football Focus’ highest grade for a Week 13 safety.

CB Sebastian Castro, Iowa

It doesn’t get nearly attention just how good Castro has been in his first full season as a starting cornerback. While he can get a little lost in teammate Cooper DeJean’s shadow, the Oak Lawn, Ill. senior has been a rock in coverage all year on the back end of the Hawkeye. In Friday’s quintessentially Iowa win, a 13-10 scrum at Nebraska, Castro helped stifle the Huskers and QB Chubba Purdy with four tackles, two stops for loss, a forced fumble and just 11 receiving yards allowed.

OLB David Reese, Cal

The potential off the edge has always been there for Reese. In November, that potential was transformed into production. The sixth-year senior and Florida transfer has been one of the Bears’ most disruptive players over the last three games. In Saturday’s blowout upset at UCLA, Reese keyed a defense that allowed just seven points and pitched a second-half shutout to secure Cal’s first bowl berth in four years. He had three sacks, a forced fumble and a dozen total pressures to lead all Week 13 defenders. Reese even led the Cal band after the 33-7 win, a fitting end to one of the highwater marks of his college career.

S Dillon Thieneman, Purdue

The Boilermakers stormed back from a fourth-quarter deficit to keep the Old Oaken Bucket in West Lafayette for a third straight year. Thieneman capped an historic first season on campus with another outstanding all-around effort. He collected eight solo tackles, a stop for loss and two interceptions in the win. The two picks moved him past Stuart Schweigert for the most by a freshman in Purdue history, while he also surpassed College and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Rod Woodson for most solo tackles by a Boilermaker freshman.

DE Jared Verse, Florida State

With QB Jordan Travis out and a perfect season and playoff berth hanging in the balance, Florida State needed the D to step up in the Swamp Saturday night. The unit delivered, keeping Florida out of the end zone over the final 44:31 of a 24-15 gut-check victory. Verse, in particular, had one of his best games of the season with six tackles, three stops for loss, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. It was his third multi-sack game of the year and his first with three stops behind the line.

OLB J.J. Weaver, Kentucky

It was a great in Lexington. The Wildcats handed No. 9 Louisville its second loss of the year, 38-31, and Mark Stoops committed to remaining the Kentucky head coach. Weaver was one of a handful of defensive stars in the game. The veteran edge rusher notched eight tackles, all solo stops, a sack, a forced fumble and a pair of fumble recoveries to retain the Governor’s Cup for a fifth straight year.

LB Payton Wilson, NC State

Wilson is finishing his Wolfpack career the way he started – making plays all over the field. In his final game in Raleigh, he helped NC State defeat rival North Carolina, 39-20, while keeping hopes for a 10-win season alive. To the delight and appreciation of the Carter-Finley crowd, the Bednarik Award finalist racked up a team-high 15 stops, a couple of tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble and an acrobatic interception of Drake Maye in the red zone.


This season had 117 of the 133 FBS schools facing one FCS opponent, and Army played two such games for a total of 118 FBS-FCS matchups.

Of the 16 FBS schools that did NOT play a FCS program, 7 were in the B1G (Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Purdue, Wisconsin). 6 more are evenly split between the Big 12 (Houston, Oklahoma, Texas) and Pac-12 (Colorado, USC, Washington). The other three were Liberty (CUSA) , UTSA (American), and Virginia Tech (ACC).

The FBS programs were 114-4 this year against the FCS schools. Over-all, the FBS is a collective 1,800-152 (.922) since we began tracking this in 2003.

Here are the FCS wins in 2023, so far:
September 9: Idaho 33, Nevada 6
September 9: Southern Illinois 14, Northern Illinois 12
September 9: Fordham 40, Buffalo 37
September 16: Sacramento State 30, Stanford 23

Streaks - Current FBS Longest

GEORGIA - Won 29 straight over-all, Won 25 straight home games, and 15 straight true road games.
Last: 31-23 win at Georgia Tech on Saturday, November 25
Next: Alabama in SEC Championship game in Atlanta on Saturday, December 2

MICHIGAN - Won 24 straight conference games.
Last: 30-24 home win over Ohio State on Saturday, November 25
Next: Iowa in B1G Championship in Indianapolis on Saturday, December 2

VANDERBILT - Lost 10 straight over-all.
Last: 48-24 loss at Tennessee on Saturday, November 25.
Next: Season complete

STANFORD - Lost 9 straight home games.
Last: 56-23 home loss to Notre Dame on Saturday, November 25
Next: Season complete

TEMPLE - Lost 14 straight true road games.
Last: 45-21 home loss to Memphis on Saturday, November 25
Next: Season complete

ULM - Lost 10 straight over-all, lost 10 straight conference games.
52-21 loss at Louisiana on Saturday, November 25
Next: Season complete

Rich Cirminiello is the VP of College Awards at Maxwell Football Club. He can be followed on Twitter at @Rich Cirminiello