The college football conference championship picture may determine who enters the playoff at the end of 2021.
Conference championship games are the prelude to the College Football Playoff. They are often jockeying positions for at least a New Year’s Six Bowl, propelling one team in and another team out of the picture. Sometimes, it’s the last game needed for a school to enter the “final four” and compete for a National Championship.
The SEC Championship Game brings fanfare for how highly ranked the teams in this matchup usually are, and they consistently contain Alabama, LSU, Florida or Georgia, with a dash of Auburn. Ohio State and Oklahoma, among others, have been frequent conference title game members, as well, due to regular-season dominance.
The 2021 season is about to open a new path towards the conference title game picture, however, with plenty of hopefuls across the Power 5 conferences. Who will end up meeting in four months?
ACC: Clemson vs. UNC
Clemson is a frequent collaborator in the ACC title game, appearing in each one since 2015, with Florida State’s victory over Georgia Tech the most recent matchup to not feature Dabo Swinney’s squad.
This is purely conference dominance. The Tigers have rolled over everyone, as few have put up a fight with Deshaun Watson, Trevor Lawrence, and all the talent to pass through this South Carolina school. There were a few hot games between Clemson and Louisville in Lamar Jackson’s heyday, but the rest of the conference has taken a nosedive in the years of this reign, headlined by the Seminoles’ sinking ship.
For 2021, look for the Tigers to re-enter the conference title game. No one in a middling ACC Atlantic stands in their way, even with the talent they lost in the most recent NFL Draft. A new quarterback and young skill position players are there, but like Alabama, these are just the next future NFL talents to take the field for Swinney.
In the Coastal, North Carolina and Miami are the viable contenders to win their division. The former lost a lot of talent, but the latter has an unknown in the returning D’Eriq King, who’s coming off a torn ACL. A healthy signal-caller obviously enhances the Hurricanes’ chances, but UNC has Sam Howell, a likely Heisman candidate and a potentially high first-round pick in next year’s draft. If his offensive line holds up, the Tar Heels will be sound. Plus, their first six or seven games could all be wins.
Yet, this remains Clemson’s conference title game to lose. They are head and shoulders above Mack Brown’s talented squad. A loss could impact the Tigers’ College Football Playoff standing since their schedule is weak, however, so they likely need perfection from start to finish. It’s attainable.