Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:55 AM

Saturday's Essentials

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Baylor at Oklahoma (-9/65), 12 p.m. ET, ABC: Following Utah's unexpected loss in the Pac-12 championship, we get Championship Saturday off with a bang since the winner of this one will feel really good about their chances of being ranked among the CFP's top four to secure a spot in the national semifinals. The Bears will need a lot more help than a Sooners team that didn't skate at the beginning of the season against the likes of Stephen F. Austin, UT-San Antonio and Rice.

Despite their non-ambitious schedule, the Bears would be top-four at the moment had they not blown a 25-point lead three weeks ago when they hosted the Sooners in a 34-31 game that will be constantly referenced throughout this one. Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts threw four TD passes but turned the ball over three times, clearly missing the presence of star WR CeeDee Lamb. One of the country's top receiving prospects, Lamb was unavailable for that game but is returning here.With no weather variables in play at Arlington's AT&T Stadium, the question simply becomes whether you believe the Bears team that torched Oklahoma's suspect defense can re-emerge with QB Charlie Brewer finding Denzel Mims or a team that couldn't get out of its own way in the second half won't give themselves a chance.

Oklahoma is looking to become the first "Power-5" team to win five consecutive conference titles since Alabama accomplished the feat from 1971-75. Kennedy Brooks is averaging a Big 12-best 7.2 yards per carry, which should lighten Hurts' load and keep a Bears defense featuring the conference's defensive player of the year, James Lynch, from getting to Hurts.The line has come down to 8.5 at Caesars and a total that opened at 62 has been bet to 65.

Miami, Ohio at Central Michigan (-6.5/54.5), 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Jim McElwain has done an amazing job in Mount Pleasant, turning a 1-11 football team into a division champion in his first season back in coaching after flaming out at Florida. He’ll be looking to become the first CMU head coach since Butch Jones to win the conference in his first season and may find himself with a bigger gig given the job he’s done building a team with excellent schemes and really solid development, taking a team picked to finish last to their first conference title appearance since ’09.

Miami got hot following its 76-5 loss to Ohio State and has proven resilient in riding its defense. QB Brett Gabbert, younger brother of former NFL QB Blaine Gabbert, has had some nice moments as a first-year starter for the Redhawks, but the offense ranked next-to-last in the MAC in total yardage. Tennessee transfer Quinten Dormady has been excellent for the Chippewas in running McElwain’s system and can beat you with his legs as well. The Chips have gone 8-1-1 ATS over their last 10 games while the ‘under’ has hit in four of the past five games involving Miami, so identities here are well-established. CMU opened at 4.5-point favorite but that figure has been bet up to a 6.5. The total opened at 53 and moved to 54.5. This game will be played inside Ford Field, so the icy Detroit weather will only be a factor when the teams get out of bed in the morning and commute.

Louisiana at Appalachian State (-6.5/58), 12 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Mountaineers will look to pick up their second straight title and benefit from hosting this contest. Even though Ragin’ Cajuns fans travel well, this is a tough ask since Appalachian State isn’t the easiest place to get to. Potentially brutal weather will take it easy on both teams since temperatures will creep into the 40s and neither wind, snow or rain will be a factor. There is a revenge angle in place since Louisiana lost this exact same matchup 30-19 last season as a 17-point underdog. They fell in this year’s regular-season matchup 17-7 despite being favored at home on Oct. 9 in what was by far their least productive offensive showing of the season. Consider that their second-lowest scoring output was the 28 points they managed in a season-opening loss to Mississippi State and you can imagine the ‘Cajuns will try to be aggressive early, which makes the first-half ‘over’ attractive.

The ‘under’ is on a 6-1 run in Louisiana-Lafayette games despite it averaging 39.5 points per game on its six-game winning streak after losing at home to the Mountaineers. Appalachian State would be perfect if not for a 24-21 setback at home on Halloween night against 14-point underdog Georgia Southern. The Eagles controlled that game’s tempo and ran the ball effectively, which is what Louisiana will look to accomplish behind NFL-caliber back Trey Ragas, who forms a three-pronged attack alongside Elijah Mitchell and Raymond Calais in what is the nation’s sixth-best rushing attack. Levi Lewis has only been picked off three times but does have issues getting the ball downfield. Counterpart Zac Thomas has been the Sun Belt’s top quarterback for the last two seasons and leans on RB Darrynton Evans, who won conference player of the year honors after a 20-touchdown season. Appalachian State has given up 15 or fewer points in six of the last eight games, but their top non-conference wins – Charlotte and UNC – both came in shootouts.

Georgia vs. LSU (-7/57), 4 p.m. ET, CBS: The SEC title game is another that won’t have weather factoring in since it’s being played inside Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. After years of riding a conservative offensive approach and a consistently sound defense, the Tigers are in the SEC title game thanks to the second-highest scoring team in the country, averaging 48.7 points. QB Joe Burrow looks like a shoo-in to win the Heisman Trophy unless he struggles mightily against a talented Georgia defense. The Bulldogs have allowed the second-fewest amount of points in the country, making this title game a true contrast in styles. The Bulldogs do pack speed and multiple playmakers but have been unable to generate a lot of offense despite a veteran QB in Jake Fromm.

This is the Tigers’ first trip to the SEC Championship since 2011. They’ll look to solve a defense that has three shutouts on the season and is averaging 10.4 points allowed. Fromm has thrown 10 TD passes with no picks, but he’s failed to complete 50 percent of his attempts in any of those games. LSU surrendered just 169 yards, picked off three passes and notched six sacks against Texas A&M but struggled to replace linebacker Devin White earlier in the season, making this an enormous final test before a college football playoff that the Tigers have likely already locked up. Georgia can only join them among the top-four with a strong performance here so the desperation angle plays in their favor.

Virginia at Clemson (-29/55.5), 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC: The Tigers don’t need style points to secure their spot in the CFP final four, but I can’t imagine losing outright would allow them to maintain their spot in the playoff since the ACC has been such a dumpster fire this season. The Cavaliers rely heavily on QB Bryce Perkins, who has thrown it or run it on 78 percent of his team’s possessions. That makes it easy to game plan against the ‘Hoos, who didn’t have to play Clemson this season but lost at Notre Dame in addition to league losses at Miami and Louisville.

The Tigers have been annoyed by talk of the ACC dragging them down since the defending champs have navigated the only schedule they could play, overcoming their obstacles rather handily with the exception of a 21-20 win at North Carolina back in late September. Although they’ve deflected all talk about style points over the past few months, every win they’ve had since has come by over 31 points, including their higher-profile wins over FSU, Louisville and Wake Forest. The Tigers are 6-1 ATS over their last seven games, giving up 14 or fewer points each time out while scoring at least 45 in every contest except last week’s 38-3 rout at South Carolina. QB Trevor Lawrence has thrown for 22 touchdowns and been picked off just three times since the near-upset against the Tar Heels. Per the AP, Perkins is among three players this year with at least 2,900 passing yards and 600 rushing yards, joining Oklahoma’s Hurts and Louisiana-Monroe’s Caleb Evans. Perkins leads the ACC in total offense with 3,636 yards. He’ll be the top dual-threat QB Clemson has seen since a 24-10 loss to Texas A&M in which the Tigers took advantage of Kellen Mond. Temperatures in Charlotte will be in the 40s.

Wisconsin at Ohio State (-16.5/57.5), 8 p.m. ET, FOX: The Buckeyes have the top scoring offense in the nation (49.9 points) and are looking to be the first Big Ten team to be included in the CFP semis since 2016 when they represented the league and were blanked by Clemson. The Badgers are looking to play spoiler and get some revenge after dropping the first two title games they’ve played against the Buckeyes by scores of 59-0 and 27-21. They’ve dropped six straight in the series. In RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin has a weapon it would love to feed roughly 30 times to control the clock and the pace in addition to keeping Chase Young away from QB Jack Coan.

Ohio State QB Justin Fields is expected to be fine after getting rolled up on by a teammate against Michigan, leaving the game in the third quarter and needing ghelp off the field before returning to action with a sturdier brace. He’s thrown 37 TD passes and ran for 10 more and will be facing a Wisconsin defense that helped end Minnesota’s championship dreams last year in a 38-17 win but struggled in a 38-7 loss at Ohio State when these teams played in Columbus on Oct. 26. Wisconsin defeated Michigan and Iowa earlier this season and has been favored in every game except that initial meeting with the Buckeyes that they lost as a 14.5-point underdog. Wisconsin hasn’t been this large an underdog under Paul Chryst and haven’t gotten this many points in over a decade.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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