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#Nuggets: Breaking down the stakes for all 10 conference title games

Twenty teams play for conference championships this weekend, but six have something bigger on the line.

Eleven games dot the schedule this weekend this weekend, and the winner gets a trophy in 10 of them. (Apologies to USC at Cal, kicking at 11 p.m. ET on FS1, but you're getting ignored.)

So while 20 teams play for conference titles, I believe six have something bigger on the line. For some it's a shot at a national title, but not all of them do. No, all of these six these teams don't necessarily play for a national championship, but they all do play for something grander: the right to call themselves the best team in their school's entire history. 

Here are the stakes for all 20 conference title participants this weekend.

CONFERENCE USA
Western Kentucky at UTSA -- 7 p.m. ET Friday (CBS Sports Network)

It should come as no surprise for a program that launched in 2011, but this is UTSA's first conference championship game. Ipso facto, this is the biggest game in school history and it's not particularly close. WKU claims 13 conference titles, including back-to-back C-USA crowns in 2015-16. This is still the biggest game for head coach Tyson Helton in particular, who makes his first C-USA Championship appearance.

This is a rematch of a back-and-forth October game in Bowling Green that UTSA won, 52-46. WKU hasn't lost since and hasn't scored less than 42 points since Oct. 23.

PAC-12
No. 10 Oregon vs. No. 14 Utah, at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas -- 8 p.m. ET Friday (ABC)

Obviously, this one is also a rematch. Oregon went to Salt Lake City just two weeks ago and got absolutely boat-raced, trailing 28-0 at the half en route to a 38-7 loss.

That game clarified the stakes for this one: the winner goes to the Rose Bowl, the loser to the Alamo. And if the game is decided by who wants it more, the edge should go to Utah. The Utes have won the Fiesta and Sugar bowls, but they've never been to the Rose. Oregon has been eight times, most recently a Mario Cristobal- and Justin Herbert-led win over Wisconsin to close the 2019 season.

BIG 12
No. 9 Baylor vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas -- noon ET (ABC)

Our third rematch in as many games, this one of a 24-14 Cowboys win in Stillwater on Oct. 2. 

It's pretty simple: this is the biggest game in Oklahoma State history. The program does claim one national championship -- in 1945, as awarded by the AFCA. That team closed its season by defeating mighty Saint Mary's in the Sugar Bowl and finished No. 5 in the AP poll. So, yeah.

The only Pokes team between 1945 and now to finish higher than fifth was the 2011 outfit, the team that unwittingly got the College Football Playoff ball rolling when it was shutout of the BCS title game in favor of an LSU-Alabama rematch. 

My point: No other Cowboy team has actually played for a national championship, and this team does that by simply scoring one more point than Baylor on Saturday. 

A Big 12 title would be a big deal on its own, too. Oklahoma State has 10 conference titles in its history, and a win here joins Mike Gundy with Bob Stoops, Mack Brown, Bill Snyder, Art Briles and Lincoln Riley as the only coaches to win multiple Big 12 titles.

For Baylor, it's simple. The Bears need a win to claim their 10th conference championship and their third Sugar Bowl berth.

MAC
Kent State vs. Northern Illinois, at Ford Field in Detroit -- noon ET (ESPN)

Our fourth rematch of the weekend, this time of a 52-47 Kent State win in Kent on Nov. 3. That game produced 99 points (obviously), 63 first downs, and a whopping 1,345 scrimmage yards. NIU threw for 532 yards on 57 attempts, ran for another 131, and was out-gained by 19 yards. Kent State threw for 332 (on 30 attempts) and rushed for 360 on 8.0 a pop.

Kent State went three-and-out on its first two possessions, punted again on their third, kicked a field goal on their fourth, and then scored touchdowns on their next five touches and seven of their final nine.

Anyway, this is just Kent State's second trip to Detroit in the 25-year history of the MAC Championship, while NIU appears for the conference-best ninth time. Kent State was joined the MAC in 1951 and has won the league once

This is the biggest game in Kent State history.

MOUNTAIN WEST
Utah State at No. 19 San Diego State -- 3 p.m. ET (Fox)

This is technically not a neutral site game, because San Diego State has played all its home games 120 miles from campus at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, south of LA.

Anyway, Utah State has won 12 conference championships, though none in the Mountain West. The 2013 team appeared in the MW Championship, but lost to Fresno State. 

SDSU has won conference titles at a somewhat steady clip dating all the way back to the Southern California Junior College Conference, including three MW titles from 2012-16. 

The best Aztec team ever is probably the 1977 bunch, who went 10-1 and finished No. 16 in the AP poll, the highest in school history. The 2021 team enters this game 11-1 and No. 19. But that '778 team was an independent, and thus did not have a conference to win.

Therefore, I think you can make a case this is the biggest game in San Diego State and Utah State history. 

SUN BELT
Appalachian State at No. 24 Louisiana -- 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Yup, another rematch. This is a rematch of not only Louisiana's 41-13 spanking of App on Oct. 12, but also of App's 2018 and 2019 Sun Belt Championship wins. This is the third Sun Belt Championship, and the third Mountaineers-Cajuns matchup.

It's also the 52nd and final game of Billy Napier's tenure in Lafayette. He won a share of the 2020 title -- the planned UL-Coastal Sun Belt title game got covid'd -- and this game gives him a chance to go out on a note so high even Mariah Carey in her heyday couldn't touch it. 

Last year's Louisiana team produced the first AP Top 25 finish in school history (No. 15), and this year's team enters at No. 20 (they're No. 24 in the CFP rankings) with a chance to top it with a win here and in the bowl game. 

No Cajuns team has ever won the Sun Belt title game, and no Cajuns team has ever won 12 games in a season. Due to the revenge factor of losing to App State in 2018 and '19, I think you can make the case this is the biggest game in UL history. 

App State has its best chance to play spoiler since the infamous 2007 Michigan game. That's rare for a program with 22 conference titles, including four since joining the Sun Belt eight years ago.

SEC
No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 3 Alabama, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta -- 4 p.m. ET (CBS)

Let's get this out of the way: No, it's not a rematch and it's not the biggest game in either school's history.

Georgia's situation parallels Oklahoma State's last week. They've already advanced to the next round win or lose, but here is an opportunity to eliminate their longtime tormentor... or possibly lose to them back-to-back, thereby doubling up on misery heading into a long, cold winter.

A quick rundown of Nick Saban's recent history against Georgia.

2007: Georgia wins 26-23 in Tuscaloosa. This is the pre-credits scene showing the family's happy life before demon wakes up in the basement. Best remembered for Mike Patrick's on-air meltdown. 

2008: "They're wearing black because they're going to their own funeral!" Alabama builds a 31-0 lead en route to a 41-30 win over a UGA team that entered the year the AP No. 1. Historians (me) say this was the night the Saban Dynasty was born. 

2012: In the de facto national championship game, Alabama overcomes a 21-10 deficit to beat Georgia, 32-28, where time ran out on the Bulldogs with the ball at Alabama's 5-yard line. The Tide rolls over Notre Dame to win the BCS national title.

2015: Georgia is the first team in years to be favored over Alabama, then gets absolutely mauled. The Tide leads 38-3 five minutes into the second half before winning 38-10. When you consider this was played in a driving rainstorm, all in all this is likely one of the most miserable days in Georgia football history. Alabama goes on to win its fourth national title under Saban, Georgia fires Mark Richt.

2017: Georgia leads 13-0 at halftime, Saban pulls a future 1st-round pick off the bench to ignite a comeback, ending with a 41-yard haymaker to win 26-23 in overtime. This is the point of the movie where the demon compels Mom to attack her own children with a butcher knife and you're convinced death must be better than this.

2018: Alabama overcomes a 28-14 third quarter hole to win 35-28, again ignited by pulling their future NFL starting quarterback off the bench. Totally normal stuff.

2020: No. 2 Alabama scores the game's final 24 points to defeat No. 3 Georgia, 41-24, on its way to title No. 6 under Saban. This is the point of the movie where the family rationalizes that, you know, maybe living in a home ruled by a creature from the underworld isn't so bad so long as it doesn't attack any of their friends or extended family.

That brings us to Saturday. Saban already lost his first game to a former assistant. Alabama needed 56 minutes to score a point on 6-5 Auburn last week. Georgia has allowed nine touchdowns in 12 games and, oh by the way, also has the third most efficient offense in the country. The Dawgs are 6.5-point favorites. This is their time.

But if it's not...

AMERICAN
No. 21 Houston at No. 4 Cincinnati -- 4 p.m. ET (ABC)

This is the only game of the weekend pitting teams with undefeated conference records. Houston dropped their opener to Texas Tech and hasn't lost since. Cincinnati has lost once since Dec. 7, 2019, carrying a 15-game winning streak against AAC competition.

Another thing these Bearcats carry? The hopes and dreams of half of FBS.

We can't quite say Cincinnati is guaranteed to become the first Group of 5 team to reach the College Football Playoff with a win over Houston, but multiple paths exist for the Bearcats to shatter that glass ceiling. If Georgia defeats Alabama, Cincinnati's in with a win. If Oklahoma State or Michigan lose, the Bearcats are in.

Cincinnati owns 15 conference titles (six since 2008) but no national championships, not even a fake one. This is the biggest game in school history.

And, oh yeah, there's another team playing in this game, too. Houston can ruin an entire university's hopes and dreams with a win... and go to the Peach Bowl.

BIG TEN
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 13 Iowa, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis -- 8 p.m. ET (Fox)

Michigan has one national title since 1948 This gives them a chance to play for No. 2. That's probably all that needs to be said, but since we're already here....

-- Jim Harbaugh got the "Never beat Ohio State" monkey off his back. Now he can take a crowbar to the "Never won the Big Ten" and "Never reached the Playoff" monkeys as well.

-- Michigan hasn't won the Big Ten since 2004.

-- Saturday will be Kirk Ferentz's 287th game at Iowa, and a shot at his first outright Big Ten championship. He won co-titles in 2002 and 2004, but the closest he's come since was a 2015 season in which the Hawkeyes went 8-0 in the regular season but lost the Big Ten Championship to Michigan State when the Spartans scored the winning touchdown with 27 seconds left.

-- An Iowa win sends the Hawkeyes to the Rose Bowl for the seventh time ever, and the first as Big Ten champions since 1990. A loss drops them to the Citrus Bowl.

ACC
No. 15 Pitt vs. No. 16 Wake Forest, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte -- 8 p.m. ET (ABC)

Pitt joined a conference for the first time in 1991. In the 30 years since, their trophy mantle includes two Big East co-championships. That's it. Their last New Year's Six game: 2004, when they were blown out by Utah, the first "BCS Buster" game. Wake Forest has been a member of a conference since 1936 and won two championships since. The Demon Deacons have played in one New Year's Six game, the 2007 Orange Bowl.

That team finished No. 18 in the AP poll, to date the highest in school history. Wake is No. 18 right now.

This clearly isn't the biggest Pitt game ever -- the program claims nine national titles -- but I think we can say this is the biggest Wake game ever. 

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