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#Nuggets: Ohio State confronts history, and Wake can end Clemson's ACC title streak... on Clemson's field

Plus: 11 teams that can win their ways into conference championship games this weekend.

Despite their two national titles, there are people who will tell you the best Ohio State teams of the past 25 years are ones who didn't win the title. In 1998, the Buckeyes began the year at No. 1. They opened the season with a 34-17 win at No. 11 West Virginia and in their next seven games, which included  No. 21 Missouri and No. 7 Penn State, Ohio State's closest victory margin was 19 points. 

And then Michigan State came to town.

Led by a fourth-year head coach named Nick Saban, the Spartans had beaten No. 10 Notre Dame earlier that season, but they were unranked and would finish that season an unremarkable 6-6. (They would lose to Purdue the following week.) Still, they were the better team that day. Michigan State 28, No. 1 Ohio State 24. It was the first time an unranked team had beaten the AP No. 1 since Michigan State did the same to Michigan way back in 1990. 

This would be the only game all season Ohio State did not win by at least 10 points, but it would be enough to keep them out of the first BCS national championship game. They would finish No. 2 in both polls.

Fast forward 17 years, and Ohio State again began the season ranked No. 1. They were the defending national champions and returned almost everyone from the 2014 title team. They fell to No. 3 by the penultimate game of the regular season, but they hadn't played a single ranked opponent to that point and were generally regarded to be playing with their food. A bored team that was just biding its time until the real competition started -- and that didn't even include No. 9 Michigan State. No, we were talking about the trip to Ann Arbor the following week, the Big Ten Championship, and then the College Football Playoff, where Ohio State would assuredly get a chance to defend the first title of college football's Playoff era.

Or so they assumed.

Ohio State would win every game that season by at least seven points except that one, as the most talented team in the sport missed the Playoff while Michigan State won the Big Ten, reached the CFP, and was absolutely blown to smithereens by eventual national champion Alabama.

(And we can't let this section pass without mentioning 2013, when No. 2 Ohio State missed the final BCS title game because it lost the Big Ten Championship to Michigan State in Indianapolis.) 

And now here we are again. Ohio State did not begin this season ranked No. 1 or No. 2. They are not undefeated. But they are in line to reach the College Football Playoff and heavily favored (19 points) to dispatch a perpetually disregarded Michigan State team that, by the way, happens to be No. 7 in the country with the Heisman trophy frontrunner in running back Kenneth Walker III. 

Michigan State is led by a head coach Mel Tucker that exudes confidence and shares a trait with both coaches who led the above upsets. Like Saban and Mark Dantonio, Tucker was once an Ohio State assistant coach.

“You gotta prepare during the week for a 15-round fight,” Tucker said this week. “Scared money doesn't win. You gotta play to win, and then you have to have competitive greatness. Be at your best when your best is needed, and your good players need to play good.”

Clemson's ACC title streak could end on its own field. The Tigers' string of six straight league titles isn't dead, but it is on life support. No. 10 Wake Forest is a win away from clinching its second ACC Atlantic title (2006 was the other), and their first opportunity to earn that win falls in Death Valley. 

Wake Forest hasn't won at Clemson since 1998, but this is the best team they've brought to town... perhaps ever. The Demon Deacons lead the ACC in scoring and place fourth in yards per play. Wake's defense has been quite vulnerable (that's polite sportswriter speak for bad), especially over the past two weeks, allowing 100 total points to North Carolina and NC State.

But can a Clemson offense that last in the ACC in yards per play (last!), third from the bottom in scoring, and last (last! again!) in passing efficiency take advantage?

And even if Wake Forest loses to Clemson, the Deacons can still win the division with a victory at Boston College next Saturday. That's because their 58-55 loss to North Carolina was technically a non-conference game, so it did not count toward the conference standings. 

And even if Clemson beats Wake Forest, Dabo Swinney's team still needs help. Not only would they need BC to beat Wake, they'd also need NC State to fall to either Syracuse or North Carolina, or they're ACC also-rans for the first time since 2014.

Checking in on the Power 5 conference streaks. Coming into this season, the prevailing thought was, "Ugh, the Playoff race has become so boring. Bama, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma win their conferences every year!" And, well, it was hard to dispute that.

-- Oklahoma has won the Big 12 seven times in a row.
-- Clemson has won the ACC six times in a row.
-- Ohio State has won the Big Ten four times in a row.
-- Alabama has won the SEC five times in seven years.

But as we sit this Saturday, it's not a lock any of those teams win their respective title games.

Clemson has already been discussed, but Ohio State and Oklahoma may not make their title games, either. 

No. 4 Ohio State needs to beat No. 7 Michigan State and No. 6 Michigan (on the road) to win the B1G East. The Buckeyes will be heavily favored to do so, yes, but as they say in the stock market: past success is not indicative of future performance. 

No. 13 Oklahoma hosts Iowa State on Saturday, and then their fate will be decided next Saturday night in Stillwater. Yes, OU has an overwhelming history of success in this series (90-18-7 all-time, 6-0 with Lincoln Riley) but have you seen those two teams play recently? OSU is ranked higher for a reason.

As for No. 2 Alabama, it would take consecutive losses to No. 21 Arkansas and Auburn (sans Bo Nix) to keep the Tide from Atlanta for the ninth time of the Nick Saban era, but they'll be underdogs when they get there.

Other teams that can clinch conference title berths this weekend. 

-- No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 21 Arkansas (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS). As mentioned above, Alabama can break a tie with Florida by securing its 14th SEC Championship appearance with a victory over the Hogs. Arkansas hasn't beaten Alabama since 2006, also known as Year 1 BN (Before Nick) in Tuscaloosa. 

-- No. 3 Oregon at No. 23 Utah (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC). To win the national championship, first Oregon will have to win the Pac-12 North. The defending Pac-12 champions did not win the North last season (Washington did), but either way the Ducks are looking to win the conference title for the third season in a row. No one's ever done that since the Pac-12 Championship was established in 2011. 

-- No. 5 Cincinnati vs. SMU (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Houston has already clinched one spot, and Cincinnati can claim the other with their 14th straight AAC win. The Bearcats would tie Memphis' record with three straight AAC Championship appearances. 

-- No. 15 Wisconsin vs. Nebraska (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC). Wisconsin needs a win and No. 17 Iowa to lose at home to Illinois. So, not likely but still possible. Even still, Wisconsin can extend its Big Ten-best number of division titles to seven with two more wins. Not bad for a team that started 1-3.

-- No. 18 Pitt: vs. Virginia (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Bronco Mendenhall is "hopeful" quarterback Brennan Armstrong will return, and last Saturday showed us all why. An offense that scored 350 points through their first three games put up three against Notre Dame. Pitt has won the ACC Coastal once, in 2018, and claims only two conference titles all time. No Coastal team has won the ACC at all since 2010.

-- No. 22 UTSA vs. UAB (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+). UAB has won the last three C-USA West titles and two of the last three conference crowns, including last year's. A win here puts the 5-1 Blazers a win away from making it four division titles in a row. UTSA (6-0) can win its first trophy of any kind with a victory here, at the Alamodome. This is without a doubt the biggest game in Roadrunner football history.

-- No. 23 Utah vs. No. 3 Oregon (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC). Yep, both teams are vying to clinch Saturday night in Salt Lake City. For Utah, it would be their third South title in four years, but Kyle Whittingham's program is still looking for its first Pac-12 championship. A Rose Bowl would be the ultimate coronation as a true Pac-12 power for this program that's dependably good but not great. 

-- Appalachian State at Troy (3:30 p.m. ET). The first two Sun Belt Championships, in 2018 and '19, were App State wins over Louisiana at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone. This year's edition has already been set for Cajun Field in Lafayette, but a win here gives App the opportunity to go 3-for-3 against the Cajuns. 

-- Western Kentucky vs. Florida Atlantic (noon ET). The Hilltoppers would need a win as well as a Marshall loss at Charlotte. If WKU loses or both teams win, the C-USA East would be decided on the field next week in Huntington.

-- Utah State vs. Wyoming (8 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network). Utah State would need a win and Boise State to lose at home to New Mexico. Again, possible but not likely. Either way, win here, win next week at New Mexico and the Aggies are MW Mountain champions for the first time since 2013.

Rapid Fire:

-- UConn at UCF (4 p.m. ET, ESPN+): Who knew the Civil ConFLiCT game was back?! After a 2020 hiatus, everyone's favorite made-up rivalry returns to Orlando, the site of a 56-21 massacre in 2019. UCF has won four straight in this near-decade old rivalry.

-- UCLA at USC (4 p.m. ET, Fox): How are you going to split your time between the Civil ConFLiCT and the Battle for the Victory Bell? USC has won two straight, five of six, 10 of 14, and 17 of 22 dating back to 1999. In fact, even though the LA Coliseum is actually closer to their campus than their own "home" stadium, UCLA has won "at" USC just once since 1998. 

-- No. 11 Baylor at Kansas State (5:30 p.m. ET, FS1): Baylor is fresh off beating Oklahoma, yet their a Pick 'Em against 4-3 Kansas State. The Wildcats started 0-3 in Big 12 play and were looking at 0-4 before coming back and getting Matt Wells fired. Since falling behind Texas Tech 24-10, Kansas State has gone 4-0 and outscored the opposition 115-39, including a 31-12 mauling of a TCU team that beat Baylor just two weeks ago.

-- Cal at Stanford (7 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network): Stanford has won 10 of the last 11 Battles for the Axe, but Cal won the last game at Stanford Stadium.