USC-Utah, TCU-Kansas State headline the biggest college football games to watch on Week 14

Championship Week is here. It’s the most exciting weekend on the college football calendar, with the best in each league set to square off in epic showdowns with playoff berths on the line, right? Well, actually …

If we’re being honest, this is the least attractive slate of conference title contests we’ve seen in recent memory. The playoff foursome is all but determined, and every major conference finale has a participant with at least three losses.

The lack of buzz isn’t due to a single factor – that just happens to be how this season unfolded. Even those conferences that went away from division formats to set up their title games couldn’t avoid having a multi-loss team find its way into the final. As such, the current top four might not be displaced even if they are upset this weekend.

But the games will occur regardless, and we will watch, because that’s what we do. Some have more at stake than others.

Here are the top six, presented in order of importance.

No. 4 Southern California vs. No. 12 Utah

Friday, 8 p.m. ET, Fox

Why watch: Of the four teams in playoff position, the Trojans can least afford a stumble. A win would avenge their lone setback of the campaign, but a second loss to the Utes would force the committee to compare their resume to Ohio State and Alabama. USC would prefer not to leave that to chance, but the Utes got their first taste of the Rose Bowl last year and would love to make it back. USC QB Caleb Williams has been outstanding all season, even in the loss in Salt Lake City in which he threw five TD passes. In all, he has amassed 4,063 yards of total offense accounting for 44 TDs, but he’s hardly a one-man show with WR Jordan Addison and RB Austin Jones helping out. There are points to be had on the Trojans’ defense, however, as long as Utah QB Cam Rising is again able to maintain ball security and allow RB Tavion Thomas and TE Dalton Kincaid to move the chains.

Why it could disappoint: The key for USC, however, is its incredible plus-22 turnover margin. It doesn’t take much – the Trojans were just plus-two in takeaways last week against Notre Dame but it was enough for them to keep their distance once taking a multi-score lead. Utah was able to rally at home back in October, but might not be as fortunate this time on a neutral field.

Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid (86) runs after a catch against Southern California defensive back Calen Bullock (7) in the second half at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid (86) runs after a catch against Southern California defensive back Calen Bullock (7) in the second half at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

No. 3 TCU vs. No. 10 Kansas State

Saturday, noon ET, ABC

Why watch: The outcome might not matter, but the game should at least be fun. The 12-0 club has just three members, and it seems unlikely the Horned Frogs would be overtaken by another team sitting at home should they come up short in this rematch. K-State is in a great position, likely bound for the Sugar Bowl win or lose. But the Wildcats would like nothing better than to avenge their earlier loss to TCU, a game they led by 18 points. There are offensive stars aplenty on both sides in this finale. TCU’s standout triumvirate of QB Max Duggan, RB Kendre Miller and Quentin Johnston lead a unit that puts up 41.3 points a game, tops in the Big 12 and fourth nationally. The Wildcats have been getting terrific production from QB Will Howard since he took over for the injured Adrian Martinez, but the attack goes through RB Deuce Vaughn, who has accounted for 1,643 yards from scrimmage and 10 total TDs.

Why it could disappoint: It’s conceivable – though extremely unlikely – that the Horned Frogs will take the field with less than optimum intensity believing they’ll remain in the top four regardless. Should they find themselves on the short end of a blowout, their fans will undoubtedly start having 2014 flashbacks when the team got bumped on the last day. Remember, though, that Ohio State got to make a closing statement in the Big Ten championship game that year while the Big 12 did not. Nevertheless, TCU probably won’t take any chances from an effort standpoint.

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No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 13 LSU

Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, CBS

Why watch: At first glance, there wouldn’t seem to be much on the line for the defending champion Bulldogs. A win, however, would likely lock up the No. 1 seed for Georgia, and therefore the ability to stay close to home in the Peach Bowl for its semifinal contest. LSU is out of the playoff picture thanks to last week’s loss to Texas A&M, but an SEC crown and Sugar Bowl berth would make Brian Kelly’s first season in Baton Rouge an even bigger success.

Why it could disappoint: But the Tigers will nonetheless enter as heavy underdogs, and QB Jayden Daniels, who suffered a foot injury in the A&M loss, is banged up. The Georgia offense, meanwhile, has mastered the art of doing whatever it takes, mixing power and finesse as QB Stetson Bennett makes extensive use of RB Kenny McIntosh and TE Brock Bowers with WR Ladd McConkey always ready to break loose.

No. 2 Michigan vs. Purdue

Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, Fox

Why watch: Michigan’s place in the College Football Playoff might be even more etched in stone than Georgia’s now after the Wolverines’ dominant win at Ohio State. Even should Michigan stumble against the Boilermakers and finish 12-1, the Wolverines would not be ranked in the final standings behind the Buckeyes or any of the other candidates with two losses. As for Purdue, the survivor of the West Division that no one seemed to want, this is a huge opportunity to earn the program’s first trip to the Rose Bowl since the 2000 season. The dominance of Michigan’s offensive line allowed RB Donovan Edwards to shine against the Buckeyes with Blake Corum severely limited. But perhaps even more surprising were the long gainers generated by QB J.J. McCarthy through the air. The aerial barrage is the Boilermakers’ primary means of transport, with QB Aidan O’Connell often looking for game-breaking WR Charlie Jones.

Why it could disappoint: Whether they need to or not, the Wolverines could take matters in hand quite quickly. They had a close call with one crossover opponent, Illinois, but the Purdue defensive front might not hold up nearly as well.

No. 23 Central Florida at No. 18 Tulane

Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ABC

Why watch: There’s no playoff intrigue this time around, but a trip to a major bowl is still on the line. UCF is accustomed to competing for American Athletic titles and hopes to add one more before moving on to the Big 12. The Green Wave hope to put a final exclamation point on what has already been a remarkable turnaround season. Tulane will look to make the most of this huge opportunity in its home stadium, avenging its lone conference loss in the process. QB Michael Pratt has been superbly efficient all season with 21 scoring passes and just four picks. RB Tyjae Spears has been tremendous as well with 14 TDs of his own rattling off almost 6.2 yards per rushing attempt. Knights starting QB John Rhys Plumlee left last week’s game against South Florida early with a hamstring injury and might not be at full speed, but backup Mikey Keene delivered a winning play in relief for the second time this season.

Why it could disappoint: It shouldn’t. The Green Wave came within a touchdown of winning the first meeting. Another back-and-forth affair seems likely, as both teams have appeared uncomfortable playing with a big lead at various points this year.

No. 11 Clemson vs. No. 22 North Carolina

Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC

Why watch: As far as incentives are concerned, this game is essentially equal to the American finale. But hopefully the ACC crown and accompanying Orange Bowl bid will prove sufficient inspiration for the Atlantic and Coastal champs in the final year of the ACC’s divisions to stage a competitive contest. The matchup, at least, has potential. Tar Heels’ QB Drake Maye has been one of the season’s breakout stars. He continues to lead the country in total offense, but he’s been held in check in recent weeks, especially in short-field situations. While there were plenty of defensive breakdowns that contributed to Clemson’s loss to South Carolina last week, the struggles in the passing game didn’t help. QB D.J. Uiagalelei must get more help from his protectors and pass catchers, but he knows he can count on RB Will Shipley to make use of space when he finds it.

Why it could disappoint: Unfortunately, the 12-team era is not here yet. Since both teams played themselves out of the playoff picture over the last couple of weeks, it’s possible this game will not be played with the highest level of focus.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football games to watch: USC-Utah, TCU-Kansas State lead list