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11 lists and thoughts for college football championship weekend

Mike Norvell and Jim McElwain are coaches to watch this weekend. And who should the Florida Gators want to win?
Memphis head coach Mike Norvell runs onto the field during the first half of an NCAA college football game against USF on Nov. 23. [CHRIS O'MEARA  |  AP]
Memphis head coach Mike Norvell runs onto the field during the first half of an NCAA college football game against USF on Nov. 23. [CHRIS O'MEARA | AP]
Published Dec. 6, 2019

Five coaches to watch

1. Memphis coach Mike Norvell: The Texas native has been connected to the Florida State job for weeks and seems like the favorite to take over the Seminoles after the AAC title game.

RELATED: FSU football coaching search might not end this week

2. Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin: The Lane Train could be ready to leave the station for a bigger job (USF? Arkansas? Ole Miss?) after facing UAB in the Conference USA title game.

3. Central Michigan coach Jim McElwain: Missouri could have interest in bringing the 57-year-old former Gators coach back to the SEC East.

4. Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo: The one-time Bucs playcaller would be an enticing candidate for a West Coast opening like UNLV.

5. The Clemson coordinators: Brent Venables, Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott aren’t all going to stay on Dabo Swinney’s staff forever, right? We’ll see whether one (or more) take a spin on this year’s coaching carousel to USF, FSU or somewhere else.

RELATED: USF football coaching search: Time for some Bulls bracketology

Gators rooting guide

By coming in ninth in the latest College Football Playoff selection committee’s rankings, the Gators look like a lock to appear in a prestigious New Year’s Six bowl. UF fans hoping to spend some time in New Orleans should hope Georgia knocks off LSU for the SEC championship; that scenario would likely send both the Bulldogs and Tigers to the final four and put the Gators in the Sugar Bowl as the next best SEC team. Otherwise, UF is probably bound for the Orange Bowl or, perhaps, the Cotton Bowl.

RELATED: Why the Florida Gators belong in a New Year’s Six bowl

McElwain winning the MAC?

After becoming the first coach in SEC history to make it to the league title game in his first two seasons, Jim McElwain is again vying for a conference championship, this time at Central Michigan, against Miami (Ohio). Regardless, his Chippewas have had the biggest turnaround in the nation and the largest in program history, going from 1-11 to 8-4.

RELATED: The real reason ex-Gators coach Jim McElwain took a loss on his Florida home isn’t so funny

Hello, Hallandale trio

Utah running back Zack Moss (2) outruns Colorado cornerback Delrick Abrams Jr. (1) in the second half of a game on Nov. 30 in Salt Lake City. [RICK BOWMER | AP]

Utah wouldn’t be in the College Football Playoff discussion without a trio from Broward County.

Quarterback Tyler Huntley, running back Zack Moss and receiver Demari Simpkins all signed with Utah out of Hallandale High (where they were teammates with Florida receiver Josh Hammond). Huntley has a 16-2 touchdown-interception ratio and ranks fifth nationally in passing efficiency (188.65). Moss is in the top 20 in the nation with 1,246 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns, and Simpkins’ 28 receptions are second on the team.

They all ended up at Utah because of Dennis Erickson, the former Miami head coach who was then a Utes assistant.

RELATED: Why Utah should be the College Football Playoff’s darling

Clemson coronation

It’s been easy to overlook the Tigers because they’ve dominated 11 of their 12 games. But let’s appreciate this program’s excellence. The only other team besides these Tigers to win four consecutive conference title games was the 1993-96 Gators. If Clemson beats Virginia, the Tigers will join 1971-75 Alabama as the only teams to win five consecutive outright league titles. Oklahoma can also accomplish that feat Saturday.

Ranking the rematches

Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, left, carries the ball as Baylor cornerback Jameson Houston, right, defends during a game in Waco, Texas, on Nov. 16. [RAY CARLIN | AP]

1. Oklahoma-Baylor (Big 12 championship): The Sooners staged the largest comeback in program history, going from a 28-3 deficit to a 34-31 triumph in an entertaining game in Waco. We’ll take a repeat of that, please.

2. Cincinnati-Memphis (AAC championship): The Tigers’ 34-24 win last week was a one-score game for most of the fourth quarter. Bonus points because the teams have clashing styles in addition to being fairly evenly matched.

3. Appalachian State-Louisiana-Lafayette (Sun Belt championship): App State needed a touchdown with 1:56 left to clinch 17-7 October win. Act II marks the first time two Sun Belt teams with double-digit victories have ever met.

4. Ohio State-Wisconsin (Big Ten championship): Only this high because Buckeyes stars Justin Fields, Chase Young and J.K. Dobbins are worth watching. There’s no reason to think Wisconsin gets much closer than its previous 38-7 defeat.

5. Hawaii-Boise State (Mountain West championship): The 9-4 Rainbow Warriors’ 9-4 are a great story. But Boise blew them out 59-37 in October and has beaten Hawaii all seven times they’ve met on the blue turf by an average of 33.1 points apiece.

GameDay breakdown

How LSU’s high-scoring offense compares to Georgia’s elite defense in a top-four showdown for the SEC title:

LSU offense

LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson (2) carries against Florida defensive back Kaiir Elam (5) during the second half of a game in Baton Rouge, La., on Oct. 12. [GERALD HERBERT | AP]

Points per game: 48.7 (second nationally)

Yards per play: 7.90 (second)

Passing efficiency: 196.93 (fourth)

Plays of at least 20 yards: 87 (third)

Rushing touchdowns: 29 (T-21st)

Georgia defense

Florida Gators running back Lamical Perine (2) is tackled by Georgia Bulldogs defensive back J.R. Reed (20) and defensive back Richard LeCounte (2) during the first quarter of the game at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville on Nov. 2. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

Points per game allowed: 10.4 (second nationally)

Yards per play allowed: 4.12 (third)

Opposing passing efficiency: 106.72 (third)

Plays of at least 20 yards allowed: 34 (sixth)

Rushing touchdowns allowed: 1 (first)

Local of the week

Florida defensive back CJ Henderson (1) is called for pass interference as he breaks up a pass to Georgia wide receiver Matt Landers (5) during the first half of a game on Nov. 2 in Jacksonville. [JOHN RAOUX | AP]

Georgia receiver Matt Landers (St. Petersburg High)

With the Bulldogs’ top receiver (Miami transfer Lawrence Cager) out with an ankle injury and another, George Pickens, suspended for the first half, Jake Fromm will need someone to emerge as a viable target. How about Landers, a 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore who had a 26-yard catch last week against Georgia Tech?

Audible

“As explosive as a team as I have probably ever watched on tape.” — Georgia coach Kirby Smart on LSU

FAU’s defense

Although Lane Kiffin is known for his offense, don’t ignore Florida Atlantic’s defense. Defensive back Meiko Dotson is tied for the national lead with eight interceptions, and linebacker Rashad Smith’s four fumble recoveries are also tied for first in the country. The Owls, not surprisingly, are a nation’s best plus-19 in turnover margin.

RELATED: Why a Willie Taggart-USF reunion might (and might not) make sense

By the numbers: Conference championship weekend

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) carries the ball against South Carolina during the first half of a game on Nov. 30 in Columbia, S.C. [SEAN RAYFORD | AP]

27 Consecutive victories by Clemson. It’s the second-longest winning streak in ACC history, behind FSU (which won 29 in a row from 2012-14)

3 Previous times teams have met in a regular-season finale and conference title game in consecutive weeks before Memphis-Cincinnati. The team that lost the first game is 2-1 in rematches, with both wins coming in the last two years

22-8 Miami (Ohio)’s record in its past 30 conference games

19-11 The other Miami’s record in its past 30 conference games

188 Career catches for Ohio State’s K.J. Hill. Four more will send him past David Boston for the most in program history

13 ½ Sacks by Boise State’s Curtis Weaver, a potential first-round pick

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Auburn center Austin Wiley guards Florida forward Omar Payne during the first half of their game on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, in Gainesville. Payne, a freshman out of Montverde Academy, finishes with a career-high 19 points and 11 rebounds for his first double double in college. [MATT STAMEY  |  AP]
    Freshman Omar Payne has a career-high 19 points and 11 rebounds as UF earns its most impressive victory of the season.
  2. Florida's Keyontae Johnson, shown here scoring against Arkansas in last season's SEC tournament, is averaging 13 points and 6.8 rebounds this season. [MARK HUMPHREY  |  AP]
    UF looks for an elite win Saturday at home, where it has won five in row, to help strengthen its NCAA Tournament resume.
  3. Florida guard Andrew Nembhard shoots over Mississippi guard Devontae Shuler during their game Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Gainesville. [BRAD MCCLENNY  |  AP]
    Coach Mike White says his point guard missed practice Thursday and Friday. If he’s out, freshmen Tre Mann or Ques Glover likely will start Saturday.
  4. Todd Monken spent two seasons in Tampa Bay, the last as offensive coordinator, before being dismissed along with the rest of head coach Dirk Koetter's staff after the 2018 season.
    Tampa Bay’s former play-caller will be designing game plans for the Bulldogs against the Florida Gators next season.
  5. Florida Gators wide receiver Antonio Callaway (81) runs the ball during the Outback Bowl in January at Raymond James Stadium. (Times file)
    Antonio Callaway was a talented but troubled player for the Gators who didn’t last two seasons with the Cleveland Browns.
  6. Florida receiver Josh Hammond (18) on the field during practice for the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field on Monday. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Plus Plant High product Jake Fruhmorgen’s journey from Clemson to UF to Baylor to the East-West Shrine Game.
  7. From left, Florida's Andrew Nembhard, Kerry Blackshear and Noah Locke are key parts of a team that has had its ups and downs this season. Tuesday's rout of Mississippi gets the Gators back on track. [WILFREDO LEE  |  AP]
    UF rebounds from a bad loss in Missouri with a big home victory.
  8. Florida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) gets emotional after scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter against Miami in the season opener. [ALLIE GOULDING  |  Times]
    The Florida Gators finished about where I thought. But about Willie Taggart’s job security ...
  9. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow holds the trophy after their win against Clemson in a NCAA College Football Playoff national championship game Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, in New Orleans. LSU won 42-25. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) [DAVID J. PHILLIP  |  AP]
    The Heisman Trophy winner becomes the first Division I-A quarterback to throw 60 touchdowns in a season.
  10. LSU tight end Thaddeus Moss celebrates after scoring during the first half of Monday night's national championship game against Clemson in New Orleans. [DAVID J. PHILLIP  |  AP]
    LSU, of course, finished No. 1. But where did Matt Baker put the Florida Gators and UCF Knights?
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