College football: A look back at conference title rematch history
One hundred forty-eight years ago, the first "season" in the history of college football featured two games: Princeton at Rutgers, and then a rematch a week later. Rutgers won the first game 6-4. Princeton soon got revenge, winning 8-0 to ensure a season split. Rutgers and Princeton launched the sport with the type of series that has proven to be an infrequent occurrence throughout college football history.
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It's not just the SEC now: Nine of the 10 FBS conferences play a championship game, and the Sun Belt will join the fray in 2018. The odds of rematches occurring have greatly increased, and that's especially true this season. On Friday and Saturday, seven of the nine conference championship games will feature matchups that we've already seen, one (Mountain West) as recent as last Saturday. The only exceptions will be Ohio State vs. Wisconsin in the Big Ten and Clemson vs. Miami in the ACC, both of which are new to us.
Two of the rematches have clear playoff implications, as Auburn must beat Georgia again to get to the playoff and Oklahoma must beat TCU again to get there, too. The latter is particularly noteworthy, because the Big 12 plays a round-robin schedule and reinstated its conference title game with no divisions this season in an effort to boost its playoff chances. If Oklahoma loses, it will have the opposite effect and likely knock the conference out.
So what does history say will happen?
Twenty of 33 conference championship game rematches have resulted in the team that won in the regular season winning again for the league title.
Only one of the teams that has been on the losing end of both games was ranked in the top four entering the conference title game. In a wild 2007 season, Missouri was ranked 11th in the AP poll when it lost at Oklahoma, 41-31, on Oct. 13. By Dec. 1, the Tigers had climbed to No. 1 in the BCS and played No. 9 Oklahoma, which resulted in an even more convincing Sooners victory, 38-17, that took Missouri out of the national title chase.
Five teams ranked in the AP top four at the time of the conference championship game have pulled off season sweeps: 2000 Oklahoma (vs. Kansas State), 2003 LSU (vs. Georgia), 2004 Auburn (Tennessee), 2005 Texas (vs. Colorado) and 2010 Auburn (vs. South Carolina). Four of those teams went on to win the national championship. Auburn and Oklahoma are hoping to follow in their footsteps this season.
The second game in 11 of the 20 sweeps has been decided by a point differential within single digits of the first game. The most extreme changes: In 2012, Stanford's margin of victory shrunk from 18 to three when it played UCLA in back-to-back weeks. In 2005, en route to the national title, Texas went from a 25-point win against Colorado in the regular season to a 67-point win in the Big 12 title game.
Thirteen of the 33 conference championship game rematches have resulted in the team that lost in the regular season turning the tables and winning the second meeting.
Two top-four teams have gotten revenge for earlier losses. In 1999, No. 3 Nebraska avenged an earlier loss to Texas by winning by 16 in the Big 12 title game. In 2014, No. 3 Oregon crushed Arizona by 38 in the Pac-12 title game after an upset loss in the regular season. The Ducks went on to play for the national title.
On the other side, 2001 featured two reversals involving top-four teams, as part of a messy race to face Miami in the BCS championship. No. 3 Texas lost to Colorado by two in the Big 12 championship after winning by 34 in the regular season. And No. 2 Tennessee lost to LSU by 11 in the SEC after an earlier eight-point win over the Tigers. Nebraska, which didn't win its division in the Big 12, ended up going to the national championship game.
Perhaps not surprisingly, 11 of the 13 results that flipped involved games that were decided by one possession (eight points or less) in the regular season, a fact that applies to none of this year's conference title rematches. The only exceptions are Colorado-Texas in 2001 and Marshall beating Western Michigan by five in the 2000 MAC championship after previously losing by 20.
More surprising: Nine of 13 teams that won the rematch after losing the first game won the conference championship game by at least 11 points. That includes revenge wins by over 30 points by 2014 Oregon and 2012 Wisconsin, which went from a three-point loss to Nebraska to a 70-31 rout.
2017 conference championship rematches
There are seven rematches this week. All seven had margins of victory of at least 11 points in their regular-season games.
American: No. 20 Memphis at No. 14 UCF
What happened last time: Hurricane Irma caused schedule reshuffling that moved this game from Sept. 8 to Sept. 30. At that point, UCF had played only twice, but it did win at Maryland by four touchdowns. Then it hosted Memphis and, although the Tigers had already earned national plaudits for beating UCLA, the game was a rout. UCF won 40-13, capitalizing on Memphis' four turnovers and outgaining the Tigers 603-396 with 350 rushing yards. These teams now rank first and second nationally in scoring.
History: This is the first of three AAC championship games to be a rematch.
Big 12: No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 11 TCU
What happened last time: TCU ranks eighth nationally in points allowed. It has allowed 14 points or fewer in five of its past seven games. One of those was a 38-20 loss at Oklahoma on Nov. 11 in which it allowed all 38 of those points in the first half. Baker Mayfield may have locked up the Heisman with 333 yards and three TDs, although the star of the game was running back Rodney Anderson. He had 151 yards and two TDs on the ground and five catches for 139 yards and two TDs.
History: This is the Big 12's first championship game since 2010, when it was still a 12-team league split into two divisions. By design, every Big 12 championship will now be a rematch, because it's a 10-team league with a round-robin schedule. In the past version, six of the 15 title games were rematches. Of those six, four teams pulled off sweeps and two -- 1999 Nebraska and 2001 Colorado, neither of whom is in the Big 12 anymore -- got revenge and won conference titles. Rematches cost 2007 Missouri and 2001 Texas national title shots. Oklahoma is trying to prevent the same thing from happening to itself this year.
Conference USA: North Texas at Florida Atlantic
What happened last time: Florida Atlantic is undefeated in conference play under Lane Kiffin. North Texas' only loss came on Oct. 21 in Boca Raton, where the Owls won 69-31. Kiffin's team has been phenomenal on offense, and in that game it got 447 rushing yards, including 123 from standout Devin Singletary, plus 357 passing yards from Jason Driskel. Florida Atlantic's 804 total yards against the Mean Green were the most that any FBS team has put up against an FBS opponent this season.
History: Four of 12 previous Conference USA championship games have been rematches, and teams that won the first game are 2-2 thus far. Last year, Louisiana Tech beat Western Kentucky 55-52 in a regular-season thriller. The Hilltoppers responded by winning the league championship game 58-44.
MAC: Toledo vs. Akron
What happened last time: Toledo is 10-2 overall; Akron is 7-5. Toledo is 21st in Football Outsiders' S&P+ rankings; Akron is 106th. There's little evidence to indicate this being an even matchup, and their regular-season game showed that: The Rockets beat the Zips 48-21 on Oct. 21, outgaining them by nearly 300 total yards. Logan Woodside passed for 304 yards and five TDs on only 17 completions, and Toledo racked up 303 rushing yards.
History: Twenty MAC championship games have produced five rematches entering this season. They've included three sweeps and two splits. Toledo and Akron were involved in two of them, both their most recent MAC title game appearance. In 2004, Toledo lost to Miami (OH) by a touchdown in the regular season but won by eight for the championship. The next year, Akron swept Northern Illinois in two thrillers: 48-42 and 31-30, the latter coming with a fourth-quarter comeback.
Mountain West: No. 25 Fresno State at Boise State
What happened last time: It happened last Saturday, a game that ended up meaning little beyond who took home the Milk Can rivalry trophy, because both teams had already clinched division titles. Fresno State beat Boise State 28-17 at home. Despite the head-to-head win by Fresno State and even 7-1 Mountain West records, Boise State will host the conference championship as a result of computer ratings.
History: Two of the first four Mountain West championships were rematches. In 2014, Boise State swept Fresno State by 10 and 14 en route to the Fiesta Bowl. Last year, Wyoming beat San Diego State 34-33 when it allowed a miracle touchdown on the last play but stopped the two-point conversion. Two weeks later, the Aztecs won the rematch by three.
Pac-12: No. 10 USC vs. No. 12 Stanford
What happened last time: USC beat Stanford 42-24 in Week 2. The game appeared to be an even shootout early, but Sam Darnold and Deontay Burnett put the Trojans ahead by 11 at halftime. Nobody scored in the third quarter, and USC won the fourth 14-7. The Trojans outgained the Cardinal 623-342 with 316 passing yards from Darnold and 307 rushing yards as a team. Stanford Heisman candidate Bryce Love had 160 rushing yards with a 75-yard touchdown
History: Four of the first six Pac-12 title games have been rematches. It makes sense, given that the conference has only 12 teams and plays a nine-game conference schedule. Plus, Stanford and USC are permanent cross-division opponents. Oregon got revenge against Arizona in 2014, but the other three Pac-12 rematches have all featured Stanford pulling off two-game sweeps: 2012 vs. UCLA, 2013 vs. Arizona State and 2015 vs. USC.
SEC: No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 6 Georgia
What happened last time: Georgia was undefeated and ranked No. 1 when it visited No. 10 Auburn, which had losses to Clemson and Auburn, on Nov. 11. Auburn announced itself as a playoff contender anyway, throttling the Bulldogs 40-17. With the help of a few Georgia mistakes, Auburn dominated the game and, in particular, controlled the line of scrimmage. The Tigers shut down Georgia's prolific running game and put constant pressure on freshman QB Jake Fromm. Auburn outgained Georgia 488-230, getting an efficient passing day from Jarrett Stidham and 167 rushing yards from Kerryon Johnson.
History: The SEC has had six rematches in 25 years, and five of six have featured sweeps. The only one that didn't was 2001, when Tennessee beat Florida in a thriller to end the regular season and needed to beat LSU a second time to get a BCS championship shot. It didn't work out, as LSU won the rematch 31-20. This week is one of only two SEC rematches since 2004, joining Auburn's 2010 sweep of South Carolina on its way to a national title. Both rematches that featured a 20-point win in the regular season saw that team duplicate that feat in the title game.