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College football’s championship week: What’s at stake in each conference, including Northern Illinois playing for the MAC title

Conference champions will be crowned, bowl selection pecking orders will be locked in and more clarity will emerge about which teams will and won’t be among the four picked for the College Football Playoff.

It’s championship week, and while the matchups for the conference title games Friday and Saturday include many of the usual suspects, there are some joining the party for the first time — or the first time in a while.

Start with Michigan, which had zero appearances in the previous 11 Big Ten championship games. The Wolverines are in after knocking off Ohio State to win the East Division. Their opponent, Iowa, is in for the second time and the first since 2015.

Oklahoma State clinched its first appearance in the Big 12 championship game a week before its breakthrough win over six-time defending conference champion Oklahoma.

Wake Forest is back in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game for the first time since 2006.

In the Group of Five, UTSA will make its debut in the Conference USA championship game, Kent State is back in the Mid-American Conference title game for the first time since 2012 and Utah State is in the Mountain West championship game for the first time since 2013.

Here’s a rundown of the games, with AP rankings:

Conference USA: Western Kentucky (8-4, 7-1) at UTSA (11-1, 7-1)

Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe looks to pass against Middle Tennessee on Nov. 6, 2021. (Grace Ramey/AP)

6 p.m. Friday, CBS Sports Network

Where: Alamodome, San Antonio.

Last meeting: UTSA won 52-46 on Oct. 9.

Stakes: Both teams will go to a bowl.

Notable: Western Kentucky has won seven straight since losing to the Roadrunners, all by at least 15 points.

Pac-12: No. 10 Oregon (10-2, 7-2) vs. No. 14 Utah (9-3, 8-1)

Oregon running back Travis Dye celebrates a touchdown with offensive lineman Steven Jones on Nov. 27, 2021.

Oregon running back Travis Dye celebrates a touchdown with offensive lineman Steven Jones on Nov. 27, 2021. (Andy Nelson/AP)

Where: Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas.

Last meeting: Utah won 38-7 on Nov. 20.

Series: Oregon leads 23-11.

Stakes: Winner to Rose Bowl.

Notable: Oregon is the first team to make the title game three straight times and will be appearing for the fifth time. The Ducks are 4-0 in the game, including a 37-15 win over Utah in 2019.

Big 12: No. 5 Oklahoma State (11-1, 8-1) vs. No. 9 Baylor (10-2, 7-2)

Oklahoma State cornerback Christian Holmes during a game against Oklahoma on Nov. 27, 2021.

Oklahoma State cornerback Christian Holmes during a game against Oklahoma on Nov. 27, 2021. (Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas.

Last meeting: Oklahoma State won 24-14 on Oct. 2.

Series: Oklahoma State leads 22-18.

Stakes: Oklahoma State to CFP or Sugar Bowl if it wins; Baylor to Sugar Bowl if it wins.

Notable: The Cowboys held Baylor to season lows of 107 rushing yards and 280 total yards in their previous meeting.

MAC: Northern Illinois (8-4, 6-2) vs. Kent State (7-5, 6-2)

Northern Illinois quarterback Rocky Lombardi throws against Michigan in the first half of a game on Sept. 18, 2021.

Northern Illinois quarterback Rocky Lombardi throws against Michigan in the first half of a game on Sept. 18, 2021. (Paul Sancya / AP)

Where: Ford Field, Detroit.

Last meeting: Kent State won 52-47 on Nov. 3.

Stakes: Both teams will go to a bowl.

Notable: The Huskies have won seven of the nation-leading nine one-score games they’ve played. The loss to Kent State was one of the two they didn’t.

Mountain West: Utah State (9-3, 6-2) at No. 19 San Diego State (11-1, 7-1)

San Diego State running back Kaegun Williams leaps over a UNLV defender on Nov. 19, 2021.

San Diego State running back Kaegun Williams leaps over a UNLV defender on Nov. 19, 2021. (Chase Stevens/AP)

Where: Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson, Calif.

Last meeting: San Diego State won 38-7 on Oct. 31, 2020.

Series: San Diego State leads 13-2.

Stakes: Winner goes to Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl.

Notable: Utah State, picked fifth in the Mountain Division, won six games after trailing by double digits and went 6-0 on the road.

Sun Belt: Appalachian State (10-2, 7-1) at No. 20 Louisiana-Lafayette (11-1, 8-0)

Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Levi Lewis escapes the grasp of Louisiana-Monroe linebacker Quae Drake on Nov. 27, 2021.

Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Levi Lewis escapes the grasp of Louisiana-Monroe linebacker Quae Drake on Nov. 27, 2021. (Matthew Hinton/AP)

Where: Cajun Field, Lafayette, La.

Last meeting: Louisiana-Lafayette won 41-13 on Oct. 12.

Series: Appalachian State leads 8-2.

Stakes: Both teams will go to bowls.

Notable: This will be the third time these teams have met in the four-year history of the game. Appalachian State won the previous two.

AAC: No. 16 Houston (11-1, 8-0) at No. 3 Cincinnati (12-0, 8-0)

Cincinnati wide receiver Alec Pierce is tackled by Miami defensive back Cedric Boswell on Sept. 4, 2021.

Cincinnati wide receiver Alec Pierce is tackled by Miami defensive back Cedric Boswell on Sept. 4, 2021. (Jeff Dean/AP)

Where: Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati.

Last meeting: Cincinnati won 38-10 on Nov. 7, 2020.

Series: Houston leads 15-12.

Stakes: Cincinnati is in line for a CFP spot if it wins; Houston could go to a New Year’s Six bowl with a win.

Notable: The defending champion Bearcats have won 15 straight against conference opponents and 19 of their last 21.

SEC: No. 1 Georgia (12-0, 8-0) vs. No. 4 Alabama (11-1, 7-1)

Georgia wide receiver Jermaine Burton celebrates his touchdown reception against Georgia Tech on Nov. 27, 2021.

Georgia wide receiver Jermaine Burton celebrates his touchdown reception against Georgia Tech on Nov. 27, 2021. (Curtis Compton / [email protected]/AP)

Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta.

Last meeting: Alabama won 41-24 on Oct. 17, 2020.

Series: Alabama leads 41-25-4.

Stakes: Winner to CFP, and loser could be in line for a CFP spot depending on score margin and results of other championship games.

Notable: Georgia is allowing 6.9 points per game; that would be the lowest figure for a full season since Oklahoma allowed 6.6 in 1986.

ACC: No. 17 Pittsburgh (10-2, 7-1) vs. No. 18 Wake Forest (10-2, 7-1)

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson talks to an official during a game against Boston College on Nov. 27, 2021.

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson talks to an official during a game against Boston College on Nov. 27, 2021. (Mary Schwalm/AP)

Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.

Last meeting: Pittsburgh won 34-13 on Nov. 17, 2018.

Series: Pittsburgh leads 1-0.

Stakes: Winner to Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl.

Notable: In the only previous meeting, current QB Kenny Pickett and the Panthers beat the Demon Deacons to clinch a spot in the 2018 ACC title game, where they lost to Clemson.

Big Ten: No. 2 Michigan (11-1, 8-1) vs. No. 15 Iowa (10-2, 7-2)

Michigan running back Hassan Haskins celebrates a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Ohio State on Nov. 27, 2021.

Michigan running back Hassan Haskins celebrates a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Ohio State on Nov. 27, 2021. (Tony Ding/AP)

Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis.

Last meeting: Michigan won 10-3 on Oct. 5, 2019.

Series: Michigan leads 42-15-4.

Stakes: Michigan to CFP if it wins; Iowa in line for a Rose Bowl bid if it wins.

Notable: Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo are 1-2 in the Big Ten in sacks with a combined 24; Iowa is 94th nationally in sacks allowed.

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