SPORTS FOCUS: Outsiders now insiders in college

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Michigan is 3-17 against Ohio State since 2001.

But after the Wolverines outplayed and outlasted the Buckeyes 42-27 on Saturday, nobody in Lansing was thinking about their team’s futility against their southern neighbors.

In a rivalry that became white hot when Ohio State assistant coach Bo Schembechler accepted the UM head coaching job in 1969, The Game lived up to the hype on a cold and snowy day.

Not only did Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh secure his first win against archrival Ohio State (he was 0-6), the Wolverines became only the fourth team from the Big Ten East Division to make an appearance in the conference championship game since the division alignment in 2014. The Buckeyes had won the division four straight years.

Whether or not Michigan’s win will signal a shift in power in the Big Ten from the state of Ohio to the state of Michigan remains to be seen. For now, the No. 2 Wolverines (11-1) can clinch a spot in the College Football Playoff with a win against No. 13 Iowa (10-2), which survived with a 28-21 win against Nebraska last Friday and watched as Minnesota upset Wisconsin the next day to deny the Badgers their fifth conference title game appearance.

In the Big 12, Oklahoma won’t be playing in the conference title game for the first time since the game resumed in 2017. That’s because No. 5 Oklahoma State won the Bedlam game 37-33 to clinch a spot in the Big 12 Championship against No. 9 Baylor.

Baylor-Oklahoma will be televised on ABC at noon. Michigan-Iowa is at 8 p.m. on FOX.

The Atlantic Coast Conference championship game will not include Clemson. The Tigers’ string of six consecutive ACC title games came to an end as No. 16 Wake Forest (10-2) claimed its first Atlantic Division title. No. 15 Pittsburgh (9-3) won the Coastal Division, marking the second ACC Championship appearance by the Panthers.

The conference championship games are played to the backdrop of the College Football Playoff.

The Southeastern Conference showdown between No. 1 Georgia (12-0) and No. 3 Alabama (11-1) stands out as the marquis game of the weekend. CBS will air the game starting at 4 p.m. from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, a virtual home game for the Bulldogs.

The new kid on the block is Cincinnati. The Bearcats (12-0) are the first Group of Five team to break through into the College Football Playoff top four since it started in 2014. No. 4 Cincinnati will play No. 21 Houston in the American Athletic Conference Championship. Coverage will be provided by ABC starting at 4 p.m.

What are the chances that Cincinnati will be expunged from the playoff is Alabama beats Georgia and Oklahoma State beats Baylor? It’s possible, but so far the CFP committee has stood by the Bearcats after they’ve done their part by continuing to win games.

What if Iowa upsets Michigan and Baylor knocks off Oklahoma State? What about idle No. 6 Notre Dame (11-1), which is not affiliated with a conference?

The field of four teams will be announced Sunday.

The CFP semifinal games will take place Dec. 31. The bowl season begins Dec. 17. There are 39 bowl games scheduled this season.

Lee Goodwin writes about sports for Local.News. His column, “Sports Focus,” appears Fridays.