We've finally reached the finish line of a college football regular season that has simultaneously felt like the longest slog ever and an absolute blink. Exhausted ACC teams are dropping out of bowl consideration left and right, while teams like Arizona State and Washington State are each getting ready to play only their fourth game of the season.
We've got 10 mostly exciting conference championships on the docket, plus a Tennessee-Texas A&M game that could carry College Football Playoff implications. But for importance and gravitas, it's clear that two Saturday games stand out from the pack: No. 2 Notre Dame vs. No. 3 Clemson in the ACC championship (4 p.m., ET, ABC) and No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 7 Florida in the SEC championship (8 p.m., ET, CBS). So let's talk about them.
What has changed since South Bend?
Notre Dame all but punched its playoff ticket when it handed Clemson a 47-40 double-overtime defeat on Nov. 7. All the Fighting Irish had to do from that point forward was remain unbeaten, and they did so, parrying challenges from Boston College and Syracuse and pulling away from North Carolina in a 31-17 win in Chapel Hill.
The UNC win was particularly impressive. The Tar Heels are third in offensive SP+, have averaged at least 6.2 yards per play in every non-ND game on the schedule and just humiliated a solid Miami defense to the tune of 62 points and 778 yards. The Tar Heels gained 135 yards and scored 14 points on their first two drives against Notre Dame, too, but the Irish shut them down from there. And I mean shut them down: UNC scored three points and averaged 3.8 yards per play over its final nine possessions.
The Irish got sloppy against Syracuse, giving up touchdown runs of 40 and 80 yards, but overall they are ninth in defensive SP+, 15th in success rate allowed and third in havoc rate (tackles for loss, passes defensed and forced fumbles divided by total plays). They invade your backfield and force third-and-longs as well as just about anyone, and they've performed well enough overall to get coordinator Clark Lea hired away as Vanderbilt's coach.