Let’s play the board, shall we? Here’s a betting selection for every game “Championship Weekend” in college football.
If you listened to “Stalter & Rivers,” on Friday, I took Oregon +6.5 and noted that of all the “Power 5” title games, this was the only one I saw as a potential upset. The Ducks delivered emphatically, routing the Utes 37-15 after jumping out to a 20-0 lead at halftime.
PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP SELECTION: OREGON DUCKS +6.5 (Given on-air)
This will be a rematch of last year’s Sun Belt Conference title game and this is a series that Appalachian State has dominated. The Mountaineers are 7-0 against the Ragin’ Cajuns all-time, which includes a 17-7 victory earlier this season. This is largely an even matchup, yet because App State will be at home today and has owned Lafayette since 2014, the Mountaineers are laying over a touchdown. That creates value for bettors. Since that 10-point loss to App State, Lafayette has won six consecutive games and has out-yarded opponents by a +130 YPG margin. Over that same span, the Ragin’ Cajuns didn’t commit a single turnover. Mountaineer QB Zac Thomas will once again be a headache for Lafayette. The junior signal-caller is completing 63.8 percent of his passes and has compiled a 24:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio this season. That said, the Ragin’ Cajuns have an offensive quartet of junior QB Levi Lewis, senior WR Ja’Marcus Bradley, senior RB Raymond Calais and junior RB Elijah Mitchell that will keep them in the game. Not to mention, both teams rank in the top-20 in scoring defense. Here’s the kicker: Under coach Billy Napier, the Cajuns are 9-3 against the spread as an underdog of 10 or fewer points. They’ve also covered in eight of their last 10 games when playing a conference opponent with a .750 record or better.
SUN BELT CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SELECTION: UL-LAFAYETTE RAGIN’ CAJUNS +6.5
MAC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Miami (Ohio) vs. Central Michigan, 11:00 a.m. CT
Full transparency: I am a proud alum of Central Michigan University, so feel free to take this selection with a grain of salt. That said, I sincerely do like my beloved Chippewas today in Detroit. In last week’s rout of Toledo, CMU held the Rockets to a season-low 256 yards while out-gaining their MAC foe 552-256. Miami, meanwhile, took a 27-14 lead into halftime against Ball State and then was outscored 27-0 in the second half. Offensive lulls like the one in the second half last week are all too common for the RedHawks. The Chips are averaging nearly nine more points offensively than the RedHawks at nearly 33 per game. They’ve also scored at least 38 points in six of their last seven games and are 6-1 over that span, both straight up and against the spread. Miami has the slightly better defense, but CMU has more firepower offensively (halfback Kobe Lewis is one to watch today) and enters play today as confident as they have been all season. #FireUpChips
MAC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SELECTION: CENTRAL MICHIGAN CHIPPEWAS -6.5
I write Big 12 betting selections for SharpAngleSports.com, so I hope you also visit that site for my write-up on Baylor-Oklahoma.
Will this be Lane Kiffin’s final game coaching the Owls? He continues to be connected to head-coaching vacancies around the country and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him bolt for another crack at a Power 5 program. This is a matchup of 9-3 teams, so bettors might be tempted to grab the 8.5 points with the underdog Blazers. UAB ranks fifth in the FBS in rushing defense and sixth in passing defense, but you have to dig a little deeper. The Blazers beat a Louisiana Tech team that didn’t have its starting quarterback and leading receiver. Most of their nine wins this year have come against opponents with dreadful records and that were offensively-challenged. If we go one step further and look at spreads in UAB’s games this season, something else stands out. The Blazers lost 20-13 to Western Kentucky as a 3-point favorite in late September. As a 13.5-point underdog at Tennessee in early November, the Blazers were routed, 30-7. A week later, they fell 37-2 as a 7.5-point underdog to Southern Miss. And despite LA Tech being without its starting quarterback on November 23, UAB failed to cover as a 6.5-point favorite. Meanwhile, FAU opened its season with back-to-back losses versus nationally-ranked opponents. Since then, the Owls are 9-1 and won by an average of 20.7 points per game. Assuming Kiffin isn’t checked out, this one shouldn’t be close.
C-USA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SELECTION: FLORIDA ATLANTIC OWNS -8.5
I struggled with this matchup because I do believe Memphis (11-1) is the superior team despite winning just one more game over Cincinnati (10-2) this season. In their 12 games this season, the Bearcats were out-gained by their opponent eight times. That’s shocking and speaks to their record being mostly smoke-and-mirrors. That said, Luke Fickell’s squad also has a knack for playing everyone close, including last week when the Bearcats covered as a 13.5-point underdog against this same Memphis team. I usually don’t back underdogs that I don’t see winning outright and I don’t see Cincinnati winning today in Memphis. That said, I’m playing a hunch that the Bearcats find a way to cover.
AAC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SELECTION: CINCINNATI BEARCATS +10
Boise State routed Hawaii 59-37 in the first matchup between these two teams this season and it’s never easy to upend the Broncos on the “smurf turf.” That said, Boise State converted three Hawaii fumbles into 21 points that day and the Rainbow Warriors still managed 37 points against a stout Bronco defense. Hawaii is always one of the most aggressive teams in the nation, willing to go for it on fourth down no matter where it is on the field. Granted, that could also spell disaster, but give me an aggressive Warrior team that can score and is also catching 14 points.
MOUNTAIN WEST CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: HAWAII RAINBOW WARRIORS +14
I know this is one of the biggest games of the weekend, but I’m going to keep this write-up short and sweet. Georgia’s defense will keep the Dawgs in this game for a half, maybe even three full quarters. But eventually, I see UGA’s offense hanging its own defense out to dry. D’Andre Swift is likely to go in the first round next April. LSU’s biggest weakness is its run defense, as Ole Miss proved three weeks ago when the Rebels rushed for over 200 yards against the Tigers. That said, Swift suffered a shoulder injury in last week’s win over Georgia Tech and while he’s probable today, will he hold up in a game that is expected to be physical? LSU can also sell out to stop the run because UGA will be without its second-leading receiver in Lawrence Cager (ankle), as well as fellow wideout George Pickens (suspension) for the first half. The formula to upset LSU is there for Georgia: Play great defense and sustain long drives offensively in efforts to keep Joe Burrow and that dynamic Tiger offense off the field. I just don’t think the Dawgs can accomplish that feat for four straight quarters. Eventually Burrow is going to get his.
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SELECTION: LSU TIGERS -7
This is a lot of points to lay in a conference title game but I just don’t see how the Cavaliers keep pace. Virginia QB Bryce Perkins will be a handful for Clemson’s defense, just like he was a week ago in a win over Virginia Tech. That said, the Cavs offensive line won’t hold up versus the Tigers’ front four. Virginia also doesn’t have the athletes at all three levels defensively to slow down Trevor Lawrence and that dynamic Clemson offense, which has been firing on all cylinders for two months. The Tigers have largely flown under the radar since their near-loss to North Carolina, but you know Dabo Swinney will go for style points in efforts to give the committee something to think about when it comes to its final ratings. I’ll buy the hook to get down to the key number of 28, but we probably won’t need it.
ACC CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SELECTION: CLEMSON TIGERS -28
You’ll notice a theme in my picks for the four big conference championship games: How will the underdog keep pace? Much like the ACC title game, this is a lot of points to lay in a championship tilt, especially when Wisconsin has already faced Ohio State this season. That said, Jonathan Taylor is enough offense for the Badgers most weeks, but won’t be tonight. Taylor has faced the Buckeyes twice in his career, but they’ve held him in check. And like Michigan last week, Ohio State can overwhelm even quality defenses like Wisconsin’s. This is one of the most talented and complete OSU teams that I have ever seen and I don’t think they get tripped up tonight in Indianapolis. In fact, I don’t think the game is all that close.
BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SELECTION: OHIO STATE BUCKEYES -16