- With a College Football Playoff spot seemingly up for grabs, Oklahoma, Georgia and even UCF have all the motivation in the world to play their best football in conference championship games on Saturday.
With the College Football Playoff race thrown into chaos by Ohio State's beatdown of Michigan last week, the stakes have been raised in several conference championship games across the country. So where can bettors find an edge for Saturday's all-important games? Look no further.
Texas Longhorns vs. Oklahoma Sooners (-7.5)
Sat. 12/1, 12:00 p.m. ET in Arlington, TX
Pick: Oklahoma -7.5
With a near-perfect 11-1 record, Oklahoma must beat the single team it has lost to this year, Texas, in the Big 12 Championship Game on Saturday to have a shot at earning a College Football Playoff berth. Played in early October, the Red River Shootout was one of the best games of the season, with Texas coughing up a 21-point fourth quarter lead before stealing back a 48-45 win with a late field goal. With a full regular season of evidence on the table, it's fair to say that performance was about the ceiling for Texas's offense. The Longhorns are averaging 31.7 points per on the year, have topped the 40-point mark three times, and have posted 24 points each of the past two weeks in games against Iowa State and Kansas. They were spotted short fields twice on turnovers when they played Oklahoma, and converted those miscues into 10 points of their own.
Meanwhile, a 45-point game now looks like the floor for the Sooners—they've topped that total in all six games they've played since then. They outplayed the Longhorns by most metrics in Round 1, including yardage, outgaining UT by 2.49 yards per play. A disparity that wide normally accompanies a blowout victory, but OU cost itself with repeated self-inflicted errors. With its College Football Playoff hopes certainly still alive—Georgia and Ohio State won't play until later in the day—the Sooners will be looking to impress against their rival.
One trend to seal the deal on this bet: Over the last 10 seasons, favorites of 3.5 to 10 points averaging at least 440 yards per game and coming off a contest in which they averaged at least 6.75 yards per play are 32-8 against the spread when playing teams allowing between 390 and 440 YPG at least seven games into the season. — Sam Chase
Memphis Tigers at UCF Golden Knights (-3.5)
Sat. 12/1, 3:30 p.m.
Pick: UCF -3.5
Undoubtedly, McKenzie Milton’s knee injury hurts this UCF team significantly. Milton is one of the best quarterbacks in all of college football, and this Knights offense runs through him in a variety of ways. But it’s also worth noting that UCF head coach Josh Heupel is one of the best offensive minds in the nation, and now-starter Darriel Mack Jr. is an explosive runner at the quarterback position. Mack Jr. came in after Milton went down this past weekend, and he ended up rushing for 51 yards on 10 attempts. Earlier in the season, he rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown in a start against East Carolina. The reality is that the freshman is extremely dangerous in open space, and there should be plenty of that against a lousy Memphis defense. Heupel will also make sure to simplify the offense so that Mack Jr. has the opportunity to make some quick, easy passes. It also might seem that this line is too generous to UCF considering the Knights only beat the Tigers 31-30 when the teams met in Memphis in October. But UCF has one of the best crowds in the country, and the atmosphere should be ridiculous for this game. UCF is 6-0 against the spread when allowing 14 or fewer points in its previous game since the start of last season. The Knights are also 19-9 against the spread when playing as a favorite since the start of the 2016-17 season. — Zachary Cohen
Georgia Bulldogs vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (-13.5)
Sat. 12/1, 4:00 p.m. in Atlanta, GA
Pick: Georgia +13.5
Neutral field underdogs that average at least 200 rushing yards per game are 15-1 against the spread since the start of the 2009 season—including 9-0 against the spread since the start of 2014—when coming off four straight games with 225 or more rushing yards. Georgia is one of 40 FBS teams to average more than 200 rushing yards per game in 2018, and the Bulldogs were one of 31 such teams last season. Alabama went 0-5 against the spread in their five meetings last season against teams that ended 2017 with an average of more than 200 rushing yards per game, and the Tide are 1-3 against the spread against such teams this season. None of the teams Alabama has faced boasts a rushing attack as potent as that of Georgia's, which averaged more than 336 rushing yards per game over four November contests. The Bulldogs’ 10-3 ATS record in postseason games over the past dozen years includes a 5-0 ATS mark over the past four seasons. While taking the points is the proper play here, a moneyline wager at anything north of +400 is also worthy of strong consideration. — Scott Gramling
Fresno State Bulldogs at Boise State Broncos (-2.5)
Sat. 12/1, 7:45 p.m.
Pick: Boise State -2.5
Real estate agents would kill for a comparable like this one. Earlier this month, Boise State was a 2.5-point underdog at home against Fresno State and won, 24-17. While the Broncos needed a fourth-quarter comeback to upend the Bulldogs, the moment and the environment were simply too much for Fresno State, which hasn’t won in Boise since 1984. Since then, senior quarterback Brett Rypien has continued to rewrite the Mountain West record books in passing yards and completions, and most recently led Boise State to a win over then-one-loss Utah State for a spot in the conference championship. Meanwhile, Fresno State has twice failed to cover, most recently against 1-10 San Jose State, which it led just 3-0 at half. While Fresno State’s defense will keep this title game close, its offense can’t match Boise State’s over the course of 60 minutes. For the surging Broncos, needing just a field goal margin to cover is eminently doable. — Ed McGrogan