What is Andy Staples's top SEC bet on the board in conference championship week? Which Group of 5 favorite does Joan Niesen think has a strong chance of covering? All of our best bets for this weekend are here.
It's conference championship week. While the slate isn't jam-packed, there are still plenty of games with value lurking. Here are our best bets for this weekend's games.
No. 4 Georgia vs. No. 1 Alabama: OVER 63.5 Points
Playing in what feels like a slower, bygone era of football, Alabama and Georgia played a classic SEC title game in 2012 that ended with the Crimson Tide tackling Georgia’s Chris Conley on the 5-yard line to preserve a 32-28 win. If those two teams can total 60 points, then these two should be able to combine to go over 63.5. On offense, Alabama looks as if it’s playing an entirely different sport than its 2012 counterpart. Georgia’s offense is more similar now to the one it ran then, but the Bulldogs will need to score more to keep up with the Crimson Tide. So take the over, and we’ll see how much football in the SEC has evolved in six years. — Andy Staples
No. 2 Clemson (-27.5) vs. Pittsburgh
This is going to come off like a tip to bet on coastline erosion, but on a weekend where so many outcomes seem predetermined, Clemson is the most likely favorite to leave as little doubt as possible on its way to a conference title. Pitt's three-point offensive outburst at Miami is only a preview for what the Panthers should be able to muster against the Tigers' loaded front seven, and Clemson has been tearing everyone apart since its late-September Syracuse scare. It's not fun, but it's what's going to happen. — Eric Single
No. 21 Northwestern vs. No. 6 Ohio State
Ohio State hung 62 points on Michigan last week, so this team clearly can and will score on anybody. QB Dwayne Haskins torched the nation’s No. 1 defense for 400 yards and six touchdowns, and the Wolverines had previously only allowed teams to average 145 yards passing per game and had given up just five passing touchdowns. That’s how dangerous Haskins can be.
Michigan and defensive coordinator Don Brown are being criticized for their (lack of) preparation, but no team is safe from this offense. Ohio State has the No. 2 offense in the country (behind Kyle Murray and Oklahoma) and is averaging 543.9 yards and 43.4 points per game. Northwestern doesn’t move the ball down the field quickly and it doesn’t score a lot of points, ranking 108th nationally. The Wildcats actually haven’t scored more than 34 points all season—once in a loss to Akron, another time in a win over Nebraska. This team can make a tight game interesting (just ask Notre Dame), but if the defense can’t stop Haskins, can Northwestern score enough to keep it close?
QB Clayton Thorson is experienced and Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano this week called him a “NFL quarterback” who doesn’t get tricked by scheme and coverage. However, he has thrown 12 interceptions to just 14 touchdowns this season and is more cautious in the running game coming off ACL surgery. Northwestern’s offensive line has allowed 29 sacks (compared to Ohio State’s 16), so expect the Buckeyes' pass rush to disrupt the pocket and make Thorson uncomfortable. Surely after watching film from The Game, Northwestern will know not to roll out a conservative game plan like Jim Harbaugh did. And Ohio State’s unreliable defense has made quarterbacks look Heisman-worthy this season, so maybe Thorson will have a career day throwing the football. But can Northwestern slow Haskins enough for that to matter? The Buckeyes are looking for style points here with an opportunity to put up consecutive impressive performances for the first time all year. The CFP committee will be watching, should Oklahoma and Georgia lose, so expect OSU to play like it did against Michigan. — Laken Litman
Stanford at California (+3)
We have cashed nine of our 12 bets in this space this season, and the key to our success has been rolling with underdogs. So let's try and keep that trend going with taking the points in Berkeley, where the only reason why Stanford is favored is because of its reputation. If you've been watching the Pac-12 closely this season, Cal has been the better team. The Golden Bears have an incredibly strong defense that has allowed just 61 points over the past five games. Stanford's offensive line has been a disappointment this season, and Cal's defensive front should have the advantage in the trenches. Cal's offense isn't a unit with a lot of firepower, but it's going up against an underwhelming Cardinal defense that has allowed at least 31 points in five of its 11 games this season. Go with the home underdog in Saturday's Big Game. — Max Meyer
No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 14 Texas (+7.5)
It doesn’t matter how bad the Texas offense has looked in the past few weeks, especially last Saturday when it gained a season-low 297 yards against Kansas. As anyone knows, the best way to cure offensive woes is to face a defense that can’t cover or tackle.
Enter the wretched Oklahoma defense, which has allowed each and every opponent in the last month to race up and down the field with little resistance, giving up an average of 585 yards in its last four games. Despite two defensive scores last week against West Virginia, the Sooners still gave up 704 yards.
For Texas, it would be wise to try to keep Kyler Murray and his offense on the sidelines. No matter how bad the defense is, Oklahoma is still beating its opponents by almost 18 points a game on average. The offense is just too good, averaging an absurd 8.9 yards a play. Expect another close game with the difference being a few plays being made on defense. — Scooby Axson
Bonus: Group of Five
Memphis at No. 8 UCF (-3)
I'm picking UCF to cover the three-point spread here; in fact, I think the Knights will win by more than a touchdown. Sure, their game against Memphis was their closest this season, a 31-30 win—but that game happened in a rainstorm on the road. Quarterback McKenzie Milton may be injured, but his backup, Darriel Mack, hasn't been much of a downgrade at all, and against Memphis's very average defense, UCF should be just fine. — Joan Niesen