The regular season is over; if we took anything from week 14, its that laying the points with the favorites on the road in rivalry games won’t be noted as a best practice going forward. So what are the best practices for conference championship games? I’m leaning towards a belief in the underdog, especially when the underdog is being handed more than 4 TDs. Mr Cutcliffe, please kiss Jimbo Fisher’s feet in advance of Saturday and ask for only a small whipping.
While I’m making a pick for each game, I’m only betting (and thus counting) 2 games, as I refuse to allow any C-USA team or Fresno State’s defense from sucking any more value from my portfolio. 2 plays, 4 leans, and 1 I don’t want to even acknowledge
Arizona State -3 vs. Stanford
While the Sun Devils have put together a fantastic season, they’ve been absolute kryptonite to me from a betting perspective, laying eggs in games where I backed them and punishing me in games I’ve bet against them. In other words this should be an automatic layoff for me, but I just can’t help myself. Give me the Sun Devils on the fact that they’re 5-2 ATS as a home favorite this season and 9-3 in this situation with Graham on the sidelines. Seeing that this is a rematch also favors ASU in my eyes (for reasons I admit I can’t formulate on paper). Stanford’s D can slow down anyone but ASU is one of the few teams in the Pac-12 capable of breaking them on the right day.
Duke +29 vs Florida State
There really aren’t many benchmarks for championship level games of 28+ points. But this Duke team has had a magical season and is carrying the flag for every below-average player that’s ever worn the uniform. That means something, right?. Duke isn’t going to roll over and die here, and though I see no chance for the upset, I think they’re going to give Florida State a competitive game for a period of time. The Seminoles numbers are gaudy – 10-2 ATS, 5 straight covers – but this team really hasn’t been challenged since the Miami game. FSU looked pretty flat offensively last week and Duke will give the ‘Noles more of a fight than Florida did. Doesn’t hurt that this game is in Charlotte either.
OFF THE RECORD LEANS
Auburn -2 vs Missouri
If Alabama can’t slow down the Auburn rushing attack, I’m not sure if any front seven in America stands a chance, even that of the powerful Missouri Tigers, so I am completely convinced Gus Malzahn’s offense will get theirs. But can it slow down a Missouri balanced offense which has been producing 490 yards/game? Mizzou struggled to score much of the A&M game last week and needed a back-breaking run near the game’s end to pull out the cover. Both teams are playing well, but Auburn is riding a historic wave of good fortune right now and it’s just too much to go against them in this spot.
Ohio State -5.5 vs Michigan State
I guess we’ll get a chance to see how dynamic MSU’s defense really is. The Spartans D has been feasting on broken and overmatched foes for much of the season and haven’t yet seen an offense nearly as good as Ohio State’s. While I believe MSU will play the Buckeyes tough, Urban+Braxton+Carlos on turf seems like a formidable opponent, and with a shot at the national title game on the line we can count out a subpar performance from the Bucks. In the event MSU’s D keeps Ohio State at bay, can MSU break enough plays on offense to get the win? This is where I have the most questions, as an overall “OK” offense may not be enough here. I think the favorite wins here and stamps its spot in the title game.
Bowling Green +4.5 vs. Northern Illinois (Friday, 7pm)
This is the 3rd year the Huskies enter the game as the favorite, and though they’re 2-1 straight up they’ve produced an 0-2-1 mark ATS, with last year’s push coming on a touchdown in double OT. The formula is simple against NIU – beat them up physically and force Jordan Lynch to make a lot of big plays. BG is probably the most physical team NIU has faced since Iowa week 1 and I believe they’ll present their share of problems. Bowling Green comes into the game under the radar on the national scene, but Dave Clawson’s crew has been sparking (9-3) ATS and has given up a grand total of 17 points the last 4 weeks.
Rice +5 vs Marshall (Saturday, 12:00pm)
Few offenses in the country are clicking the way Marshall’s is right now, as the Herd have put 45+ in each of the last 6 games. The question in this game is can Rice slow them down? While the Owls defense looks very good on paper (22nd in the nation in yard allowed), it hasn’t faced on offense anywhere near as powerful as Marshall’s since September, and with the Herd playing the way they are, I lean towards Rakeem Cato on this one. In order to win this one and cover, Marshall’s D will have to slow down the potent Rice rushing attack, which is nowhere near a guarantee. This one being in Houston certainly favors the Owls, and I think David Bailiff > Doc Holliday.
Fresno State -3.5 vs Utah State
My leans on Fresno games have been way off all season, mostly thanks to the Bulldogs not generally taking care of business ATS, so this is not one I’ll be taking personally or have a strong feel for either way. On one hand, Derek Carr is legitimately awesome and I’m not sure anyone in the Mountain West is capable of slowing him down, especially on his home turf. On the other hand, Fresno employs an ‘Ole!’ defense and Utah State just might go San Jose State and score every time they have the ball. Honestly cannot get with either side of this one.