Western Kentucky vs. UTSA: Betting Odds
There are 10 conference championship games happening this weekend, and the Conference-USA one is my absolute favorite.
Or, at the least, it’s the most underrated.
UTSA was running away from their opponents to the tune of an 11-0 start. Unfortunately, the Roadrunners fell short of a perfect season, getting blown out by North Texas in the final regular-season game.
However, UTSA can still cap off their historic season with a conference title victory.
But standing in the Roadrunners’ way is the most electric offense in the country. Bailey Zappe captains an offense that scores the second-most points per game in the FBS, trailing only Ohio State.
So, in a battle between two mid-major powerhouses, where does the value lie?
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Odds
If you haven’t watched the Hilltoppers this season, you’ve missed out on the best show in college football.
Every week, Western Kentucky takes the field in what’s been dubbed Zappe Hour. The Toppers throw the ball more than any country in the nation except for Mike Leach’s Bulldogs, but they’ve been immensely more explosive doing it.
Zappe threw for the most yards (4,968) and touchdowns (52) in college football this season, recording a 70% completion rate and almost 10 adjusted yards per attempt in the process. He recorded more than a few Turnover Worthy Plays (22), and PFF had him ranked as just the 17th highest graded quarterback as a result.
But the offense he ran was nothing short of spectacular. Western Kentucky paced the FBS in Success Rate and finished fifth in Predicted Points Added. Zappe averaged over 400 passing yards per game, and the offense dropped 40 or more points regularly.
Jerreth Sterns was a huge part of that. Sterns caught over 80% of his FBS-high 156 targets this season, leading all of college football with 125 receptions. He posted over 1500 yards and 12 touchdowns as a result, finishing as PFF’s seventh highest-graded receiver.
As a result, the Hilltoppers went 7-1 in conference Zappe Hours, although their one loss was to their opponent today.
UTSA Roadrunners Odds
UTSA is perfectly represented by its mascot. While the Hilltoppers pass all over the field, the Roadrunners regularly run for 200 yards per game. Sincere McCormick ran all over the C-USA to the tune of a 1200-yard season with 12 touchdowns, all on 4.5 yards per carry.
UTSA was also the conference’s best scoring defense, allowing the third-fewest yards per game (346.75) as a result. The Roadrunners also managed to crack the top-50 nationally in defensive Red Zone efficiency.
UTSA rode their run game and defense to an 11-0 start to the season, and it was ranked as high as #15 at one point. However, the complete letdown against North Texas gives everyone pause for concern.
Moreover, the Roadrunners secondary has me worried. The Roadrunners rank 99th in PFF’s coverage grades, and they were 70th nationally in defensive Pass Success Rate. Zappe threw for over 500 yards in the two’s first meeting, and I’m sure he’ll do it again.
Prediction and Pick
My pick: Western Kentucky -1 (-115 at DraftKings)
Speaking of the last meeting, WKU completely outplayed UTSA but somehow suffered the 52-46 loss.
The Hilltoppers outgained the Roadrunners (670 yards to 564), produced more first downs (35 to 32), and even won the time of possession battle. Penalties seemed to kill WKU in the game, as it managed eight for 77 yards to UTSA’s three for 25.
Therefore, I’m banking on a regression to the mean in this game.
UTSA finally suffered a loss, and it’s mortal as a result. The Roadrunners’ pass defense is mediocre at best, and Zappe-to-Sterns will rip it up as a result.
The sharps agree. This line opened at UTSA -2.5 but smart money moved it across zero. Moreover, I’ve seen projections that make UTSA closer to 3.5-point favorites, so there’s still clear value with the Hilltoppers.
Look for Zappe and the Hilltoppers to showboat their way to the C-USA title on Friday night.