This season has been a journey. I’d be lying if I said every week has been profitable, but in my first year handicapping college football full-time, I’ve learned a ton that I’m excited to bring into next year. We’re into conference championship week, and with a much smaller slate, it’s important not to force plays that you aren’t confident in. However, I’ll get into some of my favorite plays in this article ahead of the championship slate. Let’s get to work.
College Football 2022 Record: 162.5-137-4 (54.3%)
C-USA Championship: North Texas Mean Green at UTSA Roadrunners
Game Info: Friday, December 2, 7:30 PM EST
On Friday afternoon, the Pac-12 Championship is the main attraction. However, this C-USA Championship between North Texas and UTSA carries a ton of intrigue. When these teams met earlier this season, UTSA needed a touchdown in the final 30 seconds to escape a thrilling back-and-forth affair, and we could see a similarly exhilarating outcome here.
My favorite 29-year-old college quarterback Austin Aune is having a fantastic season with 31 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. As a result of his excellent play, the Mean Green rank fifth in the country in explosive passing. This UTSA secondary has been a problem all year, and they rank 103rd in explosive passing allowed, so look for Aune to complete plenty of downfield passes in this game.
— Stadium (@Stadium) November 6, 2022
In the matchup earlier this year, North Texas was one-dimensional – they only ran for 22 yards on 21 carries. However, their run game has been heating up lately as they’ve averaged 5.0 YPC in three of their last four games. They’re 3-0 in those games, and their newfound run game will help with overall offensive balance.
Of course, UTSA’s offense has a ton of juice as well. Frank Harris has 3,524 passing yards, the ninth-most in the country, and 27 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions. Zakhari Franklin leads the way with 956 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns while Joshua Cephus has 901 yards and six scores. With North Texas’s top two defensive players, DeShawn Gaddie and Mazin Richards, in question for this game, UTSA should put up points in bunches.
The over is the best play in this game, and it’s already getting steamed up. It’s an indoor venue at the Alamodome where UTSA has scored 39 points per game this season. Both of these teams are top 15 in pace of play this season, and they can both run balanced offenses with plenty of counters to whatever these defenses want to do.
You’ll look at the prior matchup between these teams and see that there were only 58 points scored. However, it’s important to note that it was a bizarre 6-3 halftime score and 13-10 after three quarters before a 35-point final quarter. I expect the final quarter to be far more indicative of the outcome of this game.
However, one thing that won’t change is the closeness of the affair. I love this UTSA team, but this line shouldn’t be over seven points. The North Texas offense will have plenty of advantages over the UTSA defense that is overrated, particularly after facing four straight backup quarterbacks. In this type of a matchup, the backdoor should be wide open.
Best Bet: North Texas +8.5 (play to +7.5) and over 67.5 (play to 69.5)
Big 12 Championship: Kansas State Wildcats at TCU Horned Frogs
Game Info: Saturday, December 3, 12:00 PM EST
Before this season started, I placed a futures bet on TCU to win the Big 12. Much of it was due to my belief in Sonny Dykes’ ability to transform this program right away, but I also had strong belief in their new defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie. It took a while, and there were some ugly results early in the season, but this defense has completely turned a corner in recent weeks.
TCU’s offense has dealt with some injuries lately, most notably to quarterback Max Duggan and wide receiver Quentin Johnston, but their defense has stepped up in a big way. The Texas game was the best example where they held the Horned Frogs to under 200 yards of offense and just three points (the touchdown was a scoop and score by their defense). TCU has allowed 30 points in a game just once since October 15.
One concern here is that linebacker Johnny Hodges, the team’s leader with 73 tackles, pulled his hamstring against Iowa State last week. However, the reports this week have been largely positive, and it sounds like he’ll be good to go for this game. He and Jamoi Hodge form a linebacker tandem that will be relied upon to stop Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn in the backfield.
The Wildcats have moved from Adrian Martinez to Will Howard at quarterback as he gives the offense more of a ceiling from a downfield passing standpoint. However, this is still a rather limited receiving corps. Malik Knowles leads the way with 2.2 yards per route run, but he’s the only receiver on the team with more than 500 yards this season.
Due to their somewhat limited downfield passing game, Kansas State plays at a slow pace – they rank 99th in pace of play and have a 60% rush rate in neutral situations. Vaughn will have success against the Horned Frogs who stack the box at the lowest rate in the country, but that also means the clock will keep churning in this game.
Kansas State’s strength is its defense that has successfully transitioned to a 3-3-5 scheme. The Wildcats’ secondary ranks 48th in coverage by PFF as Josh Hayes and Ekow Boye-Doe are a dynamic tandem at cornerback. This defense thrives at limiting drives from resulting in touchdowns as they are allowing just 3.3 points per possession past the 40-yard line.
The Wildcats also thrive in limiting explosive passing plays. One of TCU’s biggest strengths is their downfield passing game, and they had five passes of 20+ yards in that first matchup, but Kansas State ranks 22nd in rate of allowing pass plays of 20+ yards. I also expect Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Felix Anudike-Uzomah to make a much bigger impact after being limited to just two pressures in that first matchup.
6 combined sacks for Khalid Duke & Felix Anudike-Uzomah vs Texas Tech
First time time in KSU history 2 teammates had 3 sacks each pic.twitter.com/DZZ9M407eO
— Clint The K-State Fan (@Thekstatefan2) October 4, 2022
When these teams met earlier in the season, Deuce Vaughn averaged 6.9 YPC and the Wildcats had a 28-10 lead before Will Howard went down with an injury, spurring the TCU comeback. However, the Horned Frogs’ defense has improved considerably since then, and I anticipate this being a surprisingly low-scoring game. As a result, I consider the under to be the best play here.
I anticipated making Kansas State my best bet here due to the bizarre circumstances of that first matchup. However, TCU is well-schooled and balanced in all respects, and this game truly profiles as a coin flip. I’ll be hedging my TCU ticket somewhat, and I’d recommend doing so if you have futures on either team here.
Best Bet: under 62 points (play to 61)
SEC Championship: LSU Tigers at Georgia Bulldogs
Game Info: Saturday, December 3, 4:00 PM EST
Despite all of Georgia’s success, including a national championship last year, Kirby Smart hasn’t brought an SEC Championship back to Athens since becoming the head coach. He’s had three SEC East titles, but the Bulldogs have lost three times in that span. They have the opportunity to rewrite that recent history on Saturday.
The biggest handicap for the Bulldogs this year has been their level of motivation. They simply looked bored against Kent State, Missouri, and Kentucky, and those games were far closer than they could have been. However, there are plenty of veterans on this roster who will be eager for their opportunity to etch their names in history.
LSU has a major obstacle to overcome as dual-threat quarterback Jayden Daniels suffered an ankle injury on an attempted two-point conversion at the end of last week’s loss to Texas A&M. He’s reportedly in a walking boot, and with his rushing so crucial to what LSU wants to do on offense, that’s a massive blow.
However, I buried the lede there – LSU just lost to Texas A&M! That team was a walking corpse! Devon Achane, a future NFL running back, ran for 215 yards in that game, and LSU’s defense completely caved as they allowed the Aggies to score 38 points – they barely managed 20 points against UMass the week prior.
Meanwhile, Georgia got some positive injury news. Adonai Mitchell, an excellent wide receiver who has been sidelined for almost the entire season, is expected to contribute to this week’s effort. Mitchell caught touchdown passes in both the CFP Semi-Final and Final last season, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him make a big-time grab against this secondary.
The strength of the Georgia offense remains their two outstanding tight ends, Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington. LSU’s secondary ranks 91st in PFF’s coverage grades, and they’re heavily reliant on their pass rush featuring Harold Perkins and B.J. Ojulari. However, Stetson Bennett hasn’t been sacked in the last five games, and Georgia ranks seventh in offensive havoc allowed.
Texas A&M laid the blueprint last week for how to beat Perkins, perhaps the best pass-rusher in college football – put him in space in coverage. Georgia can certainly follow that with Bowers and Washington. Not to mention, the Bulldogs can expose that poor LSU run defense with the trio of Kenny McIntosh, Daijuan Edwards, and Kendall Milton.
Even if Daniels was at full strength, this was going to be a difficult game for him. After Notre Dame put a real scare in Georgia in 2019, Kirby Smart will have counter punches on defense for Brian Kelly’s offense, and that coaching edge is significant. Georgia’s secondary is outstanding and Jalen Carter will feast against an unproven interior offensive line.
I bet this game at -16.5, but it’s since moved to -17.5. I’d imagine there will be enough pushback at 17.5 to freeze the line at that number, but I’d be fine taking it at that price. Otherwise, you can consider a first half spread for Georgia or waiting to attempt to find a better number live. Ultimately, I don’t foresee this game being close.
Best Bet: Georgia -16.5 (play to -17.5)
Mountain West Championship: Fresno State Bulldogs at Boise State Broncos
Game Info: Saturday, December 3, 4:00 PM EST
In the Mountain West Championship, we have two teams who have gone through plenty of ups and downs throughout the season on their way to this point. Both teams have had identity changes primarily due to differing starting quarterbacks. For Fresno State, the return of Jake Haener from injury is monumental.
When these teams met earlier this season, the score was tied 20-20 despite Haener not starting. Then, the Bulldogs allowed 20 straight points, leading to a slightly misleading 40-20 final score. Haener is back now, however, and he has thrown for 17 touchdowns to just three interceptions in his eight games this season.
The Boise State defense has great numbers on the surface. They rank 6th in defensive success rate, 7th in finishing drives, 9th in EPA, and first in pass play success rate allowed. Their secondary is ranked 13th in coverage by PFF’s grading.
However, much of that is due to the teams they’ve faced. New Mexico and Colorado State finished as two of the worst offenses in the country. Nevada, Wyoming, and San Diego State all finished as some of the worst offenses in college football, as well.
Despite that slew of bad offenses, Boise State ranks 123rd in pass play explosiveness allowed. Last week, they allowed over 300 passing yards to Utah State’s Cooper Legas who ranks 108th among 157 qualified passers in PFF passing grade. Haener ranks 7th in the same metric.
Boise State has also allowed a lot of big passing plays – they rank 123rd in pass play explosiveness allowed – as they tend to gamble in pass coverage too often. That won’t fly against Haener who has completed 46.7% of his passes 20+ yards downfield and has 10 big-time throws to just one turnover-worthy play on those per PFF.
WHAT A DIME BY JAKE HAENER 😱pic.twitter.com/99qoQdKZRd
— Pickswise (@Pickswise) September 25, 2021
The Boise State offense has progressed a ton since early in the season, primarily due to the elevation of Dirk Koetter to offensive coordinator. Koetter has empowered Taylen Green to be a dynamic dual-threat quarterback which has helped the run game and Goerge Holani a ton.
However, Green was held to just 127 passing yards against Fresno State in the first matchup, and Fresno State’s defense was bolstered by the recent return of safety Evan Williams from injury. The injury to David Perales is something to watch, but reports are that he’ll be able to give it a go in this game.
Perales will be critical as Fresno State’s best defensive attribute is its ability to create havoc – they rank 21st in havoc and Boise State ranks 88th in havoc allowed behind an inconsistent offensive line, so the Bulldogs could live in the Broncos’ backfield in this one.
Due to that havoc, and Taylen Green’s inconsistency as a pure passer, Boise State’s best chance in this game is if they can be playing with a lead throughout and lean on their run game. However, Jake Haener won’t make life easy for this secondary, and I love Fresno State to pull off the upset win here. I’ll happily take the points with the Bulldogs.
Best Bet: Fresno State +3.5 (play to +3)