This college football season has gone a lot more smoothly than 2020, at least from a scheduling perspective. Last year’s conference championship games were played the weekend before Christmas, nearly mixed with the bowl games as well as certain teams’ final rescheduled regular-season games. It added another challenge to handicapping the conference title clashes. But this year we are essentially back to normal, with all 10 FBS conferences playing their title games this weekend. Of course, the big one is in the Southeastern Conference, where undefeated Georgia will try to keep Alabama out of the College Football Playoff.
It’s a great chance to reflect on what has been a remarkable season, and I predicted an important phenomenon in our VSiN College Football Betting Guide, writing, “What I am especially looking forward to (is) that the extra year of eligibility granted to players by the NCAA has the potential to completely upset the apple cart, at least for one season.” That has turned out to be prophetic, and I think we will see that in a nutshell this weekend, as familiar participants in conference title games like Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma, UAB and Boise State will be watching some new teams take the stage.
From a betting perspective, the conference championships are always big, and studying the history of each game can give bettors an edge. This year’s games are projected to be competitive. Last year five games finished with double-digit point spreads, whereas this year only two have lines that big. With the Sun Belt game canceled due to COVID-19, seven of the nine games played were won by underdogs against the spread. Seven also went Under the total. Here is a look at the betting history of each league championship game and how it might affect this year’s contest.
Western Kentucky (-1/72) at Texas-San Antonio
The Conference USA championship gets the weekend started with a 7 p.m. EST kickoff Friday. It is a rematch of a game this season in which UTSA outlasted Western Kentucky 52-46 in a game that featured over 1,200 yards of offense. C-USA has staged 16 title games, and this will be the first since 2017 not including UAB. It will also mark the first appearance for the host Roadrunners. Western Kentucky has appeared twice, winning both outright and ATS. However, the Hilltoppers were hosts both times. Home teams boast an impressive 11-4 SU and 10-5 ATS mark since ’06. Favorites own a 9-7 ATS edge all time, though underdogs have covered the last three when the line was less than a TD while favorites of 7 points or more are 4-1 ATS. Also, in the two games since ’09 in which the host was an underdog, that team won both SU and ATS.
Oregon vs. Utah (-3/59.5)
The 11th annual Pac-12 championship matchup should sound familiar as the same teams squared off two years ago, and more recently just two weeks ago in the regular season. In the latest contest, Utah walloped Oregon 38-7, holding the Ducks to a season-low 63 yards rushing. This year the Pac-12 title tilt moves to Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. In its third straight appearance in the championship game, Oregon is looking for its third consecutive title and fifth overall. The last two seasons were upset wins. Utah played in this contest in 2018 and ’19, losing both times. In the first three Pac-12 title games played at a host school, the road team went 3-0 ATS, and that streak was extended to four last year in Oregon’s win. However, in the previous six neutral-site contests, favorites were 5-1 SU and 4-2 ATS. Utah will hope to extend that run. Totals have alternated in consecutive years since 2014, leaving the Over due for 2021.
Baylor vs. Oklahoma State (-5/46.5)
Oklahoma has won all four previous Big 12 title contests, and the only time the Sooners failed to cover the point spread was in 2019 against Baylor. But with Oklahoma not on the field Saturday, the second school ever to win the Big 12 title game will be Baylor or Oklahoma State, making its first appearance in the contest. Surprisingly, this game has gone Under the total all four times, with Oklahoma showcasing its defense by allowing just 22 ppg. A defensive slugfest this year would be no surprise, with Oklahoma State allowing just 16.4 ppg and Baylor only 19.4. Furthermore, the teams combined for just 38 points earlier this season in Stillwater. This game is played annually at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Cowboys were here just two weeks ago when they turned back Texas Tech 23-0. They are on an amazing 9-0-1 ATS run.
Kent State (-3/73.5) vs. Northern Illinois
The MAC championship game is the second-longest series of any of the leagues, dating to 1997. This year’s game will be a rematch of the 2012 showdown between Kent State and Northern Illinois. That was a high-scoring affair in which the Huskies (-7) prevailed 44-37. It would be no surprise to see a similarly explosive offensive contest as both teams score and allow in excess of 30 ppg. This game is played at Ford Field in Detroit, and NIU has been a frequent participant, going 4-4 SU and 2-5-1 ATS in eight appearances. The Golden Flashes’ only MAC title tilt came in that 2012 loss to the Huskies. This series has trended heavily toward underdogs, who have won ATS at a 9-2-1 clip since 2008, including the last five. With a total of 73.5, this will be the highest posted number the MAC title game has seen, and five of the last seven games with totals higher than 60 went Under.
Appalachian State (-3/53) at Louisiana
Louisiana is making its third straight appearance in the Sun Belt title game but is still seeking its first win. It would have been four straight had last year’s game against Coastal Carolina not been canceled due to COVID-19. The matchup is familiar to Sun Belt fans, pitting Louisiana against the team it lost to in the first two years of this game, Appalachian State. Perhaps this time will be the charm for the Ragin’ Cajuns, as it will be the first time they’ll host the contest. Despite having a better record — 11-1 vs. App State’s 10-2 — Louisiana is a 3-point home dog. These teams last met in December 2020, when the Ragin’ Cajuns pulled a 24-21 upset on the road. The Mountaineers have won six straight games, while the hosts come in as winners of 11 straight since opening with a loss to Texas.
Houston at Cincinnati (-10.5/54)
A probable College Football Playoff berth is on the line in the American Athletic Conference championship game as undefeated Cincinnati looks to become the first Group of 5 team to qualify for the Final Four. Standing in the way of that as well as a second straight AAC title is 11-1 Houston, which has somewhat flown under the radar despite its gaudy record. The Bearcats are double-digit favorites and will look to avoid the trouble they faced last year, when they survived Tulsa 27-24 as 13.5-point chalk. That was the second straight underdog cover in this title series. Favorites have won four straight games outright, however. Cincinnati’s biggest challenge figures to be holding down the Cougars’ surging offense, as that unit has gained over 500 yards per game in its last five contests. Another big offensive performance by coach Dana Holgorsen’s team would probably result in the AAC championship total going Over for the fourth time in the last five seasons.
Georgia (-6.5/50.5) vs. Alabama
The SEC championship game is the longest-running conference title series and usually the biggest stage. Saturday’s clash between Alabama and Georgia, while seemingly having a familiar ring, will mark only the third time in the game’s 30-year history that it has happened. Georgia is undefeated and seemingly locked into the College Football Playoff. Alabama will get into that foursome with a win, but surely the Bulldogs would prefer a playoff without the Crimson Tide. Alabama won the inaugural SEC championship game in 1992 and has done so eight more times, including five of the last seven years. However, the Tide is just 5-9 ATS all time in this game. But this will be the first time since 2008 that they’ll play as an underdog here. Georgia is 3-5 SU and 5-3 ATS in eight appearances. Overall, favorites have typically gotten the job done, winning 16 of the last 19 SEC title games while going 10-8-1 ATS. Surprisingly, Over the total has converted in 14 of the last 18, with the 2020 game producing 98 points, second only to the 101 scored in 2013 by Auburn and Missouri. With the Bulldogs allowing a national-best 6.9 ppg, the game will be hard-pressed to reach that level of scoring, much less the posted total of 50.5.
Wake Forest vs. Pittsburgh (-3/72.5)
For the first time since 2014, the ACC championship contest will not include Clemson. Making things even more interesting is that this year’s combatants have been here only once each in the 16-year history of the game. Pittsburgh lost to Clemson 42-10 in 2018, and Wake Forest captured the conference crown in 2006 with a bizarre 9-6 win over Georgia Tech. That was the lowest-scoring game in the history of this contest, a complete contrast to what is expected this year. The total has been set at 72.5, which would exceed the record by almost a touchdown. Both teams come in at 10-2, but oddsmakers give the Panthers the edge as 3-point favorites. That could be noteworthy, as favorites have won the last nine title games outright while going 6-3 ATS. The only time these schools have met was in 2018, a 34-13 decision won by Pitt.
Iowa vs. Michigan (-10.5/43.5)
The Big Ten championship game will be unfamiliar by recent standards, although Iowa did play Michigan State in this game in 2015, a 16-13 decision in favor of the Spartans. That was the only appearance for Michigan or Iowa in the 10-year history of the contest. Ohio State has won the last four installments, all as a favorite, but failed to cover the point spread in the last two. Michigan, off its impressive win over the Buckeyes last weekend, comes in as a double-digit favorite, and a win would secure the program’s first College Football Playoff berth. That isn’t necessarily an endorsement of coach Jim Harbaugh’s team, however, as underdogs own an 8-2 ATS edge in the history of this title clash. Both teams have been very good defensively, each yielding fewer than 18 ppg. Beginning with the conference championship game in 2015, the Under has gone 4-2 in the last six editions.
Utah State at San Diego State (-6/50)
This will be the ninth annual Mountain West championship game and the first since 2016 in which Boise State will not take part. It will also return to the usual host-team format after last year’s neutral-field contest in Las Vegas went to San Jose State. San Diego State has been in this game twice, but not since 2016. While the Aztecs won both those games outright, they failed to cover either point spread. That certainly has not been unusual, as favorites have won SU but lost ATS four times in eight years. Furthermore, underdogs are on a 6-1 ATS run. SDSU’s visiting opponent is a massive surprise, at least when you consider preseason prognostications. Coming off a 1-5 season in which they scored just 15.5 ppg, Utah State has rebounded big-time, going 9-3 and scoring over double its average a year ago in its first season under coach Blake Anderson. This is the Aggies’ first MWC title game appearance. Keep an eye on the total, currently at 50, as this championship game series sports the longest current running trend streak, having gone Under the total in each of the last five seasons.