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Ducking The Odds: Conference Championship Weekend Picks

Rusty and Sean pick against the spread for each power 5 conference championship game.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Finally having a winning week after a two week slide. The gap between myself and Sean has widened as we scramble to get across the finish line with decent records. We don’t have a lot of games on schedule for the week, but we got some good ones.

As we do every week, Sean and I pick the biggest games against the spread independently from each other. Because of the small number of games this week we are adding a couple over/unders to the mix.


Rusty’s Record: 42-40-1

Sean’s Record: 39-43-1

Last Week

Rusty’s Record: 4-3

Sean’s Record: 2-5


S: Stanford vs. USC (-3) + OVER 58 Points

I looked back at the original line for these teams' first matchup in September. USC was favored by 4, and the over/under was 55. The final in that contest was 42-24, USC.

Since that matchup, both teams have evolved. Stanford discovered that they have the most explosive running back in the country, in Bryce Love. USC discovered it can succeed with a power run game and putting less pressure on Sam Darnold. Both defenses remain nasty, but USC's is better overall, because Stanford's highly-touted secondary has been somewhat disappointing.

So, I think this game will turn out largely the same as September's meeting. I think USC can stack the box and challenge Stanford's passing game. I think USC finally has some energy after playing 12 straight games and getting their first bye week last Saturday. Stanford can hit home runs with Love, but can they keep pace with USC if they score 35 or more points? I just don't see that. Call this one 38-27 USC. USC wins and covers, and we get over 58 points.

R: Stanford vs. USC (-3) + OVER 58 Points

The Cardinal already faced off against USC this year and they had a tough go of it in their 42-24 loss. But that was early season Stanford. This is now late season Stanford. Stanford always has a tough start before they find their identity and by the end of the season they figure it out with just enough time to ruin playoff hopes while having already amassed a couple losses.

USC is coming off of a bye week and Stanford just finished playing a physical Notre Dame team. Stanford’s pass rush has been pretty weak so far this season and Bryce Love’s injuries have really slowed him down the last few weeks.

The Trojans are a really good matchup here. I think their defense is going to keep all the Stanford receivers in check and Darnold is going to make plenty of plays to cover three points. This USC squad is focused and I don’t see another high-scoring game. I’m not sure I see Stanford breaking 20, which means USC would have to do a lot more work on offense than they can probably get done with how Stanford likes to shorten games.

S: Miami (+7.5) vs. Clemson

All metrics aside, two things jump out to me.

First, the 'Canes are a "big game" team. Look at their performances in their big matchups this season: big wins over Florida State, Virginia Tech, and obviously the blowout of Notre Dame.

Second, Clemson - while an all-around excellent team - is not really built to blow people out. The only true blowout wins over good teams are big wins over Louisville and South Carolina.

I'm a big Clemson fan, and I think they win this one. I just don't think Miami has enough on offense to keep pace against Clemson's monstrous defense. On the other hand, I don't see Clemson creating much distance from Miami's tenacious, fast defense.

So, I think Clemson wins, but Miami covers. Something in the 27-23 range sounds right to me.

R: Miami vs. Clemson (-7.5)

This line has ballooned up to 10 in some places. If the line were that high, I would take the value and pick Miami plus the points. I feel comfortable taking Clemson to win by more than a touchdown.

The line was certainly affected by how the teams looked last week. Clemson looked really good against South Carolina and Miami looked just awful in their loss to Pitt. Miami is ranked twelfth in S&P+ and Clemson is ranked tenth.

Miami caught a lot of good bounces throughout the season, leading to their close games ending up in wins every time except for last week. There’s something to like though about Clemson. They’ve been to the playoffs and ACC championship games the last two years and they know how to get the job done. Big games can change how people perform and the bright lights aren’t going to crumble. I think Bryant has a great day running the ball and that Clemson can stifle the Miami attack.

S: Ohio State vs. Wisconsin (+5.5) + UNDER 53.5 Points

I think Wisconsin will squeeze and suffocate Ohio State's offense. Oddly, the Buckeyes have played 12 games and still don't really have an offensive identity. They dominate weaker defenses, and really suffer against good defenses. The shakiness of OSU's offense is worsened by the fact that J.T. Barrett is pretty screwed up. And now we have a "the backup might be better than the starter!" storyline with Dwayne Haskins having a marvelous second half against Michigan last week.

Wisconsin is a known quantity. They *will* play great defense. They *will* run the ball effectively. They *will* try some play action passes. And they'll be pretty successful at it. Not sure at the ability of Ohio State's defense to contain all that, and to create separation from Wisconsin's O.

Wisconsin can win this game. Or, alternatively, they can control the game and lose close. Either way, I'll take the underdog here. Wisconsin isn't intimidated by OSU, and they can hang in here.

And, I'll take the under. Both teams will score in the 20s.

R: Ohio State vs. Wisconsin (+5.5) + UNDER 53.5 Points

The Buckeyes still are rated as the best team in the country according to S&P+. They benefited from a terrible Michigan quarterback who overthrew every pass by ten yards. S&P+ has OSU ranked as the fifth-best offense in the country and the twelfth-best defense. Their success rate through the air and on the ground offensively, and their run game on defense, is on a different level than every other team.

Here I think Wisconsin is a bad matchup. They can do similar strategies to what Michigan and Iowa was able to do. The Badgers have faced only two above average offenses this season but have the best defense in the country according to S&P+. They had the weakest schedule in the country and drew a lot of big breaks throughout the season, but they did what they were supposed to do against lesser competition.

This is going to be a real fun one to watch. How the Wisconsin defense does against the Ohio State offense is going to determine who wins. I think the Badgers can hold them to less than 25 and that the Badgers can somehow get to 20.

S: Georgia vs. Auburn (-3)

Do you want to bet against Auburn right now? Yeah, didn't think so. With that defense, and with the coaching staff putting Jarett Stidham in positions to succeed - not to mention the monster challenge that Kerryon Johnson presents - Auburn might have the highest ceiling in college football right now.

I know it's really hard to beat the same team twice in one season. And Georgia has a monster roster on its own. But Auburn's defense is built to handle the 1-2 punch that UGA's run offense presents with Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. Auburn's secondary is also in the top 5 in the country, and can certainly make things difficult for Georgia's talented - but young - quarterback Jake Fromm.

I don't like taking the victor in the rematch, but I'm doing it a lot this week. Auburn is on a freaking roll. And I'm not betting against them. Auburn wins 30-24 and gets to the playoff.

R: Georgia vs. Auburn (-3)

Auburn is playing the best football of anyone in the country. A few weeks ago, the one thing that could blow up the playoff discussions was Auburn running the table. They hosted Georgia and Alabama two weeks apart at home. Three weeks later and the Tigers have two of the best wins in the country and now they have a shot to win the conference title.

With a win over Georgia and the SEC title, Auburn should make the playoffs. Their offensive and defensive lines are two of the most dominant forces in the sport. The offensive line imposed their will against Georgia and Alabama and the defensive line slowed down the Alabama offenses’ running game. Just a few weeks ago they blew Georgia out and looked like the better team both in all three phases. I like the Tigers to win, but closer than the last matchup.

S: TCU vs. Oklahoma (-7)

Oklahoma won this one easily by 18 points several weeks ago. Oklahoma is going to do the same thing. Kenny Hill at TCU is still a little too volatile to trust in this big-time spot. And I'm not betting against Baker "Wild Thing" Mayfield. Oklahoma wins by 10 and cruises into the playoff.

R: TCU (+7) vs. Oklahoma

This pick is partly influenced by what I want to have happen. If TCU wins this game they should be in the playoff. They would have avenged one of their two losses and they would have a better win than Alabama.

Oklahoma’s offense has been pretty much unstoppable. Their defense has been a problem. It’s always tough to beat a team twice and even though I picked the previous winners in rematches of the games above, this one is different. TCU played absolutely terribly against Oklahoma and I don’t see them playing as bad again. This is at a neutral site as well.

It would be awesome for the Big-12 to possibly miss out on a playoff appearance because they added a conference championship game when they added one in order to try and prevent a team from being left out because they didn’t have a conference championship game. Gary Patterson is just the guy to make the Big-12 look bad because they are trying to work the system so much.