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July 16, 2019

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of championship weekend

SEC Championship Alabama Georgia


In this Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018, file photo, Alabama linebacker Anfernee Jennings (33) celebrates with teammates after an interception against Auburn during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Tuscaloosa, Ala. No. 1 Alabama’s typically tough defense will be challenged by No. 4 Georgia’s offense that enters Saturday’s SEC championship game on a roll.

Wait forever, gone in a flash.

That’s the story of college football every year, as the 13 full weeks of the regular season always feel fleeting. That sensation is amplified for Talking Points this year.

The blog is just getting into a rhythm. The series picking every game against the spread has compiled six straight winning weeks with the last two slates being the best yet.

Talking Points went 37-22-1 against the spread last week, including 5-1 on plays. That brings the season total to 351-317-12 picking every game, including 38-27-1 on plays.

There’s still work to be done, though, as the pick’em will continue all the way through the end of the postseason.

Check below for picks on every game of conference championship weekend, listed in chronological order in lieu of breaking out into conferences and labeled in three separate confidence categories. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.

MAC Championship Game: Northern Illinois plus-3.5 vs Buffalo in Detroit, over/under: 50.5. Northern Illinois legitimately fields one of the best defenses in the nation, making for a matchup that’s going to be tough for Buffalo. The Bulls have played one of the five easiest schedules in the nation, per the S&P+ ratings, and overachieved due to turnover and close-game luck. Lean: Northern Illinois plus-3.5.

Pac-12 Championship Game: Utah plus-5.5 vs. Washington in Santa Clara, Calif., over/under: 45. Might be this year’s most evenly matched conference championship game, even if the odds don’t reflect as much. Must take more than a field goal in a game where points will be at a premium. Guess: Utah plus-5.5.

Sun Belt Championship Game: Louisiana-Lafayette plus-16.5 at Appalachian State, over/under: 58.5. The Rajun Cajuns hung tight in a 27-17 loss at Appalachian State earlier this year, but they played one of their best games of the season that day after coming in as 24.5-point underdogs. The Mountaineers have shown they’re a cut above the rest of the Sun Belt all season and done nothing to merit an eight-point reduction on the betting line in this matchup. Guess: Appalachian State minus-16.5.

Akron plus-30 at South Carolina, over/under: 56. In two previous spots as 30-plus point favorites this season, South Carolina beat Coastal Carolina and Chattanooga by an average of 37 points. The Zips are every bit as bad as the Chanticleers and Mocs — all terrific mascots, though. Guess: South Carolina minus-30.

Marshall plus-3.5 at Virginia Tech, over/under: 51. Virginia Tech scheduled this game in an attempt to get bowl eligible after Hurricane Florence canceled a planned contest with East Carolina earlier this season. Perhaps the Hokies should have sought an easier opponent. Not only are the Thundering Herd more seasoned than the Hokies but they’ve also been better this season — as the visitors rank No. 51 by the F/+ ratings to the home team’s No. 88. Play: Marshall plus-3.5.

Big 12 Championship Game: Texas plus-8 vs. Oklahoma in Arlington, Texas, over/under: 77.5. Even if Oklahoma hadn’t improved since losing to Texas earlier this year — and it has — the defeat was somewhat of a fluke. The Sooners outgained the Longhorns by 2.5 yards per play and only succumbed due to a minus-3 turnover margin. Play: Oklahoma minus-8.

East Carolina plus-23 at North Carolina State, over/under: 60.5. Another game that was scheduled in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence and could spell trouble for the bigger program — albeit this one appears more lopsided on paper. But East Carolina might not be quite as bad as its 3-8 straight-up record indicates considering it’s gone 1-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Guess: East Carolina plus-23.

Conference USA Championship Game: UAB plus-1 at Middle Tennessee, over/under: 45. This exact same matchup took place a week ago, with the Blue Raiders bulldozing the Blazers 27-3 as 3-point underdogs. It’s hard to now back them at a price that’s four points steeper, but the shift might be justified because of how lopsided last week’s game proved. The margin could have been worse with Middle Tennessee outgaining UAB by more than 300 yards and 4.5 yards per play. Guess: Middle Tennessee minus-1.

Stanford minus-3 at California, over/under: 47. Value may all be extracted from the Golden Bears after their five-game covering streak. Neither Stanford nor California has been wildly divergent from their season expectation, and yet the Cardinal were a 7.5-point favorite in this spot coming into the year. Guess: Stanford minus-3.

AAC Championship Game: Memphis plus-3.5 at Central Florida, over/under: 64.5. Memphis nearly knocked off UCF earlier this year in a 31-30 loss as 6-point underdogs — and that was playing against McKenzie Milton. The Golden Knights’ arguably deserved a bigger decrease to their power rating after Milton went down to injury last week. Lean: Memphis plus-3.5.

SEC Championship Game: Georgia plus-13.5 vs. Alabama in Atlanta, over/under: 63.5. It’s one thing when the Crimson Tide are being asked to lay inflated point spreads against overmatched teams. It’s quite another when they’re taking on team that aren’t at a complete talent disadvantage. Georgia is not at a complete talent disadvantage, as evidenced by last year’s classic national championship game. Play: Georgia plus-13.5.

Mountain West Conference Championship Game: Fresno State plus-2.5 at Boise State, over/under: 52.5. Boise State deserves some adjustment after knocking off Fresno State 24-17 as a 2.5-point home underdog three weeks ago, but a four-point shift feels too significant. Boise State has won two of three meetings over the last year, but Fresno State has outscored it by 1 point. This looks like a true pick’em. Lean: Fresno State plus-2.5.

ACC Championship Game: Clemson minus-27.5 vs. Pittsburgh, over/under: 52.5. Want no part of this game as Clemson could easily cover, but instincts say to side with the team that’s getting none of the action despite having covered six in a row before last week. Pat Narduzzi is a strong enough coach to catch Clemson off guard on a couple occasions, and therefore, hopefully, stay within the number. Guess: Pittsburgh plus-27.5.

Big Ten Championship Game: Northwestern plus-14.5 vs. Ohio State in Indianapolis, over/under: 61. Speaking of good coaching, Pat Fitzgerald is the one factor working in the Wildcats’ favor here. He consistently gets the best out of his teams and has covered seven straight as a double-digit underdog — dating back to the 2015 season. Be careful buying into the narrative of Ohio State running up the score without resistance. Lean: Northwestern plus-14.5.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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