Friday, January 21, 2022

College football picks, games, odds: Ranking the conference championship games by upset potential

Conference championship weekend has arrived and the slate ranks as one of the most competitive in years. There isn’t a line greater than 10.5 points and numerous regular-season surprises find themselves as unlikely underdogs. 

When a conference championship is on the line, anything can happen. The slate features perennial contenders like Alabama, but also programs like Pitt and Kent State with one combined outright conference championship. It could send teams like Cincinnati and Oklahoma State to play for the College Football Playoff. 

Unfortunately, I ended the regular season not with a bang but with a whimper. Upset picks went 1-4 against the spread thanks to some brutal beats, but I correctly predicted Auburn to give No. No. 3 Alabama fits. If not for some Heisman-level magic from Bryce Young, the Tide would have fallen. Still, I finished the regular season 26-22 against the spread and 27-21 straight up. Not bad at all for bucking the odds. 

Here’s how we rank this week’s championship games in order of upset potential. 

Important disclaimer: “upset” is defined first and foremost by the odds, not rankings. 

1. Appalachian State at No. 24 Louisiana 

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET | Where: Lafayette, Louisiana

Latest Odds: Appalachian State Mountaineers -3

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Since losing to the Texas Longhorns in the first week of the season, the Ragin’ Cajuns have rattled off 11 consecutive wins with five coming by double-figures. The Sun Belt Championship Game is a rematch from a game earlier this season when Louisiana crushed the Mountaineers 41-13, holding them to just 211 yards. Granted, Louisiana head coach Billy Napier took the Florida job. The impending news certainly rattled ULL in a tight 21-16 win over ULM. Still, Louisiana is the more talented team and shouldn’t be a dog. ATS: Louisiana, SU: Louisiana

2. Western Kentucky at UTSA

When: Friday, 7 p.m. ET | Where: San Antonio, Texas

Latest Odds: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers -3.5

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Oh, what one loss does when you live in Conference USA. A week after surviving UAB in one of the greatest games of the 2021 season, UTSA lost 45-23 to rival North Texas, granting the Mean Green bowl eligibility. Now, Western Kentucky is on the horizon and the Hilltoppers are rolling. Since losing 52-46 against UTSA earlier in the year, WKU has won seven straight games and cleared 40 points in six of them. Quarterback Bailey Zappe leads the nation with 4,993 yards passing and 52 touchdowns. However, UTSA is still on a magical run and has a chance to win a conference championship for the first time in program history. Don’t expect the Roadrunners to have a letdown. ATS: UTSA, SU: UTSA

3. No. 15 Pitt vs. No. 16 Wake Forest

When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET | Where: Charlotte, North Carolina

Latest Odds: Pittsburgh Panthers -3

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Don’t look now, but the ACC Championship Game features the best quarterback battle in college football as should-be Heisman finalist Kenny Pickett plays opposite dynamic sophomore Sam Hartman. Both players rank in the top 10 nationally in passing yards and passing touchdowns, as well as in the top five in scoring offense. These two teams have just one ACC title between them, with the Demon Deacons earning theirs in 2006. Expect an emotional game as the conference crowns a champ other than Clemson or Florida State for the first time since 2010. ATS: Wake Forest, SU: Wake Forest

4. No. 5 Oklahoma State vs. No. 9 Baylor

When: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET | Where: Arlington, Texas

Latest Odds: Oklahoma State Cowboys -5.5

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Welcome to the new Big 12, where the teams that lead the conference in scoring defense and rushing attempts rule the day. When these two teams faced off in Stillwater earlier in the season, it was 17-14 for nearly 58 minutes before Jaylen Warren scored a game-sealing touchdown. Without the friendly confines of Boone Pickens Stadium, there’s certainly a chance the game could swing the other direction. Considering tickets are the most expensive in four years, excitement is at a fever pitch for both schools. ATS: Baylor, SU: Oklahoma State

5. No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 13 Iowa

When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET | Where: Indianapolis, Indiana

Latest Odds: Michigan Wolverines -11

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Will the real Iowa please stand up? The Hawkeyes have wins over Penn State and Iowa State. They also lost by a combined 51-14 against Purdue and Wisconsin. Michigan is, by far, the toughest team Iowa has played to this point. While the Hawkeyes are better-positioned to defend Michigan’s dynamic rushing attack, it’s hard to see any scenario where Iowa’s offense holds up its end of the bargain against Aidan Hutchinson and David Njabo. The other question: will Michigan be hung over just a bit? ATS: Iowa, SU: Michigan

Which college football picks can you make with confidence during Championship Week, and which two underdogs will win outright? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned almost $3,700 in profit over the past five-plus seasons — and find out.

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