College Football Conference Championship Best Bets

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This is my favorite week in the whole college football season. The college football title games supplanted bowl season since football players have increasingly opted out of bowl games in recent years.

Below, I’ll handicap my favorite gambling looks in the Utah-USC, Kansas State-TCU, and Clemson-North Carolina conference championships.

Pac-12 Championship: No. 12 Utah Utes (9-3) vs. No. 4 USC Trojans (11-0)

We are kind of playing with house money by backing USC Trojans over the Utah Utes in the Pac-12 title game. Kickoff at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas is set for 8 p.m. ET Friday.

Two of my earliest handicaps when joining OutKick back in August were backing the Trojans to win the Pac-12 at +220 and Oklahoma transfer QB Caleb Williams winning the Heisman Trophy at +700.

HAMMER: USC TROJANS TO WIN PAC-12 UNDER LINCOLN RILEY

THREE LONGSHOT HEISMAN BETS

Williams is a “lock” to win the Heisman Trophy with -2500 odds at DraftKings Sportsbook heading into the Pac-12 title game. There’s an argument to “hedge” or “middle” on our “USC to win the Pac-12 (+220)” position by taking Utah +3.

As mentioned earlier this year, the Pac-12 now belongs to Riley. I’m opting to use our Williams-Heisman winnings to try and eke more profit. Riley has a proven track record in conference title games whereas Utah coach Kyle Whittingham doesn’t.

USC Trojans QB Caleb Williams talks with coach Lincoln Riley during the game against the Fresno State Bulldogs at United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
USC Trojans QB Caleb Williams talks with coach Lincoln Riley during the game against the Fresno State Bulldogs at United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Oklahoma won all four Big XII title appearances under Riley from 2017-20. The Sooners were 4-0 straight up (SU) with a +9.3 margin of victory (MoV) and 3-1 against the spread (ATS) with a +4.6 ATS margin.

Utah has appeared in two conference championships (2018-19) since the Pac-12 started a title game in 2011. The Utes are 0-2 SU with a -14.5 MoV and -15.3 ATS margin in those Pac-12 championships.

Also, Utah beat USC 43-42 at home earlier this season but I’m more confident the Trojans can duplicate their offensive success than the Utes. USC outgained Utah 8.1-7.3 in yards per play.

Southern California ranks first in offensive efficiency, according to Football Outsiders, while Utah is 17th. USC has a higher net expected points added per play (EPA/play) and yard per play.

The Trojans take better care of the ball than the Utes. USC leads the nation in both offense and defensive turnover rate (TOV%), per Football Outsiders. Utah ranks 82nd in offensive TOV% and 58th in defensive TOV%.

Essentially, USC at -3 with a better QB and coach is a gift. ‘Tis the season, am I right?

Pac-12 Championship Best Bet: USC Trojans -3 (-105) at DraftKings Sportsbook

The USC Trojans' odds vs. the Utah Utes from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Tuesday, November 29th at 8 p.m. ET.
The USC Trojans’ odds vs. the Utah Utes from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Tuesday, November 29th at 8 p.m. ET.

Big XII Championship: No. 13 Kansas State Wildcats (9-3) vs. No. 3 TCU Horned Frogs (12-0)

The spread for Kansas State vs. TCU part 2 in the Big XII title game is suspicious. TCU is only a 2.5-point favorite despite an undefeated record, a probable Heisman finalist at quarterback, and a 10-point win vs. KSU earlier this season.

First of all …

TCU’s 38-28 win over KSU at home Oct. 22 is misleading

The Wildcats held a 28-17 lead at halftime and outgained the Horned Frogs 7.4-6.0 in yards per play. Kansas State had a 59.0% post-game win expectancy based on net efficiency and more points per opportunity, 4.2-3.4.

However, KSU puked all over itself in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats were stopped on a 4th-and-short on their own 30-yard line down 31-28 with 13:55 remaining. Then they missed a 40-yard field goal on the next drive. KSU junior QB Will Howard threw an INT on the final drive.

Kansas State Wildcats QB Will Howard runs up field against the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.
Kansas State Wildcats QB Will Howard runs up field against the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas. (Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Howard was making his first appearance of the season after relieving an injured QB Adrian Martinez in the first quarter. Aside from this loss to TCU, Howard is 4-0 SU and ATS with a +28.3 MoV and +23.5 ATS margin this season.

Kansas State started Martinez instead of Howard in its 34-27 loss at home to Texas Nov. 5. After that loss KSU needed to win out to make the Big XII title game. KSU turned back to Howard and he delivered.

The Wildcats has won three straight games to end their regular season. Howard has a better EPA/play than TCU QB Max Duggan and his170.2 QB Rating would be second in the Big XII behind Duggan’s 171.3 QB Rating if he played enough snaps.

Finally, this …

‘Line freeze’ suggests Kansas State is the ‘sharp’ side

DraftKings is reporting via VSIN that nearly 80% of the action is on TCU at the time of publishing. Yet oddsmakers aren’t moving this spread.

I.e. the sportsbooks WANT more pro-Horned Frogs money. The best place to be in sports betting is on the same side as the sportsbooks since the public generally loses in this racket.

Kansas State has a higher net EPA/play than TCU this season. The Horned Frogs probably loses this one outright but take the points with the Wildcats.

Big XII Championship Best Bet: Kansas State +2.5 (-115) at DraftKings Sportsbook

The Kansas State Wildcats' odds vs. the TCU Horned Frogs from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Tuesday, November 29th at 10:30 p.m. ET.
The Kansas State Wildcats’ odds vs. the TCU Horned Frogs from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Tuesday, November 29th at 10:30 p.m. ET.

ACC Championship: No. 10 Clemson Tigers (10-2) vs. No. 24 North Carolina Tar Heels (9-3)

There’s a saying in sports betting that goes, “public ‘dogs get slaughtered”. Well, North Carolina is a public ‘dog when it meets Clemson in the ACC title game Saturday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. (Technically, it’s a neutral-site game).

Per VSIN, a majority of the action at DraftKings is on North Carolina at the time of writing. It’s rare when the House needs to better team to win because the public usually bets favorites.

Clemson Tigers QB DJ Uiagalelei scrambles against the Miami Hurricanes at Clemson Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina.
Clemson Tigers QB DJ Uiagalelei scrambles against the Miami Hurricanes at Clemson Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina. (John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

People are backing UNC because Clemson is having a down-year by its ridiculously high standards. Also, the Tigers choked away a double-digit lead in a 31-30 loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks last weekend.

But, Clemson’s football program is still light years ahead North Carolina’s. Since 2015, the Tigers are 6-0 SU (+26.3 MoV) and 5-1 ATS (+8.3 ATS margin) in ACC title games.

Despite their 9-3 record, the Tar Heels have a negative net success and Havoc rates in 2022. This is because …

UNC has a one-dimensional offense and one of the worst defenses in the country

The Tar Heels are 75th in yards per rush and the Tigers are 12th in yards per rush allowed. North Carolina’s offense is 90th in sack rate allowed and Clemson’s defense is 23rd in sack rate and 11th in third-down conversion rate allowed.

Eventually, the Tigers will get to Tar Heels QB Drake Maye on third-and-long and force critical errors. That won’t happen to the Tigers. UNC’s defense is 98th in yards per rush allowed, 85th in third-down conversion rate allowed, and 127th in sack rate.

Lastly …

This is a ‘good spot’ for the Tigers

I’ll always give ATS trends a glance when handicapping a game. Oddsmakers account for factors us average Joe can’t. Certain teams show up in certain situations.

Since 2015, Clemson is 10-5 ATS as favorites of -8 or less vs. conference foes with a +7.3 ATS margin. The Tigers are 26-17 ATS with a +5.2 ATS margin as favorites vs. ACC teams with winning records.

Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney celebrates with the trophy after defeating the Virginia Cavaliers 64-17 in the 2019 ACC Football Championship game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney celebrates with the trophy after defeating the Virginia Cavaliers 64-17 in the 2019 ACC Football Championship game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

This relates back to my earlier point of public ‘dogs get slaughtered. Whenever the public thinks another ACC is closing the gap between them and Clemson, the Tigers roll. 

Maye leads the ACC in QB Rating so maybe he dices up Clemson’s defense. But, Maye has struggled in his last two games — UNC lost both — and the Tigers usually beat the shit out of these teams.

Truth be told, I’m going to wait and Clemson at -7 or cheaper. However, I like the Tigers to win the ACC championship by double digits.

ACC Championship Best Bet: Clemson -7.5 (-105) at DraftKings Sportsbook

The Clemson Tigers' odds vs. North Carolina Tar Heels from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Wednesday, November 30th at 2 a.m. ET.
The Clemson Tigers’ odds vs. North Carolina Tar Heels from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Wednesday, November 30th at 2 a.m. ET.

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Written by Geoff Clark

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