College Football Championship Week Betting Guide: Odds, Picks and Value Bets
This weekend of college football will determine who joins Notre Dame in the playoff, but it could also determine whether you begin December with a lot of extra cash on hand.
Whether you prefer over/unders, spreads or moneyline multipliers, we've got you covered with tips on the best bets for conference championship weekend. We're also noting a few games you don't want to touch with a 10-foot pole.
But I'll be honest with you: The most profitable way to use this guide is to just bet against everything I'm betting on. After seven weeks of explaining my copious research and analysis, it turns out I'm even worse at betting on college football than a coin would be.
My "Lock of the Week" has been wrong two weeks in a row and I now have a sub-.500 record in that category for the first time all season. My "Spreads to Bet" record is an abysmal 4-8 over the past month. And while I was crushing the over/unders for a while, I've missed on five out of six in the past two weeks.
My luck is so bad right now that Kansas State—which I recommended on the moneyline at +400—blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead this past weekend. The Wildcats were one of four double-digit dogs I picked to win outright. There were five such upsets last week. Not one of them matched up with my picks.
Needless to say, I won't be one of the guys from the commercials who surprises his wife with a brand new car for Christmas. (Sorry, dear.) But if you bet the opposite of what my analysis says, you just might enter the holiday season with a windfall of cash.
Moneyline Picks and Picks Against the Spread for CFP Top 25 Games
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Georgia (in Atlanta): Georgia (+14) and Alabama (-500)
No. 2 Clemson vs. Pittsburgh (in Charlotte, N.C.): Pittsburgh (+28) and Clemson (-4350)
No. 14 Texas vs. No. 5 Oklahoma (in Arlington, Texas): Oklahoma (-8 and -300)
No. 21 Northwestern vs. No. 6 Ohio State (in Indianapolis): Ohio State (-14 and -590)
Memphis at No. 8 UCF: Memphis (+3.5 and +155)
No. 17 Utah vs. No. 11 Washington (in Santa Clara, California): Washington (-5.5 and -215)
No. 25 Fresno State at No. 22 Boise State: Boise State (-2.5 and -130)
Drake at No. 23 Iowa State: Drake (+42) and Iowa State (-31964)
Last Week: 15-4 straight up, 8-10-1 against the spread
Year to Date: 92-34 straight up, 61-63-2 against the spread
On moneylines, a minus means you need to bet that much to win $100. A plus means a $100 bet would return that much profit.
Spreads to Bet
Northwestern vs. Ohio State (-14)
Despite facing Michigan and Notre Dame and drawing tough road games at Iowa, Michigan State and Purdue, Northwestern has yet to play a game decided by more than 14 points. The Wildcats have this inexplicable knack for both putting up a fight against quality foes and letting its guard down against the not-so-good teams.
But that streak should come to an end in an Ohio State blowout win.
Northwestern's secondary is not great. Ian Book and Brian Lewerke both threw for more than 325 yards against the Wildcats. All but one opponent (Rutgers) completed at least 59 percent of its pass attempts against Northwestern.
And now that secondary has to face a Dwayne Haskins-led Ohio State passing attack that ranks in the top 10 nationally in just about every stat fathomable. Moreover, it's an offense desperate to win by enough of a margin to prove to the CFP selection committee that it belongs in the Top Four.
Couple that with the fact that Northwestern has not scored more than 34 points yet this season and it's going to be tough for the Wildcats to stay within two touchdowns.
Drake (+42) at Iowa State
I appreciate that a road game against a Big 12 team is a huge step up from the FCS' Pioneer League, but Drake's last nine opponents have averaged just 15 points per game, with none scoring more than 27. And Iowa State has only scored more than 42 points in a game once this season.
Moreover, the Cyclones have only won one game by more than a two-possession margin, and that was a 27-3 game against Kansas.
The outcome of this game will never be in doubt, but I just don't see Iowa State winning by more than seven touchdowns. The Cyclones will get David Montgomery 53 rushing yards for his 1,000-yard season, and then they'll just put it in cruise control for the second half.
Utah vs. Washington (-5.5)
Short and sweet for this one: Utah only scored seven points when these teams squared off in September, and the Utes have since lost their starting QB and RB to injury.
In last week's win over BYU, the Utes didn't score until the final minute of the third quarter and they finished the night with fewer than 300 yards. This could easily be a repeat of the first game, which Washington won by 14.
Louisiana at Appalachian State (-16.5)
Appalachian State has played six games since losing Jalin Moore to a broken ankle. The Mountaineers lost to Georgia Southern. They beat Louisiana, Coastal Carolina and Troy between 10 and 16 points and blew out Georgia State and Texas State—otherwise known as the two worst teams in the Sun Belt.
It's tempting to say that Louisiana +16.5 is the play here—especially since the Ragin' Cajuns have only lost two games by a margin of more than 10 points (at Alabama and at Mississippi State). But it's not a great idea to trust this defense on the road.
This is a game App State figures to win by two or three possessions, so just don't bother with it.
Georgia vs. Alabama (-13)
Tua Tagovailoa hasn't had to deal with many good defenses, and he struggled with LSU and Mississippi State when he did need to face solid ones. Alabama still won both of those games by a margin of at least 24 points, but only because it was able to shut down a pair of offenses that doesn't pass the ball well.
Jake Fromm and Georgia should be a different story. At any rate, it would be stunning if the Bulldogs fail to score in this game.
For the first time all season, Alabama will play a game decided by fewer than 22 points. But fewer than 13? That's a tough call. This could absolutely be a 38-24 sort of game where both the spread and the total are decided by a single extra point.
Easy Over: Texas vs. Oklahoma (Over 77.5)
This total might scare some people away, but you know better.
Oklahoma has given up at least 40 points in each of its last four games, but it won each one. The average total of OU games in November was 100.5. And when these teams squared off in October, they combined for 93.
The Sooners offense has averaged 53.4 points over the last eight games. And the Texas defense struggled with the aerial raids of West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, allowing at least 34 points in each of those games.
Unless you are so worried about the health of Sam Ehlinger's shoulder that you think the Longhorns might score 21 or fewer points for just the second time all season, this one should get to 80 without much trouble.
Easy Under: East Carolina at North Carolina State (Under 60.5)
East Carolina has had some nice scoring outputs at home this season, but that offense has been a travesty on the road. The Pirates have yet to score more than 18 points away from Greenville, North Carolina. They twice scored only six points, including last week at Cincinnati. And they just fired head coach Scottie Montgomery on Thursday, in case you needed any more proof that there's no positive momentum going on there.
And NC State—which has only scored 42 or more points in a game twice this season—doesn't stand to gain anything from running up the score in this one. Just get ahead by a comfortable enough margin and then keep the starters healthy and give the backups some game experience.
The 23-point spread feels about right, but the total is too high. This should be a 35-13 kind of game.
Underdogs to Win Outright
We normally dedicate this space to teams who are getting at least 10 points and who could win outright for a moneyline multiplier of three or more. However, there are only three games this week with a spread in the 10- to 20-point range, and none of those stand out as likely upsets.
Instead, any underdog that figures to win outright is a candidate here.
Marshall (+155) at Virginia Tech
The general public has been viewing this game as a cop-out—a last-ditch effort by Virginia Tech to preserve its quarter-century-old bowl streak. Hurricane Florence rained out a previously scheduled game with East Carolina, so the Hokies had the option of adding a Week 14 game against another team who had a cancellation. And Marshall accepted the challenge.
But there was a condition in last week's agreement to schedule this game: Virginia Tech could cancel it if it lost to Virginia last week, which would have dropped them out of bowl-eligibility at 4-7. That had to be just a slap in the face of the Thundering Herd. I wonder what that phone call was like:
"Hey, we'd like to play you guys, but only if beating you helps us eliminate some other Group of Five team from the bowl picture. What say you?"
Look for Marshall (8-3) to play with something to prove, especially on defense, pulling off one of the biggest wins in program history.
Stanford at California (+137)
California has won four of its last five games, holding each of those opponents to 21 points or fewer. Only two opponents all season have accumulated more than 350 yards in a game against the Golden Bears, and four of the past seven couldn't even muster 280 yards.
Stanford's offense has been humming for more than a month, but this is going to be a major speed bump. And this Cardinal defense has not looked good lately. Cal should be able to win this home game.
Memphis (+155) at UCF
More on this game shortly, but congratulations to anyone who jumped on this moneyline when Memphis opened at a seven-point dog. You probably got it at +225 instead of +150.
Noteworthy Line Movement
Pittsburgh vs. Clemson (-24 to -28)
The spread for the ACC Championship Game was actually 20 a week ago at some books. But after Clemson dropped 56 on South Carolina and Pittsburgh no-showed in a 24-3 loss to Miami, the line opened at 24 on Sunday.
Just about every time I've looked since then, it just keeps growing wider. Clemson is now favored by more than four touchdowns in a game with an over/under in the low 50s. The projected outcome at this point is a 40-12 win for the Tigers.
Georgia vs. Alabama (-10 to -13.5)
It was surprising when this line opened at just 10, considering the original line was 13.5 when this matchup became official on Nov. 3. And it only took a few hours for it to climb back up to the original spread.
But it's also surprising that this line hasn't moved an inch in days. Given the teams involved and the stakes on the line, one has to assume this is going to be the most-watched and the most heavily wagered game of Saturday by a wide margin.
Evidently, those bets have been coming in evenly on both sides of the fence. (Considering I had this as one of the stay-away games, it's no surprise that there's the betting public is split on what to expect.)
Memphis at UCF (-7 to -3)
Again, more on this game shortly, but it bears mentioning here that the money has been pouring in on Memphis. Also, the over/under in this game has dropped all the way from 71 to 64. So this has gone from a projected 39-32 UCF win to a projected 33.5-30.5 UCF win.
Lock of the Week: Memphis (+3.5) vs. UCF
Memphis (+3.5) at UCF
Yes, this pick has a lot to do with McKenzie Milton's devastating knee injury.
Milton has been one of the most indispensable players in the country over the past two seasons. His decision-making and his ability to pass, run or pass on the run are the biggest reasons UCF hasn't lost since 2016.
Back in September, Milton had a combined six rushing and passing touchdowns in back-to-back wins over Florida Atlantic and Pittsburgh, making him one of the top early candidates for the Heisman Trophy. And he was critical in UCF's comeback from a 16-point deficit in the 31-30 regular-season win over Memphis. The Tigers should have won that game, but Milton willed the Knights to victory.
But he won't be playing in this game.
Instead, it'll be Darriel Mack Jr., a freshman who has completed 48.8 percent of his 43 career pass attempts, only one of which went for a gain of more than 13 yards. Mack has showed he can run the ball well, but the Memphis defense is going to prey on his not-yet-proven-ability to throw the ball downfield.
Here's the thing, though: I might have picked Memphis in this game even if Milton were healthy.
The Memphis rushing attack has been outstanding this season, gaining at least 200 yards and scoring multiple touchdowns in all but one game—a gigantic, out-of-nowhere dud against Tulane. And UCF's run defense has been rather grim, allowing at least 175 rushing yards in eight of 11 games.
And in addition to almost beating UCF earlier this season, Memphis took the Knights to double overtime in last year's AAC championship. Now that Milton is unavailable, it just feels like the Tigers are the team destined to put an end to this two-year winning streak. Look for Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor Jr. to run wild in a Tigers victory.
All moneylines, spreads and over/under totals are via OddsShark and current through noon ET Thursday.
Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.