Spread picks for college football's championship weekend games
The latest playoff rankings will likely hold up as long as Washington and Clemson take care of business on their end, but chaos could ensue immediately with the Huskies taking on a hot and ever-improving Colorado team on Friday night.
Regardless of the outcome in the PAC-12 championship game, this will be a very exciting weekend, as the playoff and New Year’s Six teams are very much dependent upon Friday’s and Saturday’s results.
No. 8 Colorado vs. No. 4 Washington
Line: Washington, -7.5
This is going to be a difficult final test for Washington. Their offensive playmakers will be tested by what is perhaps the best secondary in the country, and likewise their own excellent secondary will be challenged by Colorado’s vertical threats. The biggest advantage in the game could belong to Washington’s defensive line, as Greg Gaines, Vita Vea and Elijah Qualls all have run defense grades of 84.0. If they can stuff the running attack of the Buffaloes, the Huskies will win the game and advance to the college football playoff.
Prediction: Washington 24, Colorado 18
No. 7 Penn State vs. No. 6 Wisconsin
Line: Wisconsin, -2.5
Penn State is averaging 21.7 QB pressures per game, but Wisconsin’s offense is predicated on running the ball and the clock, and the Nittany Lions’ 10.25 missed tackles per game plays right into the hands of the Badgers. Penn State’s offense is proving to be much more dynamic as of late, as last week Trace McSorley had a perfect 158.3 QB rating when Michigan State blitzed him (13 of 16 for 270 yards and three touchdowns) despite the running game bogging down at 2.6 yards per carry. Wisconsin should hold serve and win a one-possession game, but they need to make a statement similar to what Ohio State did to them in the 2014 Big Ten championship game in order to jump any of the teams in front of them.
Prediction: Wisconsin 23, Penn State 20
No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 23 Virginia Tech
Line: Clemson, -10.0
The Tigers have certainly had their struggles at points this season, but they’ve still managed to put themselves in a position to win one more game and make it into the playoff. South Carolina only managed to pressure Clemson QB Deshaun Watson on five of 33 drop-backs last week, and consequently Watson carved up the Gamecocks by completing 22 of 27 unpressured throws for 285 yards and five scores. While they come into this game hot, the Hokies may have the personnel on defense to keep this one very close. The entire Virginia Tech secondary has posted strong grades throughout the season and top pass-rusher, Ken Ekanem, has combined to post eight total pressures and six defensive stops in his last two games. Ekanem will need another huge game if Virginia Tech is to upset Clemson and while they’re more than capable of covering a double-digit spread, the Tigers are simply a notch above in terms of all-around talent.
Prediction: Clemson 31, Virginia Tech 23
No. 10 Oklahoma State at No. 9 Oklahoma
Line: Oklahoma, -12.0
While the Cowboys have shown they can win tight games in the last month, they simply haven’t seen a team with anywhere close to the level of talent Oklahoma possesses. Last week I talked about West Virginia’s tendency to just use their three-man defensive line to pass rush and allow the rest of the defense to drop into coverage, and Oklahoma State is similarly blitz-averse, as they have averaged just six blitzes per game in their last five contests. If the Cowboys can’t get home, Sooners QB Baker Mayfield will carve up the secondary as he has done to every Big-12 opponent he’s faced. This season when not faced with pressure, he has a QB rating of 141.1 and has tallied 29 touchdowns compared to just five interceptions. Oklahoma needs an impressive effort to have any hope of moving up in the eyes of the committee, and the Sooners are more than capable of producing such a score line.
Prediction: Oklahoma 46, Oklahoma State 24
Ohio vs. No. 17 Western Michigan
Line: Western Michigan, -18.5
If you’ve followed this column throughout the season you probably aren’t surprised to learn that Alabama, Michigan and Penn State are the top three teams in the country in terms of total defensive pressures generated. Shockingly, however, is the fact that the Ohio Bobcats sit fourth, led by Tarell Basham’s 60 total pressures. The pass rush needs to be on point Friday night, as the Bobcats don’t possess a perimeter defender who can effectively match up against Corey Davis. The quality run defense of Ohio’s linebackers will keep the Bobcats under the line, but Western Michigan simply has too much fire power to stumble at this stage.
Prediction: Western Michigan 27, Ohio 17
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 15 Florida
Line: Alabama, -24.0
When under pressure this season, Florida QB Austin Appleby has completed just 45.9 percent of his passes for an average of 4.7 yards per attempt and has taken a sack on 25 percent of those pressures. Alabama has averaged 23.4 pressures per game, and it is well with reason to expect them to maintain that average on Saturday and post another six sacks. The Tide will roll.
Prediction: Alabama 32, Florida 10
Temple at No. 19 Navy
Line: Navy, -3.0
Much is being made about Navy’s ability to bring the bowl selection process to a standstill with a win this week, as they would still be in the running for a New Year’s six game but still have Army on the schedule next week. However, Temple is more than capable of coming up with the huge road win, especially when considering how outstanding the defense has been playing. In their last four games, the Owls have allowed just 23 points and had back-to-back shutout efforts against Connecticut and Tulane. Tackling is at a premium against Navy’s triple option, and Temple is 10th-best among Group of Five conference schools with a rate of just eight misses per game. Also in that four-game time span, Temple RB Jahad Thomas has averaged 5.5 yards per carry and has forced 15 missed tackles. Navy’s offense has been on a tear the last two months, but Temple is a much better team than SMU or ECU.
Prediction: Temple 31, Navy 28
Baylor at No. 16 West Virginia
Line: West Virginia, -17.5
Baylor is apparently still suffering from a nasty hangover following their monumental victory of Kansas in Week 7, as the defense has since averaged 47.6 points against in five-straight losses. West Virginia was certainly outclassed two weeks ago by Oklahoma, but has rolled through everyone else in the Big-12 not taking part in Bedlam this weekend. West Virginia will put a definitive cap on an outstanding regular season for them.
Prediction: West Virginia 44, Baylor 17
Louisiana Tech at Western Kentucky
Line: Western Kentucky, -9.5
Speaking of hot November teams, Western Kentucky has won its last four games by an average of score of 51.5 to 9.3. However, none of those teams were Louisiana Tech, and indeed it was the Bulldogs who handed the Hilltoppers their last loss, a 55 to 52 shootout in Ruston. This time they’ll play in Bowling Green Kentucky, as the Western Kentucky earned the right to host the conference championship game by putting up the better conference record. Considering Louisiana Tech raced out to a 24-point lead in their October meeting and doubled the Hilltoppers in yardage, they’re more than capable of covering this large spread on the road. However, the home team has been the better side as of late, and looks poised to avenge their last loss.
Prediction: Western Kentucky 46, Louisiana Tech 45
San Diego State vs. Wyoming
Line: San Diego State, -6.5
This game is a rematch from Week 12, as Wyoming defeated the Aztecs at home 34 to 33. As the higher seed, the Cowboys will again play host, but both teams are coming off embarrassing losses in which they combined to give up 119 points to New Mexico and Colorado State. Two weeks ago the Cowboys did an outstanding job of shutting down the Aztecs’ star RB Donnel Pumphrey, as he managed just 71 yards on 17 carries and forced just two missed tackles. Considering how badly their run defense fell apart last week (New Mexico ran for 572 yards at 12.4 yards per carry), I don’t expect them to hold Pumphrey down twice in a row, despite the game again being in Laramie.
Prediction: San Diego State 35, Wyoming 28