The long grind of the regular season is over for bettors and now is the fun part of the year. Conference championship weekend and bowl games will present plenty of betting value over the next month.
This weekend features 10 conference championship games starting with the Pac-12 title game on Friday. The other nine games will be scattered throughout the day Saturday. Six of the conference title games are played at a neutral site, while the four others are played on the home field of the team with the better record.
Here is a look at the early point spreads for each game and a few factors to consider in your handicap.
Pac-12: Oregon vs. Utah (-6.5) in Santa Clara
The line in this game opened at Utah -2.5, was bet up to as high as -7, and now is at -6.5. The initial line move makes sense with Utah having more motivation and chance to make the Playoff with a win. If Oregon didn’t lose to Arizona State in Week 13, this line would be closer to Utah by a field goal, but there is inflation on the Utes because they have more to play for.
MAC: Miami (OH) vs. Central Michigan (-7) in Detroit
This is another game that opened at a short spread, Central Michigan -2.5, and has gotten hit in the favorite’s direction. Former Florida Head Coach Jim McElwain has done a tremendous job in his first season in charge of Central Michigan, as the Chippewas exceeded their win total by four games. I would expect a home crowd edge for Central Michigan for this noon kickoff in Detroit.
Sun Belt: Louisiana at Appalachian State (-6.5)
This line has gone all over the place since opening at Appalachian State -7. It dropped to -3.5 in 10 minutes on Sunday morning before slowly moving back in the favorite’s direction. It is a rematch of a Wednesday night game in October where Appalachian State topped Louisiana 17-7 as 2.5-point road underdogs.
Big 12: Baylor vs. Oklahoma (-8.5) in Arlington
Oklahoma opened as a 10-point favorite here and money has slowly shown on Baylor. It dipped to as low as 7.5 on Monday morning before ticking back up to 8.5. These teams had a Nov. 16 meeting in Waco in which Oklahoma rallied from a 28-3 deficit to beat Baylor 34-31. The point spread in that game was Oklahoma -10.5 on the road. Now they are smaller favorites on a neutral field. I’m unsure if I’m going to bet on Oklahoma, but there seems to be line value on the Sooners based on the spread of their recent meeting. There could also be value on the total that closed 68.5 in the regular season meeting. The total for the conference championship game is 63 and weather will not be an issue on Saturday.
Conference USA: UAB at Florida Atlantic (-7)
The line opened Florida Atlantic -6.5, moved up to -7.5 and now is -7. Will UAB Head Coach Bill Clark or Florida Atlantic Head Coach Lane Kiffin be distracted by interest from some of the Power Five schools that have a coaching vacancy?
AAC: Cincinnati at Memphis (-9.5)
This is a very unique game because both teams played each other last week on the same field in Memphis. The Tigers won 34-24 in a game where they closed as a 13-point favorite. Now the spread is shorter for the conference title game and a possible spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl.
Even though Cincinnati and Memphis are bunched together in the College Football Playoff rankings, Memphis is clearly the better team right now. Cincinnati struggled at the end of the season, winning games against East Carolina, South Florida and Temple by a combined eight points. I would only consider laying the points with Memphis at a shorter point spread than where they closed last week.
Mountain West: Hawaii at Boise State (-13.5)
Here’s another rematch of a regular-season game; these teams met in the same stadium on Oct. 12. Boise State was a 12.5-point favorite in that contest and won 59-37. The Broncos opened as 17-point favorites for the conference title and have steadily gone down to under two touchdowns. The early weather forecast is in the 40s with a chance of rain, which could be a negative factor for Hawaii.
SEC: Georgia vs. LSU (-7.5) in Atlanta
There’s a lot to unpack with the number in this game. First off, this line opened at LSU -3.5 and quickly was bet up. It reached LSU -8 before some resistance on Georgia came in. I believe a reason for the line going over a touchdown is absences on Georgia’s offense. Running back D’Andre Swift left Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury and wide receiver Lawrence Cager is out. The Bulldogs’ other leading receiver, George Pickens, will be suspended for the first half of the SEC title game for getting ejected from last week’s game for fighting.
If Georgia wasn’t dealing with injuries and a suspension to key offensive pieces, the line would be less than a touchdown. Both Georgia and LSU hosted Texas A&M the last two weeks; Georgia was favored by 13 in that game and LSU was favored by 17.5 against the Aggies. So based on the point spreads entering those two games, LSU is only 4.5 points better than Georgia.
There are a few other factors that favor Georgia. This is a must-win game for the Bulldogs to get into the Playoff. LSU could lose this game and still make it. Also, Georgia could have a small home-field edge in this game because they are closer to Atlanta and most of their players have familiarity with playing big games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Georgia offense has struggled recently and LSU is a scary team to step in front of, but the value at the current number and the situation makes it tempting to take a shot on the Bulldogs.
Big Ten: Wisconsin vs. Ohio State (-16) in Indianapolis
These two teams played on Oct. 26 in Columbus and Ohio State rolled 38-7. The spread was -14.5 in favor of the Buckeyes and total closed 48 in a game that featured inclement weather. Ohio State can get away with losing this game and would still make the Playoff, but finishing No. 1 in the Playoff rankings and avoiding Clemson in the semifinal should be their priority. Wisconsin in coming off a huge win over Minnesota. Will we see their best effort in this game?
The total is 56, which is eight points higher than the first meeting, but that’s due in large part to the game being played indoors this week. I can see Ohio State doing their part for the game to go over the total, but I’m not sure if Wisconsin will help the cause.
ACC: Virginia vs. Clemson (-29) in Charlotte
It’s not a surprise that the largest spread of the weekend is a game involving Clemson. The gap between the Tigers and the rest of the ACC is huge, and Clemson has covered their last six games against FCS opponents. The shortest point spread in that span was -24.5 at Louisville. Virginia is coming off an emotional victory against Virginia Tech to win the division and earn a spot in this championship game. It was the Cavaliers’ first win against their in-state rival since 2003 and their fans justifiably stormed the field when the game ended. I’m not sure how much Virginia will be able to get excited for this game and wouldn’t trust them to cover the large number.