Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins (42) celebrating with teammates
- It's important to examine some of the biggest conference championship mismatches where bettors can gain an advantage.
- I'll focus on mismatches in the trenches, on the outside and even pinpoint a major special teams edge.
- I'll start with both conference titles on Friday night before highlighting three more on Saturday's slate.
As we head into Week 14 of the college football season, we have a very robust data set to analyze the relative strengths and weaknesses of each of the 20 teams competing for conference titles this upcoming weekend.
Whether you want to look in the trenches, at the skill positions or even on special teams, bettors must identify and be cognizant of glaring unit mismatches each week.
Power ratings should serve as your handicapping starting point, but situational angles and matchup analyses should help refine your final wagers.
As I do each week, I have pinpointed five noteworthy unit mismatches, which will hopefully help you make more informed betting decisions. I will point out a major discrepancy in a standard statistic and then provide supporting evidence that the underlying metrics back up.
I’ll start by highlighting a mismatch in both conference championship games on Friday — and then finish up with three more on Saturday. Let’s get to it.
Buffalo Pass Defense vs. Northern Illinois
- Spread: Buffalo -3.5
- Over/Under: 49.5
- Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The Buffalo defense only allows 6.4 yards per pass attempt (32nd nationally), while the anemic NIU offense averages just 5.0 yards per pass attempt (127th in country). Also, opposing quarterbacks have only completed a touch over 50% of their passes against Buffalo this season — the third-lowest rate in all of college football.
The advanced metrics tell the same story. Per S&P+, Buffalo ranks No. 1 in the nation in Pass Efficiency defense, while Northern Illinois’ offense ranks 128th.
The Bulls do struggle in regards to defending Pass Explosiveness (122nd), but NIU has one of the least-explosive passing attacks in FBS (129th). Do not expect Northern Illinois to get anything through the air against an underrated Buffalo pass defense.
Additionally, I think Buffalo can have more success in getting after the quarterback. Many will focus on defensive end Sutton Smith and a Northern Illinois defense that accumulated an NCAA-best 46 sacks in 2018. However, Buffalo has allowed just eight total sacks all season (only Army and Air Force have allowed fewer) and rank in the top 10 in Adjusted Sack Rate.
Buffalo’s defensive front actually has the better matchup, also ranking in the top 15 in Adjusted Sack Rate. That should cause major problems for an NIU offensive line that ranks 109th in that same category — including 119th on Passing Downs.
Utah Special Teams vs. Washington
- Spread: Washington -5
- Over/Under: 44.5
- Friday, 8 p.m. ET, FOX
In what many anticipate will be a low-scoring and tight Pac-12 title game, special teams could make all of the difference. And if you’re looking for the team more likely to make a big play on special teams, it’s Utah by a country mile.
Utah should dominate field position all night long, thanks to senior punter Mitch Wishnowsky — a 2016 Ray Guy Award winner and 2017 finalist, who finds himself as one of three finalists once again this season. Not surprisingly, the Utes average 40.6 net yards per punt (14th in country), while Washington averages just 33.75 (121st).
The Utes will also have the edge in the kicking game, as senior kicker and 2017 Lou Groza Award winner Matt Gay has a much more reliable leg than Washington freshman kicker Peyton Henry.
Gay has connected on 20 of his last 22 field goal attempts — with the only two misses coming from beyond 50 yards. On the other hand, Henry has missed five of his 19 attempts this season, including three from inside 40 yards.
Henry is just 1 of 3 from longer than 40 yards and has never even attempted a field goal from beyond 50. Meanwhile, Gay has connected on 35 of 36 under 40 and has drilled seven field goals of 50-plus yards in his two years as Utah’s kicker.
The advanced metrics confirm the above, as Washington has the 115th ranked S&P+ Special Teams unit, while Utah boasts the seventh-best.