College Football Odds & Picks: Our Favorite Bets For Friday’s Pac-12, MAC, & Conference USA Championships
Gregory Fisher, Frank Jansky & Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured, from left: Buffalo running back Jaret Patterson (26), Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux (5) & Marshall running back Brenden Knox (20).
- Friday marks the beginning of most important weekend of the college football season up to this point: conference championship weekend.
- With the Conference USA, MAC, and Pac-12 Championships all on deck tonight, our college football staff picked out 14 bets as their favorites for the slate.
- Check out each individual pick complete with a breakdown below ahead of kickoff for each game.
We made it. Conference championship week was never a guarantee when the college football season kicked off in August, but here we are.
It has certainly been a season full of twists, turns, ups, downs, and plenty of cancellations and postponements. But the light is at the end of the tunnel. We’ll crown 10 conference champions this week, and then it’s onto bowl season.
We’ll have you covered the whole time.
First, our staff breaks down their 14 favorite bets for Friday’s conference championship games, including three for the Conference USA Championship, five for the MAC Championship, and six for the Pac-12 Championship.
Then, we’ll be back for wall-to-wall action on Saturday, with our staff’s favorite bets for the conference championships of the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, SEC, AAC, Sun Belt, and Mountain West.
So, make sure to enjoy this weekend. Because as we’ve learned this year, it’s never guaranteed.
Conference USA: UAB vs. Marshall
- BJ Cunningham: Ball State +14
- Pat McMahon: Ball State +14
- Patrick Strollo: Buffalo -13.5
- Darin Gardner: Over 67
- Matt Wispe: Ball State Team Total Under 27.5
Pac-12: Oregon vs. USC
- BJ Cunningham: Oregon +3.5
- Patrick Strollo: Oregon +3.5
- Stuckey: Over, Up to 64
- Darin Gardner: Over 63.5
- Mike Ianniello: Over 63.5
- Mike Calabrese: Double Result, Oregon/USC
All listed odds in tables are via DraftKings and have been updated as of Thursday evening.
C-USA Championship: UAB vs. Marshall Odds
|UAB Odds||+4.5 [BET NOW]|
|Marshall Odds||-4.5 [BET NOW]|
|Moneyline||+165 / -205 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||43 [BET NOW]|
|Time||7 p.m. ET|
|TV||CBS Sports Network|
Danny Donahue: UAB +5
As our PRO Report makes clear, sharps are siding with UAB in this matchup. And with a PRO System suggesting that history is on the same side, I’m sold.
UAB has come down from +6 to +5 — and further in many spots — despite oddsmakers successfully creating a 50-50 split in terms of bets (as of writing, at least). That should tell you something about the 50% on the Blazers (read: it consists of sharp bettors), and a Sports Insights Bet Signal at +5.5 confirms that to be the case.
And while Marshall getting blanked by Rice a week ago might have had some expecting a sure bounceback, history has shown that not to be the case. In fact, such teams actually tend to be overvalued.
That makes UAB a match for our “Scoring Streak Fade” PRO System, which has returned a 60% cover rate on a sample of nearly 400 games since 2005.
BJ Cunningham: Marshall -4.5 at FanDuel
The ground game is the bread and butter of the UAB offense. The Blazers are 55th in Rushing Success and are averaging 5.1 yards per rush attempt.
However, UAB has played a relatively easy schedule up until this point. In the Blazers’ two biggest tests of the season against Miami and Louisiana Lafayette, they struggled at only 3.64 yards per carry. On the other side of the ball, Marshall has one of the best run defenses in the country, allowing a college football-low 2.3 yards per carry.
Tyler Johnston returned last week from injury at quarterback for the Blazers after missing half the season due to injury. The bad news for UAB is that its best receiver, Austin Watkins, has opted out of the season. He has almost 30% of the team’s catches this season. Even worse news is Marshall’s secondary is one of the best in Conference USA, allowing only 6.0 yards per attempt this season.
Before the complete dud against Rice, the Marshall offense was humming. The Thundering Herd are 25th in Offensive Success Rate, per College Football Data, and have the best rushing attack in Conference USA, ranking 27th in Rushing Success and top-five in Power Success and Offensive Line Yards.
UAB is one of the best rushing defenses they’ve faced all season long, so Marshall may struggle to run the ball on Friday, at least relative to normal.
Freshman quarterback Grant Wells was having a stellar season before throwing five picks against Rice. Wells is averaging 8.1 yards per attempt and has led Marshall to the 31st-best passing offense in Success Rate. If Wells can put the Rice game behind him and play like he has all season long, then Marshall has a fantastic shot at winning the title.
I have Marshall projected as a -10.36 favorite at home, so I think there’s value on the Thundering Herd at any number under -7.
Patrick Strollo: Marshall -3.5 at FanDuel
UAB has the 66th-ranked offense in the country, averaging 393 yards per game. The Blazers have an offensive PPA of 0.18, ranking 51st in the nation and slightly ahead of the Thundering Herd. UAB allows offensive Havoc on 16% of plays, which will be problematic against the stingy Marshall defense.
Defensively, the Blazers have been very good, allowing only 316.5 yards per game against opponents this season. UAB has a defensive PPA per play of 0.01, ranking eighth in the country. The Blazers are very good at generating defensive Havoc, disrupting 19.9% of the opposing team’s plays.
Marshall has the second-best defense in the nation, yielding just 253.9 yards per game. The sole blemish on its record is a 20-0 loss to Rice. In that defeat, redshirt freshman quarterback Grant Wells threw five interceptions. One of those touchdowns was a pick-six. It’s pretty impressive that the defense only gave up 13 points outside of that interception return for a touchdown.
Defensively, the Thundering Herd have nothing to worry about. Offensively, Marshall has been very good this season. It’s ranked 40th in the nation in total offense, averaging 424.5 yards per game. They have an offensive PPA per play of 0.18, ranking 54th nationally in the metric. Marshall is one of the best in the country when it comes to allowing Havoc on offense, only seeing havoc on 11.7% of plays.
Bottom line, both of these teams are evenly matched. When looking at offensive and defensive PPA per play, the sides rank right on top of each other. That said, I believe that Marshall is the better overall team, but UAB is peaking at the right time. I think there will be a tremendous benefit to Marshall playing this game at home in chilly Huntington, West Virginia.
My model has Marshall as 6.39 favorites in this showdown. Lay the points and look for Wells and the Thundering Herd defense to show up in this highly anticipated conference championship.
MAC Championship: Buffalo vs. Ball State Odds
|Buffalo Odds||-13.5 [BET NOW]|
|Ball State Odds||+13.5 [BET NOW]|
|Moneyline||-530 / +360 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||67.5 [BET NOW]|
|Time||7:30 p.m. ET|
BJ Cunningham: Ball State +14 at DraftKings
Listen, we all know about Buffalo’s rushing attack led by Jaret Patterson that torched Kent State for 409 yards at eight touchdowns. To be honest, Buffalo is probably going to be able to run the ball with success in this game, but Ball State’s defense is no joke.
Ball State is allowing only 3.9 yards per rush attempt and has been stellar in limiting explosive plays. The Cardinals rank 14th in the nation in explosive plays allowed and 29th in rushing explosiveness allowed, per College Football Data. For a team like Buffalo that lives and dies on explosive plays, it could be in for a much more difficult game than expected.
Outside of Buffalo, Ball State has the best offense in the MAC. Senior quarterback Drew Plitt has been roasting opposing secondaries, throwing for 8.1 yards per attempt and 13 touchdowns in only six starts. That has led the Cardinals to ranking 20th in Passing Success Rate. However, if they are going to beat Buffalo, they are going to have to get the job done offensively on the ground.
Buffalo has really struggled to stop the opposing team’s rushing attack this season, ranking 63rd in Rushing Success Allowed, 111th in Power Success Allowed, and 124th in Stuff Rate.
Buffalo is the class of the MAC, but I think Ball State has the talent on both sides of the ball to hang with the Bulls as a two-touchdown dog.
Pat McMahon: Ball State +14 at DraftKings
The Buffalo offense has been an absolute juggernaut this season. The Bulls have ridden star running back Jaret Patterson and the top rushing attack in the nation to a 5-0 regular season and the MAC East title.
The numbers from Patterson are ridiculous, as he topped 1,000 yards in a shortened regular season on 8.3 yards per carry, and scored 18 touchdowns. The Bulls also boast the nation’s top-scoring offense (51.8 ppg) and ninth-best total offense.
As impressive as Buffalo’s offense has looked, you have to keep in mind its quality of competition. The Bulls have feasted on poor defenses and rely heavily on explosive plays. The Ball State defense is by no means elite, but as BJ Cunningham mentioned, the one thing it does really well is limit explosive plays.
On the flip side, Ball State has a very good offense of its own. The Cardinals rank 22nd nationally in total offense and have scored 30 or more points in all but one game this season. Quarterback Drew Plitt has had a fantastic senior campaign and has the Cardinals passing game humming. The Cardinals use a balanced attack and should be able to move the ball against a Buffalo defense that is relatively untested.
In its one game against a quality offense, Buffalo struggled to contain Kent State. The Golden Flashes had no trouble moving the ball, scoring 41 points on 578 yards of offense and 7.2 yards per play.
Expect Plitt and the Cardinals’ offense to find similar success and stay within striking distance of the Bulls. The defense doesn’t have to be spectacular all night, but as long as it can keep Buffalo’s big plays to a minimum, the offense will do enough to keep it within the number.
Patrick Strollo: Buffalo -13.5 at DraftKings
Ball State enters this matchup with the 22nd-ranked offense in FBS, averaging 457.8 yards per game. When you look at the Cardinals from PPA per play, they aren’t as impressive, sitting just 55th in the nation. Ball State is generating a lot of yards, but that isn’t always translating into scoring opportunities.
The defense ranks 91st nationally, giving up 432.2 yards per game. The Cardinals aren’t as bad if you break them down by defensive PPA per play, where they rank 71st in the country.
Ball State is one of the best in the nation when it comes to generating Havoc, ranking second overall in FBS. Many things will have to fall in the Cardinals’ favor for them to have a chance to get the win here.
Buffalo ranks ninth nationally in total offense, generating 511 yards per game. They have an offense PPA per play of 0.49, which is best in all of FBS. Additionally, the Bulls allow havoc on only 9.2% of offensive plays, which is also the best in FBS in the metric.
Defensively, Buffalo ranks 42nd in total defense, conceding 376.2 yards per game. It has a defensive PPA per play of 0.09, good enough for 27th in the metric. The Bulls are below average at generating defensive Havoc and need to create more pressure situations for the offense.
The Buffalo offense is an absolute juggernaut. It’s hard to envision a scenario where Ball State is successful in countering it. Also, the Bulls’ defense is significantly better than the opposition and should hold the Cardinals in check.
My model has Buffalo as an 18-point favorite in this matchup, based on its superior offense led by running back Jaret Patterson and its top-notch defense. I recommend laying the points, as the Bulls’ rush attack will be too much for the Cardinals to handle.
Darin Gardner: Over 67 at DraftKings
Buffalo’s offense has been incredible all year.
It ranks first in Touchdown Rate and Finishing Drives. It’s also done really well at staying on schedule, as the Bulls rank first in Havoc allowed and sixth in Busted Drive Rate. Up front, Buffalo ranks first in Line Yards, Stuff Rate, and Sack Rate. In fact, Buffalo hasn’t allowed a single non-garbage time sack all season.
The backbone of the offense is the run game, led by Jaret Patterson. Among running backs with at least 100 snaps, Patterson is way ahead of the pack with 0.574 EPA per rush. There are only six other running backs that average at least half of that.
Buffalo’s opponent, Ball State, will be rolling out a defense that ranks 114th in Success Rate allowed and 99th in Rushing Success Rate allowed.
Ball State has one thing that over bettors love: pace. The Cardinals currently rank fifth in the country in plays per game. Ball State moves the ball effectively as well, ranking sixth in First Down Rate and 20th in Success Rate.
With a double-digit spread, you can expect Ball State to be playing from behind, which means more passes. The Cardinals sit 23rd in Passing Success Rate, and quarterback Drew Plitt ranks 24th in yards per attempt.
Buffalo has only faced one offense all year that ranks in the top 100 in SP+, so this should be a big step up. In its only game facing a top-100 offense, it allowed 41 points to Kent State.
Despite playing such an easy schedule of opposing offenses, the Bulls’ defense still ranks just 75th in EPA per pass attempt and 83rd in explosive play rate. Another thing to keep an eye out for: Buffalo ranks 115th in FEI’s punting efficiency metric. Ball State could end up with some short fields.
I have this total projected at 75.2. It should be business as usual for the Buffalo offense, and Ball State should be able to chip in its fair share of points while playing from behind.
Matt Wispe: Ball State Team Total Under 27.5 at DraftKings
Ball State’s offense has been rolling this season. It’s averaged 33.7 points per game, owns an Offensive Success Rate of 46.2% and scores 3.833 points per opportunity.
But this is a step up in competition, and it’s a matchup in which Ball State may have limited opportunities to score. Buffalo allows a Success Rate of 38.3% which is the second-best Ball State will face all season. The only team it’s faced with a better Success Rate was Miami, and that was in both teams’ season opener.
And what makes this matchup particularly difficult is that Buffalo is likely to control the time of possession due to its offensive style. The Bulls run the ball on 72.33% of their offensive plays, and they’re likely to find consistent success against the Cardinal defense.
Ball State allows a Rushing Success Rate of 47.7%. But even with its struggles against the run, it’s likely to limit the explosive rushing plays. It allows just 0.8 runs of 20+ yards per game. So, while Buffalo is likely to find consistent success running the ball, it’s also likely to chew up the clock with shorter runs.
Between Buffalo finding success while running the clock and Ball State facing a step up in opponent defense, this game is likely to be lower-scoring than expected. But I’m more confident that Ball State is going to struggle than I am with the overall game total.
Pac-12 Championship: Oregon vs. USC Odds
|Oregon Odds||+3.5 [BET NOW]|
|USC Odds||-3.5 [BET NOW]|
|Moneyline||+123 / -152 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||63.5 [BET NOW]|
|Time||8 p.m. ET|
BJ Cunningham: Oregon +3.5 at DraftKings
Despite its 3-2 record, Oregon’s offense has been humming. The Ducks are the seventh-best offense in the country in terms of Success Rate and are gaining 7.1 yards per play. In fact, the Ducks have scored 35 or more points in four of their five games this season. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Shough has been incredibly efficient throwing the ball, averaging 9.7 yards per attempt with 11 touchdown passes.
The strength of the Ducks, though, lies in their rushing attack. They rank third in Rushing Success Rate and gain 5.3 yards per rush as a team. USC has struggled against the run this season, ranking 55th in Defensive Rushing Success and 109th in explosive rushing allowed. So, Oregon should be able to run the ball all over the Trojans.
Kedon Slovis has been exceptional in his sophomore season, throwing for 15 touchdowns and 7.6 yards per attempt. In fact, in his last two games, he’s thrown for over 600 yards and 10 touchdowns.
He has plenty of talented wide receivers to throw to, like Amon-Ra St. Brown, who already had 36 catches, 404 yards and six touchdowns in only five games. Oregon’s strength lies in its secondary, as it allows 7.1 yards per attempt and ranks eighth in explosive passing allowed. So, the Ducks will have to keep Slovis in check.
USC’s rushing attack hasn’t gotten going yet in 2020, as it’s only averaging 3.5 yards per carry. Oregon struggles against the run, ranking in the bottom half of college football in Defensive Rushing Success. USC may have to run the ball more than it wants Friday, given Oregon’s weakness on defense.
I have USC projected as only -1.21 favorites, so I think there’s a small amount of value on Oregon at +3.5.
Patrick Strollo: Oregon +3.5 at DraftKings
Oregon comes into this game with one of the top-rated offenses in the country, averaging 467 yards per game. The Ducks have an offensive PPA per play of 0.39, which ranks seventh in the nation. Where Oregon is vulnerable is allowing Havoc, which happens on 18.6% of plays.
Defensively, the Ducks are 75th nationally in total defense, giving up an average of 419.8 yards per game. They struggle with generating Havoc, doing such on only 12.8% of plays. That’s only good for 118th in the nation. Oregon’s defense needs to show up and do a better job of pressuring the USC offense in order to get the win in this spot.
USC has the 38th-ranked offense in the nation, averaging 428.4 yards per game. The Trojans’ total-yard generation hasn’t efficiently translated into points, though. They have an offensive PPA per play of 0.15, which ranks 70th in the country. The Trojans’ defense ranks 56thin FBS, allowing an average of 395 yards per game. They have a defensive PPA per play of 0.17, which ranks 61st in the nation and reflective of their average ability to generate Havoc.
The Trojans won’t be able to outgun the Ducks, so they will need to win the defensive side of the ball.
I know that records don’t indicate as much, but Oregon is the better team statistically, especially on offensive PPA per play. The Ducks have a superior offense, as well as a defense that should be able to hang with the Trojans. My model has Oregon as more than a 10-point favorite in this matchup. I want to say that you should take the money line at plus money, but I just don’t think the value is there at +123.
I would like to see it a little higher, so if it gets above +130, I would recommend hitting it. Since 3.5 points is such a good football number for an underdog, I recommend taking the points here.
Stuckey: Over, Up to 64 at DraftKings
Even after losing Justin Herbert and having its best offensive lineman opt out, Oregon’s offense has actually been very good. It’s just been incredibly unlucky in the turnover department. The Ducks rank fourth-worst nationally in turnover margin per game at -1.4. They’ve lost seven fumbles and thrown four interceptions in just seven games.
Led by juniors CJ Verdell and Travis Dye, the Ducks — one of 20 teams in the country averaging at least 5.2 yards per carry — should have a field day on the ground against a vulnerable Trojan run defense.
From an efficiency perspective, Oregon’s rush offense ranks in the top five nationally on the ground. Mobile quarterback Tyler Shough could also really give the Trojans issues on the edge — much like Jayden Daniels did when USC played Arizona State. Overall, Oregon sits in the top 10 in yards per play. It’s been a very good but very unlucky offense. Positive regression looms.
On the other side of the ball, Oregon’s defense has been extremely weak. It’s allowed 4.6 yards per rush, which ranks outside the top 80 in FBS. And more importantly for this matchup, the Ducks rank 74th in Passing Success Rate. That shouldn’t surprise anybody after three of their excellent starters in the secondary in Brady Breeze, Jevon Holland and Thomas Graham opted out.
They’re also not getting much pressure on opposing quarterbacks, ranking 97th in Sack Rate. Ultimately, that could spell trouble against USC’s efficient Air Raid attack, led by quarterback Kedon Slovis and an uber-talented group of wide receivers.
I think this spread is pretty spot on. It wouldn’t shock me to see USC escape with another late victory, but I do see some value in the total. I personally played some over 62 and 63 and still like it up to 64.
These aren’t the two fastest offenses in the world, but I just don’t see many stops from these two defenses that rank outside the top 70 in yards per play allowed. Both offenses are top-30 on third down (Oregon 15th) going up against defenses outside the top 50 on those key downs, so the chains should be moving throughout.
Darin Gardner: Over 63.5 at DraftKings
Let’s be honest. This is going to be a better game now that Oregon has replaced Washington as USC’s opponent.
The Ducks’ offense has been cooking all year and can beat teams on the ground and through the air. Oregon ranks fifth in Rushing Success Rate and 17th in Passing Success Rate, and the offense, as a whole, ranks seventh in Success Rate.
Oregon can also hit big plays at a high clip, ranking 12th in explosive play rate. It should definitely be able to capitalize in that department against a USC defense that ranks 93rd in explosive play rate allowed. USC’s defense also ranks 81st in Rushing Success Rate allowed and 65th in Passing Success Rate allowed. Oregon should be able to move the ball at will, just like it has done all year.
USC started off slow on offense, but it has definitely picked up recently. It ranks 15th in available yards gained, 15th in explosive play rate, and 17th in points per drive. It also has the second-shortest average starting field position in the country. This could come into play with an Oregon team that ranks 116th in opponent average starting field position.
Oregon’s defense struggles pretty much everywhere, and I don’t see it getting very many stops against the Trojans. It ranks 86th in Success Rate allowed and 101st in First Down Rate.
Looking at the matchup specifically, it will probably struggle against USC’s Air Raid. The Ducks rank 72nd in Passing Success Rate allowed, and its top two safeties own PFF grades of just 63.1 and 54.5. Oregon also struggles getting to the quarterback (97th in Sack Rate) and is facing a USC offensive line that ranks 27th in Sack Rate allowed.
I have this projected at 67.4, which is a small edge, but I still think the over is a decent look at its current price.
Mike Ianniello: Over 63.5 at DraftKings
Both of these teams have underperformed expectations this season but still find themselves in the Pac-12 title game.
Offense should be the story on Friday night as both these squads boast explosive offenses and shaky defenses.
The Trojans average 35.2 points per game, and the Air Raid offense has looked better and better each week.
Kedon Slovis leads the Pac-12 with 15 touchdowns, 320.2 yards per game, and is completing 70.3% of his passes. Slovis has a trio of star receivers to choose from in Amon-Ra St. Brown, Drake London and Tyler Vaughns.
On defense, the Trojans rank 64th in Success Rate and 101st in tackling, according to Pro Football Focus. USC just gave up 38 points and 549 to a mediocre UCLA team last week.
For Oregon, its offense ranks seventh in Offensive Success Rate. Joe Moorhead has taken over as offensive coordinator and has the Ducks flying, as they average 34.2 points per game and sit 22nd in points per opportunity.
I don’t know that any unit in the country has been more negatively affected by this season than the Oregon defense. After a plethora of starters opted out, the Ducks defense sits 87th in the country in Defensive Success Rate. It ranks 74th in tackling and 106th in creating Havoc.
Both of these teams should have no problem moving the ball up and down the field on these porous defenses that really struggle to tackle. On top of that, USC started the week preparing to play Washington and Oregon prepped for Colorado.
With the short turnaround to Friday night and loss of time to prepare, the defenses should struggle to slow down these offenses.
Mike Calabrese: Double Result, Oregon/USC 63.5 at FanDuel
The Trojans are 5-0 on the season, but three of those wins came against teams that are really struggling this year (Arizona, Washington State, Utah). Instead of looking at their full resume, I’d like to focus on the Trojans’ come-from-behind wins over Arizona State and UCLA.
USC spotted both the Sun Devils and Bruins halftime leads before revving up its offense in the fourth quarter. It’s far to say that slow starts and strong finishes have become the Trojans’ M.O. in this bizarre season.
That’s why this particular prop bet carries so much value, in my opinion. Sportsbooks have installed USC as a short favorite against UO (-3) making the premise of the Ducks leading at halftime completely reasonable.
The ideal scenario, for those bettors who love to hedge, is a 3-7 point Oregon lead at the break. In that scenario, you could place a moneyline wager on the Ducks anywhere between -200 to -350 to cover the initial cost of the wager. I would play this double-result down to +500. Anywhere below that, and the value starts to dry up.