UTSA vs. Western Kentucky Odds, Picks and Predictions: How to Bet the Conference USA Championship Game (Friday, Dec. 3)

UTSA vs. Western Kentucky Odds, Picks and Predictions: How to Bet the Conference USA Championship Game (Friday, Dec. 3) article feature image

Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Bailey Zappe.

UTSA vs. Western Kentucky Odds

Friday, Dec. 3
7 p.m. ET
CBS Sports Network
-110o / -110u
Western Kentucky Odds
-110o / -110u
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute college football odds here.

UTSA lost its perfect season with a road loss against North Texas last week, but it still had the best season in program history. After winning their first Conference USA division, the Roadrunners will try to secure their first conference title and then win their first-ever bowl.

Meanwhile, Western Kentucky will look to make it three-for-three in C-USA Championship games, having won both prior appearances in 2015 and 2016. Similar to those two high-powered offenses that put up 45 and 58 points in the conference title game, this Hilltoppers club can put up points with the best of 'em.

WKU's brand-new Air Raid offense averaged 43.2 points per game in the regular season. Only Ohio State exceeded that clip. The Roadrunners saw firsthand how explosive the WKU offense can be when the Hilltoppers finished with 670 total yards in their regular-season meeting.

The Roadrunners did squeak out that victory by a final score of 52-46 after Western Kentucky couldn't punch it in the end zone after having first-and-goal in the final minute.

Will the Hilltoppers exact revenge, or can the Roadrunners secure their first-ever conference championship? Regardless of who wins, expect plenty of offensive fireworks.

Let's take a closer look at this matchup.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

The Hilltoppers won the C-USA East Division on the final day of the regular season with a dominant road romp of Marshall. They finished 8-4 overall with three one-possession losses (at Army, Indiana, UTSA) and a 17-point defeat at the hands of Michigan State in East Lansing.

After starting out 1-4, Western Kentucky got on an absolute roll and hasn't looked back. Since the coin-flip loss to UTSA, it has won seven straight — all by at least two touchdowns and an average score of 45.3-18.8. That's pure dominance.

When it comes to the Hilltoppers, it all starts with the Air Raid offense it essentially transferred in from Houston Baptist by hiring offensive coordinator Zach Kittley, who brought all of his key offensive pieces from the Space City to Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Bailey Zappe, who led the nation with just under 5,000 yards passing and 52 touchdown passes, is the leading force behind the offense.

His favorite target by far is his old Houston Baptist teammate, Jerreth Sterns, who finished with 127 catches (29 more than the next-most) and 1,539 yards — just four shy of the single-season leader, Deven Thompkins.

The high-flying Toppers, who scored at least 31 points in all 12 games, are the only team in the country to average over 400 yards passing.

The ground attack isn't very efficient, but who needs a ground game when you lead the nation in Passing Success Rate? Only fellow Air Raid offense Mississippi State averaged fewer rush attempts per game.

The offensive line has also been outstanding, ranking No. 1 in Adjusted Sack Rate overall and on passing downs. It also helps that Zappe is one of seven quarterbacks in FBS to average 2.3 seconds or fewer per pass attempt. The O-line also ranks in the top 20 across the board in every run-blocking metric.

Simply put, this offense is a juggernaut that moves the ball efficiently while also hitting its fair share of explosive plays and grading out elite when it comes to Finishing Drives.

While the offense shoulders most of the load for WKU, the defense — led by defensive end DeAngelo Malone, safety Antwon Kincade and cornerback Omari Alexander — has improved as the season has progressed.

It's still very vulnerable against the run, but defensive coordinator Maurice Crum has done a nice job moving some pieces around to optimize the production of this unit in the second half of the season.

Getting Dominique Bradshaw back at wide corner in Week 6 and moving Beanie Bishop to the slot has really paid dividends in the secondary. He's also recently given more playing time to a few transfers, which has paid off.

After holding only one of its first five FBS opponents under their season-long YPP by an average margin of -0.7, Western Kentucky held five of its final six opponents under their season mark by 1.1 yards on average.

UTSA Roadrunners

The Roadrunners have had a magical season. Prior to last week's loss, they owned a perfect 11-0 record and found themselves ranked nationally.

Running back Sincere McCormick got all of the preseason hype after rushing for just under 1,500 yards last season (2nd). However, he has seen his yards per carry drop from 5.9 to 4.9 this season.

It's actually quarterback Frank Harris and the passing offense that has led the way for UTSA.

Harris, who has also run for just under 500 yards this year, has a trio of very explosive receivers to work with on the outside. Zakhari Franklin and Joshua Cephus are his go-targets, as the duo finished with 67 and 66 catches, respectively.

The offensive line has also been better in pass protection than it has been in creating holes for McCormick.

On the other side of the ball, the defense has excelled at stopping the run (30th in Stuff Rate) and getting after opposing quarterbacks (31st in Sack Rate). However, the pass defense remains a major liability, ranking 85th in Pass Efficiency Defense. That could spell doom once again against Zappe and company.

It's also fair to question the competition level of the opposing rush offenses it has faced. After all, over the past two weeks, UAB ran it 36 times for 238 yards (6.6 YPC) and North Texas had 340 on the ground on 60 carries (5.7).

UTSA vs. Western Kentucky Matchup Analysis

Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how UTSA and Western Kentucky match up statistically:

Western Kentucky Offense vs. UTSA Defense
Rush Success9834
Line Yards3263
Pass Success162
Pass Blocking**123
Big Play4166
Finishing Drives1168
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

UTSA Offense vs. Western Kentucky Defense
Rush Success6698
Line Yards5688
Pass Success1965
Pass Blocking**10273
Big Play7241
Finishing Drives3794
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

Pace of Play / Other
PFF Tackling6799
Middle 8510
SP+ Special Teams1424
Plays per Minute631
Rush Rate34.1% (129)55.8% (60)

Data via College Football Data, FootballOutsiders, SP+, PFF and SportSource Analytics.

UTSA vs. Western Kentucky Betting Pick

I personally think the Roadrunners are a bit overrated. We know they got destroyed last week by North Texas, but let's just focus on their 11 wins. Here are the three good wins on their resume:

  • They won at Memphis by three after coming back from down 14 in the fourth quarter thanks to a couple of backbreaking Memphis fumbles and personal fouls. The Tigers averaged 2.7 more yards per play (7.0-4.3).
  • I already mentioned their win over Western Kentucky by five in which WKU failed to punch in the game-winning touchdown after a personal foul and subsequent interception. WKU finished with over 100 more yards of total offense and a higher yards-per-play average.
  • They beat UAB at home by three points on a fortunate last-second touchdown in a game in which UAB finished with 99 more yards and a significant yards per play advantage (7.8-5.4).

UTSA pulled a rabbit out of a hat each time despite getting outplayed in all three phases The narrative surrounding the team would be much different if it lost all three as it probably should have.

The Roadrunners' other eight wins came against the following teams:

  • Illinois
  • Lamar
  • Middle Tennessee
  • UNLV
  • Rice
  • Louisiana Tech
  • UTEP
  • Southern Miss
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Of the above group, which combined to go 32-63 on the season, only UTEP finished with a winning record. Despite playing an easier schedule overall, UTSA finished 5-0 in one-possession games compared to Western Kentucky's 0-3 mark.

Both teams were a bit fortunate in the turnover department (top-five in turnover margin), so there's nothing to look at from a regression standpoint.

Also, Western Kentucky has the better special teams. The Hilltoppers have also graded out as the unluckiest team in the nation when it comes to opposing field goals — although I wouldn't expect many misses from UTSA's excellent kicker, Hunter Duplessis.

Ultimately, this sets up as a great matchup for Western Kentucky's prolific passing attack on a fast track in the Alamodome against a UTSA secondary that ranks 87th in Pass Success Rate and 99th in coverage. The Roadrunners also rank outside the top 100 in early downs EPA but have been running a bit lucky on third downs. We could see a correction in the latter.

On the other side of the ball, Western Kentucky's defense is playing much better than when these two teams played earlier this season. The Hilltoppers are also stronger against the pass (17th in coverage, per PFF), which has been the strong suit of the UTSA offense in 2021. UTSA will certainly put up its fair share of points, but I think WKU can get more key stops than the Roadrunners.

What's better than a happy hour on a Friday night? I'd argue only Zappe Hour.

I think Zappe and company ultimately get this done and would bet Western Kentucky at -3 or better. If you can't get that number, I'd look for something below a field goal live in a game that should have plenty of points and an abundance of swings.

For those who followed my preseason WKU 10-1 conference champion future, I'm personally only putting my original stake on UTSA +3.5 or better in hopes of a potential middle as well.

In regards to the total, it's over or nothing between two high-powered offenses that want to play with pace. This should be a shootout, but the over/under looks pretty fair to me.

Pick: Western Kentucky -3 or better

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