Conference Championship Betting Preview
by Trevor Whenham - 11/30/2006
If you're a hardcore college football fan you probably either believe that every conference should have a conference championship game, or that they are just a silly cash grab. I fit myself into the latter group. I don't think that they prove a lot, and I think that they can do more to damage to a team than they are worth. A win for Florida this weekend, for example, won't do much to help their chances of making the national championship game (they probably aren't going no matter what), but a loss would end their chances once and for all.
All that being said, conference championship games are almost always interesting to watch, and to handicap. You sure can't complain about another late season match-up between two top teams. This year, the three conference championship games aren't the high profile, thrilling affairs that we have seen in years past, but they are certainly interesting match-ups. Here's a look:
Big 12 - Oklahoma and Nebraska at Kansas City - Oklahoma is one win over either Texas or Oregon away from being a major contender in the national championship picture, but it wasn't meant to be this year. The fact that they have done as well as they have is certainly unexpected. They lost Rhett Bomar before the season started, and Adrian Peterson during the year, but they have bounced back from a 3-2 start to win seven in a row.
Senior quarterback Paul Thompson, who was unexpectedly thrown into action, had a rough start to the season, but he has rebounded with ten touchdowns and just two interceptions in the last seven wins. He's not flashy, but he has certainly been functional. The loss of Peterson could have been death to the Sooners, but the backups have performed admirably. Another AP, Allen Patrick, has been a star, with four-straight 100-yard games, and freshman Chris Brown has been finding the end zone as well.
If Oklahoma was a bit of a surprise, Nebraska has been a shock. Coach Bill Callahan has struggled to put his vision of a football team into action, but it finally seems to be grabbing hold. Starting with a win over Michigan in their bowl game last year, the team has played like they belong in this game. They have done it with a potent offense - quarterback Zac Taylor has set a school record for passing yards, and he has 24 touchdowns and just four interceptions. The team has mostly won when they should, but there have been some troubling spots. They forgot to show up against USC, they lost a troubling game to Oklahoma State, and they barely squeaked past two teams - Kansas and Texas A&M - which they should have handled much more easily.
Oklahoma is a 3.5-point favorite. That is warranted, as Nebraska lost two of three games against Oklahoma's Big 12 South division. Despite that, this game can be won by either team, as both have the skill to take advantage of mistakes by their opponent. The winner of the game will head to the Fiesta Bowl.
SEC - Florida and Arkansas at Atlanta - Arkansas put together ten impressive wins a row, but killed their national title aspirations by bookending them with losses to USC and LSU. The first loss - 50-14, at home against USC - had to be humiliating and deflating, but Arkansas rebounded better than most thought they could. They've done it with two inexperienced quarterbacks, freshman Mitch Mustain and sophomore Casey Dick. Both have been solid, with flashes of brilliance, but a team doesn't need a great quarterback when they have a running game as good as the Razorbacks do. Darren McFadden would be a serious Heisman contender in any season that Troy Smith wasn't playing in with his school record 1,489 yards and 14 touchdowns. He's joined by Felix Jones, who will pass 1,000 yards on the ground in this game.
Florida is 11-1, but their inconsistent performance hasn't impressed voters or the BCS computers enough to be considered among the true elite. They only barely made it past Florida State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Tennessee, they played a pathetic non-conference schedule, and they haven't dominated a single top-level opponent. They've got to where they are using a unique quarterback platoon. Chris Leak takes the large majority of the snaps, but freshman Tim Tebow comes in to confuse offenses, run the ball, and pass if he has to. Tebow is immensely talented but raw. Leak is also freakishly athletic, but he has never excelled under coach Urban Meyer. He's been very inconsistent, and he has made bad decisions when they are the most costly. The offense hasn't been helped out much by the running game. Their top rusher, DeShawn Wynn, has just 632 yards, and Tebow has two more rushing touchdowns than anyone else with only seven.
Florida is favored by 2.5 points. The challenge in handicapping the game will be to determine which team will have the stronger will to win, since both teams have the ability to come out on top. Florida needs an impressive win to have any chance to play Ohio State, while Arkansas wants to win to prove that they belong in the same conversation as the top teams in their loaded conference.
ACC - Wake Forest and Georgia Tech at Jacksonville - I can only imagine how much money you would have now if you had bet at the start of the season that these two teams would play in the conference championship. Georgia Tech was a stretch, but Wake Forest was so unlikely as to be ridiculous. The Demon Deacons seemed far more likely to finish last. They are 10-2, though, and they are for real. They have an odd offense. Quarterback Ben Mauk and running back Micah Andrews were lost early in the year, so they have had to improvise. They average more yards on the ground than they do in the air. The 158.1 yards rushing is solid, but the 143.9 yards passing isn't far from pitiful. It gets even more bizarre - despite relying heavily on the run they have no rusher with more than 400 yards on the season. The key to beating the Deacs, obviously, is to stop the rush. They ran for 93 yards combined in their two losses.
The Yellow Jackets are a bizarre offensive team in their own right. They have perhaps the best receiver in the country in Calvin Johnson, but quarterback Reggie Ball struggles terribly in getting the ball to him. Ball has 242 yards combined in his last four games, and has three touchdowns and four picks. Johnson has 13 touchdown catches in this offense, so you can imagine what he could do with a quarterback that can actually pass. Last time out against Georgia Ball was truly awful - 6-for-22 for 42 yards and two picks. He'll have to be much better to win this game. He's been saved throughout the season by Tashard Choice, the top rusher in the ACC. Choice has had 100 yards or more the last five games.
Georgia Tech is favored by 2.5 points. This could provide the most value of any of the games, as Wake Forest comes into the game playing better football than the Yellow Jackets. The winner will head to the Orange Bowl.