Saturday 12/7/19 thread for free handicapping service plays and expert predictions for NFL, NCAAF & NBA games.
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Every Thursday during the season, Bill Connelly, Doug Kezirian, Preston Johnson and Phil Steele will provide their top plays across the college football landscape.
Here are their best bets for the final full week of the college football season:
Season ATS records:
Connelly record: 30-16-2 (1-4 last week)
Steele record: 31-41-1 (2-3 last week)
Johnson record: 35-25-1 (2-2 last week)
Kezirian record: 46-36-1 (1-2 last week)
Note: Lines displayed are Caesars Sportsbook lines as of Wednesday night.
Cincinnati Bearcats at Memphis Tigers (-9)
Connelly: SP+ has loved Memphis all year and has been mostly right for doing so -- it is 6-3-1 picking against the mid-week spread over the last 10 games and missed last week's line by just one point.
Last week's game was against Cincinnati, though, and the result (a 34-24 Memphis win against Cincy's backup QB) was close enough that this week's line is a little tighter: The Tigers are -9 as opposed to last week's -11 or so.
SP+ has only grown more defiant, though. Memphis' efficiency advantage last week (and the fact that Cincinnati actually passed better with its backup QB than with Desmond Ridder) suggested that the game wasn't far from a Memphis blowout. After projecting a 13.9-point UM win last week, it's projecting 15.4 this week. Even if we give the Bearcats a Ridder boost (they could run the ball better this time), that's still a decent cushion. Let's take the Tigers once more!
Pick: Memphis -9
LSU Tigers (-7) vs. Georgia Bulldogs
Connelly: One of Georgia's top three receivers (Lawrence Cager) is out, and another (George Pickens) is suspended for the first half. Star rusher D'Andre Swift is trying to shake off a shoulder injury. So why does SP+ project a really tight game (LSU 29-26), and why am I backing it up with a Best Bet pick? Defense and special teams, basically.
Georgia hasn't allowed more than 20 points in a game all season. The Dawgs have faced four SP+ top 25 teams and allowed an average of 15 points per game. LSU will almost certainly top that, but Georgia's old-school approach -- slow the game to a crawl by running the ball and working the clock, make sure your defense doesn't face many possessions, swallow up the opponent's go-to offensive tendencies -- has them 11-1 and one minor upset away from a second College Football Playoff appearance.
Could LSU's defense (which is coming off its best performance of the season) swallow up Georgia's run game, force the Dawgs into a Plan B (if they have one), and eventually pull away? Absolutely. But Auburn nearly knocked off LSU with similarly strong defensive play, and even without a full-strength Swift, UGA has a much better run game than AU. A better defense, too, for that matter. This could absolutely be a dogfight until the end.
Pick: Georgia +7
Miami (OH) RedHawks vs. Central Michigan Chippewas (-7)
Steele: Last week Miami led 27-14 at Ball State at the half, but with numerous players going down with injuries in the game (including QB Brett Gabbert), coach Chuck Martin decided to play mostly backups in the second half and was outscored 27-0 after halftime. The RedHawks clinched the MAC East two weeks ago and only beat lowly Akron by three points that week, so they enter with zero momentum. The defenses are close, but Central Michigan has a significant edge of offense with Tennessee transfer QB Quinten Dormady and two potential 1,000-yard rushers in Jonathan Ward and Kobe Lewis. Central played in the much tougher division in the MAC and should also have the crowd edge with this game in Detroit.
ATS pick: Central Michigan -7
UAB Blazers at Florida Atlantic Owls (-7.5)
Steele: In Lane Kiffin's two bowl seasons with FAU, he is 18-6-1 ATS with his wins by 24.1 PPG. Oklahoma transfer QB Chris Robison has been much improved this year, hitting 62 percent of his passes with a 22-5 ratio. Mackey Award finalist TE Harrison Bryant leads the team with 965 receiving yards and Alabama transfer BJ Emmons has rushed for 124 yards the last two weeks since returning from injury. UAB outgains foes by 161 yards per game at home but by just 27 yards per game on the road. UAB has taken on the weakest schedule in the country while two of FAU's losses have been to Ohio State and UCF. The Blazers have faced three bowl teams on the road this year and lost those by 21.7 PPG.
ATS pick: Florida Atlantic -7.5
Virginia Cavaliers at Clemson Tigers (-28.5) in Charlotte
Steele: This seems like a lot of points for a title game, but Clemson is the class of the ACC. The Tigers have one of the top offensive lines in the country, a dangerous set of receivers and one of the nation's top running backs in Travis Etienne (8.3 yards per carry). Trevor Lawrence has a 16-0 ratio in the last five games and takes on a banged-up Cavaliers secondary that has allowed 302 yards per game passing the previous four weeks. The Clemson D is No. 1 in the country holding foes to 178 yards per game below their season average and know the key to stopping Virginia's offense is to stop QB Bryce Perkins, who is their leading rusher.
Virginia is coming ff a tough comeback win against their rival that had beaten them 15 straight times and also needed a win to wrap up the Coastal, and that game went to the final seconds. Clemson coasted versus rival South Carolina 38-3, and the Tigers are 9-2 ATS versus FBS foes this year.
ATS pick: Clemson -28.5
Kezirian: Only one play for me and it's a ridiculous spread ... or is it? You don't want to make a habit of laying more than four touchdowns in a conference championship game, but the ACC is an outlier. I think Clemson is the nation's best team and the conference is incredibly weak.
The Tigers have covered six straight against FBS opponents with a scoring margin of at least 30 points in every one. That stat - and Dabo Swinney -- gives me more confidence to lay this kind of lumber. Swinney has demonstrated a willingness to run up the score, and the defending champs are eyeing the top overall seed in the CFP.
On top of this, Virginia is extremely limited on offense. The Cavaliers rank 50th in offensive efficiency and I have minimal faith that Bryce Perkins (71st with a 132.6 QBR) can succeed against a Clemson defense that leads the nation in efficiency. The 'Hoos just beat Virginia Tech in their rivalry game, snapping a streak of 15 straight losses the Commonwealth Cup series, so it's also a bit of a flat spot for them.
ATS pick: Clemson -28.5
'Stanford Steve' and 'The Bear': Conference title picks, bets, nuggets
What's in store for this week in college football?
"Stanford Steve" Coughlin and Chris "The Bear" Fallica break down conference championship weekend as only they can, offering their top bets, nuggets, parlays (for fun) and futures to jump on.
With it closing in on bowl season, the guys are ready to continue their prognostications. Here we go with this week's picks.
Stanford Steve (1-2 last week, 36-29-3 overall)
The Bear (4-3 last week, 34-32-1 overall)
Miami (Ohio) Redhawks vs. Central Michigan Chippewas (-6.5, 53.5)
The Bear: The RedHawks played the past two weeks like a team that didn't need either game, as their spot in the MAC title game was locked up. Now they get a chance to refocus on a conference title game with the league's best defense and confidence they can win one-score games (4-0 in one-score games). QB Brett Gabbert should be fine after leaving the Ball State game because of an injury, and who knows what to make of the recent rumors about Jim McElwain being connected to the Missouri job? But this feels like a lot of points to lay with a team that lost (Buffalo, Western Michigan) or won close games (Ball State) vs. the better teams in the MAC that they played.
Pick: Miami +6.5
Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns vs. Appalachian State Mountaineers (-6.5, 56.5)
The Bear: Sure, there is double revenge in play here, but since losing at home to the Mountaineers in early October as a small favorite, the Ragin' Cajuns haven't been held under 31 points, and QB Levi Lewis has improved as a passer. Should there really be nine points difference in the line from just two months ago?
Pick: Louisiana +6.5
Ohio State Buckeyes (-16.5, 55) vs. Wisconsin Badgers
The Bear: At the time of this writing, there are some 17s out there, so shop around. Ohio State has been blitzing people all season and scored the final 28 points of the first meeting after leading just 10-7 in the third quarter. In conference title games and bowl games as an underdog, Wisconsin has a knack of hanging around. I don't think the Badgers can win, but that offensive line and front seven should hold up for a long time. Jack Coan will have to make a couple of throws and the Badgers will have to remain aggressive on offense like they were in Minneapolis last week, but I think they can. Remember two years ago in the Big Ten title game, Ohio State was much better than Wisconsin, yet the Badgers found a way to keep it close, and last year against Northwestern it was a one-score game in the fourth quarter despite the Buckeyes having a huge talent edge.
Pick: Wisconsin +16.5
Stanford Steve: I might just still be in love from the game plan from Paul Chryst and his staff last week in Minneapolis, but I think this is a lot of points. The status of Justin Fields makes me think he is not 100%, but he's still fine enough to play well. But all in all, the combination of a motivated underdog, along with a really good coaching staff of Wisconsin against the No. 1 team in the country makes me think they can keep the game closer than last time, and this time stay within the number. Lastly, I am not saying at all I don't like the Ohio State coaching staff ... I think the world of them. I'm just taking the points.
Pick: Wisconsin +16.5; Ohio State 34, Wisconsin 22.
Georgia Bulldogs vs. LSU Tigers (-7, 54.5)
The Bear: I just think the move is a huge overreaction to how LSU looked last week against an A&M team whose tank was probably close to empty after that schedule and Georgia not having WR George Pickens for a half. This Georgia defense is better equipped than any defense this season to slow down the potent LSU offense. However, how many points Georgia can score is a legitimate question. But as Florida did vs. LSU, expect UGA to use the tight end and probably mix in some of James Cook out of the backfield. Whether it's good enough to win remains to be seen, but Georgia has been a pretty live 'dog the last couple of years, and I would expect that trend to continue here.
Pick: Georgia +7
Stanford Steve: What feels like just a week ago, I was hearing from folks in and around the SEC talking about how much the Bulldogs matched up well with the Tigers. And now, all those people are telling me that they think the Tigers might blow the doors off the Dawgs. Last year in this spot, Kirby Smart designed a great defensive plan to frustrate Tua Tagovailoa and the Alabama offense, and then lost control of the game in the second half as Tua was injured and Jalen Hurts came in and saved the day for the Tide. This year and this week, I feel as if the Georgia secondary will give the LSU wide receivers as tough a test as they have faced all season, and I think the Georgia offensive line opens up enough holes for D'Andre Swift to keep the game within one possession. I'll take the points.
Pick: Georgia +7; LSU 30, Georgia 24.
Utah Utes (-6.5, 46.5) vs. Oregon Ducks
Stanford Steve: Having played in this conference many moons ago and being an enormous fan of all things Pac-12, it feels as though plenty of teams have gotten to this point in a season and something happens to ruin the end goal. Case in point: Oregon a couple of weeks ago going to Tempe on national television and playing its worst game of the year and thus falling out of the picture for a possible playoff spot. Utah steps up on that stage Friday, and the Utes have been as impressive as anyone in the country, but I feel like Oregon has the goods to make things tough for the Utes. Ducks offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo, who has been mentioned for plenty of head coaching job across the country, will have a great stage to showcase his playcalling abilities and use the strength of his team (his offensive line) to combat what might be the deepest defensive line in the country. I think the Ducks keep it close.
Pick: Oregon +6.5; Utah 24, Oregon 20.
Virginia Cavaliers vs. Clemson Tigers (-28.5, 55.5)
Stanford Steve: I have referred to the LSU offense all year as the "foot always on the gas offense." Seeing how outspoken Dabo Swinney has been these past couple of days, I feel as if the Clemson offense will play as if it has both feet on the gas. Plus, I'm not sure how much the Hoos have in the tank after they finally got the monkey off their back that was named Virginia Tech. I'd be willing in the 30s with Clemson this week.
Pick: Clemson -28.5; Clemson 55, Virginia 20.
Stanford Steve's parlay (for a laugh)
Every underdog in a Power 5 title game in a parlay, pays 14-1.
The Bear's plays on the other title games
Utah-Oregon under 47
Boise State -14
The Bear's plays on CFP futures
It is my belief that if Utah wins Friday night and if LSU beats Georgia, the Utes will make the CFP. South Point is currently offering a yes/no prop at +120/-140 on the Utes reaching the playoff. Other prices exist in various sportsbooks in certain states, so check to see what your best price is. So how do I make money on this? Well, hear me out. I would suggest taking the "Yes" on Utah. If the Utes, lose, well, you've basically taken a 6.5-point favorite (usually around -240 or so) at plus money and you're out. But, if the Utes win and you're holding +120 (or better), now you know that the one thing (I believe) standing between the Utes and the CFP is a Georgia win. So you can then take the Bulldogs on the money-line -- probably around +220 or so for a seven-point 'dog. If the Bulldogs win, then you cash that ticket and you're a guaranteed winner. If Georgia loses, you'll have to wait out the committee decision Sunday, but I believe it would end with the Utes in the CFP and you'll come out with a little extra spending money.
Billy Napier is 7-3 ATS as an underdog. In the four games Louisiana has been less than a 7-point underdog, ULL has won three of them outright.
U can do it!
Since the loss to USC, Utah has won and covered all eight games, winning by an average of 29 points.
Ducks win as a 'dog ... or don't even cover
In its past 16 games as an underdog, Oregon is 4-12 ATS (2-4 under Mario Cristobal). All four of the covers were also outright wins.
Rhuler of the universe
In its past seven games as an underdog, Baylor is 7-0 ATS with five outright wins. In 47 games as an underdog, Matt Rhule is 33-14 ATS with 16 outright wins.
Sooners cash in as single-digit favorite
This is the first time Oklahoma has been favored by single digits all season. OU went 3-6 ATS vs. Big 12 opponents this season. Dating to 2015, Oklahoma is 11-3-1 ATS as a single-digit favorite. Two of the three ATS losses were also outright losses (vs. Texas in 2018 and vs. Clemson in the 2015 Orange Bowl).
'ROY Bus' keeps on rollin'
Since the one-point win at North Carolina, Clemson has won by an average of 41.7 points and covered every game vs. FBS opponents.
Aptly named the 'Dogs ...
In Georgia's past five games as an underdog, the Bulldogs are 5-0 ATS with three outright wins.
2018: vs. Alabama +11.5, lost by 7
2017: vs. Alabama +3.5, lost by 3 (OT)
2017: at Notre Dame +5.5, won by 1
2016: vs. TCU +2, won by 8
2016: vs. Auburn +10, won by 6
Coach O great vs. top 10
As a head coach, Ed Orgeron is 13-2-1 ATS against top-10 teams not named Alabama. At LSU, he's 6-1-1 ATS with eight outright wins in that spot.
Favorites have ruled championship Saturday
Favorites have dominated Power 5 championship games lately, going 10-0 SU and 8-2 ATS the past two years and 17-1 SU, 13-5 ATS since 2015; the only upset was Penn State +2 over Wisconsin in 2016.
Badgers enjoy this role
In its past nine conference championship games or bowl games as an underdog, Wisconsin in 6-2-1 ATS with five outright wins.
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Three CFB Picks 12/7
100* Over 56 Miami Oh/Central Michigan
100* Over 65.5 Baylor/Oklahoma
100* Georgia +7
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