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College Football Conference Championship Betting Previews and Odds
♦Florida Gators vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (-17.5, 40)
Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Florida is the final hurdle between second-ranked Alabama and a return to the national semifinals, and the No. 15 Gators hope to be more than a mere speed bump when the teams square off Saturday in Atlanta for the SEC championship. While the Crimson Tide roll into the Georgia Dome riding a nine-game winning streak, the Gators are limping into the title game after consecutive lackluster performances.
The Crimson Tide are trying to become the first team to win back-to-back SEC crowns since Tennessee in 1997-98, a goal that appeared unlikely after a 43-37 home loss to Ole Miss on Sept. 19. But Alabama hasn’t lost since, climbing to No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings with a chance to lock up a spot in the final four with a victory Saturday. “They’ve had their backs against the wall since the Ole Miss game early in the season and really come through just about every time they needed to,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told reporters. “We’ve improved as the season’s gone on, so I’m very proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish.” The Gators, who are back in the title game for the first time in six years, have gone in the other direction over the past month, eking out close wins over Vanderbilt and South Carolina before needing overtime to dispatch Florida Atlantic and getting trounced 27-2 at home by Florida State last weekend.
TV: 4 p.m. ET, CBS.
Books opened the Crimson Tide as 17-point faves but that has moved to -17.5. The total opened at 40.5 and is down to 40.
ABOUT FLORIDA (10-2 SU, 7-5 ATS, 4-8 O/U): The Gators’ hopes this weekend will rest on a defense that ranks in the top 10 nationally in total defense (283.6 yards per game), passing defense (171.7), rushing defense (111.9) and scoring defense (15.5 points) but has shown some weakness against the run over the last month. That unit will have to be at its best to give Florida a chance, unless the offense can break out of its prolonged slump. The Gators have failed to crack 300 total yards in three of their last four games and needed a fourth-quarter safety to avoid being shut out by the Seminoles.
ABOUT ALABAMA (11-1 SU, 7-5 ATS, 4-8 O/U): After some early-season hiccups, the Crimson Tide have returned to dominance by focusing on their hallmarks of a powerful running game and a stout defense. Alabama leads the nation in stopping the run (78.9 yards per game), ranks second in total defense (264.6) and is third in scoring defense (14.3 points), although the architect of that defense – coordinator Kirby Smart – will become the head coach at Georgia when the Crimson Tide wrap up their postseason run. Alabama has enjoyed far more success running the ball, as Heisman Trophy candidate Derrick Henry has amassed 1,797 yards and 22 touchdowns after rolling up 271 yards on 46 carries in last week’s 29-13 win at Auburn.
* Favorite is 4-1 ATS in their last five meetings.
* Gators are 4-0 ATS in their last four neutral site games.
* Crimson Tide are 4-0 ATS in their last four games overall.
* Under is 5-0 in Gators last five games overall.
♦Stanford Cardinal vs. USC Trojans (+4.5, 58.5)
Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara
When Stanford faces USC in the Pac-12 Conference championship game Saturday in Santa Clara, Calif., it could be excused if it is caught doing a little scoreboard-watching. The Cardinal are ranked seventh in the College Football Playoff rankings but conceivably could move into the final four with a win over No. 20 USC and a loss by either Clemson or Alabama.
Stanford appeared unlikely to reach the Pac-12 title game following its season-opening loss to Northwestern, but it responded with eight straight wins – including a 41-31 triumph at USC on Sept. 19. Kevin Hogan passed for 279 yards and Remound Wright rushed for three touchdowns as the Cardinal rallied from an early 11-point deficit to beat the Trojans, who fired coach Steve Sarkisian three weeks later. Clay Helton took over on an interim basis and received the permanent title after USC won five of its last six games, including last Saturday’s 40-21 victory over rival UCLA. The Trojans rushed a season-high 59 times while holding the ball for 40 minutes, 1 second last week and will need a similar effort against Stanford, which is seeking its third Pac-12 championship in the last four years.
TV: 7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN3.
Books opened the Trojans as 4-point dogs and that has since moved to +4.5. The total is down to 58.5 from the opening 60.
Temperatures will be in the low-50s with wind blowing across the field around 5 mph.
ABOUT STANFORD (10-2 SU, 8-4 ATS, 6-6 O/U): Hogan passed for 269 yards and four touchdowns in last Saturday’s 38-36 victory over Notre Dame, which kept alive the Cardinal’s playoff hopes. “We have nothing to prove to anybody,” coach David Shaw told reporters. “We’re in the Pac-12 championship game and we get to go play a great game against a team that’s going to be fired up to play us. And that’s where our head is. What the national chatter is, that’s not up to me.” Running back Christian McCaffrey leads the FBS with 252.92 all-purpose yards per game while linebacker Blake Martinez has a team-high 121 tackles to lead the defense, which has allowed an average of 478 yards over the last three games without cornerback Ronnie Harris, who could return from an ankle injury to face the Trojans.
ABOUT USC (8-4 SU, 6-6 ATS, 5-6-1 O/U): The Trojans have outrushed their opponents in all seven games since Helton took over for Sarkisian, including last Saturday against UCLA as Justin Davis gained 130 yards on 25 carries for his second straight 100-yard performance. Davis’ emergence only has added to a talented offense led by quarterback Cody Kessler, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and two-way player Adoree’ Jackson, who has returned a punt for a touchdown in back-to-back games and ranks as the only player in the country with 300 yards receiving, 500 in kickoff returns, 200 punt-return yards and 20 tackles. Linebacker Cameron Smith was named Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year after recording a team-leading 78 tackles and three interceptions, and he’ll be a key part of the Trojans’ efforts to slow down McCaffrey, the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year.
* Underdog is 4-0 ATS in their last four meetings.
* Over is 14-6 in the last 20 meetings.
* Under is 4-1 in Cardinal last five conference games.
* Under is 9-3-1 in Trojans last 13 conference games.
♦North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Clemson Tigers (-4.5, 67.5)
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
Two of the most prolific offenses in the nation will be on display when top-ranked Clemson meets No. 8 North Carolina at the ACC championship game Saturday in Charlotte. The unbeaten Tigers scored at least 33 points in nine of their 12 games while North Carolina is averaging 41.2 points to lead the league while winning a school-record 11 straight contests.
“The key will be which defense plays the best,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told reporters. “All I know is if you give someone a short field, you’re in for a long day.” The Tigers can seal a spot in the College Football Playoff and extend the longest winning streak in the country to 16 games while led by ACC Player of the Year Deshaun Watson at quarterback. The Tar Heels aren’t without hope to make the CFP, but they’ll need a convincing victory behind versatile signal-caller Marquise Williams along with a big effort on the other side of the ball. “We’re excited for the opportunity,” North Carolina linebacker Jeff Schoettmer told reporters. “As a competitor and an athlete, you want to play the best team. And to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.”
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ABC.
Books opened Clemson as 5.5-point faves but the Tigers are now -4.5. The total opened at 65 and is up to 67.5.
Temperatures expected to be in the mid-40s with wind blowing across the field at around four mph.
ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA (11-1 SU, 8-4 ATS, 6-6 O/U): Running back Elijah Hood may be the biggest factor in the Tar Heels’ rise with 1,280 yards and 16 touchdowns while Williams has run for another 786 and 10. Williams, who has thrown 18 scoring passes, has four receivers who have accumulated at least 25 catches and 435 yards, with Mack Hollins (26, 670, eight touchdowns) leading the way. Safety Donnie Miles (99 tackles) and linebacker Shakeel Rashad (98) lead the defense, which allowed 61 points over the last two games but is averaging 20.8 against overall.
ABOUT CLEMSON (12-0 SU, 5-7 ATS, 7-5 O/U): Watson, who is the only player in the country with at least 3,000 yards passing and 750 rushing, has completed 70.4 percent of his passes – third-best in the nation. Wayne Gallman (1,145 yards, nine rushing TDs) returned to gain 102 yards on 19 carries in the 37-32 victory over South Carolina last week after missing the contest against Wake Forest with an ankle injury. Defensive lineman Shaq Lawson (8.5 sacks) leads the nation with 20.5 tackles for loss, but the Tigers have allowed 25.2 points per game in their last five.
* Favorite is 4-0 ATS in their last four meetings.
* Over is 4-1 in the last five meetings.
* Tigers are 0-4 ATS in their last four games overall.
* Tar Heels are 4-1 ATS in their last five games overall.
♦Michigan State Spartans vs. Iowa Hawkeyes (+3.5, 51.5)
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Fourth-ranked Iowa and fifth-ranked Michigan State clash in Saturday’s Big Ten title game in Indianapolis and the winner appears all but certain to land one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff. The Hawkeyes recorded an undefeated regular season for the first time in 93 years and won the Big Ten West while Michigan State’s lone stumble was a one-point loss at Nebraska as it won the East division.
With the schools ranked fourth and fifth headed into the matchup, Spartans coach Mark Dantonio feels the winner is a lock for a playoff spot. “I think the Big Ten is in,” Dantonio said at a press conference. “You know, a 12-0 team and a one-loss team, so whoever wins this football game is going to get an extra bump, so I would think they’re in.” The Hawkeyes grudgingly gained the nation’s respect as the season wore on and coach Kirk Ferentz says his squad has nothing to lose in the title game. “We’re probably the team that’s not supposed to be there,” Ferentz said in a press conference. “So let’s go cut it loose and see what happens. What’s going to decide the game is who plays best, not all the other stuff, so that’s what we have to focus on.”
TV: 8:17 p.m. ET, FOX.
Books opened Iowa as a 4-point dog but is now +3.5. The total is down to 51.5 from the opening 51.5.
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (11-1 SU, 5-7 ATS, 6-6 O/U): Senior Connor Cook (2,730 yards, 24 touchdowns, four interceptions) was named the Big Ten’s top quarterback and senior Aaron Burbridge (75 receptions for 1,158 yards and seven touchdowns) was selected as the top receiver, and the duo lead an offense averaging 33.4 points per game. Senior defensive end Shilique Calhoun (8.5 sacks) was named first-team All-Big Ten for the third straight season and heads a unit that includes sophomore nose tackle Malik McDowell (11.5 tackles for losses) and junior middle linebacker Riley Bullough (90 tackles). “Shilique Calhoun continues to be a dominant, disruptive force on the defensive line,” Dantonio told reporters. “He has the flair for providing a spark when the team needs it – with tackles for losses, sacks and blocked field goals.”
ABOUT IOWA (12-0 SU, 7-5 ATS, 7-4-1 O/U): Junior quarterback C.J. Beathard (2,354 yards, 14 touchdowns, three interceptions) has been efficient and avoids mistakes while senior running back Jordan Canzeri (964 yards, 12 touchdowns) is running well again after a midseason ankle injury. Junior cornerback Desmond King was named the Big Ten’s top defensive back and his eight interceptions — tied for the most in the nation — have matched the school record shared by Louis King (1981) and school legend Nile Kinnick (1939) but he found himself benched for the first quarter of the regular-season finale against Nebraska after missing a team meeting. “We don’t show favoritism here,” King told reporters. “No matter who you are, you’re going to have to face the consequences if it’s a team violation.”
* Underdog is 5-2 ATS in their last seven meetings.
* Spartans are 6-0 ATS in their last six neutral site games.
* Hawkeyes are 1-4 ATS in their last five games following a ATS win.
* Over is 6-1 in Spartans’ last seven neutral site games.