While the major Power 5 conferences play their championship games Friday and Saturday, California and Stanford have a rivalry score to settle in The Big Game. The Mountain West Conference Championship is also going down on Boise State’s blue turf Saturday as they tackle Fresno State, and the Sun Belt Championship will be decided between Louisiana and Appalachian State. Here are my selections for Cal-Stanford, and Conference Championship picks in the Mountain West and Sun Belt matchups.
Stanford (-3.5) at California – Total 46.5 – The “Big Game” was postponed two weeks ago due to the fires in California. These two teams enter the rivalry game with identical 7-4 SU and 6-4-1 ATS records. If history is your guide, then you’ll try to cash in with the Cardinal, as Stanford has won the past eight meetings with Cal. The Cardinal, however, have a poor running game this season, ranking 120th in the nation at 107.1 rushing yards per game despite having Bryce Love in the backfield. The Cardinal have had to rely more on the passing of K.J. Costello, but he’ll be under more pressure from strong Cal defense. Little success expected against a Cal stop unit that allows 135.6 rushing yards per game and just 108.0 per game over the Bears last three contests. Overall, Cal’s defense is a top-15 unit allowing 318.5 yards per game and 4.5 yards per play. Cal has finished the season strong winning 4-of-5 with only a last minute loss to Washington State when they held the Cougars to just 19 points. In fact, Cal has not allowed more than 21 points in their last five games. Despite Cal’s pedestrian offense that has failed to gain at least 300 years in each of their last four games, I’ll side with the superior defense and the Bears to break through in The Big Game rivalry.
Pac-12 Pick – Cal Golden Bears
Mountain West Championship – Fresno State at Boise State (-2.5) – Total 53 – Both teams are 10-2 overall and 7-1 in Mountain West play, and each has won money for their betting backers with Fresno State 8-4 ATS and Boise State 7-4-1 ATS. This is a rematch of the Nov. 9 contest that Boise State won 24-17 on the blue turf after trailing 17-3 midway through the 3rd quarter. It’s also a rematch of last year’s Mountain West Championship on this field which Boise State won 17-14. Fresno State won their final two games, but is on a 0-3 ATS run after top coach Jeff Tedford had been the biggest money-maker in college football at 19-3 ATS the past two years at Fresno State. Two senior quarterbacks completing their careers with strong seasons as the Broncos Brett Rypien (3,580 passing yards, 29/7 TD-INT ratio) the Bulldogs Marcus McMaryion (3,283 passing yards and 24/3 TD-INT ratio) have been excellent leading their teams. In the end, the underdog is a stronger play, as Fresno State has the stronger defense by 8 points and 41 yards per game and the Bulldogs have the better yards per play differential.
Mountain West Conference Championship Picks – Fresno State +2.5
Sun Belt Conference Championship – Louisiana at Appalachian State (-16.5) – Total 58 – Appalachian State (9-2) is a big favorite and the Mountaineers won all nine of their games by double-digits and went 7-1 in league play including 5-0 at home. An opening week loss at Penn State in overtime set the stage for this powerful Sun Belt program. Louisiana (7-5) went 5-3 in Sun Belt play and was just 2-4 on the road but did cover against Appalachian State on this field in October in a 27-17 defeat. In that game, Appalachian State out-gained Louisiana 372-328 but ran over the Ragin’ Cajun’s defense with 266 rushing yards. App State will control the ground game again with their 5.8 yards per rush attack against a Cajun’s run defense that allows 4.9 yards per rush. Louisiana has failed to pass for more than 155 yards in each of their last four games, and the Ragin’ Cajun’s limited pass attack will be shut down by Appalachian State’s superior defense allowing just 16.2 points per game and 289.2 yards per game vs FBS opponents. Louisiana is allowing 455.8 yards per game and Appalachian State will be more productive following the first meeting with Louisiana giving an all-in effort in last week’s rivalry win over UL Monroe, 31-28. I’m calling for the blowout win and Appalachian State to get the money for the ninth time this season.
Sun Belt Conference Championship Picks – Appalachian State -16.5
Fairway Jay is a professional handicapper based out of Las Vegas. He focuses primarily on the four majors along with college football and college basketball. You can follow him on Twitter @FairwayJay.