Scully’s NCAAF Championship Week picks

James Scully

December 5th, 2019

The chase for the national championship in college football is winding down. Bowl matchups will be revealed Sunday, but first we have an exciting round of conference title games to entertain us this weekend.

Oregon vs. Utah (-6.5), Friday. 8 p.m. ET, ABC

Utah’s defense will give the sputtering Oregon offense all it can handle at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The Utes have averaged 37 points per game since the start of November, with quarterback Tyler Huntley (14-for-17 last week, with 88 yards rushing) and Pro Football Focus first-team All-American running back Zack Moss leading the way, but they still something to prove offensively for the College Football Playoff committee.
Oregon, which is 2-8 ATS in its last 10 games as an underdog, is not playing its best football. The Ducks didn’t score for more than two quarters and surrendered 535 yards in a loss to Arizona State two weeks ago. Then, after the Ducks jumped out to a 17-3 lead on Oregon State,, the offense went into a scoreless shell for more than 41 minutes. They managed to hold on to win (but not cover) as a 19.5-point underdog, but Oregon State had the ball with a chance to tie late in the fourth quarter and ended up with time-of-possession advantage, even with a backup quarterback.

Utah enters on an 8-0 ATS run. The Utes own the nation’s top-ranked run defense (58.3 rushing yards per game), rank third in total defense (253.2 yards per game) and are fourth in scoring defense (12.3 points per game). Utah is eligible to run up the score in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Pick: Utah -6.5

Baylor vs. Oklahoma (-9.5), Saturday, noon ET, ABC

Baylor has covered in four straight games and is 4-0 ATS as an underdog this year. The Bears have one of the country's best coaches in Matt Rhule, who gets the most out of the talent on his roster (Baylor went 1-11 before he arrived in 2018), and I love the development of quarterback Charlie Brewer. The Bears know they can play with Oklahoma, although they blew a 21-point second-half lead three weeks ago, and have covered in three of their last four meetings.

Defense remains a liability for Oklahoma. The Sooners may be able to outscore Baylor, but they are a vulnerable favorite laying this many points to a well-balanced attack. Baylor has weapons at receiver (Denzel Mims) and running back (JaMycal Hasty), and Oklahoma’s defense has allowed 32 points per game over its last five contests.

Baylor owns a significant edge on defense and has allowed only 13.5 points per game (ranked 13th nationally), and the Big 12 Championship Game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas may come down to which team has the ball last.

Pick: Baylor +9.5

Georgia vs. LSU (-7), Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, CBS

It will be offense versus defense in the SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, as high-scoring LSU (second nationally at 47.2 points per game) will square off against stingy Georgia (second nationally at 9.9 points allowed per game). I am siding with offense. LSU has too many weapons, and Georgia won’t keep pace.

Last week LSU outgained Texas A&M by a 553-169 margin, and quarterback Joe Burrow probably locked up the Heisman Trophy with another impressive performance. He threw for 352 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions, and the senior finished a 12-0 campaign with 4,366 passing yards, a 78.3% completion rate, 44 touchdowns and only six interceptions.

The Tigers are dynamic on the outside, as Ja’Marr Chase established a new single-season touchdown reception mark and Justin Jefferson posting the second-highest single-season reception total in school history. Clyde Edwards-Helaire proved key to LSU’s victory at Alabama with 103 rushing yards, 77 receiving yards (on nine catches) and four touchdowns.

Georgia won’t be at full strength. The Bulldogs will miss leading receiver Lawrence Cager, who is sidelined with an ankle injury, and must survive the first half without receiver George Pickens, who is suspended for fighting with a Georgia Tech defensive back last week. Star running back D’Andre Swift, who was knocked out of last week’s game, will try to play through a sore shoulder, and the offensive line is banged up as well.

This one could get ugly, with Georgia's offensive inefficiencies and injuries.

Pick: LSU -7

Hawaii at Boise State (-13.5), Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN

Hawaii will make a return trip to Boise for the Mountain West Championship Game, following a 59-37 loss on the blue field in mid-October. Four turnovers doomed the Warriors that day, but they still gained 438 yards of offense, and I think the outcome will be much closer in rematch.

Boise State was rolling at 6-0 when quarterback Hank Bachmeier sustained a hip pointer, and he has missed the last four games because of an injured shoulder. The Broncos exit a pedestrian offensive performance, and they needed a late stop to deny four-win Colorado State by a 31-24 margin. The Broncos went 2-4 ATS with a pair of backup quarterbacks, and although Bachmeier could be back Saturday, it’s fair to question whether the offense will be firing on all cylinders.

Hawaii brings plenty of offensive firepower and is averaging 35.4 points per game. The Hawaii defense can be faulty, but the Warriors won the West Division behind a huge performance against eight-win San Diego State in their final conference game. They held the run-heavy Aztecs to just 89 yards rushing in a 14-11 win. Coach Nick Rolovich has a built a winning culture, and Hawaii can give Boise State a game the second time around.

Pick: Hawaii +13.5

Wisconsin vs. Ohio State (-16.5), Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, FOX

I worried Ohio State may have peaked too early when Penn State held its own against the Buckeyes two weeks ago, but any fears were eliminated in the regular-season finale. The Buckeyes made a quality Michigan defense look ridiculous, and they piled up 577 yards (313 passing, 264 rushing) and scored multiple times in each quarter. Justin Fields and J.K. Dobbins are bona fide superstars, and the Buckeyes are deep at receiver.

They have a special defensive unit, as well. Ohio St. held Michigan to 91 rushing yards last week and Wisconsin to 83 rushing yards earlier this season. Teams must be able to stretch the field through the air, because they cannot establish the run on this defense. That’s a problem for Wisconsin, which is reliant upon the ground game. Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan completed only 10 passes and was sacked five times in their first meeting, and he’ll be in for a long evening against Chase Young and his fellow defenders.

I expect to see another controlling performance by Ohio State.

Pick: Ohio St. -16.5

James Scully’s 2019 NCAAF record ATS on BetAmerica heading into Championship Week: 31-30 (2-3 last week)