College football picks, predictions against the spread for every conference championship game

Eight Power 5 teams enter conference championship weekend with one loss or less in the last weekend before the College Football Playoff pairings are announced. 

Half of those teams will play in head-to-head matchups on conference championship weekend. That starts Friday with a Pac-12 championship game between No. 6 Oregon and No. 5 Washington – a rematch from the 36-33 thriller in the regular season. 

On Saturday, No. 1 Georgia will take on No. 8 Alabama in the SEC championship game – the bookends of that potential playoff field. No. 2 Michigan, No. 4 Florida State and No. 7 Texas all can win conference championship games, too. It’s the ultimate game of don’t blink. 

We picked every matchup involving teams ranked in the AP Top 25 this season. This week, we will pick all the conference championship games. A look at our track record this season: 

A look at our track record in picks against the spread heading into Week 13: 

  • Straight up: 203-42 (19-4 in Week 13)
  • ATS: 127-115-3 (10-13 in Week 13)

Here are our picks against the spread for conference championship weekend: 

MORE: Bowl projections entering championship weekend

Conference championship picks against the spread

Friday, Dec. 1

  • No. 20 Liberty (-11) vs. New Mexico State (7 p.m., CBSSN) in Lynchburg, Va.

Liberty won the regular-season meeting 33-17, and Jamey Chadwell has a chance to cap a perfect 13-0 season that would at least have the Flames in the conversation for a New Year’s Day Six bowl bid for the Group of 5. The Aggies have won eight straight games under Jerry Kill – including an upset against Auburn – and they are 4-2 ATS as an underdog this season. Kaidon Salter had 319 total yards and four TDs in the first meeting, which was a one-score game heading into the fourth quarter. This line has dropped a half-point on other books. Take that value in with New Mexico State, which will grind up the clock with Diego Pavia and Star Thomas. 

Pick: Liberty wins 24-20 but FAILS TO COVER the spread. 

  • No. 6 Oregon (-9.5) vs. No. 4 Washington (8 p.m., FOX) in Las Vegas

The final Pac-12 championship and perhaps Heisman Trophy race between Bo Nix and Michael Penix Jr. are on the line here. They combined for 669 passing yards and six TDs in the first meeting. It is worth noting that in the last two seasons, the Pac-12 champion won the regular-season matchup and rematch, so to dismiss Washington’s high-powered offense is not the best strategy.  Oregon coach Dan Lanning was second-guessed for some fourth-down decisions in that game, and the Ducks learn from the experience. This will be the closest game among the Power 5 conference championships. 

Pick: Oregon wins 36-31 but FAILS TO COVER the spread. 

MORE: Washington kicker gets scholarship after winning boot

Saturday, Dec. 2

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  • No. 23 Toledo (-8) vs. Miami, Ohio (12 p.m., ESPN) in Detroit

These teams last met in this game in 2004. The Rockets have a chance to win back-to-back MAC championships in a rematch against the Redhawks. Toledo jumped out to a 21-3 lead before holding on for a 21-17 victory in the regular-season rematch, a game where two turnovers were the difference. The Rockets have covered in four of their last five games, and DeQuan Finn will be the difference again. 

Pick: Toledo wins 35-23 and COVERS the spread. 

  • No. 7 Texas (-14) vs. No. 19 Oklahoma State (12 p.m., ABC) in Dallas

What a farewell game this could be. Texas can win a walk-off Big 12 championship before going to the SEC. Oklahoma State – who could emerge as the dominant program in the new-look Big 12 next season – has a chance to end any hope of a Longhorns’ playoff berth. The Cowboys have been wildly unpredictable in their past four games, which included an upset in Bedlam and a 45-3 loss to UCF. Texas, meanwhile, has been stable through injuries to Quinn Ewers and Jonathan Brooks, who is out with a torn ACL. Texas is 1-4 ATS when favored by 14 points or less, however. Look for the Cowboys to hang around with a strong running game, but Texas does its part to get closer to the CFP. They will need help later in the day. 

Pick: Texas wins 34-24 but FAILS TO COVER the spread. 

MORE: Arch Manning makes his Texas debut 

  • Boise State (-3) vs. UNLV  (3 p.m., FOX) in Las Vegas

How often does a team reach the conference championship game after firing its coach? Boise State did that when it fired Andy Avalos with two games remaining, and interim coach Spencer Danielson led the Broncos to victories the last two weeks. UNLV backed into the MWC title game after a loss to San Jose State, but Barry Odom has led an impressive turnaround for the Rebels. The Broncos have won the last six meetings – and the Rebels have not won in this series since 1977. 

Pick: Boise State wins 31-22 and COVERS the spread. 

  • Troy (-6.5) vs. Appalachian State (4 p.m., ESPN) in Troy, Ala.

The Sun Belt has 12 bowl eligible teams, a nod to the quality – and parity – within the conference. The Trojans are looking for back-to-back conference championships, but it won’t be easy. Appalachian State quarterback Joey Aguilar has at least three TDs in every game of a five-game win streak, and the Mountaineers have won five in a row in this series. Kamari Vidal – who is second in the Sun Belt with 1,349 yards – is the counter for the Trojans, who also have the league’s best defense at 16.7 points per game. Since 2021, the Mountaineers are 6-1-1 ATS as an underdog. They have the capability to pull the outright upset here, too. 

Pick: Troy wins 24-21 but FAILS TO COVER the spread. 

  • No. 1 Georgia (-5) vs. No. 8 Alabama (4 p.m., CBS) in Atlanta

Will the Crimson Tide be the one to end Georgia’s 29-game win streak, which began with a 34-11 victory against Michigan in the 2021-22 CFP semifinals. Georgia covered its only game as single-digit favorite this season. Jalen Milroe had a 69.4% completion percentage and averaged 6.1 yards per carry in November. Can he maintain those numbers against Alabama? What about Carson Beck? He’s maintained 72.4% completion percentage the entire season. Can the Crimson Tide’s improved defense flip the script? Neither team looked great this week, which suggests Kirby Smart and Nick Saban will be at their best Saturday. We just can’t bet against the Bulldogs. 

Pick: Georgia wins 31-24 and COVERS the spread. 

MORE: Milroe’s heroics save Alabama from upset

  • No. 17 Tulane (-4) vs. No. 25 SMU (4 p.m., ABC) in New Orleans

Tulane has been a difficult team for us to figure out all season. The Green Wave is on the cusp of back-to-back American Athletic Conference championships, and they have allowed just 14 points per game the last four weeks. SMU has been a pleasant surprise under Rhett Lashlee. The Mustangs rank fifth in the FBS in scoring offense (41.8) and 13th in scoring defense (17.7). The Green Wave broke a seven-game losing steak in the series in a 59-24 blowout last season. This time, the Mustangs win a walk-off AAC championship before leaving for the ACC. 

Pick: SMU wins 32-28 in an UPSET. 

  • No. 2 Michigan (-23) vs. No. 18 Iowa (8 p.m., FOX) in Indianapolis

Michigan remains No. 1 in the FBS in scoring defense (10.3 ppg.), and the Hawkeyes (12.2 ppg.) rank fourth. We thought this would be an emotional letdown game for the Wolverines two years ago in the Big Ten championship game, and they won 42-3. Michigan also won at Iowa 27-14 last season. The Hawkeyes have won eight straight games against unranked opponents after a 31-0 loss to Penn State on Sept. 23. Michigan outscored three Big Ten West opponents 138-30 this season, and Jim Harbaugh’s return should lead to a complete performance. 

Pick: Michigan wins 35-10 and COVERS the spread. 

BENDER: Michigan’s 2023 story is far from finished

  • No. 3 Florida State (-3.5) vs. No. 15 Louisville (8 p.m., ABC) in Charlotte

Louisville lost a heart-breaker against rival Kentucky last week, but there is an opportunity for Jeff Brohm to open the door for some last-minute chaos in the CFP race. FSU quarterback Tate Rodamaker is on the spot here. He has a 52% completion percentage the last two weeks – but he has not thrown interceptions. In fact, the Seminoles have just five turnovers all season. If that happens, then the ACC’s top-ranked scoring defense will do the rest. The rest of the contenders might not like it, but Florida State is going to the CFP. 

Pick: Florida State wins 25-18 and COVERS The spread. 


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