As we look ahead to this week’s college football conference championship games, let’s take a brief trip back in time. WagerTalk handicapper Ralph Michaels publishes his college football power rankings every Monday, with a week-by-week notation of how every team has improved or declined throughout the season.
There are ten conference championship games on tap this weekend. If you would have played these same matchups in Week 1 of the season instead of at the end of the year, it’s likely that four of these ten games would have seen the roles of favorite and underdog reversed. Let’s take a closer look at those four contests.
Utah -6.5 vs. Oregon
Ahh, what could have been. This game should have been a battle of one-loss teams for a trip to the College Football Playoff, but Oregon’ late-season stumble against Arizona State threw a curve into those plans. Prior to the start of the season, Ralph had Oregon rated two points better than Utah. Following the Utes’ loss to USC at the end of September, Ralph briefly had Oregon as an eight-point favorite over Utah. But the Utes dominated the rest of their Pac-12 schedule and have assumed their spot atop the conference. Utah is No. 5 in yards per game differential, No. 5 in points per game differential, and No. 6 in yards per play differential. Kyle Whittingham will be looking to atone for last year’s conference championship flop when the Utes scored just three points at Levi’s Stadium. The North Division champ has won the Pac-12 title game in seven of the last eight years.
Central Michigan -7 vs. Miami (Oh)
At the start of the 2019 season, Ralph had Miami (Oh) 11 points better than Central Michigan on a neutral field. As of Monday afternoon, the Chippewas are a 7-point favorite over the RedHawks. Central Michigan was the No. 117 team in the country in Ralph’s preseason rankings, but showed remarkable improvement under first-year coach Jim McElwain. The Chippewas won six of their final seven games to claim the MAC West crown. Miami’s opponents have out-gained the RedHawks by an average of 73.8 yards per game this season. Central Michigan is averaging +0.9 yards per play better than its opponents, which is No. 28 in the country.
Memphis -9.5 vs. Cincinnati
This is the only game in this article that’s being played at a campus site. Memphis earned home field advantage for the AAC championship game after last week’s victory over the Bearcats. Memphis closed -14 at most books last week, and there’s been a 4-point adjustment for the rematch. Prior to the start of the season, Ralph had Cincinnati rated three points better than Memphis on a neutral field. That separation remained fairly constant through the majority of the regular season until the Bearcats ran into some late struggles. Cincinnati has been out-gained in seven of their last eight games. Memphis has been +1.9 yards per play better than its opponents, which is good for No. 9 in the country.
LSU -7.5 vs. Georgia
Prior to the start of the season, LSU and Georgia were Ralph’s No. 3 and No. 4 teams in the country with the Bulldogs two points better than the Tigers. LSU has shown incredible improvement over the course of the season while the Bulldogs have largely remained stagnant. Prior to the end of the regular season, there were certainly some whispers within the sharp betting community that they were lining up to bet on Georgia in this contest. But after the Bulldogs’ injury-filled performance against Georgia Tech last week, those whispers have decreased. Running back D’Andre Swift left the contest with a shoulder injury. Top receiver Lawrence Cager underwent ankle surgery. Freshman receiver George Pickens is suspended for the first half of the SEC title game. Here is quarterback Jake Fromm’s completion percentage over Georgia’s last four contests: 44.8, 46.4, 47.8, and 48.3. That’s not going to cut it against Joe Burrow and the Tigers.