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College Football Betting 2021: Best Conference Championship Week spread picks

Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson collected three sacks against Ohio State. Syndication Detroit Free Press

The 2021 college football regular season has unfortunately come to an end, but the good news is that one of the most exciting weeks of the year for the sport is here. Conference championship weekend obviously brings a much lighter slate compared to the regular season, but there are still a few betting opportunities to be had among the 10 matchups this week.

There aren’t many edges due to the fewer games, but two opportunities really stick out early in the week. As always, supplement these picks with analysis from PFF Greenline to get the most out of your bets this weekend.

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Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (-1.5) @ UTSA Roadrunners

Projection: Western Kentucky -4.3

Western Kentucky finished the regular season as the national leader in offensive success rate, and its 53-21 win over Marshall last week locked up the Conference USA East division for the Hilltoppers and set up a rematch with UTSA. These two teams met in October, and the Roadrunners squeaked out a win in a game that featured 98 total points and 1,234 yards of offense. 

You won’t find a better passing offense in the Group of Five than Western Kentucky’s, which ranks fourth in passing success rate and eighth in EPA per pass. The offensive line also leads the nation in pass-blocking grade and pressure rate allowed.

Quarterback Bailey Zappe leads the conference in passing grade and adjusted completion percentage, and he's been held below 300 yards just once in his 12 games played. There’s also the loaded receiving corps, which has a player who ranks second in the nation in receiving yards and ninth in receiving grade in Jerreth Sterns, while fellow receiver Mitchell Tinsley’s 1,127 yards rank 17th in the country. 

Meanwhile, UTSA’s pass defense enters this game ranked 109th in yards allowed per attempt and 98th in coverage grade. The pass rush has been solid, but it will have a tall task against an offensive line that has been dominant in every sense of the word when it comes to pass protection. The Hilltopper front decisively won that matchup in the regular-season contest, allowing just two quarterback hurries on 60 passing attempts. Zappe lit this defense up for 527 yards, five touchdowns and six big-time throws earlier in the season, and his offense should continue to roll in the conference championship game.

The Western Kentucky ground game doesn’t get any shine behind a flashy passing game, but it still ranks eighth in rushing success rate. UTSA has been better at defending the rush than the pass but still ranks just 65th in rushing success rate allowed. The Roadrunners have been gashed there in two straight games — by UAB two weeks ago, and in a blowout loss to North Texas last week. Western Kentucky’s biggest edge is in the passing game, but don’t overlook its matchup on the ground either.

UTSA’s passing game is also very efficient, ranking 21st in EPA per pass. Western Kentucky’s defense got off to a rough start in 2021, but some strong play down the stretch has the Hilltoppers entering this game ranked 15th in coverage grade and 25th in EPA allowed per pass. Individually, slot cornerback Omari Alexander is allowing a lowly 35.7 passer rating into his coverage and ranks fourth in coverage grade among Conference USA cornerbacks. The Hilltopper run defense is vulnerable, but the secondary improved as the season wore on.

Overall, I project Western Kentucky as 4.3-point favorites here and expect the Hilltoppers to take home the Conference USA Championship behind Zappe and this buzzsaw of a passing game.

PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NCAA game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.

Michigan Wolverines (-11) vs. Iowa Hawkeyes

Projection: Michigan -15.6

Iowa wound up as the Big Ten West division champion after Wisconsin’s surprising loss to Minnesota and will now face a Michigan team that is currently on Cloud 9 after upsetting rival Ohio State for the first time since 2011. The Wolverines abused the Buckeyes in the trenches on both sides of the ball in the contest, and that should continue in this game — especially on defense. The Hawkeyes rank 117th in EPA per pass and 115th in passing success rate, while the rushing attack ranks 122nd in EPA per carry. 

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