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CFB conference championships: Betting the Pac-12, SEC title games


In life, there are haves and have-nots. In college football, there are will or will-nots - as in, which power conference will or will not exist next season?

The SEC and Pac-12 are the haves of this season, but while the SEC loads up with Texas and Oklahoma next year, Friday night's championship game is the swan song for the soon-to-be dismantled Pac-12. Yet despite their diametric futures, their championship weekends are similarly significant.

We're one year away from a 12-team College Football Playoff, when we'll presumably be debating who deserves the 12-seed. This year, the Pac-12 and SEC title games act as de facto quarterfinal games. Ohio State-Michigan last week was the first elimination game, and now we'll see the winners of Oregon-Washington and Georgia-Alabama punch their tickets.

Pac-12: No. 5 Oregon vs. No. 3 Washington (+10, 66.5)

Friday, 8:00 p.m. EST

Oregon +300
Washington +320

In Week 7, Oregon and Washington played arguably the game of the college football season. The Huskies edged the Ducks partly thanks to Oregon failing in three high-leverage fourth-down situations and the great connection between Michael Penix Jr. and Rome Odunze. Even those of us with season-long positions on Washington and Penix - while happy about the win - noticed that the Ducks looked like the more aggressive, physical team, running for 190 yards on 33 tailback carries and outgaining the Huskies in Seattle.

Since then, the Huskies have run a gauntlet schedule of USC's offense, Utah's defense, being underdogs at Oregon State, and the Apple Cup. Meanwhile, Oregon drilled the bottom half of the conference every week, catching the Trojans and Beavers after Washington brought them to (often literal) tears. This has changed the market for the Pac-12 title game.

The Ducks' dominance has lifted their market rating up to the level of Michigan and approaching the powers of the SEC, while Washington's rating has drifted back to where it was before the season. The Huskies were -3 at home, and with no significant injuries changing the calculus, the Ducks would have been expected to be small favorites in this neutral-site rematch. Six weeks later, they're not.

In college sports, it's often said, "It's not who you play, it's when you play them." Washington's shootout at USC and trip to Corvallis when both opponents still had conference title aspirations were very different situations from when Oregon hosted each of those teams the week after. Washington has survived the potholes that in years past would have tripped up a Pac-12 contender, leaving the "Pac-12 will cannibalize itself" crowd in shambles.

There's value in Washington's ability to pull out narrow wins. Maybe Oregon and Bo Nix are a title-contending and Heisman-winning wagon, but the Huskies can at least keep this close with their own burgeoning run game and a full complement of healthy receivers.

Pick: Washington (+10, -115)

SEC: No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 8 Alabama (+6, 53.5)

Georgia -105
Alabama +300

Saturday, 4:00 p.m. EST

It may seem like this matchup is a foregone conclusion every year, but this is just the second time in five years that we're getting the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide in Atlanta. And Georgia and Alabama have evolved more than usual since the season began.

Georgia started the season with a new quarterback, Carson Beck, who was able to get up to speed against a soft schedule. Then Brock Bowers got hurt, forcing Beck to work without his security blanket.

In Tuscaloosa, the Tide lost to Texas and then Jalen Milroe was benched for Tyler Buchner and Ty Simpson in Week 3.

For the first time in a long time, neither Georgia nor Alabama ranked in the top 20 of defensive EPA/play during the regular season. There's so much potential for scoring here that, despite the inexperienced quarterbacks, the total for this matchup is 4.5 points higher than in 2021, when Bryce Young and Stetson Bennett combined for 761 passing yards.

Both defenses have taken a step back since, so determining which offense can take advantage of the opposing unit is the key to handicapping a matchup we haven't seen in almost two years.

Since the calendar flipped to October, the Bulldogs maintained their offensive early-down success rate despite Bowers' absence and a banged-up Ladd McConkey on the way to the fourth-best offensive EPA/play for the entire season nationally.

Like Washington, Alabama survived the back half of its schedule, but barely beating lifeless Arkansas, Auburn, and Texas A&M (combined record of 17-19) is closer to failing than passing the test. The Crimson Tide might not even be in this game had Jayden Daniels not been knocked out of the second half of their game against LSU.

Since 2021, Georgia is 40-0 against teams not named Alabama. The Bulldogs are 1-1 against the Tide. Given everything Kirby Smart has accomplished in the last three seasons, and the other CFP candidates waiting in the wings to steal their spot should they falter, I trust the Bulldogs' preparation and inspiration to win convincingly on the way to the playoff's top seed.

Pick: Georgia (-6)

Matt Russell is the lead betting analyst for theScore. If there's a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on social media @mrussauthentic.

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