Hot & Not Report – Title Games

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Week of December 2nd

We've reached the final month of 2019, and while that means that the playoff race in the NFL is in the stretch drive, it also means the college football season is coming to a close. So after a few weeks of focusing on the NFL, this week it's time to take a look at conference championship weekend and specifically two games that have certain historical trends favoring one particular side.

But before we get to that, last week's piece on the two different runs that were in play for numerous NFL games last week ended up with a positive 5-4 ATS result (eliminating the SF play because both they and Baltimore were coming off outings of 30+ points). Some of the lines listed on the list of plays last week moved with us, and some of them moved against us, but thanks to Buffalo, New Orleans, Miami, Tennessee, and Tampa Bay – who all won SU by the way – had you played all those games you came out ahead.

However, it's on to the collegiate game now, and conference championship weekend is always one of my favorite ones of the year. You've got a NFL-sized betting board which means you can spend more time on each individual game, there are no potential motivational issues to concern yourself with, and you've got winning teams in all the games so the quality of football you can expect to see should be at a more predictable level.

That being said, not one favorite this weekend is laying less than -6.5 points right now, and that is quite telling. At least on paper, the oddsmakers believe these games won't be all that tight, but underdogs do win conference titles every year, so taking the points in some of these games may be rather appealing. And based on recent results in two specific conference championship games, we already have two underdogs to look at.

Who's Hot

Playing ON the team in the Big 10 Championship game with fewer ATS wins on the season is 3-0 ATS the past three seasons, and 3-0-1 ATS the last four years

This year's Big 10 game has the #1 Ohio State Buckeyes currently laying -16.5 against Wisconsin, in a rematch of a 38-7 Ohio State win back at the end of October. That game was a dominant effort from Ohio State from start to finish, and given how dominant the Buckeyes have been all year, there is plenty to like about their chances to win this game and earn their spot in the CFB Playoff.

Ohio State comes into this game with a 9-3 ATS record on the year, but recent history suggests that that's not a great thing for them to cover this big number. Yes, it's only a 3-4 game sample size here, but with Wisconsin sporting a 7-5 ATS record this season, they are in the role that's proved to be a money earner the past three seasons.

In last year's Big 10 title game, Ohio State was just 5-7 ATS when they were laying an identical -16.5 spread against a Northwestern team that was 6-4-2 ATS at the time. It was a mismatch on paper, and proved to be on the field too, as Ohio State ended up with the 45-24 win to cover the number.

It was a similar story in the 2017 and 2016 Big 10 Championship games as well, as a 2017 Ohio State team at 5-7 ATS went on to win SU and ATS against an 8-4 ATS Wisconsin team, while the 2016 Penn State Nittany Lions – who were 8-3-1 ATS – got the SU and ATS win over a 9-2-1 ATS Wisconsin team. And then back in 2015, Michigan State (5-7 ATS) ended up pushing as -3 favorites against a then 7-5 Iowa squad.

So history is on Wisconsin's side to at least keep this game closer then this number may suggest, and if you've read any of my Upset Alert pieces this year, you'll know that I've gone against Ohio State against the number a handful of times this year. The results have not been good overall, so rushing to the window to take these points with Wisconsin is not something I'm doing, as I'm simply putting out this information to let you all make your own decisions.

Overall last year, teams with fewer ATS wins on the year went 6-1 ATS in conference championship games, but that was after they were 1-6 ATS back in 2017 (2017 Ohio State being only winner). I am a big believer in regression to the mean in nearly everything, so I do think we see some of those squads that have performed admirably ATS this season continue to do so, I'm just not sure it happens in the Big 10. Which leads me to...

Who's Not

Playing ON the team with the fewer ATS wins in the Mountain West Championship game is 0-4 ATS the past four years

Given that the Mountain West title has been decided by just three points in each of the past four years, it's not too surprising that opening numbers of +14.5/15 on Hawaii were quickly bought up. The current line sits at Boise State -13.5, and with the Broncos at home on the Smurf Turf for the third straight season in this game, they do have some intrinsic advantages already. Yet, at 6-5-1 ATS this year, it is Boise State who comes into this game with fewer covers then their opponent Hawaii, and while that situation has been great for Big 10 teams, it's the exact opposite in the Mountain West.

Each of the past four years in this conference we've seen the team that has cashed more tickets on the season, cash once again in the title game. It just so happens that they've all been the underdog for this game, and when you get every game decided by just three points, chances are the dog will bring home the ATS victory. The past two years it's been Fresno State who went 1-1 SU in those three point efforts as dogs, and prior to that it was Wyoming and Air Force with three point defeats catching points as well. All four of those years saw the dog come into the game with more ATS wins, as Hawaii does this year at 7-6 ATS.

And given the big picture surrounding this game, a play on Hawaii does seem to make a lot of sense.

For one, Boise's not likely to get that Bowl spot in the New Year's Six as the highest ranked Group of 5 team because chances are it will go to the winner of the AAC Title game between Cincinnati and Memphis. Both teams are ranked right around Boise State right now, and the winner of that game will likely earn that berth as the highest ranked squad. I did say at the top that motivational concerns aren't really prevalent this week, but if there was one, that would be it.

Furthermore, Hawaii's got to be excited to be in their first Mountain West title game, and the program's first crack at a conference crown since sharing the WAC title back in 2010. Their last outright conference title game 12 years ago as 12-1 SU WAC champions, and every school loves to add to their trophy case.

It's also another crack at this Boise State team on the blue turf after suffering a 59-37 loss to the Broncos back in mid-October. That final score was more flattering then how the game went, as it was 52-21 after three quarters, as four turnovers by Hawaii (three fumbles lost and an INT) dug way too big of a hole for them to climb out of. The Rainbow Warriors were right there with Boise State in terms of yards per rush (5.9 for Hawaii vs 5.2 for Boise State) and pass yards per play (6.5 for Hawaii vs 8.5 for Boise State), and had they just been able to protect the ball early on, things could have been much different.

The Warriors have only improved since then – especially on defense – as they ended up going 5-2 SU (4-3 ATS) since that Boise State loss, and finished the year with committing a turnover against Army, the first time they hadn't coughed the ball up since playing Nevada the week before the first meeting with Boise State.

Having the Rainbow Warriors playing out in the cold of Boise will definitely be a talking point for those looking to lay it with the Broncos, but Boise State also has some questions at QB if QB Hank Bachmeier decides to give it a go with his wounded shoulder. He's sat out the last three games for Boise State, and while they've generally been fine without him, his reinsertion to the field could bring more disruption to that offense then expected.

Hawaii can put the ball in the end zone with the best of them in the Mountain West, which means a back door cover is probably always in the equation here, and with the early move in the Rainbow Warriors favor, and the recent history of both underdogs and teams with the more ATS wins in the Mountain West title game, it's a move I believe you've got to agree with.

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