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Brett Ciancia breaks down three picks for conference championship weekend across college football

Oregon vs. USC

In my annual Season Preview book back in June, this was the Pac-12 title game I had predicted.  However, I could have never expected the crazy path it would take to get there.

Despite different records and perceptions, Oregon and USC have very similar stat profiles in scoring margin, yardage margin, and in my opponent-adjusted Game Grader formula.  Turnovers are the main reason why USC is undefeated, and Oregon is just 3-2.  USC is +6 in turnover margin, while Oregon is -7.  Both are extreme outliers, and tend to revert to a net zero mean.

USC has been living on the edge with three of their wins within a score.  It took crazy, late comebacks in all three of them.  And after watching Arizona State beat Arizona 70-7 last week, USC’s comeback win over that same Arizona team looks weaker.  Meanwhile, Oregon’s two losses were within a score.  USC is playing its third game in 13 days, while Oregon has had time to get healthy after UW cancelled their North Title last week.

I am sticking with my original Pac-12 champion pick with Oregon.  USC has played with fire too much, and my numbers view this more as a true “pick-em” game.


PICK:  OREGON +3  @  -110

Alabama vs. Florida

Again, this was my SEC title prediction from my annual season preview book.  Most publications had Georgia to win the SEC East, but I loved what Florida’s offense was building in Dan Mullen’s third year.  He had success with Alex Smith (2004 Utah), Tim Tebow (2006 Florida), and Dak Prescott (2014 Mississippi State) and I knew he’d build Kyle Trask into an all-SEC quarterback.  Trask has taken that to the next step, and currently averages 4.0 touchdown passes per game – most in FBS since Colt Brennan at Hawaii (2007).

The two quarterbacks in this one have been racking up record numbers, and on the radio the past few weeks I’ve been comparing it to the Sosa-McGwire home run race in 1998.  While Trask has the high TD/game pace, Alabama quarterback Mac Jones has the highest completion rate… ever.  He is currently ahead of Joe Burrow’s 78% that was a record-setter last season.

Jones has two additional Heisman contenders on his offense, with Najee Harris leading the nation in rushing touchdowns, DeVonta Smith leading Power 5 in receiving touchdowns, and two likely All-America linemen in front of them.

Alabama has the slight edge on offense.  However on defense the edge is clearer.  When looking at the three major defensive categories (yards/play, yards/carry, passer rating), Alabama is in the Top 15 for all three … Florida is outside the Top 40 in all three.

It seems like a popular pick this week, but this is my OVER POINTS pick of the week.



Texas A&M vs. Tennessee

Entering the final week of games, Texas A&M is ranked #5 and within striking distance of a Playoff bid.  They may need some help with upsets above them, but in either case, A&M needs to win this game convincingly.  Like it or not, scoring margin is a huge metric for the Committee (hidden by their term “Game Control”) and to make an impression in a non-title game, A&M needs to blow out Tennessee and look strong on both sides of the ball.

A&M’s offensive line has been elite this season, and is a likely finalist for the Joe Moore Award for the best line.  Tennessee ranks just 70th in total defense yards/play – and even worse (90th) on offense.  The Tennessee offense has been abnormally sloppy with the ball, while A&M’s front seven is disruptive behind the line-of-scrimmage and forces turnovers.  Look for a statement blowout win to cap a program-changing season in College Station.


PICK:  TEXAS A&M -14  @  -110

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