Welcome to conference championship week, everybody.
It has been quite a journey to get here, but college football was somehow able to navigate through waves of game cancellations to reach the precipice of the College Football Playoff.
There will be CFP berths on the line this weekend before the final four teams are unveiled on Sunday. The New Year’s Six bowl matchups will be revealed on Sunday as well.
Picking games this season has been like walking a tightrope, but somehow I’ve ended up with a respectable 40-34 record despite a lackluster 2-4 effort last week. That’s a 54% clip. I’ve got a few title game picks this week, but some other matchups between teams playing their final regular-season game also caught my eye.
(Note: All times ET, odds from BetMGM)
UAB at Marshall
Time: 7 p.m. (Friday) | TV: CBSSN | Line: Marshall -5.5 | Total: 42
Conference USA championship game
The first conference title game to kick off this weekend will come from Conference USA with UAB traveling to Marshall. Both teams have most recently played Rice. Marshall put forth an embarrassing effort two weeks ago and lost its first game of the year. Last week, UAB clinched its third straight C-USA West title with a 21-16 road win.
When Marshall lost to Rice, it was a 20-0 shutout in a game that saw QB Grant Wells throw five interceptions. UAB’s trip to Rice was its first game since Halloween. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Wells will play much better. I’m also expecting UAB to get some players back after being held out due to contact tracing and look much sharper. Motivation will be strong on both sides, too, as Marshall is seeking its first C-USA title since 2014 and UAB is looking to avenge a 49-6 loss to Florida Atlantic in last year’s title game.
All of that brings me to the total, which is just 42. I suspect the number is so low because Marshall and UAB both rank in the top 15 nationally in total defense. But I like the over here. These teams have not faced very many good offenses. A 24-21 sort of score gets the job done.
Pick: Over 42
No. 14 Northwestern vs. No. 4 Ohio State
Time: Noon | TV: FOX | Line: Ohio State -19.5 | Total: 58.5
Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis, Indiana
Northwestern has had a fantastic season, especially considering how bad it was in 2019. The Wildcats have one of the best defenses in the country, allowing only 4.47 yards per play. That's the fifth-best mark in the country.
Northwestern is seeking its first outright Big Ten title since 1995, but it’s a 19.5-point underdog for a reason. Ohio State has the far superior talent, especially on the offensive side. Even if they get a few stops, I don’t see how the Wildcats will be able to score many points. They just don’t have the firepower — especially in the passing game.
Over the course of 60 minutes, I expect Justin Fields and his excellent receiver duo of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson to gash the Northwestern secondary for a few big plays. I also like that Ohio State is 12-6 against the spread as a favorite of at least 14 points under Ryan Day.
Pick: Ohio State -19.5
Air Force at Army
Time: 3 p.m. | TV: CBSSN | Line: Air Force -2.5 | Total: 38
After last week’s Army-Navy, the updated figure since 2005 is 37-9-1 for the under in games involving two service academies. Let’s go back to the well. The Army-Air Force game has gone under the total six straight times. It might not be as low-scoring as the 15-0 we saw in West Point last week, but I’m comfortable going under 38.
I’m also comfortable picking Air Force to cover the spread. The Army-Navy game is such an emotional game, and Army had to scrap and claw to get that win. It’s usually the final game of the regular season for a reason, and I think it will be tough for Army to bounce back when Air Force is coming in with fresh legs, having last played on Dec. 3.
Picks: Air Force -2.5, under 38
Ole Miss at LSU
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: SECN | Line: LSU -1.5 | Total: 74
Like with my Air Force pick, this pick is about the spot as well. LSU pulled off arguably the upset of the season last week by knocking off Florida in a wild game in Gainesville. The Tigers have a very depleted roster and played predominantly underclassmen last week. Can they bring the juice again against Ole Miss?
The Rebels actually average more yards per game than both Alabama and Florida, and I don’t think the LSU defense will be able to force as many turnovers as it did last week against Florida. Ole Miss hasn’t beaten LSU since 2008. The Rebels can also get above .500 for the first time this season with a win.
Pick: Ole Miss +1.5
Michigan State at Maryland
Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: BTN | Line: Maryland -2 | Total: 49
Michigan State went with Payton Thorne at quarterback last week against Penn State. He gave the Spartans’ offense a much-needed spark with 325 yards and three touchdowns, albeit in a loss. Thorne will get the start again this weekend at Maryland, and I think he gives the MSU offense a significant upgrade compared to Rocky Lombardi.
On the other side, Maryland is dealing with some COVID-19 cases and last week had to play against Rutgers without starting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. Considering the Big Ten’s protocols, I don’t expect to see Tagovailoa playing on Saturday. Rutgers was playing without its own starting QB, yet still pulled out a 27-24 overtime win. I think MSU can do the same.
Pick: Michigan State +2
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