Conference championship games are unique in that you can get regular season rematches. Both of Friday’s games are rematches from the regular season. Our job as handicappers is to consider all of the available information and make the most informed decision possible. When you have a head-to-head data point, it is a luxury.
Before I break down both games specifically, I do want to mention that teams change. Teams change a lot. There have been personnel changes and coaches have evolved to put their players in better positions to succeed. What a team looks like for one Saturday in September or October may not be what that team looks like now. Don’t treat the first game as gospel.
Also, the outcome and the box score matter, but so does the betting action, the line movement and where the line was back then relative to the upcoming game.
Let’s break these two down.
Western Kentucky (-3.5, 73) at UTSA
This line has been on the rise throughout the week and the favorite also flipped from the global opener at Circa. Even though WKU has four losses and UTSA only has one, the Hilltoppers are the clear favorite in the Alamodome. That says a lot right off the top, especially when you consider WKU was -3.5 AT HOME in the first game. Now they’re priced the same, but on the road.
The first game seems to have some influence here as well. UTSA won 52-46, but did get outgained 670-564 in a game that featured 67 combined first downs. WKU QB Bailey Zappe was picked off in the red zone to end the game, otherwise the Hilltoppers may have taken down a 53-52 win.
While WKU badly outgained UTSA, it is important to note that the Hilltoppers threw 60 times in 89 plays, while the Roadrunners only ran 76 plays. The yards per play were 7.53 for WKU and 7.42 for UTSA.
Make of that what you will, but it does look like bettors prefer the recent form of WKU, who has not lost since that game and has won every game in that span by at least 15 points.
Oregon at Utah (-2.5, 57.5)
This one is more interesting because the game was more recent. It was also a blowout, as Utah won 38-7 in Salt Lake City as a 3-point favorite. The total is about the same, but we’ve obviously seen something of an adjustment for Utah here to be priced in a similar spot, but in a neutral setting.
Utah led 28-0 before Oregon scored, as the Utes had scoring drives of 63, 80 and 77 points before a punt return touchdown at the end of the half. Utah had a 386-294 advantage in yards and ran 10 more plays, but the Utes ran the ball 50 times and only threw 18 times. They still outgained Oregon 5.68 to 5.07 in YPP, despite 17 fewer pass attempts.
This is an example of how the first meeting isn’t treated as gospel. This game wasn’t that long ago. Oregon had everything to lose, so it wasn’t a question of effort. Even with the Utes’ dominance in that game, Oregon has taken more of the respected money here. There is a mild sharp vs. public split here, which I find very intriguing.
I don’t actually have a play here, but I just wanted to illustrate how you have to take the first game into consideration, but you don’t have to treat it as a blueprint for the rematch.