Championship Week is upon us, and the G5 Guru Panel has been busy analyzing the 5 conference championship matchups.   This year’s championships have some excellent storylines, and the games should be outstanding.  Without further ado, let’s get to the picks.   

Conference USA

Texas San Antonio (11-1)Western Kentucky (8-4)
Location:Alamodome, San Antonio TX
Date/Time:Friday December 3, 7:00 pm ET
Line:Western Kentucky – 1
Points:72
TV:CBSSN

This matchup features a red-hot Western Kentucky team against a team that was undefeated and in the CFP rankings up until the last week of the regular season.  The UT San Antonio Roadrunners were one of only 3 unbeaten teams entering week 13, but they stumbled against North Texas, losing 45-23. 

When these two teams met in week 6, the Roadrunners won in a shootout 52-46 despite Western Kentucky QB Bailey Zappe passing for 523 yards. 

The Roadrunners have an excellent, balanced offensive attack led by QB Frank Harris and RB Sincere McCormick.  Their defense has been solid most of the season, allowing only 22 points a game.  However, they surrendered 76 points in their final two games, allowing roughly 465 yards per game. 

The Hilltoppers are pass first, pass second, and maybe throw in a run or two to keep you honest.  In their current seven game winning streak, the Hilltoppers have outscored their opposition by an average score of 45-19.    Zappe has enjoyed an incredible season, leading FBS in passing yardage and touchdown passes (52).   The Hilltopper defense has been mid-pack, allowing 27 points per game.   However, they have not allowed more than 21 points in a game in their last seven games. 

This game is pointing towards an entertaining and explosive offensive showdown.  Both teams average over 70 plays per game.  The Roadrunners average roughly 6 yards a play, the Hilltoppers average just over 7 a play.  UTSA will try to control the ball and keep Zappe on the bench. 

We have a lot of respect for both teams, but believe the Hilltoppers are playing better at this juncture of the season.  We are going with Western Kentucky in a shootout that will exceed the 72 point line.

Pick:

Western Kentucky -1 (COVER)

Points:  72  (OVER)

American Athletic

Cincinnati (12-0)Houston (11-1)
Location:Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati OH
Date/Time:Saturday December 4, 4:00 pm ET
Line:Cincinnati – 10.5
Points:54
TV:ABC

In what will be the most closely watched Group of Five championship game in history, the Cincinnati Bearcats host the Houston Cougars. 

The Bearcats are on the cusp of becoming the first G5 team to make the college football playoff (CFP).  They have ridden the back of a stingy defense and excellent quarterback play from Desmond Ridder to finish the season 12-0. 

However, the championship is not a simple coronation.  The Houston Cougars are riding an impressive 11 game winning streak and come into the championship game having scored 31 points or more in their last 8 games.  The Cougar defense is no slouch either, holding opponents to less than 20 points a game, good for 7th best in the G5. 

Cincinnati needs to win by a comfortable margin to make a strong final impression on a CFP Committee that is looking for an excuse to leave them out.  However, that will be a tall order against the Cougars.   We believe this game will come down to Houston’s ability to control the clock and generate turnovers.  Cincinnati’s pass defense is elite, but their rushing defense ranks only 49th in the FBS.  If Houston can control the ball and generate at least turnovers, this game will be a lot tighter than the current line. 

However, we believe the Bearcats have played all year for this moment.  They know what is at stake and we believe they will be fired up playing in front of their home crowd, trying to make history.  However, we do believe it will take some offense to get it done. 

Pick:

Cincinnati -10.5 (COVER)

Points:  54  (OVER)

Mid-American

Northern Illinois (8-4) Kent State (7-5)
Location:Ford Field, Detroit MI
Date/Time:Saturday December 4, 12:00 pm ET
Line:Kent State – 2.5
Points:73.5
TV:ESPN

No conference has been harder to predict than the MAC this year.  With an amazing amount of parity and high-scoring offenses, our Guru Panel is often left scratching their collective head after a week of MACtion. 

Northern Illinois has been a great feel-good story this season, going from worst to first in the MAC West.  Kent State was expected to be in the championship game, but they had to fight and scrap all the way through their final game (a 48-47 win over Miami (OH)) to earn a spot. 

It looks as though Rocky Lombardi will be ready to go for the Huskies, which is a huge plus.  His absence played a huge factor in the Huskies’ loss to Western Michigan in the final week of the regular season. 

These team met in week 9 with Kent State winning at home in a shootout 52-47.  Lombardi threw for 532 yards in the loss and the Huskies generated a season-high 663 yards of offense.  However, the Golden Flashes were not to be outdone.  Dustin Crum passed for 322 yards and Marquez Cooper ran for 173 as the Golden Flashes had 681 yards of total offense. 

Both teams struggle defensively, ranking 111 (Northern Illinois) and 116 (Kent State) out of 130 FBS teams in points allowed.   

As with the CUSA, we expect another high-scoring affair, though this one may struggle to get to the 73.5 point line.   Kent comes in the hotter of the two teams, winning 4 of their last 5.  The Huskies struggled with injuries in the last four weeks, going 2-2.    We are going with the Golden Flashes to win a close one.

Pick:

Kent State -2.5 (COVER)

Points:  73.5 (UNDER).

Mountain West

San Diego State (11-1)Utah State (9-3)
Location:Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson CA
Date/Time:Saturday December 4, 3:00 pm ET
Line:San Diego State – 5.5
Points:50
TV:FOX

As with Northern Illinois, Utah State is the surprise of the Mountain West.  With a new head coach and the backdrop of an awful 2020 season, not much was expected of the Aggies.  They responded with a strong 9-3 campaign and captured the Mountain Division on the strength of their head-to-head win over Air Force. 

San Diego State enjoyed a dominant 2021 season, finishing 11-1 on the strength of a stifling defense that second in the Group of Five in points allowed.  Their offense started the year on a high note, averaging nearly 36 points a game through the first 5 games of the season.  However, they cooled off considerably averaging only 22 a game over the final seven games. 

Utah State’s offense, led by transfer Logan Bonner is averaging 32 points per game and has been solid for much of the year.  The Aggie defense has struggled at times and is allowing 26 points a game, mid-pack in the MWC. 

This is a classic stingy defense versus high-scoring offense matchup.  In Utah State’s games against top tier defenses, the outcomes have been mixed.  They struggled against Boise and Wyoming, but put up 49 points on a good Air Force defense.  In matchups against top 3 offenses in the MWC, San Diego State’s defense held Nevada to the second lowest point total of the year and held Air Force to their lowest point total of the year.  However, they surrendered 30 points in their loss to Fresno State when Jake Haener threw for over 300 yards. 

We see the San Diego State defense being too strong for Utah State, especially given the Aggies’ defensive struggles.  Look for the Aztecs to win and cover, but expect them to have to score at least 28 points to get it done. 

Pick:

San Diego State -5.5 (COVER)

Points: 50 (OVER)

Sunbelt

Louisiana (11-1)Appalachian State (10-2)
Location:Cajun Field, Lafayette LA
Date/Time:Saturday December 4, 3:30 pm ET
Line:Appalachian State -3
Points:53
TV:ESPN

The Sunbelt Championship has a three-peat.  For the third time in as many games (the 2020 game was cancelled due to COVID-19), Louisiana and Appalachian State face-off.  These teams know each other very well, having played six times in the last four years (this game making it 7 times). 

Louisiana has flown under the radar for most of the season, despite riding an 11-game winning streak since an opening loss to Texas.  Included in that streak was a 41-13 dismantling of App State in Lafayette.   The Cajuns boast a strong offense averaging 31 points a game and an excellent defense that yields only 19 points a game, good for third best in the Group of Five. 

App State counters with its own six game winning streak, starting the week after the loss to the Cajuns.  The Mountaineers have been dominant in their winning streak with an average winning score of 40-14.   In their last three games, the Mountaineer defense yielded a total of only 17 points. 

This game is difficult to pick due to several factors.  First, and perhaps foremost, Louisiana coach Bill Napier has accepted the head coaching job at Florida, and this will be his last game.  It is hard to guess how his squad will respond.  Second is the absolute domination Louisiana demonstrated in the previous game.  Was the game an aberration or do the Cajuns really have the Apps’ number?  Comparing common opponents, it would seem the earlier game was an outlier.  The Mountaineers have outscored the six common opponents by a score of 43-13, while the Cajuns have won against the same six opponents by a score of 26-20.   That being said, the Cajuns seem to get up when they are underdogs as evidenced by huge wins over App State and Liberty.

We believe there are too many red flags to go with the Cajuns in this one.  The departure of Napier, the inconsistency of the Cajuns across the season, and a revenge-minded, red-opponent leads us to go with the Mountaineers.

Pick:

Appalachian State -3 (COVER)

Points: 53 (OVER)