Scully’s NCAAF conference championship picks

Profile Picture: James Scully

December 16th, 2020

Along with a slate of final regular-season games, Week 16 of the college football season features the crucial conference championship games.

I like a trio of underdogs. Let's get to it.

Oregon vs. #13 USC

Sat, December 19 2020, 1:00 AM

USC Trojans






O 63

Oregon Ducks






U 63

Oregon’s weakness is run defense. The Ducks been vulnerable against teams that pound the ball and have allowed an average of 184 rushing yards per game.

Fortunately for the Ducks, USC doesn’t run the ball effectively (the Trojans have the 115th-ranked rushing offense). USC relies upon the arm of quarterback Kedon Slovis.

It’s a letdown spot for the Trojans, following a roller-coaster win over UCLA. Down 12 points to the Bruins early in the fourth quarter, the Trojans scored 20 points in the final 15 minutes, rallied from behind twice, and prevailed in a wild finish.

UCLA put 185 rushing yards on USC, and Oregon will gain more than 200. USC would have preferred to play Washington, but Oregon took its place because of COVID-19 issues.

The Ducks are exiting consecutive losses, but their spread attack will keep the Trojans off balance.

Look for Oregon to wear USC down in the second half, and the Trojans are ripe for an upset.

Pick: Oregon +3

#2 Notre Dame vs. #4 Clemson

Sat, December 19 2020, 9:00 PM

Notre Dame Fighting Irish






O 60

Clemson Tigers






U 60

Clemson’s young defense will improve significantly over the next couple seasons, but it isn’t close to the same unit the Tigers have had in recent years.

Notre Dame is the better defensive team, especially against the run. The Irish held Clemson to 34 rushing yards in a Week 10 upset.

For the first time in the Brian Kelly era, the Irish feature tremendous balance. Along with 208 rushing yards, Ian Book put up 310 passing yards on Clemson in Week 10. The sterling performance served as a catalyst – Notre Dame has averaged 48 points over the last five games.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence missed the first meeting, but he will start this time. But he doesn’t play defense or running back.

Clemson may win, but expect a close game.

The line should not be double digits, but Clemson gets bet on reputation. The Tigers are 4-6 against the spread this year. Notre Dame is 4-1 ATS in its last five games as an underdog.

Pick: Notre Dame +10

#12 Oklahoma vs. #8 Iowa State

Sat, December 19 2020, 5:00 PM

Iowa State Cyclones






O 57.5

Oklahoma Sooners






U 57.5

Iowa State running back Breece Hall leads the nation with 1,357 rushing yards, and the Cyclones have averaged nearly 200 yards on the ground per game. They have an edge over Oklahoma, which must rely upon quarterback Spencer Rattler for offense.

Quarterback Brock Purdy can bring it for Iowa State. He has thrown for 2,272 yards and 17 touchdowns, but he relied upon tight ends and short passes when Iowa State defeated Oklahoma in Week 5. The Cyclones got little out of their wide receivers during the first two months of the season, and they played a lot of close games, because they couldn’t stretch the field.

That changed in recent weeks, as Xavier Hutchinson finally emerged as go-to receiver and made a significant impact in two of Iowa State's last three games. The dynamic junior-college transfer has brought a new dimension to Iowa State’s offense.

I’m predicting a breakout offensive performance from the Cyclones. Matt Campbell always has his troops ready for Oklahoma, with a 5-0 ATS record against the Sooners since he took over in Ames.

The Sooners will match points through the air — both teams have cranked up their offensive production over the last month — but Oklahoma’s defense is shaky.

This is too many points to lay against Iowa State.

Pick: Iowa State +5.5

James Scully's NCAAF ATS record heading into championship week: 20-19