Ness Notes: Friday, Dec 18

by Larry Ness

This column will be available Monday through Friday (posted no later than 1:00 ET), EXCLUSIVELY at BigAl.com. I like to call it my daily 'random thoughts' on the sports betting world, although I'll pass along that my therapist refers to it as "thoughtful commentary."

Thursday Night NFL: Las Vegas lost starting QB Derek Carr to a left groin injury suffered on a scramble late in the first quarter but Marcus Mariota, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans, was outstanding in his Raiders' debut. He completed 17 of 28 passes for 226 yards (one TD / one INT) plus ran for a game-high 88 yards and a TD on nine carries. However, the Raiders' offense was NOT the problem last night. In the end, the Las Vegas D could not stop LA rookie QB Justin Herbert. Herbert barely stretched the ball into the end zone on a third-and-goal dive off left tackle with 1:29 remaining in overtime as the visiting Chargers won 30-27. Las Vegas lost for the FOURTH time in its last five games and its postseason hopes have all but 'expired.' The LA win snapped a NINE-game division losing streak with their second consecutive victory. Just as notable, Herbert (22 of 32 for 314 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs) tied the NFL rookie record for TD passes in a season. With two games remaining in 2020 he has 27, tying him with the Cleveland Browns' Baker Mayfield, who set the mark in 2018. That's not all. His 314-yard effort was his SEVENTH 300-yard game (or more), setting a rookie record. Philip Rivers is having a good year with the 9-4 Colts but it would be hard to argue against the premise that the Chargers have found a 'franchise' QB!

CBB: We finally got a ranked vs ranked matchup on Thursday, as No. 5 Kansas visited Lubbock to take on No. 14 Texas Tech. It was the Big 12 opener for both schools, the earliest Big 12 opener for either team since the conference formed 24 years ago. Kansas led 29-26 at halftime but Texas Tech seemed to have control midway through the second half when it extended the lead to 46-39. However, the Jayhawks responded with a 10-0 surge and regained the lead with 7:18 remaining. The rest of the game went back-and-forth, until Kansas went up by a point with 13 seconds left. Jalen Wilson blocked a shot on the other end of the floor right before time expired to lift the Jayhawks to a 58-57 victory. There are no top-25 matchups on Friday, with the higher ranked team checking in at 10-5 SU but just 7-8 ATS on the season. There was just one Thursday game featuring ranked vs unranked opponents, as No. 9 Creighton won 94-76 at St John's. The Bluejays led throughout but the Red Storm pulled to within 52-50 with 14:25 left. However, Creighton then went on a 22-4 run! Ranked teams are 92-13 (.876) SU but a more modest 59-44-2 (57.3%) ATS against unranked opponents Y-T-D.

There are three games between ranked and unranked ones on Friday with two top-10 teams in action. No. 8 West Va (6-1) is a top-10 team for the first time since January of 2018 and is home to 1-3 Iowa St plus No. 10 Tennessee (3-0) hosts 0-7 Tenn Tech. West Va is favored by 15 1/2-points and Tennessee by 28 1/2-points. Two undefeated top-25 teams were set to host games as well. Missouri, which entered the rankings for the first time this past Monday at No. 16, was scheduled to host Prairie View A&M but it's been canceled. No. 18 San Diego St (5-0) hosts a dangerous 6-2 BYU team. Remember, the Aztecs opened last season 26-0. The Aztecs have won the teams' last four meetings, including a road win last November. San Diego St is favored by 7 1/2-points.

CFB's Championship Game weekend: COVID  strikes again! Coastal Carolina was coming off a 5-7 season but the Chanticleers are the lone FBS team to win 11 games so far in 2020 (11-0) and became the first SBC school to crack the AP top-10 this past Sunday at No. 9. Coastal was ranked No. 12 in the CFP rankings and with a win in the SBC title, had a reasonable chance to become the Group of 5's highest ranked IF, Tulsa could win at No. 9 Cincinnati (8-0) in the AAC title game. However, Saturday’s title game between Coastal Carolina and No. 19 Louisiana (9-1) has been canceled because an entire position group at Coastal Carolina had been exposed to a teammate who tested positive for COVID-19 and would be unable to play the game. I guess it's still possible a Cincy home loss to Tulsa would allow Coastal to leapfrog the Bearcats but that's less likely than if the Chanticleers had beaten ULL. It's also a blow to ULL, which beat now-No. 6 Iowa State to begin the season with its only loss coming in a 30-27 defeat to Coastal back on Oct 14. It becomes the first (and hopefully the ONLY) title game to be canceled. "Fingers crossed."

There are THREE conference title games scheduled for Friday, the MAC, C-USA and the Pac-12. 5-0 Buffalo is No. 23 in the AP poll but unranked in the CFP standings and will take on 5-1 Ball State at Ford Field for the MAC title (7:30 ET). Buffalo is in the title game for the second time in three years after losing to Northern Illinois in 2018. Buffalo last won it in 2008 and Ball State’s last championship was in 1996. The Bulls are favored by 13 1/2-points. When the pandemic-delayed Pac-12 Conference football season started, Oregon (AP preseason No. 9) and USC (AP preseason No. 17) were the favorites to reach the title game. Both schools were only able to play five games but while USC went 5-0, Oregon finished 3-2, second in the Pac-12's North Division behind Washington (3-1). The Ducks were scheduled to play Washington at home on Dec 12 but a COVID-19 spike in the Huskies' program caused Washington to cancel that game. That left Oregon 'out in the cold,' with the Huskies set to play the Trojans on Friday night. However, the COVID situation in Seattle did NOT improve, so lo and behold, the Ducks will replace the Huskies in the championship game at LA's Memorial Coliseum (8:00 ET). USC is favored by three points. UAB is back in the C-USA championship game for the THIRD straight year, becoming the first C-USA program to accomplish such a feat. The Blazers won 27-25 at MTSU in 2018 and then lost last year at FAU, 49-6. UAB will again be the road team in 2020, as it travels to Huntington, West Va to take on Marshall's Thundering Herd at 7:00 ET. The Blazers are 5-3 on the season, with their 3-1 conference record being good enough to win the West. UAB lost 37-34 (2 OTs) at La Tech on Oct 31 but didn't play again until its 21-16 win at Rice on Dec 12, clinching the school's third straight division title. Marshall knows MORE than a little about Rice, as the Thundering Herd (which also saw games canceled due to COVID issues) was 7-0 when it hosted Rice on Dec 5 and shockingly lost 20-0 as a 24 1/2-point favorite. Marshall won the East with a 4-1 conference mark. Marshall has played in two previous C-USA title games, losing to Rice (there's that team again!) in 2013 but winning the following season against La Tech. Marshall is favored by points 4 1/2-points.

With the cancelation of the ULL/Coastal Carolina game, that leaves SIX conference championship games on tap for Saturday, including FOUR of the Power-5 conferences. In order of start times, it's 6-1 Northwestern vs 5-0 Ohio St in the Big Ten at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and 7-2 Oklahoma vs 8-2 Iowa State in the Big 12 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, both kicking at 12 noon ET. In the ACC it's 9-1 Clemson and 10-0 Notre Dame set for 4:00 ET at Bank of America stadium in Charlotte and the SEC title game will feature 10-0 Alabama vs 8-2 Florida at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta (8:00 ET). Wrapping up, 5-1 Boise State (-6.5) and 6-0 San Jose St meet at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas for the MWC title (4:15 ET) and note that Boise St has won all 14 lifetime meetings with San Jose St.  6-1 Tulsa will play 8-0 Cincinnati (-14.5) on its home field (Nippert Stadium, where the Bearcats have won 19 straight) at 8:00 ET for the ACC title.

Power 5 championship games: The Buckeyes have had THREE of their last five games postponed due to COVID-19 issues but got a waiver to play in the championship game since it did not meet the original minimum six-game requirement to be eligible. Ohio State (No. 3 AP and No. 4 CFP) is playing for its FOURTH straight Big Ten title win and a "W" on Saturday would surely 'lock them into' a 'Final Four' spot. Ohio St is favored by 20 points. Speaking of streaks, Oklahoma has won FIVE consecutive Big 12 championships and will be eager for some revenge from its 37-30 loss at Iowa St back on Oct 3. The Cyclones are in their first-ever Big 12 title game and haven't won a football conference title since 1912, playing in the MVC. Iowa St has never won a conference title outright, having tied Nebraska back in 1912. The Sooners are favored by six points. In the ACC, No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Clemson (CFP rankings) square off in a much-anticipated rematch of Notre Dame's 47-40 double overtime win which was played back on Nov 7 in South Bend. It's hard to imagine BOTH schools won't make the 'Final Four' if Clemson wins but if Notre Dame wins, will Clemson be left out? Clemson is bidding for not only its SIXTH consecutive ACC title but also its SIXTH straight trip to the CFP as well. The Tigers are favored by 10 1/2-points. No. 1 Alabama (AP and CFP) is trying to secure a return to the College Football Playoff after missing out last season for the first time since the four-team postseason format began in 2014. The Crimson Tide may qualify even with a loss, since no other team in the SEC has fewer than two defeats. Florida likely squandered its chance to get into the playoff with a stunning setback to LSU last weekend, but the Gators are still in position to claim their first SEC title since 2008. This will be the 10th time the teams have met in the SEC championship game, with Alabama holding a 5-4 edge. However, the Crimson Tide have won the last SIX meetings against the Gators and Florida coach Dan Mullen is 0-9 in his career against Alabama's Nick Saban. Alabama is favored by 17 points.

The final CFP rankings will be released Sunday at 12 noon ET and I will cover the 'fallout' in Monday's Notes.

Good luck...Larry

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