Craven's wagers: A trio of conference championship games for Texas programs

Courtesy of Houston Football

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Three of Texas’ 12 FBS programs reached a conference championship game. The teams are sprinkled across five conferences, so that’s not too shabby. Each of three teams that did reach a conference title game – UTSA, Baylor, and Houston – are all underdogs. 

Below we provide viewing information, gambling lines, and potential wagers for the trio of championship games involving teams from Texas.

UTSA vs. Western Kentucky, Friday, 6 p.m., CBSSN

Line: UTSA +3, O/U 73

Preview: The Roadrunners host Western Kentucky in UTSA’s first ever Conference USA championship appearance. These two teams faced off Oct. 9 at Western Kentucky with UTSA winning a barnburner 52-46. Frank Harris threw for 349 yards and six touchdown passes in the win. Western Kentucky quarterback, Bailey Zappe, a Victoria native, threw for 523 yards and five scores in a loss. 

That was the last time Western Kentucky lost a football game. Zappe and the Hilltoppers flew past the rest of its competition, finishing the year with a 53-21 win over Marshall. The high-scoring offense is the main reason why Western Kentucky won the East Division. The Hilltoppers averaged 43.3 points per game and 422 yards passing through the air. They haven’t been held to fewer than 30 points in any game this year, including a 48-31 loss to Michigan State. 

UTSA must recapture momentum it held from an 11-0 start that was dashed in the final week of the season in a blowout loss at North Texas. The Roadrunners fumbled the ball six times, losing three of those to the Mean Green. They narrowly escaped games against Southern Miss and UAB in previous weeks to claim the West Division before heading to Denton. To win, UTSA must score points in bunches because it is impossible to believe that anything under 35 points can win this football game. 

Craven’s wager: Western Kentucky -3, U 73

Baylor vs. Oklahoma State, Saturday, 11 a.m., ABC

Line: Baylor +5.5, O/U 46.5

Preview: Viewers who don’t watch much Big 12 football will be shocked that this game features two teams that want to run the football and play sound defense. Baylor’s Abram Smith had eight games of over 100 yards rushing. He enters the Big 12 championship game with 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns. Oklahoma State running back Jaylen Warren has 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season. The biggest offensive question mark in the game is the health of Baylor quarterback Gerry Bohanon. Blake Shapen started in the Week 13 win over Texas Tech. He played well, but he flirted with mistakes that Oklahoma State would likely capitalize on that the Red Raiders didn’t. 

Neither defense allows more than 20 points per game. Baylor’s allows 19.4, while Oklahoma State is one of the best in the nation at 16.4 point per game allowed. The Cowboys’ run defense only allowed 91.5 yards per game, so Smith is up against a tough test. Oklahoma State won the first meeting 24-14 in Stillwater. Baylor only averaged 3.7 yards a carry in the game, and the passing offense didn’t account for a single touchdown. 

The hope for Baylor is that the bad version of Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders shows up to AT&T Stadium. Sanders is a boom or bust quarterback over his career, and he’s prone to mistakes. The Bears must establish the run and force a few turnovers to pull the upset. But starting a redshirt freshman quarterback with limited experience doesn’t bode well in a championship game. 

Craven’s wager: Oklahoma State -5.5, O 46.5

Houston vs. Cincinnati, Saturday, 3 p.m., ABC

Line: Houston +10.5, O/U 53

Preview: The Cougars enter this matchup on an 11-game winning streak following a Week 1 loss to Texas Tech. Houston quarterback Clayton Tune threw for two touchdowns and four interceptions in that loss. Since then, Tune has thrown 24 touchdowns to four interceptions over 11 games. His favorite target, Nathaniel Dell, caught 71 passes for 1,027 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season. Add in freshman running back Alton McCaskill’s 16 rushing touchdowns, a school record for a freshman, and the Cougars are a balanced offense that averages 38.8 points per game. 

Houston faces its toughest test of the season when the Cougars travel to Cincinnati to face the undefeated Bearcats. Cincinnati is undefeated and currently in position to reach the College Football Playoff with a convincing win over Houston to capture the American Athletic Championship. Ironically, both teams are moving to the Big 12 soon. Houston and Cincinnati didn’t play each other in the regular season. 

The Cincinnati defense allows just 15.8 points per game. The offense is led by quarterback Desmond Ridder, who threw for 3,000 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior. His favorite target is Alec Pierce, who caught 48 passes for 802 yards and seven touchdowns. Running back Jerome Ford provides balance. The junior rushed for 1,055 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2021. 

Craven’s wager: Cincinnati -10.5

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