College Football Picks: Conference Championship Best Bets and Sleeper Picks

College Football Picks: Conference Championship Best Bets and Sleeper Picks

This article is part of our College Football Picks series.

Power Five Conference Championship Bets and Longshots

Conference media days are winding to a close, which means it's time to go back over every single soundbite, juicy quote and chest-beating piece of official program communications to crown this year's winners of the college football offseason. Or, we can just get into our favorite picks for when it comes time to actually walk the walk on the field this coming season. Here's a list of the best bets, as well as a potential sleeper pick, to win the conference championship for each Power 5 league. 

Big 10 Conference Championship Best Bets

Champ: Ohio State (-210 at DraftKings Sportsbook)

The odds are short for a reason when it comes to the Buckeyes. That reason: a conference championship is just a necessary formality en route to the ultimate expectation of yet another College Football Playoff berth for Ohio State. However, head coach Ryan Day and crew will have extra incentive to care this season after losing their title atop the Big 10 to archrival Michigan last year. The nation's leading offense couldn't keep pace as the team's porous defense allowed a then-season-high 42 points against the Wolverines. New Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles was a Broyles Award finalist for his work with Oklahoma State last year. If his side of the ball makes even marginal improvements from last season, then the Buckeyes' offense should have more than enough to propel them to yet another conference championship.

Day's offense returns an absolute embarrassment of riches. 2021 Heisman finalist C.J. Stroud returns for his second season under center, while leading receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and top rusher TreVeyon Henderson are back as well. These three will unquestionably form the conference's, and perhaps the nation's, best QB-WR-RB trio and the core of what should be another statistically dominant offense for the Buckeyes - a unit that ranked first nationally in scoring (45.7 ppg), yards (651.5 ypg), successful play rate (43.3 percent) and yards per play (8.1) last year. An immensely talented corps of wide receivers combined with increased experience on the offensive line should make up for, and possibly even improve, the performance from these position groups as well.

Ohio State fell short of even their base expectations last season. Clean things up on defense and in the trenches, and the Buckeyes will carry yet another Big 10 conference trophy with them into the first round of the College Football Playoff. 

Sleeper: Purdue   (+3000 at DraftKings Sportsbook)

Purdue found consistency once the offense was fully turned over to quarterback Aidan O'Connell last season. The signal-caller passed for 3,712 yards and 28 touchdowns with 11 interceptions, but he'll need a new go-to receiver after the loss of leading receiver David Bell. The Boilermakers restocked their receiving corps with dynamic Iowa transfers Tyrone Tracy and Charlie Jones to go along with experienced returners Broc Thompson and TJ Sheffield

So, don't be surprised if Purdue enters their Week 9 bye with a spotless record. While that may sound like a crazy idea in July, it becomes more and more reasonable as one looks around at the Big Ten West. Nebraska saw as much offseason turnover as any program in the nation, and Wisconsin and Iowa still have significant, unanswered issues on offense. Games against these programs from Week 7 to 10 will be the truly crucial stretch for the Boilermakers. Otherwise, after a season-opener at home against Penn State, the Boilermakers should cruise through a relatively soft non-conference slate before back-to-back road games against Minnesota and Maryland. Three final games against Illinois, Northwestern and Indiana should all result in wins as well. 

No Ohio State. No road games against the Wolverines or Spartans. The home opener against the Nittany Lions and a road game in Camp Randall will be tough tasks, but it's highly possible Purdue splits these two matchups and manages a near-flawless record in the Big 10 West. With this division seemingly up for grabs heading into the 2022 season, Purdue could easily come out on top for a likely face-off against Ohio State in the conference championship game. Jeff Brohm's teams have managed regular season upsets against the Buckeyes in the past… 

SEC Conference Championship Bets

Champ: Alabama (-130 at PointsBet)

In the SEC, there are only two real contenders and then everyone else. Alabama and Georgia are once again head and shoulders above the rest of the conference and, even IF either one drops a game along the way, the two seem destined to meet back up in Atlanta for the 2022 SEC Championship Game. This year's result: 'Bama back on top. The margin is still extremely close, but the Crimson Tide have a few key advantages that should prove out in back-to-back conference championships over the Bulldogs. 

Most importantly, Alabama likely will have both the better quarterback and best overall player in this head-to-head matchup. Bryce Young is the reigning Heisman winner and, though he'll be saddled with a work-in-progress offensive line as well as less proven players along the perimeter, he's shown the elite-level playmaking to help smooth over some of the rough edges in the passing game. It's also reasonable to expect that transfer skill players Jahmyr Gibbs, Jermaine Burton and Tyler Harrell will be fully integrated within the Alabama offense by the time December rolls around. 

On the other side of the Chattahoochee River, seventh-year senior Stetson Bennett showed last season that he's a quarterback capable of guiding a team with a historic collegiate defense to a national title. While Georgia's defense is still stacked with All-American and NFL-level talent like Nolan Smith and Jalen Carter, the unit will more than likely regress after the NFL departures of a number of its other key cogs. This will make Bennett's task of beating Alabama that much more difficult (especially when one-man wrecking crew Will Anderson is back in Tuscaloosa coming off a 17.5-sack sophomore campaign). 

Anderson is an early favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and he should be the best player in any college football game he's in moving forward. That's not to mention the rest of the Crimson Tide's dominant defensive front that will keep opposing offenses from going all out to stop Anderson from blowing things up in the backfield. Bulldog tight ends Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington, combined with hybrid TE/WR Arik Gilbert, pose size-skill mismatches against any defense in the country. But, can these pass catchers get open before Alabama's pass rush gets to the quarterback?

Alabama is a terrifying team to face no matter the circumstances. A Nick Saban-led program that feels it has something to prove is far too much to doubt. Yes, anyone who bet the Bulldogs against 'Bama in last year's national title game was ultimately proven right in their pick. It's best not to push that luck though. 

Sleeper: Arkansas (+6000 at DraftKings Sportsbook)

This might seem like a pointless exercise given the above pick (and it probably is), but it's fun to live on the edge of insanity from time to time (just ask Arkansas fans). Texas A&M represents the conference's obvious wildcard with the third-highest odds to win the SEC at 12-to-1. But, if the Aggies are consistent enough to win the SEC outright over Alabama and Georgia, then it's probably more worth taking them at even longer odds to win the entire College Football Playoff. 

The Razorbacks' chances to win the SEC are as good as any of the second-tier programs in the conference. But, this group may not include another player who gives their team better odds to win than quarterback KJ Jefferson. Jefferson finished as the conference's fourth-rated passer (167.52) - completing 67.3 percent of his passes for 2,676 yards and 21 touchdowns - while also leading his team in rushing yards (664) last season. The 6-foot-3, 242-pound signal-caller totaled 759 yards and nine touchdowns across two narrow losses to Ole Miss (51-52) and Alabama (35-42) last season. Jefferson should once again keep the Razorbacks afloat through the toughest parts of the SEC West schedule that features a (semi-)neutral-site game against Texas A&M followed by a home matchup with the Crimson Tide.

It wasn't all just Jefferson though, as head coach Sam Pittman's road grading offensive line helped pave the way for a dominant ground game that finished atop the SEC in yards per game last season (227.8). This unit returns four of five starters from last season to go along with two returning 500-plus-yard rushers in Raheim Sanders and Dominique Johnson. Leaning into the run game will be a must in order for Arkansas to recover from the loss of first-round NFL wideout Treylon Burks, who accounted for just under 40 percent of the team's total receiving yards last season. 

Big 12 Conference Championship Bets

Champ: Baylor (+700 at BetMGM)

12-to-1 odds feel far too good to be true for the defending Big 12 conference champions. Baylor ended the 2021 season as the No. 5 ranked team in the nation, marking the program's best-ever finish to a season. There are questions as to how head coach Dave Aranda will replace the loss of six NFL draft picks from last season. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of reasons for optimism heading into 2022. 

Aranda appears to have found his own unique formula for success. After winning just two games during his first year as head coach, the Bears elevated to a 12-2 team that established its identity in the trenches. Baylor's rushing game finished first in the Big 12 and tenth nationally in yards per game (219.3) thanks to the introduction of offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes' outside-zone heavy scheme. The top two running backs are gone, but the next starting duo will run behind a greatly improved offensive line that returns four of five starters from last season. Consistency on the line of scrimmage should also help alleviate the loss of both starting wideouts. There's also reason to believe Baylor's passing game could be even better after Blake Shapen, who completed 71 percent of his passes over three starts last season, won the team's quarterback competition this spring. 

On the other side, Baylor's defense returns the majority of its ferocious front-seven unit. Lead sack man Terrel Bernard is gone, but Tulsa transfer Jaxon Player, who registered 15.0 tackles for loss in 2021, should add another dangerous defensive lineman to pair alongside All-Big 12 nose tackle Siaki Ika. Aranda's defense garnered 44 sacks (2nd best in the Big 12) while limiting opposing offenses to 5.2 yards per play and a 37.1 successful play rate (both were top-30 nationally). New starters will need to emerge in the defensive secondary after the loss of turnover-machine safety J.T. Woods and versatile star-nickel Jalen Pitre. 

Road games against West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas will certainly test the Bears' ability to replace their lost production. But, in a conference with little stability to speak of, Baylor's strong backbone of returning production in the trenches should show through no matter who they face on Saturdays. 

Sleeper: Kansas State (+1800 at FanDuel Sportsbook)

The Big 12 is always littered with landmines masquerading as conference games. So, with no clear favorite heading into the season, it's not crazy to think the conference could devolve even further with preseason favorites Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State all taking games from one another throughout the season. Kansas State could be situated nicely to take advantage of this chaos and make a surprise run at the conference championship game. 

The Wildcats return their top offensive weapon in 5-foot-6 running back Deuce Vaughn, who led the team in both receptions and rushing yards last season. If dynamic transfer quarterback Adrian Martinez can hit the ground running, Kansas State should have the playmakers to explode on opposing defenses. Head coach Chris Klieman's squad hung within 10 points against both Baylor and Oklahoma last season, but they'll have to turn at least one of these close losses into road wins if they want to make a surprise appearance in the 2022 Big 12 title game. 

PAC-12 Conference Championship Bets

Champ: Utah (+300 at BetMGM)

Does it feel like Utah isn't getting near enough credit coming off one of the program's best-ever seasons and first-ever conference championship? The Utes are currently tied with Oregon for the second-best odds to win the conference behind USC, but they are easily the smartest bet amongst the group. 

Though division titles no longer matter when determining who plays in the Pac-12 Championship Game, Utah has won three-straight South division titles. The Utes also have plenty of returning top-tier production on both sides of the ball. Signal-caller Cameron Rising flourished after taking over the starting role in Week 4, completing 63.8 percent of his passes for 2,493 yards and 20 touchdowns to go along with another 499 yards and six scores on the ground en route to a 9-2 QB record. Four of the team's top-four receiving leaders also return. As does leading rusher Tavion Thomas, who should set the tone offensively with his bruising, north-south rushing style. 

The defense should also be strong again even after the loss of top-tier linebacker duo Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell. Kyle Whittingham's program has shown an ability to routinely dominate Pac-12 opponents in the trenches, giving reason for confidence in the front seven. The secondary will also be improved from its spotty play towards the end of last season with a healthy All-Pac-12 cornerback JaTravis Broughton ready to pair alongside ascending NFL prospect Clark Phillips

USC and Oregon are both undergoing transitions at quarterback and head coach, and until either program can prove itself able to stand up in the trenches against Utah's pounding style of play, it's the Utes' conference to lose. 

Sleeper: UCLA (+1000 at FanDuel Sportsbook)

Outside the group of top-three programs, UCLA might be the only other school in the Pac-12 that could realistically win the conference in 2022. The outlook is finally heading upwards for offensive revolutionary Chip Kelly, who finally got the Bruins over the .500 hump during his fourth year as head coach in 2021.

UCLA's conference-best scoring offense (36.5) last year functioned on the arms and legs of quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who's back for his fifth season of college football. DTR accounted for 30 total touchdowns (21 in the air, nine on the ground) and over 3,000 total yards in 2021. Lead back Zach Charbonnet also returns as the spearhead of a UCLA rushing game that finished 14th-best nationally in terms of yards last season (215.1 YPG). 

UCLA lost 21 to the transfer portal this offseason. To offset the lingering questions generated by this loss of talent, Kelly hit the transfer portal himself. Eight of the team's 14 incoming transfers are defensive additions - a unit that gave up an average of 26.8 points and 384.4 yards while wallowing against both the pass and the rush last season. These other six transfers line up either on the offensive line or at wide receiver (two position groups that are both particularly lacking in returning starters for the Bruins). 

It's not a picture-perfect outlook heading into Kelly's fifth year at the helm, but the Bruins will have the benefit of home games against Utah and USC along with a road date off a bye against Oregon in Week 8. UCLA went 1-2 against this group last season, so making a jump on defense and in the trenches will be a necessary, but possible, requirement for success against the conference's best. 

ACC Conference Championship Bets 

Champ: North Carolina State (+900 at PointsBet)

Assuming Clemson doesn't resume their previous championship form, NC State has all the pieces in place to ascend to the top of the ACC in 2022. The Wolfpack's roster will benefit as much as arguably any team in the country from the extra year of eligibility granted to players due to the COVID-19 pandemic. NC State is set to return 82 percent of its production from last season (eighth-most in the nation), according to Bill Connelly of As a result, head coach Dave Doeren should field the best all-around team of his tenure in Raleigh. 

Wolfpack quarterback Devin Leary is coming off an outstanding 2021 season, passing for 3,433 yards and a 35:5 TD:INT ratio, and he might be the best starting signal-caller in the entire ACC. Leary had the lowest turnover-worthy play rate in the ACC last season at 1.8 percent per PFF. His ability to limit turnovers while remaining prolific will become even more important after the Wolfpack lost both of their top-two rushers from 2021. The majority of the team's offensive line and receiving corps remain intact as well despite losing top contributors in left tackle Ikem Ekwonu and wideout Emeka Emezie (60 catches, 802 receiving yards). 

The Wolfpack defense finished third nationally in successful plays allowed last season (34.1 percent) despite missing a number of key contributors due to injury throughout the year. This unit also returns nearly every single major contributor from the 2021 campaign (five of whom are coming back thanks to the extra COVID year), and defensive coordinator Tony Gibson's 3-3-5 scheme creates an atypical obstacle for most opposing offenses. The Wolfpack did a good job of limiting explosive plays last season (5.0 yards per play allowed), but personnel consistency week-to-week should help eliminate some of the occasional defensive pitfalls that showed through in losses last season to the conference's higher-end quarterbacks in Tyler Van Dyke of Miami and Sam Hartman of Wake Forest. 

There are way too many lingering concerns surrounding Clemson's offense to buy into their -143 odds, and jumping to the top of the conference during the first year of a regime change is a lot to expect from Miami at just +700 odds. A road matchup on Oct. 1 against the Tigers will be a massive obstacle for the Wolfpack to overcome, but it's the hurdle they'll need to jump if they want to retain their spot among the conference's upper echelon of teams. 

Sleeper: Wake Forest (+1800 at DraftKings Sportsbook)

It feels unfair to call Wake Forest a sleeper pick coming off an 11-3 record and the program's highest-ever ranking in the AP Poll (No. 15) to end a season. Yet, that's just what the Demon Deacons are at the ninth-best odds to win the ACC heading into the 2022 regular season. Dave Clawson's team returns upwards of 20 starters and over two-thirds of its total production from last season. That's not to mention two of the team's best offensive players in seventh-year lineman Je'Vionte' Nash and receiver Donavon Greene, both of whom missed last season due to injury. While not all of this returning defensive production was necessarily positive in 2021, the overall stability within the program provides a strong base to build upon for 2022. 

Quarterback Sam Hartman totaled 4,228 passing yards and 39 touchdowns, and he'll once again have his top target to throw to in 6-foot-5 wideout A.T. Perry (71-1,293-15). All three of the Demon Deacons' top returning receivers averaged at least 14.4 yards per catch last season, and their four returning offensive linemen have a combined 90 career starts between them. Hartman's experience in offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero's "slow mesh" RPO-based system will prove invaluable as opposing defenses will be repeatedly forced into conflict when trying to defend the pass. 

The Demon Deacons' cashed out with points on 92.5 percent of red zone trips last season. Continuing this scoring efficiency will be a must if Wake Forest's offense wants to remain ahead of their lackluster defense once again in 2022. Replacing first-team All-ACC kicker Nick Sciba will also be crucial after Wake Forest saw four conference games (three wins, one loss) decided by three points last year. 

Wake Forest was unable to pull out a win in November against a disappointing Clemson team last year. The two team's Week 4 matchup in Winston-Salem should give Clawson and company their best opportunity to take advantage of any offensive woes that the Tigers are likely to encounter early in the season. After that, back-to-back late-season road games against Louisville and NC State will prove the final tests for any run towards the ACC title game in December. 

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Ryan Wollersheim
2022 University of Wisconsin graduate and blind lover of all things college football. Also an unbiased observer of NFL, CFB, NBA and CBB for all teams not located in the cheese capital of the world.
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