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The Triple Option: College football Conference Championship Week picks extravaganza

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It happens every year. It seems like just yesterday when we prepped for our first tailgate of the season. We couldn’t wait for the fight songs, the roar of the raucous student sections and those heated rivalry games. Then you blink, and it’s all over.

Yup, the college football season comes and goes before you know it, as incredibly, Conference Championship Week is already here. That also means another season of The Triple Option comes to a close. First, I’d like to say thank you guys for all the support/clicks/reads/follows this season. Second, I wish we could have done a little better in Year 3. It was a roller coaster ride of a season with the picks and in the end, we finished 22-21-3. A winning record but we expect better.

Luckily, we have one more chance to end the season with a bang, with our Conference Championship betting extravaganza! Where we will break down and pick each and every one of this weekend’s 10 title games. So, let’s not waste anymore time and dive right in.

PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP

UTAH UTES VS OREGON DUCKS (+6.5, 46)

Game to be played at Levi Stadium, Santa Clara, California

This is an interesting number. Before Oregon lost to Arizona State two weeks ago, this line would have likely been close to a Pick’em. And what has changed since then? Besides the loss, not much. And now the Utes are 6.5-point faves.

But maybe deservedly so. The Utes are motivated to win their first Pac-12 title after coming up short last season, and with an impressive win, they’ll have a strong case to be the fourth team in the College Football Playoff.

There is also expected to be some bad weather for this matchup. Specifically, rain and some strong winds. And that plays right into Utah’s physical style. The big question for the Ducks defense is whether they will be able to stop Zach Moss. The senior back has been outstanding this year and has the ability to control this game.

Oregon also has a capable run game and Justin Herbert needs a good performance to make the NFL scouts forget about his last few games. They’ll also be motivated to return to the Rose Bowl.

The weather, strong defenses and Herbert keeps this game close.

Pick: Oregon +6.5

SUN BELT CHAMPIONSHIP

LOUISIANA RAGIN’ CAJUNS AT APPALACHIAN STATE MOUNTAINEERS (-6.5, 56)

App State has been the class of the Sun Belt for the better part of the last five seasons and will be looking for their fourth consecutive conference title when they take on Louisiana, but the Ragin’ Cajun will have revenge on their minds.

The Mountaineers have won all seven meetings with Louisiana since joining the Sun Belt back in 2014, including a 30-19 victory in last year’s championship game and a 17-7 result back in Week 7.

This is a strength vs. strength matchup from top to bottom. These are the top two scoring offenses and defenses in the Sun Belt. And both offenses are focused on running the football, which means this game is set up to another close one.

In that Week 7 matchup, the Ragin’ Cajuns were covering the game until the final 1:55 of the game. In a game we predict to be close and feature a lot of running, we’re siding with the dog.

Pick: Louisiana +6.5

MAC CHAMPIONSHIP

MIAMI (OH) REDHAWKS VS CENTRAL MICHIGAN CHIPPEWAS (-6.5, 54.5)

Game to be played at Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan

Are you ready for some MAC-tion?! Well we’re not sure if we are, as this matchup is likely more one-sided than the spread lets on.

The Chippewas were the best bet in college football this season, going 10-2 ATS on their way to an 8-4 record and a MAC West division title. You could say this is a classic offense vs. defense showdown, expect that Central Michigan has the better defense too.

CMU ranked third in the conference in total offense and second in total defense, while Miami ranks third in total defense, but next to last in total offense. The RedHawks also score over eight fewer points per game than the Chippewas.

RedHawks quarterback Brett Gabbert (yes, it’s Blaine’s little brother) is also questionable for this game. Which doesn’t bode well since Gabbert is their bets option under center, but he’s be very underwhelming this season, with a 54 percent completion rate while throwing for 1,967 yards, 10 touchdowns, and eight interceptions.

The RedHawks will be hard pressed to keep up with the balanced Chippewas attack that is led by quarterback Quinten Dormady and running back Jonathan Ward. Lay the points.

Pick: Central Michigan -6.5

BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP

BAYLOR BEARS VS OKLAHOMA SOONERS (-9, 64)

Game to be played at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Admittedly, last week I faded the Sooners against rival Oklahoma State, for the simple fact that they haven’t really looked right since their upset loss at the hands of Kansas State a few weeks ago. In that four-game stretch the Sooners were an average of 17-pt faves and won those games by 4, 3, 1 points and of course, lost by a touchdown.

One of those games was against Baylor, in which they trailed 28-3 at one point in the first half. But then the Sooners seemed to figure something out in the second half, on their way to them storming back for a 34-31 victory. And that was getting back to running the football and controlling the clock.

The Sooners have rushed the ball 160 times at a clip of 5.5 yards per carry over the last three games, and while the Bears defense looks good on paper, they have struggled against the run down the stretch. Baylor has allowed at least 161 yards rushing in each of its last four games.

Additionally, something that can’t be overlooked is the improved Sooners defense. A year after looking like one of the worst in the country, they led the Big 12 in total defense. And to be frank Charlie Brewer and the Bears offense has been just too inconsistent this season.

The Sooners will also have Ceedee Lamb in this contest after missing the last game against Baylor and if they can get out to an early lead, this one could get sideways. Lay the points.

Pick: Oklahoma -9

C-USA CHAMPIONSHIP

UAB BLAZERS AT FLORIDA ATLANTIC OWLS (-7.5, 49.5)

The Lane Train is back in the C-USA championship game! And if Lane Kiffin wants his second conference title in three years, they’ll have to go through the defending champion Blazers.

On paper, UAB has a very good defense, but a deeper look shows the Blazers have had one of the softest schedules in the country. The combined record of the FBS teams UAB has beaten that aren’t Louisiana Tech is 15-69. (Louisiana Tech lost two C-USA games this year and both were when its starting quarterback was suspended).

Meanwhile, the Owls are balanced on offense and have an underrated defense that ranks 24th in Football Outsiders Defensive FEI ratings. The Lane Train should roll here.

Pick: Florida Atlantic -7.5

AAC CHAMPIONSHIP

CINCINATTI BEARCATS AT MEMPHIS TIGERS (-9.5, 57.5)

The AAC title game gives us the rare situation of two football teams playing each other in consecutive weeks, after the Tigers topped the Bearcats 34-24 just seven days ago, but failed to cover the 13.5-points.

Despite not getting the cover, Memphis passed the eye test when it comes to who looked like the better team in this matchup and there’s no reason to think it won’t happen again. Behind Kenneth Gainwell, the Tigers were able to rumble for 199 yards on 38 carries against a stout Bearcats defense.

But the key to this game will be on the defensive line. Last week, it was the Tigers not the Bearcats who were able to get more consistent pressure on the quarterback. Memphis got to Ben Bryant for five sacks and forced two interceptions, while Brady White was only sacked once.

Obviously, it’s hard to beat a team twice in one season, and the number here is a cheeky 9.5, but I think the Tigers get the job done.

Pick: Memphis -9.5

MOUNTAIN WEST CHAMPIONSHIP

HAWAII RAINBOW WARRIORS AT BOISE STATE BRONCOS (-13.5, 64.5)

The Broncos go for their second Mountain West title in the last three seasons as they host the surprising Rainbow Warriors looking for their first MWC title at Albertson Stadium this Saturday.

Boise State still aspires for a New Year’s Six Bowl game, currently ranked as the No. 2 Group of 5 team behind only Memphis. So, the Broncos, need a convincing win to order to sway the committee in their favor. And luckily for them, they beat down the Rainbow Warriors 59-37 as 12.5-point favorites back in Week 7.

Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald does what he always does and threw for a ton of years, but the Broncos allowed him to complete just 56 percent of his passes.

For Boise State, Jaylon Henderson will make his third straight start after amassing 732 yards and eight touchdowns over the last three games. Henderson can also lean on freshman running back George Holani was has rushed for 912 yards at a clip of 5.5 yards per carry.

The Hawaii offense is good enough to keep up with Boise State for a while, but the Broncos are really motivated in this one. They want to avenge last year’s loss in the Mountain West title game, claim another New Year’s Six bowl, are on their home field and the weather could be a factor as well. Boise State pulls away late.

Pick: Boise State -13.5

 SEC CHAMPIONSHIP

GEORGIA BULLDOGS VS LSU TIGERS (-7.5, 55.5)

Game to be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia

In what is the game of the weekend the plan for Georgia is pretty simple. Win and you’re in. The only problem is the Bulldogs have to defeat the team that has the shoe in Heisman Trophy winner and arguably the most sparkling resume in the country. And that is Joe Burrow and LSU.

Things are a little simpler for the Tigers. Barring some shocking 40-point blowout, LSU is going to be in the College Football Playoff.

This game is interesting on a lot of levels. The Georgia defense is the best LSU has faced all season, but will that be enough to slow down Burrow and Co.? Burrow leads a Tigers offense that ranks second in total yards and points per game, while throwing an insane 44 touchdowns to just six picks while completing nearly 80 percent of his passes. While Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been an outstanding compliment in the run game.

It is a pick your poison scenario for the Bulldogs, but they are good enough to make life tough on the Tigers. The key will be whether they are able to get pressure on Burrow without committing too many players to the blitz. They also need to limit LSU’s explosive plays, which is something they’ve excelled at thus far.

On offense, it’s all about D’Andre Swift and the run game. Swift is nursing a shoulder injury, but you can expect him to suit up here and attempt to keep the ball out of Burrow’s hands behind that awesome offensive line.

Jake Fromm also needs to step up here. He’s a better quarterback than he’s showed this season and if he can make some plays this one could come down to the wire. Georgia also has the edge in experience, playing in the SEC title game for the third straight season. And getting 7.5? It’s too tempting to pass up.

Pick: Georgia +7.5

ACC CHAMPIONSHIP

VIRGINIA CAVALIERS VS CLEMSON TIGERS (-28.5, 57.5)

Dabo can talk all he wants. The criticism around Clemson’s resume is valid. Quick example: The Tigers are 28.5-point faves in the ACC title game! Heck, the AAC might have provided more of a challenge for Clemson this year. But I digress.

That said, Clemson is probably the most talent team in the country from top to bottom and Trevor Lawrence is on fire, throwing 17 touchdowns to no interceptions while completing 77 percent of his passes over the last five games. But does that mean anything? That’s how soft the schedule has been.

Virginia will pose one of the stiffest tests Clemson will face all year, but while the Cavs’ defense has good numbers on paper, they are suspectable to the big play. Obviously, something Clemson excels at.

On offense it’s all about Bryce Perkins for Virginia. He is accurate and super athletic, but so is the Clemson defense. But that’s the problem. He’s all alone. It will be interesting to see if the Cavaliers can sustain drives. If they can, staying within the number is doable, considering how massive it is.

Plus, Clemson could let off the gas in the second half as they lookahead to the CFP. Or they could win by 35. But whatever, were taking the points.

Pick: Virginia +28.5

BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP

OHIO STATE BUCKEYES VS WISCONSIN BADGERS (+15.5, 56.5)

Game to played at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana

This is an interesting number. If you like Wisconsin, it’s easy to talk yourself into the Badgers. They’ll use Jonathan Taylor to milk the clock, the revenge factor, Justin Fields reportedly will be playing in a knee brace and Ohio State probably doesn’t even need to win this game to get in the CFP.

But! There is no way I can look at this matchup and make a reasonable case to back the Badgers.

What Wisconsin does really well is be physical on both offense and defense. The problem is, Ohio State is bigger, strong and faster in all those areas Wisconsin excels at.

While Taylor has some amazing numbers, the Buckeyes continue to be his Achilles heel. He has just 93 yards in two games against Ohio State and was held to just 2.6 yards per carry in the previous meeting. Additionally, Fields had his worst throwing game of the season in that game and Ohio State still won 38-7.

The Buckeyes are just more talented in every facet of the game and their speed and strength will show on the indoor surface of Lucas Oil Stadium. We expect big games out of J.K. Dobbins and Chase Young as the Buckeyes cruise to another Big Ten title.

Pick: Ohio State -15.5

Longshots to consider when betting the Shoemaker Mile

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Monday’s Shoemaker Miles Stakes at Santa Anita Park is a great race for a number of reasons. For starters, the Shoemaker Mile is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race that offers the winner a guaranteed spot in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland.

Watch the Shoemaker Mile on Monday, May 25 from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

The race also features last year’s Preakness Stakes winner, War of Will, making his season debut. Despite his triumphs on the dirt in 2019, War of Will started his career on the turf and his pedigree suggests that he’s very likely to be just as successful on the grass. That said, the Shoemaker Mile will be his first start off of a six-month break, and I’m going to try to take a swing or two with some horses who could upset the apple cart at longer odds.

Let’s start out with the horse on the rail, Without Parole. He won the Group 1 St. James’s Palace Stakes going a mile at Ascot back in 2018. His three other career wins have all came at this mile distance as well. Granted, he hasn’t won in six races since the St. James’s Palace but he did finish a fast-closing third two starts ago in a much tougher U.S. debut in the TVG Breeders’ Cup MileIrad Ortiz Jr. rode Without Parole in that race and he will reclaim the mount on him again on Monday.

Without Parole has only had one race this year and it was in the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational in which he finished second to last. However, he had several excuses right from the start of that race when he got squeezed coming out of the gate. He also raced in traffic throughout and got cut off several times in the stretch before Frankie Dettori — who had come from Europe to ride him at Gulfstream — finally just wrapped up on him. The Pegasus World Cup Turf also was a race that didn’t allow him to run on Lasix (furosemide) after he’d shown significant improvement racing on Lasix for the first time at the Breeders’ Cup.

Stream the 2020 Shoemaker Mile live here

How much of a factor might Lasix be for some horses? Well, let’s next look at the horse who finished last in the Pegasus World Cup Turf: Next Shares. In his following start (back on Lasix) in the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes, Next Shares finished third (beaten just a neck) to River Boyne. Both Next Shares and River Boyne return in the Shoemaker Mile and I prefer the former as a pace play who has plenty of back-class. If you rewatch the Kilroe Mile, Next Shares covered a lot more ground than River Boyne. With a similar effort, Next Shares could certainly turn the tables.

The other thing to like about Next Shares is that his trainer, Richard Baltas, has entered speedster Neptune’s Storm in the Shoemaker Mile. That horse, along with Voodoo Song, should ensure a very brisk pace up front — they’ll also be kept honest by Blitzkrieg and War of Will, both of whom usually race on or near the lead. All of that speed adds up to good news for Next Shares. He’s a Grade 1 winner who has always done his best running when he’s had some pace to run into. The other two keys for him (like all stalking or closing-type runners) is clear running room late, and hopefully he’ll get that with Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez taking the mount.

Lastly, we should take a look at True Valour. It’s hard to make much of an excuse for his flat finish in the Kilroe last out, but he’s truly performed better than what his results on paper might indicate. In the Thunder Road Stakes in February, he looked pretty keen early and it took him a few strides to settle down without throwing his head around and fighting his rider. Turning for home, it was clear that jockey Andrea Atzeni had plenty of horse under him but was just waiting for some running room. It ended up coming too late because River Boyne was in a better spot and had already taken command. True Valour did split horses nicely in the closing stages and was half a jump away from finishing second.

If you go back to the Breeders’ Cup Mile, True Valour had excuses there, too. He was up on heels early and he again took a little bit of time to settle down into a comfortable stride. Then, turning for him, he was just waiting for running room but instead got stuck behind a wall of horses. True Valour ended up steadying pretty badly and lost all chance at that point. I’m a little worried about how headstrong he tends to be early in races, but there’s a scenario here that could have at least two horses battling for the lead early and opening up some daylight on the rest of the field. That means he’ll be less likely to be running up on anyone’s heels and it also ensures that he’ll have a nice setup. Whether he can navigate clear passage late in the race is a separate matter.

Longshot Selections

#1 Without Parole

#3 Next Shares

#2 True Valour

Watch the Shoemaker Mile on Monday, May 25 from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

How to bet an exacta on a horse race

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Betting an exacta can present a challenge on several levels.

There is, of course, the primary need to analyze past performances and decide which horses are going to finish first and second.

Yet because of the inherently lower payoffs as opposed to what you’ll find in a Pick 3 or Pick 4, you’ll need to structure your wagers effectively in order to turn your selections into a profitable wager.

For starters, an exacta can be a simple wager. If you like two horses equally, you can just box them in the exacta and collect so long as they finish 1-2 in any order. If you like one of them a little more, you can then bet more on the one you prefer, say $10 on a 1-2 exacta and $5 on 2-1.

If you’re a little more uncertain, make sure you structure your bet around the size of the field and the probable payoffs.

If you like a longshot, the higher probable payoffs give you the cushion you need to wager on more combinations and still turn a nice profit.

But if you’re dealing with favorites or horses at relatively low odds, you have to wager more efficiently to preserve your profit.

In a field of six or less, you’re best to either focus on one horse or box two of them instead of boxing three or more horses because of the small payouts the bet will most likely generate.

In a field of seven, a wise strategy would be to box your top two choices and then, if you are worried about other horses, play them top and/or bottom other the other horses. For example, box 1-2, then bet 1-2 over 3-4 and 3-4 over 1-2. This way you are getting coverage on four horses without having to box them.

Once you get an eight-horse field, as long as there is not an overwhelming favorite, you can expand the number of horses you box since the payoffs will typically be higher, giving you a better opportunity to offset the inevitable array of losing tickets in a boxed wager.