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2021 Conference USA Championship Game Pick and Prediction: How to watch Western Kentucky vs. UTSA

The Conference USA Championship Game is a rematch of a Western Kentucky vs. UTSA game that totaled nearly 100 points earlier this year.

The 2021 Conference USA Championship Game should be an intriguing clash of the conference’s top-scoring offense against the top-scoring defense. The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (8-4) travel to the Alamodome on Friday night, looking to avenge a defeat to the UTSA Roadrunners (11-1) earlier this college football season. Meanwhile, UTSA will want to end a fairy-tale campaign on a high note. Let’s dive into a preview, the top NFL Draft prospects playing, and how to watch the Conference USA Championship Game.

Western Kentucky vs. UTSA | 2021 Conference USA Championship Game pick and prediction

  • Spread: Western Kentucky -1
  • Total: 71.5
  • Moneyline: Western Kentucky -125, UTSA +105

Jeff Traylor and his UTSA team have been the Group of Five fairy-tale story this season. Although Cincinnati going into battle with college football’s Goliaths is setting a new standard for the College Football Playoff, that was expected. A UTSA team that had previously won no more than seven games going 11-1 and being ranked for the first time in program history was not. Friday marks their first-ever appearance in the Conference USA Championship Game.

Traylor’s #210TriangleofToughness sees the Roadrunners as one of the most balanced teams in the country. They rank in the top 50 nationally in everything except pass defense. Given their success in all three phases of the game, combined with their sense of team unity and belonging in the community, UTSA is one of the easiest teams to root for in college football.

However, they face an offensive buzzsaw in Bailey Zappe and the Hilltoppers on Friday night. Zappe has built his own feel-good story this season. The Western Kentucky quarterback is on pace to set college football records for yards per game and touchdowns per game. He’s also in touching distance of all-time passing yardage and touchdown records set by Joe Burrow in his 2019 Heisman-winning campaign.

Those two storylines combine for an intriguing Conference USA Championship Game. UTSA is looking for their first-ever title, while Zappe and WKU are trying to win the program’s third. Western Kentucky vs. UTSA is made even more appealing by the fact they’ve already met once this season. The Roadrunners won a 52-46 shootout, with Zappe throwing an interception to Clarence Hicks late in the fourth that sealed the UTSA victory.

Conference USA Championship Game Pick and Prediction: Western Kentucky 40, UTSA 37

Top prospects playing

While it might not command the same level of national media attention as some other games this weekend, the Conference USA Championship Game should be an entertaining offensive shootout. Furthermore, Western Kentucky vs. USTA features a number of high-profile 2022 NFL Draft prospects. Currently, the two teams combined will be sending four players to the Reese’s Senior Bowl.

Western Kentucky

  • Bailey Zappe, QB
  • DeAngelo Malone, EDGE
  • Jerreth Sterns, WR
  • Antwon Kincade, S

UTSA

Western Kentucky offense vs. UTSA defense

As mentioned above (and witnessed already this season), Western Kentucky vs. UTSA in the Conference USA Championship Game should be an offensive shootout. The two teams combined for 98 points and 1,234 yards back in October. That would suggest a complete lack of ability from both defenses. Yet, that simply isn’t true.

Well, at least in the case of the UTSA defense. The Roadrunners have the top scoring defense in the C-USA, allowing just 22.2 points per game. Their run defense ranks second in the conference, allowing 121.58 yards per game, which is good for 20th in the nation. Overall, they’re allowing 346.8 yards per game, which ranks third in the conference and 37th in the country.

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The Roadrunners’ defense possesses some impressive playmakers. Safety Rashad Wisdom leads the team with 78 tackles, 3 of which were for loss. Additionally, Wisdom has recorded 6 pass breakups. In the front seven, the versatile Clarence Hicks leads the team with 14 tackles for loss and 8 sacks.

However, the Western Kentucky offense definitely has an advantage. With 525.2 yards and 43.3 points per game, the Hilltoppers have the best total and scoring offense in the conference. It’s also the second-best in the nation. In Jerreth Sterns and Mitchell Tinsley, they have two pass catchers over 1,000 yards this year. Sterns finished the regular season just 5 yards short of leading the nation in receiving.

Bailey Zappe vs. UTSA secondary

The key component behind that offensive success is Zappe. With 4,968 passing yards, the Western Kentucky QB leads the conference and the nation — and by a comfortable margin to boot. The same story goes for his 52 touchdowns. Zappe has been incredibly efficient, accurate (70.1% completion), and downright dangerous this season. His ability to read the defense, both pre-snap and post-snap, is at a level above most college quarterbacks.

This poses a significant problem for the UTSA secondary. They were torched to the tune of 523 yards and 5 touchdowns in the first edition of Western Kentucky vs. UTSA back in October. That lackluster performance contributed to a pass defense that is the closest thing to a weakness that this team has. They’ve allowed 225.2 passing yards per game, ranking fifth in the conference and 63rd in the nation. Wisdom, Tariq Woolen, and PBU-leader Ken Robinson have a mighty challenge on their hands in the Conference USA Championship Game.

UTSA offense vs. Western Kentucky defense

While Western Kentucky’s offense is heavily pass-oriented, the UTSA offense is more balanced — but with a very distinct emphasis on the ground game. Their 178.67 yards per game on the ground rank second in the conference and top-50 nationally. Moreover, their 36.9 points per game sit just behind Western Kentucky in the C-USA.

One man, in particular, puts the “runner” into the Roadrunners, and that is running back Sincere McCormick. His 1,275 yards this season ensured that the UTSA RB logged consecutive seasons with over 1,000 rushing yards. He’s averaged a touchdown every game over the past two seasons, a remarkable achievement.

Furthermore, McCormick has already managed 120 rushing yards against this Western Kentucky defense this season. The Hilltoppers unit has allowed an average of 149.42 yards per game on the ground, ranking seventh in the conference and 64th nationally.

Remarkably, that’s the strength of a defensive unit that — despite another productive season from NFL Draft prospect DeAngelo Malone (79 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles) — ranks 91st in the nation in yardage allowed (411.3 yards per game). The Hilltoppers also rank 76th in the country in points allowed (27 per game).

Frank Harris vs. Western Kentucky secondary

Most of the yardage that WKU has allowed has come in the passing game. The Hilltoppers defense ranks 11th in the conference and 113th in the nation in pass defense. They’ve allowed a ridiculous 261.9 yards per game through the air, including a chunk to UTSA quarterback Frank Harris back in October.

Harris threw for 6 touchdowns and 349 yards in the first meeting of these two teams. He also had a 23-yard receiving score and rushed for 51 yards. The UTSA QB has genuine dual-threat ability, is as tough as they come, and has emerged as a dangerous deep passer. Combining Harris with Zakhari Franklin and Joshua Cephus should be more than the Hilltoppers defense can handle.

How to watch Western Kentucky vs. UTSA

  • Start time: Friday, December 3, 7 PM ET
  • Location: Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
  • Channel: CBS Sports Network
  • Live streams:
    • YouTube TV
    • fuboTV
    • DirecTV
    • Hulu + Live TV
    • CBS Sports App

Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft and College Football Analyst for Pro Football Network. Check out the rest of his work here, and you can find him on Twitter @ojhodgkinson.

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