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Handicapper backs No. 1 LSU to cover vs. No. 12 Georgia in SEC championship

Aside from a memorable trip to Alabama in early November, Louisiana State football coach Les Miles hasn’t sweat the final minutes of any games this season.

The Tigers needed overtime to defeat the Crimson Tide, 9-6. But LSU won every other game by 13 points or more, and that number is significant in today’s Southeastern Conference championship game at Atlanta.

Miles and the No. 1 Tigers, seemingly destined for the BCS national championship game, are 13½-point favorites over No. 12 Georgia in the Georgia Dome.

LSU is 5-1 against the spread in its past six double-digit chalk situations, with the noncover as a 42-point favorite against Western Kentucky the week after the emotional victory over Alabama.

There has been some talk this week that the Tigers might be looking ahead to facing Alabama in the Bowl Championship Series title game and have little motivation to play the Bulldogs. But I don’t believe there’s any validity to that notion.

I have attended more than a half-dozen SEC championship games, and the atmosphere is absolutely electric. It’s inconceivable for college football players not to be fired up to play on such a big stage.

Also, bettors should not think of this as a road game for LSU. Yes, Georgia’s campus is only 66 miles from the Georgia Dome, but LSU is given just as many tickets, and its fans travel well, so the Bulldogs won’t have a significant crowd advantage.

Georgia coach Mark Richt has seen his team rebound to win 10 in a row, but none of the opponents was LSU, Alabama or Arkansas, and a case can be made that the Bulldogs were fortunate to beat Vanderbilt and Florida.

There also are doubts about the status of Georgia workhorse running back Isaiah Crowell, who has missed most of the past two games with an ankle sprain.

I expect LSU to win the battle in the trenches and really wear down the Bulldogs with its power running game in the second half. I’ll lay the points with the Tigers, who are 8-2 ATS in their past 10 outings.

I also like this game to go over the total of 46½. LSU averages 38.2 points, and Georgia is scoring 34.0 a game. I made this number 53½, so I see value for an “over” play.

The Bulldogs undoubtedly will be facing the best defense they have seen, but quarterback Aaron Murray has a 32-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

My theory is the Tigers will score at least their average, and that leaves the Bulldogs on the hook for only nine points. I think they will get at least 14.

Other minor factors helping the total include the indoor venue, which removes weather from the equation, and the probability that Crowell isn’t 100 percent could lead to more passing plays by Murray.

Two more plays for today (home team in CAPS):

■ Virginia Tech (-7) over Clemson — Since the Tigers won 23-3 in the teams’ meeting Oct. 1 at Blacksburg, Va., Virginia Tech has rapidly improved thanks to the development of quarterback Logan Thomas, who has 10 rushing touchdowns and 18 touchdown passes.

The Hokies also have the nation’s third-leading rusher in David Wilson, who has 1,599 yards. Clemson’s defense has been abysmal in recent weeks, allowing an average of 35.5 points in the past six games.

Expect the Hokies to get revenge and win by double digits.

■ Michigan State-Wisconsin (Over 55) — I made the total 59, and when these teams met in the regular season, the Spartans captured a last-second 37-31 victory. The “over” is on a 7-2 run for the Badgers, who average 44.8 points.

The Big Ten championship game at Indianapolis features outstanding quarterbacks in Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson, who has 28 touchdown passes and three interceptions, and Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins, who has 21 touchdown passes and six interceptions.

Last week: 2-2 against the spread

Season: 31-24-2

Brian Edwards of VegasInsider.com and BrianEdwardsSports.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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