College Playoff Primer
December 3, 2017
By Brian Edwards
Editor's Note: Brian Edwards owns a 60-47 record (56.1%, +8.66 units) in college football this season. Don't miss out on any of his pay-if-they-win-only selections, or go ahead and get signed up for his bowl package!
The College Football Playoff is set with the semifinals to be played on New Year’s Day. No. 1 seed Clemson will take on fourth-seeded Alabama at the Sugar Bowl in a rematch of the last two games played in the CFP finals.
The other semifinal will feature second-seeded Oklahoma, the winner of the Big 12 Championship Game, against No. 3 Georgia, which exacted revenge on Auburn with Saturday’s 28-7 win as a two-point favorite in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.
The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas opened Alabama as the +200 ‘chalk’ to win the CFP finals. Clemson was given +220 odds, followed by Oklahoma (+275) and Georgia (+350, risk $100 to win $350).
The Westgate opened Oklahoma as a 2.5-point ‘chalk’ vs. UGA, and sent out Alabama as a one-point favorite over Clemson. South Point opened the Sooners at two and Alabama-Clemson at pick ‘em. I made both OU and Clemson three-point favorites.
As of 4:00 p.m. Eastern, most Vegas shops had Lincoln Riley’s squad listed as a 1.5-point favorite, but most offshores had OU favored by one point. The Mirage and a few offshore spots had the game at pick ‘em.
In fact, the Mirage also had Alabama-Clemson at pick ‘em, but most other books had the Crimson Tide favored by 1.5 points.
Alabama beat Clemson by a 45-40 count in the CFP finals two seasons ago, but the Tigers garnered a backdoor cover as 6.5-point underdogs on a Deshaun Watson TD pass with 12 seconds remaining. Dabo Swinney’s team avenged that defeat with last year’s 35-31 win in the finals as (again) a 6.5-point underdog thanks to another last-second TD pass from Watson, setting up a rubber match of sorts in this year’s semifinals at the Superdome in New Orleans. This game will kick at 8:45 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.
OU and UGA will collide at 5:00 p.m. Eastern in Pasadena. The Sooners have won eight consecutive games, going 5-1 against the spread in their last six outings. They’ve been single-digit ‘chalk’ three times, producing a 3-0 straight-up record and a 2-1 ATS mark. Meanwhile, Georgia won outright by a 20-19 count at Notre Dame in its lone games as an underdog (+5.5).
UGA is ranked fourth in the nation in total defense, second at defending the pass, 12th in run defense and fourth in scoring ‘D,’ limiting foes to 13.2 points per game. The Bulldogs have won three in a row both SU and ATS since suffering their lone loss, a 40-17 defeat at Auburn.
Oklahoma is No. 1 in the country in total offense, third in passing yards and fourth in scoring with a 44.9 PPG average. Baker Mayfield has completed 71.0 percent of his passes for 4,340 yards with a 41/5 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Although the injury report has Georgia RB Sony Michel listed as ‘questionable’ due to a knee injury sustained vs. Auburn, second-year head coach Kirby Smart told the media Sunday, “Everything looks good. A little bit of soreness. He should be good to go.” Michel has rushed for 948 yards and 13 TDs while averaging 7.2 yards per carry.
On New Year’s Day at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Auburn will take on unbeaten UCF. Scott Frost was in Lincoln today (12/3/17) to greet his new Nebraska team, but he will stay on to coach the Knights in the postseason. As for AU’s Gus Malzahn, Arkansas was expecting an answer from him at some point today as to whether or not he would leave the Tigers to take a lucrative deal with the Razorbacks, who hired him from Springdale High School (in Arkansas) as their offensive coordinator more than a decade ago.
One offshore released Auburn as an 8.5-point favorite.
There are two other games on New Year’s Day: Michigan vs. South Carolina at the Outback Bowl in Tampa, in addition to LSU vs. Notre Dame at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. The Fighting Irish defeated LSU 31-28 at the 2014 Music City Bowl to avenge a blowout loss at the Sugar Bowl during Charlie Weis’s tenure when Brady Quinn and JaMarcus Russell were the starting QBs.
On Dec. 30 at the Taxslayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Mississippi State and Louisville will collide. In what I have found to be a surprise, it appears that there hasn’t been that much interest from other schools in Bobby Petrino, so at this point it looks like he’ll be still at U of L going into 2018 (although that obviously could change). The Bulldogs won’t have star QB Nick Fitzgerald (lower-leg injury) or head coach Dan Mullen, who is busy on the recruiting trail for his new team, the Florida Gators. RBs coach and special-teams coordinator Greg Knox will serve as MSU’s interim head coach.
Also on Dec. 30, Iowa State will play a true road game against Memphis at the Liberty Bowl. The Tigers lost an instant classic in the AAC Championship Game, coming up on the wrong end of a 62-55 double-overtime thriller at UCF. If Malzahn doesn’t go to Arkansas, most speculation points to Washington State’s Mike Leach or Memphis coach Mike Norvell being the Razorbacks’ next targets.
In the Orange Bowl, Wisconsin will also play a true road game at Miami. The Badgers lost a 27-21 decision to Ohio St. at the Big Ten Championship Game, while Miami got smashed by Clemson in Charlotte at the ACC Championship Game.
A few offshore books had Wisconsin installed as a six-point favorite vs. the Hurricanes.
Washington and Penn State will square off at the Fiesta Bowl. One offshore had the Huskies listed as six-point 'chalk.'
Ohio State will face Southern California at the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
-- Georgia LB Natrez Patrick was arrested early Sunday morning in Barrow County outside of Atlanta on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge. Patrick, who served a four-game suspension earlier this season, has 35 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and three QB hurries in nine games this year. UGA had yet to comment on the matter when this story was filed late Sunday afternoon.
-- In the three-year history of the CFP, underdogs have produced a 6-3 spread record with five outright victories.
-- Clemson owns a 4-0 spread record with three outright wins in its two CFP appearances.
-- Washington star WR and special-teams phenom Dante Pettis (leg) is 'questionable' vs. PSU.
-- A CBSSports.com report on Sunday indicated that Arkansas made an offer to Gus Malzahn worth about $50 million and an average of $7.1 million per year. He made a $4.75 million at Auburn this season. We’ll see if AU steps up with an extension offer.
-- According to a Lafayette Daily Advertiser report from Tim Buckley on Sunday, Louisiana (formerly known as UL-Lafayette) has fired Mark Hudspeth after seven seasons. Hudspeth had the Ragin’ Cajuns rolling early in his tenure, guiding them to four consecutive 9-4 seasons that were capped by wins at the New Orleans Bowl. Louisiana finished 4-8 in 2015 and 6-7 in ’16 when it lost 28-21 to Southern Miss at the New Orleans Bowl. The Ragin’ Cajuns finished 5-7 this year.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.
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