Following 13 weeks of regular season games and one weekend of conference championship games, the cream rose to the top with Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma filling in the four spots in this year’s College Football Playoff.
This season’s two semifinal matchups are slated for Saturday, Dec. 29. The Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic pits the ACC’s No. 2 Clemson Tigers against the No. 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish in a 4 p.m. start on ESPN from AT&T Stadium. In a slated 8 p.m. kickoff on ESPN, the SEC’s No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide and the Big 12’s No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners square off in the Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
The opening betting lines for the Cotton Bowl had Clemson favored by 10.5 points, but early money on the Tigers have pushed that number as high as 12.5 points at a few online sportsbooks. The total opened at 55 points and it has held steady so far.
Alabama was opened as a 14.5-point favorite and for the most part the current spread has settled in at 14 points with the majority of the online books. The interesting thing about this matchup is the total line climbing to 81 points after opening at 79 even with The Tides’ defense ranked fourth in the nation in points allowed (14.8).
If you decide to bet the favorites in each game, you might want to lock that number in now as opposed to waiting to see where it goes over the next few weeks. I would definitely expect to see some Notre Dame money come in closer to kickoff and the earlier betting consensus has a slight lean towards Oklahoma in the other matchup.
I do believe there is value in either underdog with a stronger lean toward Notre Dame covering against Clemson. The Tigers were 7-6 against the spread this season closing as double-digit favorites in all 13 of their games. Notre Dame was no betting bargain either at 6-5-1 ATS, but that Week 1 upset against Michigan as a three-point underdog still looms big on the overall resume.
Alabama won 12 of its 13 games by a double-figure margin as double-digit favorites in every game. The Tide was not as dominant over their last three games at 1-2 ATS as part of an 8-5 record ATS overall. However, anytime Nick Saban has a month to prepare for a game you know his team will be ready.
The big question in the Orange Bowl in my book is can these two teams combined to score more than 81 points? The Sooners averaged close to 50 points a game as compared to Alabama’s scoring average of 47.9 PPG, so on paper this should be a shootout. I am still going with the notion that defense win national titles and last time I checked, the Tide had one of the best in the nation. All the value betting the total line in this matchup at 81 points has shifted towards the UNDER and that is the way I would bet this game.
This would make my CFP semifinal parlay play Notre Dame +11.5 (12.5 if you can get it) and the UNDER 81 points in the other matchup.
My other burning question for this season’s playoff concerns the value in betting the futures for the CFP Championship Game. Alabama is a prohibitive -200 favorite to win it all. I am not a big fan of betting against the Tide, but all the value in betting them to win has been drained. I might bite on the -120 odds that Alabama beats Clemson in the title game, but I still think Notre Dame has an outside chance to beat the Tigers SU. Just for fun, I might put $10 on Oklahoma beating the Irish in the CFP Championship at +3300 as the longest odds for any futures bet on the board.