The College Football Playoff sounded a lot more competitive in theory than it’s turned out in reality.
More than half of the semifinal games played so far since the four-team format was installed six years — seven out of 12 — have featured a favorite of at least 7 points. That will increase to nine out of 14 games this year assuming Alabama and Clemson stay sizable favorites over Notre Dame and Ohio State, respectively.
Clemson is currently giving 7.5 points to Ohio State on the spread, while Alabama is a 20-point favorite against Notre Dame.
The Crimson Tide and Tigers, of course, are the primary reasons why favorites have won 10 of 12 semifinal games all-time in the playoff. The two programs have each only missed the playoff once — Alabama last year and Clemson in the inaugural year — and it’s quite possible the bracket is headed towards the fourth championship-game meeting between them this year.
That doesn’t mean they’re both going to cover Friday in their first games, though, as my picks might have a surprise in that regard.
Read below for picks on all the remaining postseason games before the national championship, labeled with three separate confidence categories. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.
Duke’s Mayo Bowl, 9 a.m. Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C.: Wisconsin -7.5 vs. Wake Forest, over/under: 51.5. The Demon Deacons rate 101st in the nation in defense by EPA per play and have played one game in the last month and a half. In other words, if the floundering Badgers’ offense is ever going to get it together, it’s going to be here. Lean: Wisconsin -7.5.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, 5 p.m. Wednesday in Arlington, Texas: Florida +3 vs. Oklahoma, over/under: 70. This is the best game of bowl season — yes, including the semifinals — so the best approach might be to sit back and enjoy, maybe bet live or at halftime. That being said, with a spate of Florida opt-outs and ineligible players, and considering the high total, Oklahoma probably deserves to be a 3.5-point favorite. Guess: Oklahoma -3.
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, 9 a.m. Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas: Tulsa -2.5 vs. Mississippi State, over/under: 46. I’m a bit apprehensive about the American Athletic Conference’s underperformance to this point in bowl games and the overall disparity in schedule strength, but Tulsa has shown an ability to slow offenses like Mississippi State’s all season. At less than three, the Golden Hurricane must still be the pick. Guess: Tulsa -2.5.
Offerpad Arizona Bowl, 11 a.m. Thursday in Tucson, Ariz.: Ball State +10 vs. San Jose State, over/under: 63. San Jose State would have been the choice at the opening price of -7, but it feels like the spread has swelled too far now. Even with Ball State star running back Caleb Huntley opting out, this teams shape up as relatively even. Guess: Ball State +10.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, 1 p.m. Thursday in Memphis: West Virginia -7 vs. Army, over/under: 41.5. Army barely slipped past Air Force last week 10-7 despite catching every break in the game including a +2 turnover margin, which has been in line with most of its season. The Cadets have vastly overachieved and should be at a disadvantage to a well-rested and prepared team like the Mountaineers. Lean: West Virginia -7.
Mercari Texas Bowl, 5 p.m. Thursday in Houston: Arkansas +4.5 vs. TCU, over/under: 57. The Razorbacks are much tougher than their 3-7 straight-up record indicates as they went 0-3 in games decided by less than a touchdown this year. TCU has been dangerous at its best but highly inconsistent, especially compared to an Arkansas team that always gives all-out effort and plays smart. Play: Arkansas +4.5.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, 9 a.m. Friday in Atlanta: Georgia -7 vs. Cincinnati, over/under: 50.5. I’m having the same reservations detailed in the Tulsa-Mississippi State game here, but from an analytical standpoint, Cincinnati is one of the best Group of Five conference teams since the moniker for mid-major conferences came into existence. The Bearcats will be at a talent disadvantage to the Bulldogs but their +2.5 net yard per play on the year is too impressive to ignore. Play: Cincinnati +7.
Vrbo Citrus Bowl, 10 a.m. Friday in Atlanta: Auburn +3 vs. Northwestern, over/under: 43.5. The number is fair based on strictly on-field factors, but there’s more going on here. It’s too hard to ignore one of the nation’s best coaches, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, going up against an interim coach who’s struggled significantly previously when at the helm, Auburn’s Kevin Steele. Play: Northwestern -3.
Rose Bowl Game, College Football Playoff Semifinal, 1 p.m. Friday in Arlington, Texas: Notre Dame +20 vs. Alabama, over/under: 65.5. I bet against Alabama, which likely will surpass LSU as the most dominant CFP championship team since the start of the format, in the SEC Championship Game and lived to tell the tale. I’m not eager to try it again. That being said, there’s been too much of an overreaction to Notre Dame’s 34-10 loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, the Irish’s worst game of the season in what’s otherwise been an impressive campaign. Past playoff failures are also factoring into this line despite having nothing to do with the current team. This is 10 points more than Notre Dame got in the rematch against Clemson, and there’s no way Alabama is a 10-point favorite over Clemson. I’m still holding off for now, but if the number gets to 21, a taste on Notre Dame is unavoidable. Alabama wins by 16 points. Lean: Notre Dame +20.
Allstate Sugar Bowl, College Football Playoff Semifinal, 5 p.m. Friday in New Orleans: Ohio State +7.5 vs. Clemson, over/under: 66.5. Instinctually, it feels like Clemson is now peaking after getting to full strength and could handle Ohio State yet again. Statistically, there’s nothing to suggest that this line should be resting above a touchdown. The Buckeyes’ offense is even more explosive than the Tigers’ at their best and not all that different from the one that put up 516 yards in this matchup a year ago. All indications are that this number will close at less than a touchdown, so go ahead and snag a value price in advance. I’m just doing it with the knowledge that I may feel stupid after a blowout loss. Lean: Ohio State +7.5.
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, 9 a.m. Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla.: Kentucky -2.5 vs. North Carolina State, over/under: 50.5. The Wolfpack are banged up and quite possibly overvalued by virtue of going 4-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less. The Wildcats have the better personnel, a fact that’s hard to get away from with the number lower than 3. Guess: Kentucky -2.5.
Outback Bowl, 9:30 a.m. Saturday in Tampa, Fla.: Ole Miss +9 vs. Indiana, over/under: 65.5. Mississippi ranks No. 14 in the nation in offensive EPA per play. The only comparable offense Indiana has seen was Ohio State in a game where they surrendered more than 600 yards. Lean: Ole Miss +9.
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, 1 p.m. Saturday in Glendale, Ariz.: Oregon +4 vs. Iowa State, over/under: 57.5. Number is right in line with where I make it, so I’ll revert to backing the better-coached team. I trust Iowa State’s Matt Campbell more than almost every coach in the nation, but especially more than Oregon’s Mario Cristobal. Guess: Iowa State -4.
Capital One Orange Bowl, 5 p.m. in Miami Gardens, Fla.: Texas A&M +7.5 vs. North Carolina, over/under: 65.5. At full strength, this would be a mash spot on a highly-explosive North Carolina offense that somehow still hasn’t gotten its proper respect. With most of its top weapons opting out, however, and Texas A&M having not reported any absences, some caution is advisable. Lean: North Carolina +7.5.
Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.
Back to top