Bowl season is well underway, but most of the notable bowls are yet to come. Included in the bowl games yet to occur is the College Football Playoff semifinal matchups. These bigger bowls will unfold over the coming days as we ring in 2022.
Handicapping bowl season is a real chore, especially in this day and age. Not only do we have to deal with the unfortunate reality that COVID is once again ravaging sports, we have to track a bunch more. Players are opting out, transferring and declaring for the NFL draft. The betting market is one of the first to react to potential news. Which games have seen some significant line movement?
What's happening in the big games?
While bowl season is awesome, only four teams are actually playing for a championship. The playoff semifinal games will take place on New Year's Eve with the winners playing for the national championship.
Cincinnati vs. Alabama: Alabama opened as a 14-point favorite, but that didn't last long. Quickly, Alabama became just a 13.5-point favorite over Cincinnati and the line has stayed there for weeks. This is interesting when you consider that the vast majority of action is on the Crimson Tide. The total in this matchup, which currently sits at 57.5 points, has come down two points from its opening number. Alabama will be without star wide receiver John Metchie.
Michigan vs. Georgia: We've seen no movement on the betting spread in the other semifinal matchup. Georgia is currently a 7.5-point favorite over Michigan, which is exactly where the betting market opened for these two teams. The total has risen from 43.5 points to 45.5 points. Michigan will surely be a popular underdog, getting more than a touchdown.
The new bowl games
As mentioned earlier, COVID has had an impact on bowl season. Numerous bowls have been canceled due to COVID issues with one of the programs involved. Thankfully for those of us that want to see as much football as possible, two of the bowl games were able to be rescheduled with new teams involved.
Rutgers stepped in when Texas A&M announced they wouldn't be able to play against Wake Forest in the Gator Bowl. Rutgers finished with a 5-7 record during the regular season. Currently, Rutgers is a 14.5-point underdog against Wake Forest.
It's a tough situation for Rutgers, as they thought their season was over and didn't start preparing to play in a bowl game until last week. Not only is Wake Forest the better team, but they have a preparation edge as well.
Elsewhere, Miami wasn't able to participate in the Sun Bowl and Boise State wasn't able to play in the Arizona Bowl. Thankfully, the two opponents of those teams agreed to play each other. Central Michigan will now play Washington State in the Sun Bowl. Central Michigan is a 7-point underdog against Washington State.
Other significant movement
Which other game have seen significant line movement?
Oregon-Oklahoma: No game better showcases how hard it can be to handicap a bowl game in 2021. Lincoln Riley and Mario Cristobal are gone. Key players on both sides have either transferred or opted out, including potential NFL first overall pick Kayvon Thibodeaux. Oregon opened as a 3-point underdog, but the Ducks are now a 6.5-point underdog against the Sooners. Oregon might be without up to 30 players due to opt-outs and transfers.
South Carolina-North Carolina: Sam Howell will play in this bowl game for North Carolina, which was uncertain earlier in the month. On the other side, South Carolina will be without starting quarterback Jason Brown and stud defensive end Kingsley Enagbare. As a result, North Carolina is now a 9.5-point favorite over the Gamecocks. The market opened with UNC favored by just 6.5 points.
Purdue-Tennessee: Tennessee opened as a 1.5-point favorite, but the Vols are now a 6-point favorite over Purdue. Purdue will be without its best player on both sides of the football due to opt-outs. Edge rusher George Karlaftis and wide receiver David Bell will not play for Purdue as they prepare for the NFL draft.
Pittsburgh-Michigan State: This bowl game looked great on paper, but then opt-outs happened. Kenny Pickett will not play for Pittsburgh as he prepares to potentially be the first quarterback off the board in the NFL draft. Running back Kenneth Walker of Michigan State, potentially the best running back of this draft class, has also opted out. As a result, the total has crashed from 62.5 points to its current number of 55.5 points. Michigan State has gone from a 3.5-point underdog to a 2.5-point favorite against Pittsburgh.
Penn State-Arkansas: Arkansas is now a 1.5-point favorite over Penn State, despite Penn State opening as a 3.5-point favorite earlier in the month. This is another bowl littered with opt-outs, mainly on the Penn State side. The Nittany Lions will be without four key defensive starters in Arnold Ebiketie, Jaquan Brisker, Brandon Smith and Ellis Brooks. Star wide receiver Jahan Dotson has also opted out. Arkansas will also be without its star wide receiver Treylon Burks.
Ohio State-Utah: Not even the spectacle of the Rose Bowl can stop players from opting out. Ohio State will be without star receiver Garrett Wilson, offensive lineman Nicholas Petit-Frere and defensive lineman Haskell Garrett. As a result, the Buckeyes are now just a 4.5-point favorite over Utah. Ohio State was favored by 6.5 points earlier in the month.