The Daily Sweat: The College Football Playoff is finally here

·6-min read

Let’s ring in 2022 by successfully betting on college football games.

We’ll know who is playing for the national title by the time 2021 is over on Friday night. No. 1 Alabama plays No. 4 Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) Friday afternoon and that game is followed by No. 2 Michigan against No. 3 Georgia in the Orange Bowl (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Let’s start with the No. 1 team in the country. Alabama is looking to play in a sixth national title game in eight seasons of the College Football Playoff. Cincinnati is heading to the Big 12 in a couple of years and is the first non-Power Five team to make the playoff.

The Crimson Tide are favored by 13.5 points and have gotten over 90% of the money bet on the point spread at BetMGM. There is a ton of confidence in Alabama after it beat Georgia for the SEC title and a spot in the playoff.

Is that confidence warranted? Alabama is 7-6 against the spread this season and was 6-6 before the Georgia game, a game in which the Crimson Tide were very rare underdogs.

That means Alabama is just .500 against the spread as a favorite this season and it’s not like the Tide have come close to covering big numbers in some of those wins. Alabama lost as a favorite to Texas A&M, beat Florida by two, LSU by six, Arkansas by seven and Auburn by two.

Alabama’s success in close games may be key — the Tide aren’t going to be rattled if Cincinnati hangs around. But those close games are why we lean toward Cincinnati. This is a Bearcats team that’s capable of beating the Crimson Tide outright, especially if its great secondary can lock down Jameson Williams. The absence of wide receiver John Metchie could be a big deal on Friday.

We think Alabama wins, but 13.5 points is too many. Take Cincinnati and all those points.

Michigan enters the Orange Bowl as a 7.5-point underdog despite being seeded higher than Georgia. Michigan moved ahead of Georgia in the rankings after beating Ohio State and Iowa over the final two weeks of the season. Georgia dropped from No. 1 to No. 3 after losing to Alabama.

The total for this game is 45.5 — 12 points lower than the total for the other semifinal. This is going to be a slobberknocker with both teams looking to push the other off the line of scrimmage and effectively run the football. It’s not too much of a leap to think that the winner of this one will come down to which of Cade McNamara or Stetson Bennett can make more plays in the passing game.

And bettors seem to think that Michigan can keep this within the spread. Nearly 75% of bets are on the Wolverines to cover and almost 90% of the bets on the moneyline are on Michigan at +240 to win outright.

We also think the underdog can cover here too. Michigan’s offensive line is perhaps the best in the country and well-equipped to neutralize Georgia’s powerful front seven. Hassan Haskins may not run all over the Bulldogs like he did the Buckeyes, but Georgia’s Jordan Davis shouldn’t make a living in the Michigan backfield either.

The presence of a healthy George Pickens could be the edge that Georgia needs to win straight up though. The wide receiver has missed most of the season due to an ACL injury he suffered during the spring. He has three catches over the final two games of the season. If he can get five or six grabs Friday night, Georgia is in great shape to set up a potential rematch of the epic title game that capped the 2017 season.

Other Friday bowls

The two playoff games aren’t the only bowl games on Friday. The day starts at 11 a.m. ET with the Gator Bowl between Wake Forest and Rutgers. The Demon Deacons are 17-point favorites in a matchup that wasn’t scheduled to happen until a couple weeks ago. Rutgers (5-7) had to replace Texas A&M after the Aggies backed out of the game due to a lack of players because of COVID-19 cases.

There’s also another bowl matchup that wasn’t originally scheduled. Washington State meets Central Michigan (Noon ET, CBS) in the Sun Bowl. The Chippewas moved over to the Sun Bowl after Boise State backed out of the Arizona Bowl because of COVID-19 cases and Miami couldn’t play the Cougars because too many players were in COVID protocols. The Cougars are favored by seven and are 8-4 against the spread this season.

Saturday’s games

2022 begins with five bowl games and is capped by the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl in the last two time slots. This is where we remind you that the stubbornness of both bowl games is why the playoff semifinals are being played on New Year’s Eve.

Ohio State enters the Rose Bowl without star wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson as they prep for the draft. The Buckeyes are 4-point favorites over Utah and we like Utah to cover the number and win straight up. Utah plays a lot like Michigan does. And we all saw what Michigan did to Ohio State. We’re fascinated to see what Ohio State’s offense looks like without two first-round wide receivers on the field.

Ole Miss is a 1-point favorite over Baylor in the Sugar Bowl. Both teams are looking to cap fantastic seasons; Baylor is looking for its first major bowl win in decades while Ole Miss won 10 games in the regular season for the first time ever in 2021.

The day begins with Arkansas and Penn State in the Outback Bowl (Noon ET, ESPN2). The Razorbacks are 2.5-point favorites over a Nittany Lions team that’s had a lot of opt-outs on defense. Star wide receiver Jahan Dotson is also not playing to prep for the draft. Take Arkansas.

Oklahoma State is a 2-point underdog to Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. The Irish are without RB Kyren Williams and S Kyle Hamilton as they prep for the draft ahead of Marcus Freeman’s first game as Notre Dame coach. We like Notre Dame to still cover, however. Oklahoma State’s fantastic defense is without coordinator Jim Knowles as he’s heading to Ohio State.

Kentucky is a 3-point favorite against Iowa in the Citrus Bowl. The Hawkeyes will be without running back Tyler Goodson, and the game has the lowest over/under of the weekend at 44. And we still think the under is likely.

Who cashed tickets on Thursday?

Michigan State (-3.5) bettors got a huge break late in the Spartans’ win over Pitt in the Peach Bowl. Cal Haladay intercepted Pitt’s Davis Beville and returned it 78 yards for a pick-six and a 31-21 win for the Spartans. Pitt was driving for a potential game-tying field goal when Haladay intercepted Beville.

Purdue and over bettors were thrilled with the Boilermakers’ controversial 48-45 overtime win over Tennessee.

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