December 7, 2021

Initial Reactions to the College Football Playoff Gambling Odds

The field is set for the College Football Playoffs. Alabama will take on Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl while Michigan will battle Georgia in the Orange Bowl. 

This season, we have two teams making their first appearance in the playoffs, and both teams made history. Michigan becomes the first team to make the playoffs after starting the season unranked, and Cincinnati is the first Group of 5 team to get an invitation to the dance. 

With the matchups official, we have our first taste of what the gambling lines will look like. For the most part, everything looks like it should, but there is plenty of time from now until New Year's Eve for things to change. 

We still have a little under a month to go before the playoffs start, so for right now, we will react to the opening lines and try to find an angle for both games. 

*Odds via FanDuel Sportsbook

Cotton Bowl: #1 Alabama vs #4 Cincinnati

Spread: Alabama -14 | Total: 58 | Moneyline: Alabama -620, Cincinnati +430

Alabama unleashed the surprise of the season by bullying Georgia in the SEC Championship game. Because of their impressive performance, Alabama moved up to No. 1.

At face value, Alabama got the easy route to the championship game because it is Alabama against a team that is not Alabama. But this may not be as easy as people are making it out to be.

The Crimson Tide have played five one-possession games this season, and they lost one to Texas A&M. The other four teams were LSU, Auburn, Florida, and Arkansas. There's an argument that Texas A&M is the best of those five, but Arkansas is the highest rated of the bunch. According to FPI rankings, Cincinnati is the seventh-ranked team while Texas A&M is 15th.

What I am trying to say is that, sure, Alabama looked awesome against Georgia, but they have looked mortal against teams that are a lot worse than Cincinnati. If we dig deeper into the matchup, Cincinnati might have an advantage in this game that Georgia did not.

With John Metchie out for the season for the Crimson Tide, the only reliable game-breaker Alabama has on offense is Jameson Williams. I understand that Alabama has had an impressive stretch of wide receivers, and they even have some five-stars waiting on the bench. However, Cincinnati has the best one-two punch at corner in Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant.

Gardner will likely be a first-round selection, and Bryant will be a day two selection. If the Bearcats can lock down Williams and keep Alabama's concepts in front of them, Cincinnati has a real chance at causing problems in this game. It also helps that Cincinnati is 15th in sack percentage, and the defense is top-10 in scoring, yards, yards per play, points per play, passing yards per game, yards per pass, and completion percentage.

Cincinnati is not better on defense than Georgia, but they absolutely have a chance to slow down Bama, especially with a major injury in the Alabama receiver room.

The Alabama defense has the potential to be the first Nick Saban defense to allow more than 20 points per game since his first season with Alabama. Yes, the defense is having a down year in terms of Saban-led defenses, but Alabama is still top-10 in yards per rush, rushing yards per game, yards per game, and yards per play.

I say all of this to bring up that Cincinnati on the spread is the play if it stays above 14 points. The Bearcats are starting to pick up steam, and this could have the potential to be a matchup mismatch for Alabama. Talent-wise, the Crimson Tide has a WIDE lead. On the field this season, neither team has been overwhelmingly more impressive.

If Alabama can struggle with a Bo Nix-less Auburn team, and a really bad LSU team, then Cincinnati can absolutely keep up with the Tide. 

Pick: Cincinnati (+14)

Orange Bowl: #2 Michigan vs #3 Georgia

Spread: Georgia -8.5 | Total: 44 | Moneyline: Georgia -325, Michigan +250

Michigan should be the No. 1 team in the country. Instead of taking in their entire body of work this season, the CFP committee decided that all of Alabama's flaws, of which there are many, were forgiven after beating Georgia, and Michigan's back-to-back domination of Ohio State and Iowa didn't matter.

As a reward for not being ranked No.1, Michigan has to play Georgia, which is a matchup nightmare for the Wolverines. Both teams have a similar identity, and their goal is to control the line of scrimmage and make the other team quit.

Georgia has done that better than anyone this season, but against the first high-flying offense they have seen, the Dawgs had no idea what to do. Still, Georgia held Alabama to 115 rushing yards, which is more than their season average, but it's well within the margin of error for this defense. If Michigan walks out of the Orange Bowl with less than 150 yards rushing, they will lose.

The game plan should be simple for Kirby Smart. Step on the gas, and do not let up until Michigan punches you in the mouth. Eliminate the run and make Cade McNamara beat you with his arm. The same goes for Michigan's defense. Make Stetson Bennett beat you through the air.

At the end of the day, one team is going to have to rely on their quarterback to make a play or they are going to need a lucky bounce or timely turnover. Georgia and Michigan have the same strengths and weaknesses, but Georgia is much stronger at its strengthens than Michigan is. I would take Georgia up to -10. Style points no longer matter this season, so Georgia is just looking to do what they have done all season long.

Control the line of scrimmage, don't give the offense time to breathe, and play sound football. If that happens, Michigan does not have a chance.

This whole season, Michigan has just been diet-Georgia. There's nothing wrong with being diet-Georgia, but it is really hard to beat the original.

Pick: Georgia (-8.5)

Photo: Getty Images