[B][I]Rosy outlook: Riley, Smart took over playoff-potential teams
December 31, 2017[/I][/B]
LOS ANGELES (AP) A few days after the Rose Bowl matchup between No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Georgia was set, Sooners coach Lincoln Riley and Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart ran into each other at a high school in Georgia. They were there by themselves to recruit the same player.
”We were waiting for like a crowd of reporters to come out,” Riley said early in Rose Bowl week. ”I thought it might have been staged in a way.”
Riley and Smart got a brief chance to catch up again Sunday at a downtown Los Angeles hotel, sharing the stage with The Leishman Trophy that goes to the winner of Monday’s game in Pasadena. After answering questions from reporters for 25 minutes, Smart and Riley shook hands and posed for pictures with the sterling silver football.
It’s a good looking trophy, but the big prize for Oklahoma (12-1) and Georgia (12-1) is a spot in the College Football Playoff championship game in Atlanta on Jan. 8.
”There’s been a lot of build up for this game, like Lincoln said, and it’s time to go play,” Smart said.
Riley is in his first season as Oklahoma’s head coach. Smart is in year two at his alma mater. They came into their jobs in very different ways, but both inherited ready-made rosters, with the talent to make a championship run. The challenge for each was to reach that potential.
Smart, the longtime defensive coordinator under Nick Saban at Alabama, was hired by Georgia after former coach Mark Richt was pushed out. Richt’s 15 years in Athens were mostly successful, but there was a sense among supporters and the school administration that Georgia was not maxing out in football. Georgia had not won a Southeastern Conference title since 2005.
The program did not need an overhaul. Smart, 42, was left a roster built on the foundation of top-10 recruiting classes in both 2014 and ’15. Members of those classes make up the majority of Georgia’s starting lineup in the Rose Bowl, including star running back Nick Chubb and All-America linebacker Roquan Smith. Smart’s task was to make players who had some success understand they were capable of much more.
”They may see it as they were completely happy winning nine, 10 games a year, and that’s what I call complacency,” Smart said. ”In our case that was probably the greatest challenge was not accepting what had been done before as the norm and convincing the players that are currently on the team that we can do better. How do we do that? Well, we do it this way. Well, that might not be the right way in their mind. You’ve got to convince them it is. Sometimes that takes more work than just coming in where a team’s hungry and more aggressive and listens to what you have to say.”
After going 8-5 last season, Georgia won the SEC in 2017.
Riley, 34, was already an integral part of the Oklahoma program when he was promoted from offensive coordinator in June to replace coach Bob Stoops, who had surprisingly decided to retire after 18 years in Norman. The Sooners had won the Big 12 in 2015 and ’16, making the playoff in `15, with Riley calling plays. They entered 2017 as favorites again, led by quarterback Baker Mayfield.
With the rest of the coaching staff already in place, Riley did not necessarily have to win over the players.
”Probably the biggest challenge was starting in early June,” Riley said. ”Whatever changes we did want to make you felt like you had to get them done pretty quickly. So I think for us it’s continuing to build on it, trying to find a few ways to get a little better, and maintain the high expectations there’s always been at Oklahoma.”
The Sooners rolled to another Big 12 title, Mayfield won the Heisman and the offense is on pace to set a school record for yards per play at 8.44.
[B]Things to know about the first meeting between the two storied programs:
Mayfield has been dealing with flu-like symptoms leading up to the Rose Bowl. He has been practicing but his condition caused him to miss three team events, including two media availabilities. Mayfield made it to media day on Saturday and all indications are he will play Monday. Since 2000, Heisman-winning quarterbacks are 4-6 in the BCS championship and playoff games played in the seasons they won the award. That includes Oregon’s Marcus Mariota going 1-1 in the 2014 playoff. Florida State’s Jameis Winston, Auburn’s Cam Newton and USC’s Matt Leinart won national championship games after winning the Heisman.
Oklahoma has a four-game winning streak against SEC teams, having beaten one each of the last four seasons. The Sooners beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl after the 2013 season and Auburn in the Sugar after last season. In between, they won a home-and-home against Tennessee.
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm has received plenty of accolades for leading the Bulldogs to the playoff as a freshman, but he is not the only newbie making big contributions for the Dawgs’ offense. Andrew Thomas has manned right tackle all season and tailback De’Andre Swift has contributed 743 yards from scrimmage as a complement to Chubb and senior Sony Michel the backfield.
[B][I]Alabama-Clemson becomes college football’s best new rivalry
December 31, 2017[/I][/B]
NEW ORLEANS (AP) The three-peat will be complete.
Then again, there might be a few more chapters in college football’s most intriguing new rivalry.
For the third year in a row , Clemson will meet Alabama in the College Football Playoff, only this time it will be in the Sugar Bowl semifinal rather than the national championship game.
They’ll be hard-pressed to match the drama and excitement of the last two meetings: Alabama’s 45-40 victory that featured 40 points in the final 10 1-2 minutes , followed by Clemson’s 35-31 triumph on a touchdown pass with one second remaining .
”We haven’t competed against each other a lot,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Sunday on the eve of the New Year’s night game. ”But all of a sudden you’ve got this three-game series that has just happened at the highest level. And this is kind of a rubber match. But, to be honest with you, this is probably not going to be the last one. There will probably be more of these down the road.”
Atlantic Coast Conference champion Clemson (12-1) is the top seed in the playoff, bouncing back from a shocking 27-24 loss to Syracuse in mid-October . Alabama (11-1) didn’t even get a chance to play for the Southeastern Conference title, losing to Auburn in the regular-season finale after being ranked No. 1 all season by The Associated Press.
Despite the setback, the selection committee went with the Tide as the No. 4 seed over Big Ten champ Ohio State.
That set up Clemson-Alabama, Part III.
”This is kind of like a rivalry now,” Tide linebacker Rashaan Evans said. ”This is something I will definitely remember for the rest of my life, just to be able to be a part of this whole big thing. I’ll have faced these guys three times, watched so much film of us winning and losing. Now we have another chance.”
[B]Some things to watch for when Clemson takes on Alabama in the Sugar Bowl:
RENFROW VS. FITZPATRICK[/B]
Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow has been a real thorn in Alabama’s side. The former walk-on caught four touchdown passes in the two previous meetings, including last season’s 2-yard game winner.
The burden of shutting down Renfrow could fall largely on Alabama’s star defensive back, Minkah Fitzpatrick.
”I think that’s going to be the key matchup in the game,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. ”Obviously, Hunter’s had some really, really good games against these guys, so they’re going to be gunning to make sure they take him away and force other guys to make plays.”
Fitzpatrick is looking forward to the challenge.
”He’s not going to out-physical you or outrun you,” the Alabama player said. ”He gets the ball out in space, makes people miss, and he’s a real shifty guy, smaller guy, so it’s hard to tackle him in space.”
Alabama has endured a rash of injuries at the linebacker position , which really seemed to affect the Tide’s stellar defense late in the season.
With more than a month off since the loss to Auburn, the situation looks a little better but remains a point of concern for coach Nick Saban.
Most notably, Dylan Moses and Shaun Dion Hamilton won’t be able to go against Clemson, dealing a blow to the Tide’s signal-calling inside linebacker position. That puts a big burden on Mack Wilson, who returned from a foot injury to play in the Auburn game but wasn’t all that effective.
”It’s very important to get the signal, get it communicated, and get the defense lined up,” Saban said. ”Mack is very capable. He doesn’t have a lot of experience doing it, but I’m sure he will do a good job in the game.”
Clemson’s Kelly Bryant had some huge shoes to fill stepping in for Deshaun Watson, but the junior signal-caller made it a relatively seamless transition.
Bryant provides the same sort of dual threat as Watson, capable of beating teams with his arm or his legs, but it’s hard to envision him putting up the same sort of numbers on the big stage.
Watson passed for more than 400 yards in each of his games against the Crimson Tide and accounted for a total of eight touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts struggled with his consistency down the stretch, which might be a product of working with his third offensive coordinator (Brian Daboll) in two seasons.
Over his last three SEC games, the sophomore completed barely 50 percent of his throws (33 of 65) for 637 yards and three touchdowns. The passing game has been downright one-dimensional; Calvin Ridley leads with 50 receptions, while no one else has more than 14.
[B]GETTING THEIR KICKS[/B]
Considering how close the last two games were, this one could come down to a kick.
Alabama would seem to have an edge with Andy Pappanastos, who converted 15 of 19 field goals and didn’t miss from inside 40 yards.
Clemson had to switch kickers during the season after Greg Huegel went down with an injury . Alex Spence missed four of his first six attempts but he knocked through five of his last six, including a career-best 46-yarder in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
DRIVE FOR FIVE[/B]
Alabama needs a win to stay on course for Saban’s record-tying sixth national title.
Saban came up just short a year ago, leaving him one behind Bear Bryant.
Alabama has won four championships in the last eight seasons under Saban, who also claimed a BCS title at LSU during the 2003 season.
[B][I]Monday’s Top 5 Wagers
December 29, 2017[/I][/B]
The New Year’s Day Bowl Games – Who Will Advance In the CFP?
Monday presents the perfect beginning to the New Year. First, it’s a time where you can actually sleep in on the first day of the week. Second, it’s jacked up with five exciting NCAAF bowl games that are topped off by the two College Football Playoff Semi-Finals!
A lot of people will be breaking down the Clemson-Alabma and Georgia-Oklahoma matchups in depth, so I’m doing more a quick hit attempt to maybe save you some time. Truthfully, I don’t think there are any bad bets in either of those games. As for the rest of the day, I have very strong opinions.
Enjoy the weekend, have a great New Years and thanks for joining us all season long at BetOnline.ag and VegasInsider.com!
We’ll see you in 2018 ready to hit the books as hard as ever. That is, of course, after we’ve all cleared our systems of the holiday spirit.
[B]OUTBACK BOWL – (ESPN2, 12:00 p.m. ET)
South Carolina Gamecocks +7.5 over Michigan Wolverines[/B]
Despite everything I appreciate about the vivacious Jim Harbaugh, this exciting team full of talent and the recruiting that keeps on getting better, I can’t ignore the fact that Michigan has also developed a knack for absolutely blowing big games.
Their staggering upset to Michigan State at midseason set off a chain reaction that imploded the team’s confidence. Lopsided losses to Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State showed that clearly that the Wolverines were nowhere near ready for the big stage.
Where this game ultimately gets tricky is at the quarterback position. Both Michigan’s Brandon Peters’ and Wilton Speight are hurt and nobody really knows who’s going to be ready to play. South Carolina’s quarterback, Jake Bentley, was electric at times but threw 7 picks in the last four games to downturn the Gamecocks’ otherwise strong season.
Generally speaking, it’s easier to grade South Carolina’s defence based on the fact that they play in the grizzly SEC. They have a better aptitude for getting to the quarterback, and Bentley is a dynamic playmaker that can use his feet to make magic happen. That’s why I believe that the Gamecocks are a worthy adversary here with a massive point cushion. I wouldn’t touch the moneyline, but
I’ll happily take the points against a Michigan team that has never shown that they live up to the moment when the world is watching. The time will come for the Wolverines. It’s just not their year.
When the bowl game schedule was released, and I saw this game, my heart yanked in so many different directions. The undefeated UCF Knights are absolute darlings to many in the gambling community, and who doesn’t love Auburn when there are on point?
My concern with Auburn is that they are running in to a team that is extremely difficult to gauge. UCF’s domination of a lesser conference was well noted, but they also allowed teams like South Florida to jack up 42 points, while Memphis scored 55 points. Both of those were wins for the undefeated Knights, who have the highest scoring offence in the country, and the fact that it’s so well balanced will even keep a team like Auburn on its toes.
Auburn is great at winning close games and dog fights. That’s always been their penchant for as long as I can remember. But a track meet? I’m not so sure. Running back Kerryon Johnson (1,390 yards and 19 touchdowns) will be the main attraction and will have his work cut out for him by trying to pace against an opponent that racked up a mind boggling 49.4 points per game.
I just don’t like the fact that Auburn is coming off a deflating loss to Georgia where they were manhandled, and think that UCF will keep on pressing because they know that points will come. The defence for UCF is embarrassing, so this game is going to be exciting. With that large of a spread, I’m willing to kick back on the point cushion and enjoy the show.
Generally speaking I like the LSU Tigers in the post season. They’re 8-4 SU in their last 12 appearances and are thriving under new head coach Ed Orgeron. After an absolutely awful start to the season, LSU hit its stride with a 6-1 SU and ATS streak to end the season which only featured a half-point failed cover against Florida in a win, and a cover-loss to Alabama.
Notre Dame is the ever-impossible team to get a read on in general, and while Brandon Wimbush is an exciting talent at quarterback, I simply hate how Notre Dame finished the season. They went just 2-2 SU and 0-4 ATS to end the year. Even with a strong running game and a diversified attack, this backfield combo of Adams-Wimbush is going to run in to problems against Arden Key, perhaps the most versatile front-seven specialist in the country.
Key has a monumental task in challenging a front-five for Notre Dame that’s anchored by a pair first round worthy talents in Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey. But LSU does a great job of stunting him in to open lanes and figuring out ways to use his explosive skill set to create havoc.
LSU as a tight favorite makes sense given that the public generally distrusts the Tigers and loves Notre Dame unconditionally. But truth be told, the mark here should be a lot larger. LSU is a very good football team from a superior conference. I don’t necessarily have an SEC bias, although it seems like it based on my picks this post season, but I do love what Orgeron is doing with the Tigers.
[B]ROSE BOWL (COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF SEMI-FINAL) – (ESPN, 5:00 p.m. ET)
#2 Oklahoma Sooners +2.5 over #3 Georgia Bulldogs[/B]
With all the talk centered around senior running back Nick Chubb, quarterbacks Jake Fromm and Baker Mayfield and the return of the Sooners, the real x-factor in this matchup is going to be how Oklahoma’s defence plays. It is absolutely fair to question an Oklahoma defence that was leaky at times despite averaging just 25.0 points against in the scoring frenzy of the Big 12.
What we know about Georgia’s defence is that its damn good. Ranked 4th overall with just 13.2 points per game and 2nd in passing with 158.3 yards, the common sense is that Georgia’s team is simply better overall. The fact that they have a strong running game also gives the Dawgs an edge here in clock management.
That’s where blind faith in Baker Mayfield comes in. Many of you will know that I love leading with my heart a lot of the time, and the element about college football is that the best player on the field can make a massive difference. Baker Mayfield has the obscene talent to make the most of his opportunities, and let’s not forget that he skewered Auburn last year in a 35-19 victory during the Sugar Bowl.
Mayfield is the type of college level talent that is transcendent, and that can sometimes be enough to beat a flat out better football opponent. So that’s where my heart is. The Sooners have also shaken the Stoops-era flaw of falling flat in big games, and Lincoln Riley is really operating this team at a high level.
This will be the best actual football game of the day and there are no bad bets. Either you believe that Baker Mayfield wields mystical powers at this level of competition, or you have faith in Georgia’s complete and balanced attack on both sides of the ball. I’ll stick wit the guy that won the Heisman.
As I led off with, there will be much smarter/better writers that compile big breakdowns of why Alabama will beat Clemson or vice versa. My simplified version: Alabama lost outright to an Auburn team that is built similarly to Clemson, while the Tigers ended on a ridiculous high note by outscoring their final four opponents a billion to one. Clemson also feels like it simply has Alabama’s number. I love Clemson’s defensive ferocity as the intangible that tips the scale, while the backfield combination of Kelly Bryant and Travis Etienne can flat out play ball.
Numbers, metrics and all that jazz belie the fact that Clemson played like the best team in college football all season. Alabama’s reputation precedes them on all accounts, and Saban’s habit of coming through in big moments will overshadow a lot of people’s opinion about how good this Alabama team actually is.
Clemson wins a dogfight in a game where I will absolutely take the moneyline as Alabama’s once unbeatable dynasty takes a massive blow at the hands of their newest arch-rival.
[B][I]College football’s biggest betting mismatches: New Year’s Six bowl games[/I][/B]
Central Florida Knights vs. Auburn Tigers (-9.5, 67)
UCF’s penalty parade vs. Auburn’s elite discipline
Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta will be home to what should be an entertaining Peach Bowl showdown between the UFC Knights and the Auburn Tigers. Expect the Tigers to be suitably motivated for this one, as they look to atone for a humiliating 28-7 loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship game, a defeat that cost Auburn a shot at the national title. And while they have a few edges against the Knights, the biggest one might be in the discipline department.
The Knights are the most prolific program in the nation, averaging an NCAA-best 49.4 points per game while scoring an absurd 80 touchdowns in 12 games. But if there’s one area UCF can be exploited, it’s in the penalty ledger. The Knights racked up 101 penalty flags over the course of the season; only Oregon, USF and Memphis finished with more. Those penalties resulted in plenty of lost yardage as well, with UCF ranking 113th in the nation at 67.8 penalty yards per contest.
Auburn might not be able to match the Knights’ firepower, but they can certainly negate some of their offensive gains by exhibiting their trademark discipline. The Tigers finished with just 55 penalty flags on the season – 11th-fewest in the country, and 46 fewer than their Saturday opponent. It’s the same story from a penalty yardage perspective, with Auburn averaging a minuscule 36.6 per contest; only seven teams average fewer. If UCF isn’t on its best behavior, this one could be over early.
[SIZE=4][COLOR=”#A52A2A”][B]The College Football Playoff’s biggest betting mismatches[/B][/COLOR][/SIZE]
Georgia Bulldogs vs. Oklahoma Sooners (+2.5, 60)[/B]
[I]Georgia’s red-zone prowess vs. Sooners’ downfield struggles[/I]
The biggest question heading into the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., this weekend is a simple one: Can the Sooners stop Georgia’s relentless run attack? The Bulldogs have built a championship-caliber offense around its sensational backfield duel of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, which complements an elite defense that allowed just 13.2 points per game. And when it comes to success inside the 20, Georgia should have little trouble converting against a Sooners team that struggled to prevent red-zone scores.
When you have a backfield as prolific as the Bulldogs, it’s often just a matter of time before a visit to the opposing red zone becomes six points. And Georgia certainly made the most of its trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, scoring points on 48 of its 50 chances this season; that 96-percent success rate ranks third in the nation, behind only FIU and Wyoming. And it should come as little surprise to bettors and fans alike that 23 of those 50 visits resulted in rushing touchdowns.
No one doubts that quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Sooners’ sensational offense will put that Georgia defense to the test – but none of that will matter if Oklahoma can’t find a way to improve its defense deep in its own territory. The Sooners surrendered 40 scores in 46 opponent red-zone opportunities – ranking just inside the top-100 nationally. And while just 27 of those 40 scores resulted in touchdowns, any Georgia points on the board will make it even more difficult to pull off the upset.
[I]Bulldogs’ so-so secondary vs. Baker Mayfield[/I]
Getting to the College Football Playoff necessitates solid play at both ends of the field – and the Bulldogs certainly have that covered, having scored nearly 35 points per game during the season in addition to putting together one of the nation’s top defenses. But facing Baker Mayfield is an entirely different test for Georgia’s secondary, which struggled to put up the type of elite performance required to win it all. And that’s where the Sooners have the kind of advantage that could result in a win Saturday.
Only Michigan allowed fewer passing yards this season than the Bulldogs, who limited opponents to 158.3 per game on an NCAA-low 5.58 yards per attempt. But in what is expected to be a tightly-contested game, a turnover or two could make the difference – and in that regard, Georgia’s secondary came up short. The Bulldogs finished 65th in the nation with 10 interceptions over 13 games, and finished only marginally better in sacks per game (2.00, 63rd overall).
Georgia might have held opposing quarterbacks to a 53-percent completion rate this season, but it didn’t have to face Mayfield, who led the nation in completion rate (71 percent) while finishing second in passing yards (4,340) and touchdowns (41). The Sooners threw just five interceptions as a team; only Alabama, Auburn, LSU and San Diego State had fewer. If the Bulldogs can’t find a way to pressure Mayfield, he should be able to do enough damage to keep things close.
Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Clemson Tigers (+3, 47)[/B]
[I]Alabama’s lack of sack prevention vs. Clemson’s relentless QB pressure[/I]
Many believe that this year’s Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans is the real national title game, with top-seeded Clemson squaring off against an Alabama team that would be No. 1 were it not for a stunning loss to Auburn. The Crimson Tide rely on a stout running game to produce the bulk of their offense, but they’ll likely need to lean more on the passing game in this one – and that could be troublesome, with the Tigers boasting one of the best sack units in the nation.
Looking at the raw data suggests there isn’t anything to worry about; Alabama yielded just 1.83 sacks per game, ranking inside the top 50 in Division I. But for a team that drops back just 36.6 percent of the time, it’s a deceptive figure; more telling is the fact that the Crimson Tide gave up a sack on 7.8 percent of dropbacks, which ranked just inside the top 100. And while Auburn threw just four interceptions, that sack rate is cause for concern in a game that could require a change in offensive game plan.
Look for Clemson to take advantage of those times when Alabama is forced to pass. The Tigers led the nation in total sacks (44) while averaging a whopping 3.38 per game over the course of the season; only Miami had a higher sack rate. Clemson also finished second in the country in sack rate on opposing dropbacks vs. Division I teams at 10.6 percent. Alabama will be able make inroads in the running game – but if it’s forced to pass, Clemson will be ready.
[I]Crimson Tide’s fourth-down magic vs. Tigers’ tragic 4D defense[/I]
Nick Saban isn’t afraid to get creative when the opportunity presents itself – and with one of the best drive-extension teams in the nation, don’t be surprised to see him go for it in fourth-and-short situations. These scenarios might not come up that often in the Sugar Bowl on Monday – but when they do, the Crimson Tide have a significant advantage based on regular-season results, with Clemson having been surprisingly mediocre at preventing teams from converting on fourth down.
Fans and bettors alike know that the Crimson Tide are one of the strongest teams in the nation in several areas – but it might come as a surprise to some that Alabama comes into the national semifinal as the top team in the nation at scoring or extending drives on fourth down, making good on 13-of-16 opportunities (81.3 percent). Only two other teams – Minnesota and West Virginia – even broke the 75-percent plateau in fourth-down conversion rate.
That bodes poorly for a Clemson team that is incredibly short on weaknesses, but did struggle in fourth-down defensive situations in 2017. The Tigers allowed opponents to make good on 14-of-25 fourth-down opportunities – a 56-percent conversion rate good for a tie for 87th in the country. This game could very well come down to one or two plays in the fourth quarter – and if Clemson can’t get a fourth-down stop, it could give Alabama the extra plays it needs to prevail.
[SIZE=”3″][B][I][B] Outback Bowl betting preview and odds: Michigan vs. South Carolina [/B][/I][/B][/SIZE]
[B]Michigan Wolverines vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (+7.5, 42)[/B]
[I]Game to be played at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida[/I]
Michigan looks for a positive end to what has been a difficult season when it faces South Carolina in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day in Tampa, Fla. The Wolverines were forced to start three different quarterbacks over the course of the campaign as Wilton Speight missed eight games with a fractured vertebrae and Brandon Peters sat out the loss to Ohio State with a concussion en route to a four-loss regular season. Peters has been given the green light to return and will start against South Carolina as Michigan hopes to avenge a 33-28 setback to the Gamecocks in the 2013 Outback Bowl.
South Carolina hopes a new offensive playcaller will solve its scoring woes after the Gamecocks finished 98th nationally in points (24.1) and 108th in yards per game. Kurt Roper was let go on Dec. 6 – just over a week after South Carolina was held to 207 yards in the 34-10 loss to top-ranked Clemson – and Bryan McClendon, who doubles as the wide receivers coach, will be tasked with solving a stout Michigan defense, which finished fifth nationally in tackles-for-loss (103) and seventh in sacks per game (3.25). “I’m excited about having Bryan McClendon calling plays for the bowl game,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp told reporters. “Certainly he’s going to have an opportunity to be our coordinator going forward.”
The Wolverines have fared well against SEC opponents, compiling a 25-8-1 record, including two straight victories by an average margin of 25 points. The Gamecocks overcame a slew of injuries and hope to cap off an encouraging season by winning nine games for the first time since 2013. Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, who was named a unanimous All-American after registering 13 1/2 tackles for loss and five sacks, will play his final collegiate game before preparing for the NFL draft as will South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst after earning first team SEC honors with 41 receptions for 518 yards.
TV:[/B] Noon ET, ESPN2
LINE HISTORY:[/B] The Wolverines opened as 8.5-point chalk and money coming in on the dog brought that number down to 7.5 at most shops. The total hit the board at 43 and has been bet down slightly to 42.
Michigan – RB Ty Isaac (Probable, Lower Body), QB Brandon Peters (Probable, Concussion), WR Nico Collins (Questionable, Ankle), TE Nick Eubanks (Questionable, Head), DL Luiji Vilain (Questionable, Lower Body).
South Carolina – WR Shi Smith (Probable, Ankle), TE K.C. Crosby (Probable, Leg), RB Rico Dowdle (Probable, Leg), RB A.J. Turner (Probable, Ankle), LB Sherrod Greene (Questionable, Undisclosed), OL Donell Stanley (Questionable, Undisclosed), LB Antoine Walker (Questionable, Elbow), DB Jamyest Williams (Out, Shoulder)
WEATHER REPORT:[/B] 54 degrees and overcast at kickoff – 14 to 15 mph winds throughout the game
ABOUT MICHIGAN (8-4 SU, 5-6-1 ATS, 6-5-1 O/U):[/B] Speight, who announced his decision to transfer from the program one day after Michigan’s 31-20 loss to fifth-ranked Ohio State, played the first four games of the season before suffering a back injury on Sept. 23, and leaves Ann Arbor with a 14-3 record as a starting quarterback. Peters threw for 486 yards and four touchdowns in four full games before he was knocked out in the second half of the 24-10 setback to Wisconsin, but has been medically cleared to play against South Carolina. Karan Higdon had a breakout year as he gained 929 yards on the ground to go along with 11 touchdowns and needs 71 yards to become Michigan’s first running back with 1,000 yards since Fitzgerald Toussaint in 2011.
ABOUT SOUTH CAROLINA (8-4 SU, 6-4-2 ATS, 4-8 O/U):[/B] Jake Bentley threw for 2,555 yards and 16 touchdowns to go along with six rushing scores while Bryan Edwards had a stellar sophomore season by hauling in a team-high 59 passes for 705 yards and four TDs. A.J. Turner, who led the team with 517 rushing yards suffered an ankle injury against Clemson but is expected to play in the Outback Bowl as is freshman wide receiver Shi Smith, who has recovered from a leg injury which caused him to miss the loss to the Tigers. Linebacker Skai Moore was selected to the All-SEC first team by the coaches after leading the Gamecocks with 88 tackles while defensive back Jamyest Williams was selected to the All-SEC freshman team.
CONSENSUS:[/B] The public is siding with the dog Gamecocks at a rate of 58 percent and the Over is getting 53 percent of the totals action.
[SIZE=”3″][B][I][B] Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl betting preview and odds: Central Florida vs. Auburn [/B][/I][/B][/SIZE]
[B]Central Florida vs. Auburn Tigers (-10, 67.5)[/B]
[I]Game to be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia[/I]
Central Florida will try to complete an undefeated season and gain some respect for the American Athletic Conference when it takes on Auburn of the SEC in the Peach Bowl on Jan. 1 in Atlanta. Scott Frost, who took over a UCF team that was winless in 2015 and turned them into a 12-0 team two years later, will coach the Knights before moving on to his new job at Nebraska. “It’s gonna take us being together every step of the way,” UCF senior linebacker Shaquem Griffin told the Orlando Sentinel. “Ups and down, we’re gonna have to be able to stick it out. Auburn is an amazing team, but we’re an amazing team also.”
The Tigers might be in the College Football Playoff if not for a shoulder injury to leading rusher Kerryon Johnson that limited the junior to 44 yards on 13 carries in the 28-7 loss to Georgia at the SEC championship game. Johnson has rushed for 1,320 yards and 17 touchdowns this season and had 167 yards on the ground with 66 through the air against Georgia is the teams’ first meeting, which was won by Auburn 40-17. The junior reportedly has been practicing and his presence could take a lot of pressure off sophomore quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who was only 16-of-32 with 145 yards in the SEC title game.
Sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton has put up some amazing numbers this season with 3,795 yards and 35 scoring strikes while running for another 497 and seven touchdowns. Milton, a 5-11, 177-pound gunslinger from Hawaii, will get the toughest test of his career against an Auburn defense that has allowed only 17.3 points per game to rank 10th in the country. Milton went 18-of-30 for 178 yards and one TD pass in a 38-10 victory against Maryland on Sept. 23 in his only matchup against a team from a top-five conference this season while the Tigers are yielding 177.8 yards per game through the air.
TV:[/B] 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN.
LINE HISTORY:[/B] The Tigers opened as 10-point favorites and briefly dropped to most shops to 9.5 before returning to the opening number. The total hit the betting board at 65 and money coming in on the over pushed that number as high as 67.5.
Central Florida – OL Aaron Evans (Out For Season, Undisclosed).
Auburn – WR JaTarvious Whitlow (Probable, Ankle), RB Kerry Johnson (Probable, Shoulder), LB Tre’ Williams (Probable, Shoulder), LB Chandler Wooten (Questionable, Undisclosed), RB Kamryn Pettway (Out For Season, Shoulder).
WEATHER REPORT:[/B] Dome.
ABOUT CENTRAL FLORIDA (12-0 SU, 7-4-1 ATS, 8-4 O/U):[/B] Milton, who threw for a career-high 494 yards in the 62-55 double-overtime victory over Memphis in the AAC championship game, has three receivers at his disposal with at least 30 catches. Junior wideout Tre’Quan Smith had four 100-yard receiving games and boasts 1,082 on 54 receptions with 13 touchdowns while sophomore Dredrick Snelson has 42 catches for 656 yards – career highs of nine and 145, respectively, in the last game. Junior linebacker Pat Jasinski (team-best 96 tackles) and edge-rusher Griffin (5.5 sacks) lead a Knights’ defense that gives up 165.7 yards per game on the ground.
ABOUT AUBURN (10-3 SU, 6-5-2 ATS, 7-6 O/U):[/B] Stidham, a transfer from Baylor, has had a strong year overall with 2,827 yards and 17 touchdowns passing with four interceptions and a 66.7 percent completion rate. Junior wide receiver Ryan Davis is Stidham’s top threat with 76 catches for 768 yards and five scores, including 18 receptions for 204 in the last two contests, while sophomore Darius Slayton has caught 24 balls for 574 yards. Jeff Holland boasts a team-best nine sacks and fellow junior linebacker Deshaun Davis easily tops the Tigers with 75 tackles – 10 in the SEC title game.
CONSENSUS:[/B] The public is split 50/50 on the moneyline and the Over is getting 59 percent of the totals action
[SIZE=”3″][B][I][B] Citrus Bowl betting preview and odds: Notre Dame vs. Louisiana State [/B][/I][/B][/SIZE]
[B]Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs Louisiana State Tigers (-3, 51.5)[/B]
[I]Game to be played at Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida[/I]
Two storied programs face off on New Year’s Day, when No. 15 Notre Dame takes on 14th-ranked LSU in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. It’s the first trip to the Citrus Bowl and the 16th different bowl game for the Fighting Irish, while the Tigers are playing in the game for the second straight year and fifth time overall. Notre Dame holds a 6-5 edge in the all-time series, including a 31-28 win in the most recent meeting in the 2014 Music City Bowl.
Both teams lean heavily on their ground games and boast 1,000-yard rushers. Notre Dame’s Josh Adams (1,386 yards, nine touchdowns) should be fresh after seeing his production drop off late in the season, as he averaged 8.9 yards per carry in his first eight games but just 3.7 over the final four contests. Derrius Guice (1,153 yards, 11 TDs) was a workhorse down the stretch for the Tigers as he carried the ball at least 19 times in each of the last six games, including a regular season-ending 45-21 win over Texas A&M in which he had 28 rushes for 127 yards.
Notre Dame’s defense thrives on turnovers, but it hasn’t been causing them lately. The Fighting Irish had 17 takeaways through their first seven games but only three in their last five. They might have a tough time producing takeaways against an LSU team that committed only eight turnovers all season, four of which came in a loss to Troy on Sept. 30.
TV:[/B] 1 p.m. ET, ABC.
LINE HISTORY: [/B]The Tigers opened as 10-point favorites and briefly dropped to most shops to 9.5 before returning to the opening number. The total hit the betting board at 65 and money coming in on the over pushed that number as high as 67.5.
Notre Dame – WR Cameron Smith (Probable, Hamstring), QB J.D. Carney (Questionable, Concussion), WR Kevin Stephenson (Out Indefinitely, Suspension), RB C.J. Holmes (Out Indefinitely, Suspension), TE Brock Wright (Out, Shoulder), TE Alize Mack (Out, Suspension), WR Chase Claypool (Out For Season, Shoulder).
Louisiana State – OL Donavaughn Campbell (Probable, Foot), RB Derrius Guice (Probable, Undisclosed), OT K.J. Malone (Probable, Knee), OL Ed Ingram (Questionable, Undisclosed), DE Deondre Clark (Questionable, Undisclosed), PK Cameron Gamble (Out, Eligibility), LB Arden Key (Out, Finger), LB Corey Thompson (Out, Undisclosed), LB Donnie Alexander (Out For Season, Shoulder).
WEATHER REPORT: [/B] 52 and overcast at kickoff – 13 to 15 mph winds throughout the game
ABOUT NOTRE DAME (9-3 SU, 7-5 ATS, 6-6 O/U):[/B] The Fighting Irish have the nation’s seventh-best rushing offense thanks to Adams and quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who has rushed for 765 yards and a team-high 14 touchdowns. Wimbush has passed for 1,818 yards with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions, but four of those picks came in the last three games – two each in losses to Miami (Fla.) and Stanford – and he will be without Chase Claypool, the team’s second-leading receiver who has a shoulder injury. The defense was solid for much of the season but has allowed an average of 226.3 rushing yards over the last four games.
ABOUT LSU (9-3 SU, 7-4-1 ATS, 5-7 O/U):[/B] The Tigers lean on Guice and the ground game, as well as one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. LSU gives up just 311.7 total yards per game and is effective stopping both the run and the pass, ranking in the top 25 nationally in both categories. Guice is a weapon, but part of the reason he has so much room to run is the efficient season quarterback Danny Etling has had, as he has passed for 2,234 yards with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions.
CONSENSUS:[/B] The public is siding with the underdog Fighting Irish at a rate of 52 percent and the Under is getting 51 percent of the totals action
[SIZE=”3″][B][I][B] Rose Bowl betting preview and odds: Georgia vs Oklahoma [/B][/I][/B][/SIZE]
[B]Georgia Bulldogs vs. Oklahoma Sooners (+2.5, 61)[/B]
[I]Game to be played at Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California[/I]
Oklahoma brings the nation’s fourth-best scoring offense into the Rose Bowl and the College Football Playoff semifinal on Jan. 1 against a Georgia team boasting the fourth-best defense in the country. Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield threw 41 touchdown passes en route to 4,340 yards through the air to help the Sooners average 44.9 points per contest, but Georgia – led by linebacker and Butkus Award winner Roquan Smith – has held opponents to 158.3 yards passing per game while giving up just 13.2 points per contest. The winner could be who handles the other team’s strength the best: Georgia has not faced a passing attack the caliber of Oklahoma’s, but the Sooners’ offense has not lined up against a defense like the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs are two wins from their first national championship since the 1980 season, in part because of an improved offensive line and the one-two punch of senior running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Chubb is second on the SEC’s all-time rushing list and sits at 1,175 yards on the ground this season while Michel is 52 yards away from 1,000, and both have rushed for 13 touchdowns. Having two strong running backs has paid big dividends for freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, who effectively has navigated the offense after taking over for the injured Jacob Eason on opening day.
Both teams reached the semifinals directed by young head coaches who earned their stripes as outstanding coordinators. There was plenty of uncertainty around the Sooners when longtime coach Bob Stoops suddenly stepped down in early June, but 34-year-old offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley has thrived after being thrust into the head coaching role. At Georgia, Kirby Smart returned to his alma mater in 2016 after directing defenses on multiple national championship teams at Alabama, and followed up last year’s eight-win campaign with the Bulldogs first SEC championship since 2005.
TV:[/B] 5 p.m. ET, ESPN.
LINE HISTORY:[/B] The Sooners opened as 1-point chalk and money coming in on the SEC champ Bulldogs saw that line jump the fence to Georgia -2.5 at most books. The total hit the betting board at 60 and has been bet up a full point to 61.
WHAT SHARPS SAY:[/B] “Oklahoma is by far the worst defensive team in the Final 4 playoffs, allowing almost twice as many points per game as the other three teams. However, the Sooners have the most explosive offense which makes them a dangerous team. QB Baker Mayfield and company average an incredible 12.0 yards per pass, which means they average more than a first down on every pass attempt this year. The winner of this game will be approximately a 3-point underdog in the championship game next week versus the Alabama/Clemson winner, according to the advance lines.” – Steve Merril.
Georgia – DB Malkom Parrish (Probable, Lower Body), FB Christian Payne (Probable, Undisclosed), RB Sony Michel (Probable, Knee), DB Latavious Brini (Questionable, Disciplinary), DB Deangelo Gibbs (Questionable, Undisclosed), WR Jayson Stanley (Questionable, Possible Suspension), LB Natrez Patrick (Out, Personal).
Oklahoma – QB Baker Mayfield (Probable, Illness), RB Rodney Anderson (Probable, Personal), DT Matt Romar (Out Indefinitely, Undisclosed).
WEATHER REPORT:[/B] 71 and partly cloudy at kickoff – 2 to 3 mph winds throughout the game
ABOUT GEORGIA (12-1 SU, 9-4 ATS, 5-8 O/U):[/B] Fromm’s confidence has increased throughout the season, and he ranks second in the SEC in passing efficiency and third with 21 passing touchdowns. Chubb and Michel front the offense, but freshman D’Andre Swift rushed for 597 yards and led the Bulldogs with 88 and a touchdown in the SEC title game victory over Auburn. The Bulldogs defense held opponents to 14 points or fewer 10 times, and ranks eighth in the country in defensive pass efficiency.
ABOUT OKLAHOMA (12-1 SU, 8-5 ATS, 7-6 O/U):[/B] The Sooners dodged a bullet with running back Rodney Anderson, who gained a team-best 960 yards this season, when no charges were filed following a rape accusation. Mayfield’s top targets are tight end Mark Andrews, the Mackey Award winner who has eight touchdown receptions, and receiver Marquise Brown, who is 19 yards shy of 1,000 for the season. The Sooners defense allowed 144.2 yards on the ground and gave up 20 or fewer points three times in their last four games.
CONSENSUS:[/B] The public is siding with the Big 12 champion Sooners at a rate of 55 percent and the Over is getting 64 percent of the totals action.
[SIZE=”3″][B][I][B] Allstate Sugar Bowl betting preview and odds: Alabama vs. Clemson [/B][/I][/B][/SIZE]
[B]Alabama Crimson Tide vs Clemson Tigers (+3, 47.5)[/B]
[I]Game to be played at Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana[/I]
Top-seeded Clemson and fourth-seeded Alabama are facing each other in the College Football Playoff for the third consecutive season when they square off in the semifinals at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 1. The Crimson Tide defeated the Tigers in the national title game two seasons ago before departed Deshaun Watson led Clemson on a dramatic game-winning drive in last season’s championship game. “I think it’s only fitting that to have a chance to advance to Atlanta (for the final), you’ve got a heavyweight matchup here with Clemson and Alabama,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney told reporters.
Clemson’s only blemish this season was a loss to Syracuse but the Tigers recovered well to leave no doubt that they were one of the nation’s top four teams. It was a bit more complicated for the Crimson Tide as they lost to Auburn and didn’t reach the SEC title game before landing the final spot over Ohio State. “I really do believe that based on the total body of work, that our team really deserved the opportunity to be in,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told reporters.
The Crimson Tide’s vaunted defense was torched by Watson (825 passing yards and seven touchdowns plus one rushing score) in the past two seasons and all eyes will be on Clemson junior quarterback Kelly Bryant. Alabama ranks first in scoring defense (11.5) and second in total defense (257.8) and Bryant (2,678 yards, 13 touchdowns passing; 646 yards and 11 scores rushing) can remove himself from the shadow of Watson’s performances by leading his own title run. “The quarterback now may be a better runner, if that’s possible, than the guy we played the last two years,” Saban said at a press conference.
TV:[/B] 8:45 p.m. ET, ESPN.
LINE HISTORY:[/B] Oddsmakers opened Bama as 2-point chalk and money coming in on the Crimson Tide has pushed that number up to a field goal. The total hit the board at 47 and is up slightly at most shops to 47.5. Check out the complete line history here.
WHAT SHARPS SAY:[/B] “Despite being the #4 seed, Alabama is favored over the #1 seed Clemson and the Tide are the overall favorite to win the NCAA Football championship. Money has pushed this line higher as it opened -2 a few weeks ago, but then hit the key number of -3, with a few sportsbooks now starting to show -3.5. Clemson has matched up well the past two years against Alabama, but the Tigers are now without QB Deshaun Watson who accounted for over 80% of Clemson’s total offensive yards in those past two meetings. The winner of this game will be approximately a 3-point favorite over the Georgia/Oklahoma winner next week, according to the advance lines.” – Steve Merril.
Alabama – DB Deionte Thompson (Probable, Knee), DB Minkah Fitzpatrick (Probable, Hamstring), OL Brandon Kennedy (Questionable, Ankle), DL Labryan Ray (Questionable, Foot), DB Nigel Knott (Questionable, Undisclosed), LB Dylan Moses (Out Indefinitely, Foot), DB Hootie Jones (Out For Season, Knee).
Clemson – CB Mark Fields (Probable, Foot), LB Tre Lamar (Questionable, Shoulder), LB Chad Smith (Questionable, Calf), LB Judah Davis (Out For Season, Knee).
WEATHER REPORT:[/B] Dome
ABOUT ALABAMA (11-1 SU, 5-7 ATS, 5-7 O/U):[/B] Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts (768 rushing yards, eight touchdowns) is a superb runner but his passing issues again popped up when he went 12-of-22 for 112 yards in the loss to Auburn, although he said he and his teammates are motivated to excel after the long layoff. “I think we got a little more time to heal up, a little more time to focus on the things we need to focus on,” Hurts, who passed for 1,940 yards and 15 touchdowns, told reporters. “How can we show the world we’ve learned? How far have we come? I think we’re trying to get better now.” First-team All-American strong safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (52 tackles, one interception) is the leader of the sturdy defense that also regularly receives stellar outings from junior free safety Ronnie Harrison (team-best 68 tackles, tied for team lead with three interceptions) and sophomore defensive end Raekwon Davis (team-high 6.5 sacks).
ABOUT CLEMSON (12-1 SU, 8-4-1 ATS, 4-8-1 O/U):[/B] The Tigers have been nearly as good as the Crimson Tide on defense as they rank second in scoring defense (12.8) and sixth in total defense (277.9). First-team All-American defensive end Clelin Ferrell (the sophomore had a team-high 8.5 sacks among his 17 tackles for losses) is one of the headliners along with two second-team All-Americans — junior defensive tackle Christian Wilkins (47 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and senior linebacker Dorian O’Daniel (team-best 99 tackles, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries). Offensively, junior wideout Hunter Renfrow — who caught the winning score in last season’s title game — has a team-best 55 receptions, while freshman Travis Etienne (744 yards, 13 touchdowns) and sophomore Tavien Feaster (659, seven) share the rushing duties.
CONSENSUS:[/B] The public is siding with the Tigers at a rate of 52 percent and the Over is getting 64 percent of the totals action
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