Oklahoma Sooners vs. Clemson Tigers, Thursday Dec. 31, 4 p.m. ET
The first of the big games of the year. The winner moves on, and the loser goes home. I wasn't a playoff guy before it started, and I still have some real issues with it, but having games this important with teams this compelling makes a believer for at least one day. Now if only we didn't have to play the games on New Year's Eve - that's a really dumb idea.
Orange Bowl Betting Storylines
Both of these teams have national titles to their credit already, but it has been a while. Oklahoma last won in 2000. For Clemson you have to look all the way back to 1981. The difference between the two is that Bob Stoops coached the Sooners for their title as he still does now, while Dabo Swinney is attempting something he has never been through before. While Swinney doesn't have a title, he does have the edge of having annihilated the Sooners just last year in a bowl game. Clemson won the Russell Athletics Bowl 40-6, and it really wasn't even as close as the score - and Clemson QB Deshaun Watson was injured and missed the game.
At the heart of this game is easily the best quarterback matchup of any bowl game this year. It's not even close. Clemson's Deshaun Watson was a Heisman finalist, and he is coming off a great year as only a sophomore. Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, who was fourth in Heisman voting, joined the team in odd circumstances - he transferred from Texas Tech and was on Oklahoma's campus and enrolled before he even talked to Stoops - but he gets as much credit as anyone for the resurgence of the Oklahoma program this year. Both guys are very accurate passers who minimize mistakes. If you want to simplify things, Mayfield is probably slightly more dangerous with his arm, but Watson is much more mobile and dangerous as a rusher.
Mayfield faces the bigger task here, though. Oklahoma's defense is fine, but it's not overwhelming by any means. Clemson, on the other hand, has an elite defense that ranked fifth in the nation against the pass and seventh in total yards. Mayfield is capable of handling the situation, but we also know that the Clemson defense can have big days against a Stoops offense. This is not a typical Stoops offense, though - they are averaging 52 points per game in the seven consecutive wins they have enjoyed since losing to Texas.
Injuries aren't likely to be as big of a factor as they were in the bowl game last year. The biggest concern is Clemson's. Wide receiver Artavis Scott has had his knee scoped and is uncertain for this game - though expectations are that he should be available. He is Clemson's leading pass catcher, so his loss would be felt - though he isn't as dominant in the offense as some of the top receivers in the country are.
A key player to watch will be Oklahoma sophomore running back Samaje Perine. He has more than 3,000 yards rushing in his first two seasons - a feat Adrian Peterson also managed at Oklahoma. Clemson is not as strong against the run as they are against the pass, so it seems likely that Perine will play a prominent role in this one.
Orange Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Oklahoma favored by the key number of three points, and that has since shifted to four points. More than 60 percent of bets have been on the Tigers, so the line movement is a sign that sharp money is tilted towards the Sooners. The total currently sits at 64, but has been moving around and could easily be a couple of points higher by game time.
The Tigers are 4-0 ATS in their last four games in December and 5-0 ATS in their last five games at a neutral site. The "under" is 5-0 in Clemson's last five against Big 12 foes. The Sooners are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games overall and 8-3 ATS in their last 11 nonconference games. Oklahoma is just 1-5 ATS in their last six neutral-site games, though.
Oklahoma vs. Clemson Orange Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
I like Oklahoma a little better straight up, but this is a tight and tough contest. Being able to get four points when betting on Clemson is enough to swing me over to the side of the Tigers when it comes to betting. I like their defense, and they get credit for having stepped up and won every time they needed to this year - they have won their last 16 games. I like other games better than this one from a betting perspective, but I would back the Tigers.
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