College Football National Championship Game Betting Trends
As we near the end of the fifth year of the College Football Playoff, I find myself getting grumpier and grumpier about the whole enterprise. I was mostly opposed to the idea of the playoff when it started because I doubted it would solve much. Instead of subjectively and politically selecting two teams in a locked room somewhere, now a committee of people would select four. We'd still have the issue of leaving teams out or letting controversial teams in, and we would still be rewarding only the top teams in the most powerful conferences. And while there have been some nice positives in this playoff era, those are indeed the problems. Now the cries are loud for an eight-team playoff, which will only further devalue the traditional bowl system and still won't prove much more than the BCS ever did.
People just can't accept that part of the beauty of college football is the chaos. There are 130 teams in the FBS, and they play only 12 games - largely against teams close to them geographically. You can never have a conclusive, certain champion, and anyone who wants one is fooling themselves. If you want a big playoff watch the NFL. If you want beautiful disorder, enjoy college football for what it is.
That rant aside, with four years of games under our belts, we are starting to have a big enough sample size to draw a few conclusions. Nothing is absolutely conclusive, of course, but there are some good CFP Championship Game trends to draw on to help us decide between yet another Alabama-Clemson matchup.
Alabama's defense: An odd thing happens when Alabama plays their last game of the season - the defense often doesn't show up. Last year they allowed only 23 points against Georgia, but that was still the third-highest total of the season. And that was the best performance they have had. In the first three years of the playoff, they allowed 42 to Ohio State, and 40 and 35 to Clemson. And in the final year of the BCS they let Oklahoma score 45. For some reason this team, which always has a potent defense, struggles to keep their foot on the gas when it matters most. The total sits at 58 this year compared to 45.5 last year, so there is a decent chance that Clemson's potent offense is going to be able to pile up some points again. Of course, it's not like Clemson's defense can brag about being dramatically better in the playoff. They allowed 45 to Alabama when they lost to them and 31 when they beat them. Where Clemson has really done well, though, is in the semifinals. They have allowed just nine points per game in their last three semifinal appearances, and that includes the 24 they gave up to Alabama in last year's no-show effort. In the other two games they have allowed just three to Notre Dame this year and shut out Ohio State.
Just pick the underdog: Betting on college football games is never easy. But deciding how to bet on the College Football Playoff Championship Game has been a long way from tough so far. The favorites have won two of four games outright but have yet to cover a single spread in the four years of the playoff. Last year Alabama fell short of covering by just a half point, but both they and Georgia had covered in the semifinals as favorites. That made last year the only time to date that the favorites have been profitable overall in the entire playoff. Clemson covered very easily in their semifinal this year, but Alabama fell short with Oklahoma's late surge, so favorites are 1-1 ATS so far.
Pick the over, too: The first CFP Championship Game between Ohio State and Oregon did not go over the total, but that's because it was a high total - the teams still scored 62 points. And the three games since have all gone over the total. The first two went over quite comfortably, by 14.5 and 31.5 points, chronologically. Last year's game went over by only 3.5 points, and that was after nine points were scored in overtime, so it was far less decisive. But the trend definitely tilts to the over, and with two very strong offenses and a total that has been falling this week, we could certainly see another game go over. I hope so - it will make yet another Clemson-Alabama game more interesting.
Clemson loves the seeding: This is just plain odd - in the four years of the playoff to date, the lower-seeded team has won the Championship Game every year. In the first year it was Ohio State's fourth-seeded squad that beat No. 2 Oregon. In the two Alabama-Clemson showdowns, the No. 1 team lost to the No. 2. And last year Alabama was ranked fourth and Georgia was third. So, the fact that Clemson is ranked one spot lower than top-seeded Alabama could be a bit of an advantage here. The only time a lower seed wasn't the underdog was when Alabama beat Clemson, so the fact that Clemson is an underdog of at least five points right now isn't a particular concern for them.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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