For months, VSiN has been tracking Alabama’s run at college football’s National Championship on these pages. Monday night, the Crimson Tide is favored to finish off an undefeated season with a second-straight title, and third in the last four years.
Its opponent, Clemson, is going for its second championship in the last three seasons. This is the third time in four years Clemson and Alabama will be playing each other in the championship round.
2016: Alabama (-6) beat Clemson 45-40
2017: Clemson (+6.5) beat Alabama 35-31
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2019: Alabama is (-5.5) vs. Clemson Monday night (ESPN, 7 p.m.)
In 2018, Alabama (-3.5) beat Clemson 24-6 in the national semifinals before beating Georgia 26-23 in overtime as favorites of -3.5 points.
Both Clemson and Alabama enjoyed comfortable victories in the national semifinals last Saturday …
▪ Clemson (-12) beat Notre Dame 30-3, and it felt even more one-sided. Clemson won total yardage 538-248, yards-per-play 6.9 to 3.6, third down conversions 50% to 29%, and turnovers 2-1. The Tigers led 23-3 at the half before spending the last two quarters grinding out the clock.
▪ Alabama (-14.5) beat Oklahoma 45-34. That was a win, but not a point spread cover for bettors. After jumping to a 28-0 lead, the Tide let OU’s potent offense drive the field for points. Alabama would still win total yards 528-471, yards-per-play 7.5 to 6.8, third downs 70% to 46%, while not turning the ball over a single time.
These are clearly the two best teams in the nation (again!). Handicappers will have to determine if the market has accurately captured the likely scoreboard distance between the two. The underdog covered the first two championship meetings because the market overestimated Alabama’s expected dominance both times.
Early betting in this battle has centered just below the relatively key number of six (two field goals, or a TD with a missed extra point). Sharps (professional wagerers) are betting Clemson at +6. This is not so much an “anti-Alabama” sentiment, as one that believes the two juggernauts are closer together than the line is acknowledging.
The public generally bets favorites in big TV games. That means the public lost money on Alabama vs. Oklahoma, after losing on the Tide in the SEC Championship when Alabama (-11) had to go overtime to beat Georgia 35-28. That might put a ceiling on support for the Tide at current prices.
Heading into the weekend, it was clear that informed money liked Clemson at +6 or higher. It wasn’t clear what number would drive similar public passion on the favorite. It’s possible that the late-betting public will choose Clemson too, dropping the line to five or below.
Be sure you watch VSiN for market updates from now to kickoff. Best of luck on your picks through the NFL’s Wildcard Weekend and in Monday’s clash of the college titans.
▪ The SEC as a whole suffered through an inconsistent bowl slate. That was lowlighted by runner-up Georgia’s poor showing in the Sugar Bowl vs. Texas. Georgia (-13) lost outright 28-21, losing total yardage 355-296 after getting outrushed 178-72. Other disappointments: Mississippi State (-7) lost to Iowa 27-22 (but won yardage 342-199 on 4.6 to 3.9 yards-per-play), Missouri (-10) lost to Oklahoma State 38-33 (but won yardage 637-502 on 8.0 to 6.3 yards-per-play), South Carolina (-3.5) was shut out 28-0 by Virginia, and Vanderbilt (-3.5) lost to Baylor 45-38. That’s five straight up losses, and six ATS losses counting Alabama’s non-cover vs. Oklahoma.
▪ SEC highlights: Auburn (-3.5) pounded Purdue 63-14, Florida (+4) stunned Michigan 41-15, Kentucky (+5) upset Penn State 27-24, LSU (-7) beat Central Florida 40-32 (but with a 555-250 yardage edge!), and Texas A&M (-7.5) nailed NC State 52-13. That’s five straight up win/covers, meaning the SEC went 6-5 straight up, but 5-6 vs. market expectations in its 11 bowl appearances.
▪ Bowl bettors were largely done in by “money line parlays,” where they would cluster favorites into parlays at money line prices hoping those teams would win win straight up. This was particularly troublesome on New Year’s Eve when Oklahoma State and Northwestern both scored upsets (over Missouri and Utah respectively). It turned into a disaster on New Year’s Day when Iowa, Kentucky, and Texas scored the upsets we already mentioned. If this happened to YOU, make a resolution to bet fewer favorites and bet fewer parlays!