College Football Playoff Betting Guide (12/31/21)

The most important day of the college football season so far is upon us. Both semifinal games will be played consecutively to determine which teams will play each other in the College Football Playoff Championship.

Amongst the four teams that qualified, there are the usual suspects like Georgia and Alabama. The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide were on a collision course to face off in the SEC Championship all season long. Georgia lost, but since it was their first, they sneaked in as the third seed.

On the other hand, Michigan and Cincinnati are both newcomers. Michigan finally got over the hump and dominated Ohio State and then Iowa to claim the Big Ten Championship and the second seed. Cincinnati went undefeated in a Group of Five conference but had some impressive wins on their resume, as well as help from the other teams ranked around them losing.

We’ll take a look at where our model sees betting value in the two biggest games of the year. This season in college football has seen quite a bit of parity despite the possibility of Georgia and Alabama playing for the championship in a rematch. This could be the year that one of the elite teams goes down.

numberFire has built comprehensive algorithms to pinpoint the bets with the highest probability of returning money, whether you are betting on the total, the spread, or the moneyline. For those new to numberFire, we use a five-star system to show which bets you should be targeting for any given game. Stars represent how much you should risk on a wager relative to what you would normally bet.

For example, if you would normally bet $110 to win $100 on a -110-spread wager, if we give a 3-star ranking, we suggest risking three times that amount: $330 to win $300. Here are the best bets for this weekend with guidance from our model.

Please note that lines are subject to change after this article is published. Please check here to make sure you are seeing the most updated information.

Orange Bowl: Georgia Bulldogs vs. Michigan Wolverines

Michigan +7.5 (-110): 3-Star Rating out of 5

The Wolverines have overcome a lot of criticism during the Jim Harbaugh era to get to this point, especially with their disaster of a season last year. Now they’ll play Georgia, who was far and away the best team in the country before being upset by Alabama. Michigan has a capable offense and a strong defense, but they’ll need to play close to perfect to win against the more talented Bulldogs.

Michigan’s offensive line won the Joe Moore Award for the best offensive line in the country, and the numbers back it up for the most part. The Wolverines have been excellent in pass protection, ranking second nationally in sack rate according to Football Outsiders. They’re also 19th in average line yards, and their running backs have taken advantage all year long.

Georgia’s defensive line is only 42nd in average line yards and will be challenged by Michigan’s running back duo, Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum. Michigan will be the best rushing offense that the Bulldogs have faced this season on a yards-per-game basis.

If Michigan can consistently run the ball against Georgia’s defense, which is the best in the country according to ESPN’s SP+ metric, then the passing game should open up for quarterback Cade McNamara. He isn’t on the same level as Bryce Young, who torched the Bulldogs a few weeks ago, but McNamara makes few mistakes and can make accurate throws -- especially when the game is on the line.

Georgia is absolutely loaded on defense; they have four players in the top 100 NFL prospects, per CBS Sports. Cornerback Derion Kendrick, defensive tackle Jordan Davis, and linebacker Nakobe Dean are all likely to be selected in the first round.

Michigan will need the best from McNamara, Haskins, and Corum to score against this defense, but they’ve risen to the task multiple times this season.

Defensively, Michigan has two game-breakers in defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo. Hutchinson finished second in the Heisman voting, and both will likely be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. Michigan’s recipe for an upset includes pressuring Georgia’s backfield relentlessly and establishing a strong rushing attack early on to open up passes for McNamara.

Our model gives Michigan a 62.7% to cover the spread, but the Wolverines have the potential to off the upset, too, given how confident this team is in their execution.

Cotton Bowl: Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

Cincinnati +13.5 (-110): 3-Star Rating out of 5

The other semifinal game has an overlooked underdog, as well. Cincinnati might not have the same strength of schedule as the SEC champions, but the Bearcats are a balanced team that have played like a playoff team all season.

Cincinnati is well-equipped to exploit Alabama’s weakness: pass defense. The Tide have allowed over 220 yards through the air per game and have mostly countered with an elite passing attack of their own led by Heisman winner Bryce Young. The Bearcats have a solid quarterback in Desmond Ridder, who should be able to orchestrate drives to take advantage of Alabama’s weaker secondary than they’ve had in years past.

The matchups when Alabama has the ball are more interesting, though.

Cincinnati has two elite cornerbacks in Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant, both of whom will likely be playing on Sundays next season. Alabama has two elite receivers but is down to one with John Metchie III out with an injury. Assuming Gardner spends most of his snaps covering Jameson Williams, his defense on Alabama’s top receiver could decide the game. The Tide have seen a lot of great corners this season playing in the SEC, but Cincinnati’s duo can play with the best of them.

The Bearcats have the second-best passing defense on a yards-per-game basis nationally, and Alabama’s rushing offense has been about average this year. The Tide’s offensive line is only 46th in average line yards, so they’ll need Bryce Young to turn in one of his best performances to best the Cincinnati defense.

Ultimately, Alabama will likely win this game because they’re far more talented. They’re loaded with NFL prospects, the best quarterback in the country, and the best defensive player not named Aidan Hutchinson in Will Anderson, who has 15.5 sacks this year.

However, our model sees this game being closer than the spread indicates, giving the Bearcats a 62.3% likelihood of covering. Cincinnati will likely need a near-perfect game to win, but they have enough talent to give Alabama a run for their money.