2018 College Football Playoff Betting Odds, Picks for Notre Dame-Clemson, Alabama-Oklahoma

2018 College Football Playoff Betting Odds, Picks for Notre Dame-Clemson, Alabama-Oklahoma article feature image

USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney

  • The 2018 College Football Playoff kicks off at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, December 29.
  • Alabama over Oklahoma and Clemson over Notre Dame are two of the biggest betting point spreads in CFP history.
  • Should you ride with the underdogs, or back the favorites? We break it all down here.

We’ve arrived at the most wonderful time of the year — the 2018 College Football Playoff.

This year’s semifinals feature Clemson-Notre Dame at 4 p.m. ET in the Cotton Bowl and Alabama-Oklahoma at 8 p.m. ET in the Orange Bowl. The Tide are a 14-point favorite, while Clemson is a 12-point favorite over Notre Dame.

Here are our detailed breakdowns of every game — from live odds, trends and metrics to our best bets and picks.

2018 College Football Playoff Betting Odds: Clemson-Notre Dame

  • Odds: Clemson -12
  • Over/Under: 57.5
  • Date: Saturday, Dec. 29
  • Location: Arlington, Texas
  • Time: 4 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN

>> All odds as of Friday morning. Download The Action Network App to get real-time bowl odds and win probabilities on your bets

Clemson is exactly where we expected it to be — in the College Football Playoff after rolling through most of its ACC schedule behind an elite defense and running game. It did make a quarterback change to the more explosive passer in Trevor Lawrence, hoping to avoid the same fate it did against Alabama in last year’s CFP.

Notre Dame surprised some folks by running the table and also made a much needed change at quarterback as well, going away from run-first Brandon Wimbush to a more dynamic passer in Ian Book.

Both teams are balanced — Clemson has a top-10 offense and defense, per S&P+, while Notre Dame’s defense is No. 4 and offense is No. 26.

Are the Irish being disrespected by this point spread, or is it about right? Let’s dive in.

How Odds Moved for Notre Dame-Clemson

By Danny Donahue

Clemson is in unfamiliar territory this Saturday, currently drawing just 29% of bettors to its double-digit spread. Despite the lack of support, however, this margin has widened since opening at -10.5.

Up to as much as -13.5 for a significant period of time, the line’s latest fall to -12.5 seems to have been correlated with the suspension of Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence.

As for the total, it has risen from 55 to 56.5 thanks to 93% of money landing on the over from 76% of bets.

Trends to Know

By John Ewing

— Since 2005, Notre Dame is 8-5 against the spread (ATS) when getting 10 or more points but 0-1 ATS in bowl games.

— Dabo Swinney is 71-3 straight up (SU) when favored by double-digits but only 37-36-1 ATS in those games.

— Against top 10 teams, Swinney is 12-4 ATS.

Did You Know?

By Evan Abrams

— AT&T Stadium has presented us with some thrilling college football bowl games. But since 2005, 32 games have been played at AT&T Stadium with an over/under of 50 or more, and the under is 20-12 (62.5%). The under is 6-2 in the last two bowl seasons in this spot.

— Clemson and Notre Dame face off in the CFP semifinal both undefeated with a chance to go to the national title game. Since 2005, this will be the sixth showdown in December or later of two undefeated FBS teams and the first since the Auburn-Oregon 2011 national title game.

In the previous five games, the underdog is 4-1 SU and ATS, covering by 7.9 PPG with the largest three underdogs winning outright.

Lawrence Suspension Not Worth Much

By Steve Petrella

Both teams are relatively healthy for this game, but Clemson will be without one of its best defensive lineman because of a failed drug test.

Dexter Lawrence is among the Tigers’ best run stuffers, with 7.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks this season. He’s a projected first-round pick.

But Clemson has depth on the defensive line, including senior Albert Huggins (2.5 sacks on 20% of Lawrence’s snaps) and Xavier Thomas, a top-five recruit from last year’s class.

If you already like Clemson, don’t let this suspension scare you.

Clemson Has Historically Great Run Defense

By Stuckey

Clemson averages an NCAA-best 6.8 yards per rush. Notre Dame is at only 4.5 yards per rush, which is 55th in the country. Amazingly, Clemson also leads the nation in yards per rush allowed at 2.4, while Notre Dame is a respectable 34th (3.7).

Just how good is 2.4 yards per rush? Here are the teams that allowed fewer than 2.4 yards over the course of a season in the past 10 years:

  • 2016 Alabama (2.0)
  • 2009 Texas (2.2)

Yup, that’s it. Clemson’s rush defense ranks in the top three in overall S&P+ Defense (1), Rush Efficiency (3), Rush Explosiveness (1), Opportunity Rate (1) and Stuff Rate (3). That spells potential disaster against a Notre Dame offense that ranks 116th in Opportunity Rate and 118th in Stuff Rate.

I don’t expect Notre Dame to do much on the ground, other than utilize it to keep the Clemson defense honest and setup play action. This game will be up to Ian Book and the passing game.

The good news is Notre Dame can protect the quarterback (No. 12 in Adjusted Sack Rate on Passing Downs), which is critical against an elite Clemson pass rush that ranks No. 9 in that same category.

Book Has Been Among Nation’s Best

By Steve Petrella

A sloppy effort against USC to end the season might be sticking in your mind, but don’t forget how good Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book has been this season.

  • 4th nationally in completion percentage
  • 11th in yards per attempt
  • 8th in QB Rating

The Irish offense averaged one yard per play more with Book under center than Brandon Wimbush, who started the first three games and a November contest against Florida State.

Clemson’s defense is elite in a lot of ways, but as Stuckey details below, the Tigers might be susceptible to a quality passing attack.

Notre Dame Has Kicking Edge

By Stuckey

Notre Dame has a modest special teams edge (62nd vs. Clemson’s 99th, per S&P+) in this game, especially on field goals.

Clemson’s Greg Huegel doesn’t have a reliable leg, as the senior went nine of 13 on the year. He has attempted at least one field goal in each of his four seasons at Clemson, and he has gone 52-68 (76.5%) with eight missed extra points. He is also just 14 of 24 between 40-49 yards and has never attempted a field goal of more than 50 yards.

Notre Dame has a senior kicker of its own in Justin Yoon, who has a much bigger and reliable leg. Yoon has gone 58 of 72 (80.5%) and has only missed six XPs. He has a higher percentage between 40-49 and is actually capable from 50-plus.

Expect Clemson to have to go for it much more around the 30, which will give the ND defense a shot to swing the momentum with a turnover on downs. And the Irish are also much more likely to hit a long field goal at the end of the half or game, which might not win them the game, but it certainly could help them cover.

Stuckey: Why I’m Betting Notre Dame

By Stuckey

I already mentioned the special teams woes for Clemson this year and I really think it’s an angle being slept on since the Tigers have really blown out everyone on the 76th-toughest schedule in the nation.

And while its run defense is historically elite without a doubt, I still have questions about the secondary (which were the only questions I had about this defense coming into the season) — especially if you can protect the quarterback.

I think Ian Book can exploit some holes in the Clemson secondary that has rarely been tested by elite passing offenses this year. The Tigers failed two of their three tests, passing against only N.C. State.

Just look at the numbers Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond and South Carolina’s Jake Bentley put up:

  • Mond: 23 of 40,430 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
  • Bentley: 32 of 50, 510 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT

Even Syracuse’s Eric Dungey did a few things in a close game behind a subpar offensive line with a very average passing attack. Just look at some of the other opponents Clemson played. An FCS school and some of the purest running teams in the nation:

  • Furman
  • Georgia Southern (129th in passing yards this season)
  • Georgia Tech (127th)
  • Pitt (121st)
  • Louisville (92nd)
  • Boston College (86th)
  • Duke (73rd)
  • Wake (horrible OL)
  • FSU (horrible OL)

And while the Clemson defensive line is one of the best ever and has depth for days, it won’t hurt Notre Dame to not have to deal with one of the best in the country in Lawrence. I think Clemson wins this game (and is the best team in the country), but anything over +10 is just too many points.

Stuckey’s Pick: Notre Dame +12.5

By Collin Wilson

My initial reaction to the line was that the point spread had disrespected Notre Dame, and that this number should be closer to the power rating of Clemson -10 than the key number of -14. With plenty of wagering on the preseason Clemson +750 for the national championship in mind, I played a unit on the Action App with Notre Dame +12 when lines were first opened.

After further investigation, I am not worried about my Clemson futures. I am worried about my one unit position on Notre Dame at +12, and I expect there will be a buyback or an even bigger position on Clemson to cover. Taking a deep dive into the advanced statistics sheds a bit of light as to why the Tigers should be the side to get behind. You can read about that in detail here.

The biggest factor for me is Notre Dame being one-dimensional on offense. Its rush offense ranks outside the top 100 in opportunity rate and stuff rate, leaving the scoring attack all on Book’s shoulders.

That is a Clemson defensive specialty — to make an offense one dimensional. If Book can’t get time to throw, this game could resemble something closer to a previous Clemson semifinal from 2016, in which the Ohio State Buckeyes were blanked.

Collin’s Picks: Clemson -12.5, Under 56.5

2018 College Football Playoff Betting Odds: Alabama-Oklahoma

  • Odds: Alabama -14
  • Over/Under: 77
  • Date: Saturday, Dec. 29
  • Location: Miami, Fla.
  • Time: 8 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN

>> All odds as of Friday afternoon. Download The Action Network App to get real-time bowl odds and win probabilities on your bets

There probably hasn’t been a more fascinating matchup in the College Football Playoff in its five-year history.

Oklahoma will bring a historically elite offense — one that somehow improved without Baker Mayfield — to the semifinals against an Alabama team with its best-ever offense and its great-but-not-best-ever defense.

Can the Sooners get enough stops to keep it close?

How Odds Moved for Alabama-Oklahoma

By Danny Donahue

This has been perhaps the least exciting spread to follow over the past month. After opening at -13.5 in early December, Alabama was up to -14 within two days. Since then, many books haven’t touched the line at all, while a few have wandered a half-point in either direction for a short time before ultimately settling back at -14.

The total, on the other hand, has been a far more interesting story. Opening at 79, it was already set to be the highest in College Football Playoff history. It even made its way up from that number for a significant time, reaching as high as 82 before beginning a descent.

Since that time, its fallen all the way to 77. Currently, 47% of bettors accounting for 68% of dollars are playing the over.

Trends to Know

By John Ewing

— Nick Saban is 43-31 against the spread (ATS) vs. ranked opponents at Alabama. When favored by double-digits in these games, his record improves to 21-12 ATS.

— The over is 19-14 in bowl games with over/unders of more than 70 points since 2005.

By Steve Petrella

— Saban’s regular season games since 2005 have gone under 47.5% of the time.

But in SEC Championship, bowl and College Football Playoff games, Saban is 15-5-1 to the over.

By Evan Abrams

— The two highest-scoring teams in college football playing a bowl game of this importance with a total above 70. This should be a fun shootout, right?

Since 2005, when two teams averaging at least 40 PPG face off in bowl season, the under is 12-7, going under the total by 7.1 PPG.

— Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are the two lone teams remaining in bowl season averaging 30+ PPG on offense and allowing 30+ PPG on defense. In bowl season, those types of teams are recipes for disaster.

Since 2005, teams averaging at least 30 PPG, while allowing 30 PPG or more, are 26-50-1 ATS (34.2%) in bowl season, failing to cover the spread by 4 PPG.

Over the last two seasons (2017 and 2018), these teams are 1-14 ATS, not counting the Memphis-Wake Forest bowl game this season in which both teams fell into this spot.

Two Key Injuries

By Steve Petrella

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been dealing with an ankle injury for much of the season, and says he’s at about 80-85% right now. That’s a scary thought considering how bad he looked in the SEC Championship Game.

For Oklahoma, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown is the injury to watch, though he’s expected to play. He was the Sooners’ most dangerous receiver, catching 75 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 scores. At just 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, Brown relies on his speed, so a lower leg injury may take away some of his effectiveness.

Two Elite Offenses …

By Stuckey

These are the two best offenses in all of college football, no matter how you look at it. Oklahoma ranks No. 1 overall in S&P+ offense, including first overall in explosiveness and efficiency. It has the No. 1 rushing offense, and the No. 2 passing offense — it’s only No. 2 because Alabama is No. 1.  Alabama ranks No. 2 overall and No. 2 in efficiency and explosiveness.

These two teams also rank first and second in scoring, as Oklahoma leads the country with 49.5 ppg, while Bama comes in second at 47.9 ppg.

Yards per play? Yup, 1 and 2. Oklahoma at 8.7 and Alabama 7.9.

How good is 8.7? Here are the teams that have averaged over 8.0 yards per play in the past 20 seasons:

  • 2017: Oklahoma 8.3
  • 2006: Hawaii 8.6
  • 2018: Oklahoma 8.7

… But a Glaring Defensive Mismatch

By Stuckey

I could go on and on, but you get it. The difference comes on defense, where Alabama is also elite, while Oklahoma has major issues.

  • S&P+ overall: Alabama 8, Oklahoma 89
  • Rush Defense: Alabama 4, Oklahoma 53
  • Pass Defense: Alabama 7 Oklahoma 91
  • PPG: Alabama 4, Oklahoma 95
  • YPP: Alabama 7, Oklahoma 101

As you can see, just absolutely dreadful numbers for Oklahoma, while Alabama’s ranks mirror its offensive ranks.

Three Key Mismatches

By Stuckey

There is no doubt both offenses will be able to move the ball with relative ease.

However, I think Alabama has a few distinct advantages, which will be the difference in this game.

  1. Red Zone Defense: Alabama ranks No. 3 overall in red zone defense (.667 and has allowed TDs on only 17 of 30 trips). On the other hand, Oklahoma has the nation’s second-worst red zone scoring percentage (.936), leading only ECU.The Sooners have allowed touchdowns on 40 of 47 trips. Oklahoma also ranks 117th in Finishing Drives. In what should be a shootout, Alabama should force OU to kick a few more field goals inside the red zone and/or get a few more stops on downs. And that’s all it will take.
  2. Forcing Turnovers: Alabama is also much more likely to cause a huge turnover, which will be enormous in a game with two elite offenses. Alabama ranks No. 2 in overall havoc rate. Oklahoma ranks 88th, and has forced only 11 turnovers for the entire season (fewer than one per game) — only five teams allowed fewer. Alabama forced 21.
  3. Pressure: Alabama is much more likely to get a key sack that could put OU behind the sticks or force a fumble. Yes, Oklahoma has a great offensive line, but this is an Alabama defense that leads the nation in Adjusted Sack Rate. Oklahoma ranks 93rd. And Bama’s offensive line actually ranks slightly better in that category.

A Special Teams Edge, But Does it Matter?

By Stuckey

Oklahoma has a kicking and punting edge, but if you’re kicking and punting in this game, you’re probably already doomed. That means we should focus on the return games, which will likely come into play more than any other part of the special teams. And those are essentially a wash.

A Young Alabama Secondary

By Steve Petrella

The Tide defense gave up some big plays early in the season and rank 69th in defensive IsoPPP+. It cleaned things up later in the season, but didn’t face big-play offenses — LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn, for example.

Oklahoma leads the country in offensive explosiveness and had the most plays of 10, 20, 30 and 40-plus yards. This is still a slightly inexperienced Alabama secondary with two underclassmen starters and another pair on the two-deep.

Murray Should Thrive vs. Man-to-Man Defense

By Stuckey

Look for Kyler Murray’s legs to play a huge role against Alabama’s man-to-man defense. When he tucks it and runs, he should have plenty of daylight and that speed should allow him to break quite a few runs.

I’m not sure Alabama has ever seen a quarterback with his speed. Give me the Murray rushing yards over prop, please and thank you.

Bet to Watch for Alabama-Oklahoma

By Stuckey

This game has such high backdoor risk. If Oklahoma is down 17 with three minutes to go and you have Alabama -14, you might as light your ticket on fire.

The line looks spot on to me, as I think Bama will simply get a few more stops and/or force one or two more turnovers. I’m more interested in the total, which I think is actually too low at 77 — which sounds crazy to say out loud.

Alabama should score at will, while Oklahoma has one of the most explosive offenses we have ever seen and should score plenty (and fast when they do).

It does somewhat scare me that both teams are actually in the 70s in Adjusted Pace, but there should be oodles of explosive plays and both teams know they need touchdowns and not field goals, so you should see aggressive play-calling.

It also may take some time for Alabama’s defense to adjust to the speed of Oklahoma. Remember, Oklahoma had 360 total yards and 31 points in the first half against Georgia last year in the semifinals.

Kyler’s legs are going to be a huge factor and Alabama’s second-ranked passing efficiency should move the chains with ease against Oklahoma’s pass defense that ranks a SHOCKING 126th in efficiency.

If Kansas could score 40 on Oklahoma, just imagine what Alabama can do.

Stuckey’s Pick: Over 76.5

Wilson: A Tennis Match, of Sorts

By Collin Wilson

We can throw as many statistics as we want to find the correct handicap in this game, but flat out, both teams are going to score. I often joke that Big 12 football games are like a ‘servbot’ tennis game.

That refers to ATP Tennis matches between players who score all their points through aces on serve. It consists of two players trading points for five-hour matches, and the first player to get a break generally wins. Think Milos Raonic-John Isner type matches.

How does that apply to the Orange Bowl?

Whether you have your money down on the Sooners or the Crimson Tide, if a drive ends in anything less than a touchdown, then consider that a tennis break point. Oklahoma and Alabama rank first and second in the nation in overall offensive efficiency and explosiveness.

You can read more about everything I’m betting in the College Football Playoff here, but I think Oklahoma will score enough.

Collin’s Picks: Oklahoma +14, Over 76.5

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