Alabama-Oklahoma Betting Guide: Defense Optional in 2018 College Football Playoff

Alabama-Oklahoma Betting Guide: Defense Optional in 2018 College Football Playoff article feature image
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USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Quinnen Williams and Kyler Murray

2018 College Football Playoff Betting Odds: Alabama-Oklahoma

  • Odds: Alabama -14.5
  • Over/Under: 81
  • 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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