CFP early betting look: Alabama vs. Georgia

CFP early betting look: Alabama vs. Georgia article feature image

Jan 1, 2018; Pasadena, CA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart holds the Rose Bowl trophy on the podium after the Georgia Bulldogs defeated the Oklahoma Sooners in the 2018 Rose Bowl college football playoff semifinal game at Rose Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The College Football Playoff semifinals are in the books, and an all-SEC title of Georgia and Alabama is now set. The Action Network will take an early look at  the information needed to make an investment for the big game, including point spread and total.

All lines taken as of Jan. 1, 2018.

Advanced statistics updated following the conclusion of the college football regular season from Football Outsiders.

Alabama vs. Georgia

Spread CW S&P+ Total
Alabama -4 Alabama -1 Alabama -2 46

In the all-SEC matchup that only a certain section of the country loves, Alabama could shut down Georgia’s powerful rushing attack. Sony Michel did have a costly fumble that put Georgia down late against Oklahoma, but he more than redeemed himself with a game-winning touchdown in overtime.

Alabama boasts the nation’s No. 2 S&P+ Rush Defense, which will be critical against Georgia’ No. 8 ranked S&P+ Rush Offense. A deeper dive into the ground game matchup reveals that Alabama’s defense ranks in the top 15  in opportunity rate and adjusted line yards; the Crimson Tide will face a Georgia rushing offense that also ranks in the top 15 of those two categories.

Keep in mind that these season-long stats aren’t adjusted for how injuries devastated Alabama’s defense throughout the year, so the unit’s true ceiling is still to be determined. (Though Alabama linebacker Anfernee Jennings did suffer an injury during the Sugar Bowl.)

When Alabama is on offense, the Crimson Tide’s passing offense (ranked No. 69 nationally in passing downs success rate) will be challenged by a stout Georgia defense that ranks 16th in defensive passing downs success rate.

In Alabama’s 24-6 victory over Clemson on Sunday night, the Crimson Tide flashed that defensive swagger that they missed for most of the season. Meanwhile, Jalen Hurts led the offense with a little help from his defensive lineman to pull in scores. (Though the Tide may have trouble replicating that feat in the title game given the abilities of Georgia inside linebacker Roquan Smith.)

On the topic of Jalen Hurts, in last year’s national championship he aimed to be only the second true freshman to lead his team to a national title since Jamelle Holieway ran the Oklahoma wishbone offense in 1985. This year, Georgia’s Jacob Fromm will vie for that distinction. Fromm has improved in passing success rate as the season moved on, and he was an efficient 20-of-29 for 210 yards and two touchdowns (against zero interceptions) in the Bulldogs’ 54-48 Rose Bowl victory over the Sooners.

Both Georgia and Alabama have very similar statistical profiles, and both head coaches have a significant level of familiarity with one another, which I think would lend itself to the under in this particular matchup. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart served as the defensive backs coach at LSU under Nick Saban in 2004. In 2006, Smart rejoined Saban with the Miami Dolphins before eventually serving multiple years as Alabama’s defensive coordinator. This will be the first meeting between Saban and Smart as head coaches.

Ultimately, red zone success could determine the winner. The Bulldogs score on 95.7 percent of their red zone drives (fifth in the country), compared to 88.1 percent for Alabama (36th in the country). In a matchup of two very similar teams, one failed red zone trip could easily swing the game.

Georgia also takes the nod in special teams, as the Bulldogs lead the nation in that category per the Special Teams S&P+ stat. Specifically, Georgia ranks fourth nationally in kickoff success rate, while Alabama is only No. 101 in kickoff return success rate. Georgia should also benefit from standout placekicker Rodrigo Blankenship, who was able to connect on a 55-yard bomb early in the first half of the Rose Bowl. With the game expected to be heavy on defense and field position, Georgia’s advantage in the kicking game should not be overlooked.

For the time being, anyway, Georgia +4 has value, with other power rating systems making this game closer to Georgia +2. However, the defenses will have their way, and only an under 46 and first half under 23 should be considered at this point. Keep tabs on Alabama’s injury situation, as they will need every defender to slow the Bulldogs’ ground and air attack.

Photo via John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

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