College Football Betting Picks: Our Staff’s 4 Best Bets on College Football Playoff Saturday (December 28, 2019)
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Clemson QB Travis Etienne
While the last week has been a great warmup for bowl season, it’s time to get serious. The College Football Playoff kicks off Saturday.
There are four excellent games in store on Dec. 28, including LSU-Oklahoma and Clemson-Ohio State.
While every winning bet counts the same, and you should never over-extend your bankroll for big games, there’s something special about a big day like this.
Let’s dive into our best bets for Saturday.
College Football Betting Picks, December 28
Bowl game odds as of Saturday morning and via DraftKings, where Action Network users get a risk-free bet up to $500.
Kyle Miller: Penn State -7
Mike Norvell didn’t just take over Justin Fuente’s Memphis program and maintain it, he excelled and pushed it further up the list of top Group of 5 programs in the country. Unfortunately for the Tigers, Norvell is gone and I believe much of the season’s magic will be gone with him.
Norvell is known as an elite offensive mind and that’s shown over the last few years at Memphis. I’m worried that without him there will be a huge drop off and they’ll be forced to rely on a shaky defense in this game.
While there are still plenty of talented players on Memphis’ offense, Penn State will be by far the most talented and athletic defense they’ve faced in 2019. Penn State ranks 10th in the nation in yards per play, second and 18th in rushing and passing success rate respectively, and eighth in overall efficiency. This is one of the best defenses in the nation and I expect them to, at the very least, slow down Memphis.
Memphis will likely get pushed around a bit on both sides of the ball as both the offensive and defensive lines have some big disadvantages. Additionally, Memphis does a horrible job of taking care of the football, something an opportune Penn State defense will be able to exploit.
I make this game right around the number, but without Norvell and the emotions that go with that, it’s hard to predict how far down Memphis should be moved. With the new head coach already named and, on the staff, the bump shouldn’t be too drastic, but I still believe they’ll have a tough time keeping this one close.
Pick: Penn State -7
Steve Petrella: Iowa State ML +150
Iowa State might be the best 7-5 team in the country, and I think the Cyclones show it on Saturday.
Iowa State ranks 101st with a 0.9 second order win total, meaning it was more like an 8-4 team. All five of its losses came by 10 points or fewer.
This line is about right (our power ratings make it ND -4). But the variance that bowl season brings makes it worth leaving the points on the table and taking the moneyline.
This isn’t a great matchup for Iowa State — Notre Dame has struggled against teams that dominated the trenches, which isn’t really ISU’s game — but Brian Kelly doesn’t have a great track record in bowl games at 3-8 ATS.
I’ll take Iowa State to pull off the upset as a College Football Playoff warmup.
Pick: Iowa State ML +145
Collin Wilson: Clemson Moneyline (-130)
There is no doubt that Clemson will implement a double team on Ohio State star defensive end Chase Young, adding a tight end chip block much like what Michigan and Wisconsin used to limit the defensive end.
Young was held without a sack in his final two games, laying down the template for Clemson to stop the Bednarik Award winner.
Per SportsSource Analytics, Clemson has the best offensive line efficiency metric in the nation and averages just a sack per game. Most sacks against Clemson have come from the edge and catching Lawrence in time before stepping up in the pocket.
Because of the pressure from the edge, expect Trevor Lawrence to have one of his biggest days rushing the ball from stepping up in the pocket or running the RPO. Two statistics indicate Clemson is in line for a big offensive day.
Travis Etienne is the top running back in the country in total yards after contact, going against a defense that is getting worse in missed tackles. Per SportsSource Analytics, the Buckeyes had missed tackles just 6% of the time until their final three games.
Against the toughest part of their schedule against the best athletes, Ohio State’s missed tackle rate rose above 20% against Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin.
The Clemson stable of receivers will have to deal with plenty of size and athleticism in the Ohio State secondary, but the rushing attack of the Tigers will be the primary driver to offensive points.
Ultimately, the game may be decided by the mobility of the two quarterbacks and their ability to escape pressure.
Justin Fields is sure to have downfield success when reading the Clemson defense correctly, but limitations in escaping the pocket will force negative plays because of a knee injury and desire to hang onto the ball to extend plays.
Trevor Lawrence not only has the best pocket awareness in college football, but has not thrown an interception since Oct. 19.
Clemson will move on to New Orleans to compete for another national championship.
Pick: Clemson ML -130 or better
Stuckey: Ohio State-Clemson under 63
Based on my numbers, I make this total 59, offering a small amount of value on the under, which I played small.
I do think the game script will call for both teams to feature a heavy dose of both star backs. I also think each pass rush can cause some havoc, particularly in passing situations to kill a few drives.
I think that’s especially the case when Ohio State has the ball. Justin Fields tends to hold the ball way too long (especially in comparison to Trevor Lawrence) and that spells doom against this Clemson defense that can get after the quarterback as well as any team in FBS.
That could kill a few Ohio State drives and/or put them behind the sticks more often than it is used to. And when Ohio State does have to punt, the Buckeyes do have one of the best punters in the country in Drew Chrisman, who can flip the field, which is an under bettor’s best friend.
However, it’s not a bet I love with all of the unknowns.
This game difficult to cap, especially the total. The pace numbers can even be misleading since both teams were involved in so many second half blowouts throughout the season. Lawrence was pulled in the third quarter multiple times throughout the season.
Plus, with so much firepower on both sides, I expect flurries of points at times, so we could easily get a live under at a much better number.
I’ll be waiting to add live depending on how this thing plays out.
Pick: Under 63