Saturday College Football Betting Odds & Picks: Spreads, Predictions for 4 Bowl Games (December 28, 2019)
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Ohio State RB J.K. Dobbins
We’re arrived. The biggest day of the college football season.
The 2019 College Football Playoff semifinals between LSU and Oklahoma, then Clemson and Ohio State, are certainly the highlight. But two intriguing games in Penn State-Memphis and Notre Dame-Iowa State precede them at 12 p.m. ET.
Here’s our full breakdown for each Saturday bowl game.
College Football Bowl Game Odds & Picks for Saturday (December 28, 2019)
Bowl game odds as of Friday night and via FanDuel, where Action Network users get a risk-free bet up to $500.
Memphis vs. Penn State Odds
- Odds: Penn State -7
- Over/Under: 60
- Time: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN
- Location: Arlington, Texas
The Memphis Tigers will head to the Cotton Bowl without head coach Mike Norvell, who left Graceland for Tallahassee to take over at Florida State. As much success as Norvell had, he never won a bowl game with Memphis.
To get their first bowl win since 2014, the Tigers will need to pull off an upset against Penn State and its terrific defense.
As you can imagine, the public isn’t all that thrilled at the idea of betting a Group of 5 team with a new head coach against a strong Power 5 program. As of Friday afternoon, the Nittany Lions have garnered 65% of the bets, pushing the line back up to PSU -7.
Collin Wilson: Memphis’ Offense Will Still Light It Up
Ryan Silverfield’s head coaching career will begin at the Cotton Bowl. After serving as the offensive line coach and run-game coordinator under Norvell, Silverfield was quickly installed as the permanent head coach, though it should be noted that nobody on the Memphis sideline called any offensive plays under Norvell.
No matter who is calling the shots, the Tigers have an explosive offense led by quarterback Brady White. Memphis was the fifth-most explosive passing offense in the country in 2019 and ranked 18th in passing success rate.
That could be a problem for Penn State, which struggled to defend big plays as the season progressed. Minnesota and Indiana both threw for over 300 yards against the Nittany Lions and the Gophers hit eight plays for at least 20 yards.
Penn State’s offense should also hit some big plays, especially since quarterback Sean Clifford and wide receiver KJ Hamler will be at full strength. Hamler is expected to declare for the NFL Draft after the game, but he should add to his highlight reel against a Memphis defense that ranks 75th in passing explosiveness.
The Nittany Lions have been stellar when they get into scoring range, ranking 15th in finishing drives. That should give them an edge over a Tigers’ defense that is 124th in opponent red zone scoring percentage.
Memphis could have the upper hand in the first half of the game as the offensive scheme could be a bit of a mystery. Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry is one of the best in college football, but may need a half to adjust.
Pick: Memphis +4 First-Half
Kyle Miller: The Best Defense Memphis Has Faced This Season
Mike Norvell didn’t just take over Justin Fuente’s Memphis program and maintain, 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
Stuckey: Look for Memphis Live
I actually show a bit of value on Memphis at +7 but with all of the coaching turnover mixed with the news that the Tigers will be without their starting tight end and right tackle, I’m more inclined to wait and see if I can get the Tigers at +10 or higher in-play.
This approach also aligns with something we’ve seen all year with Penn State: fast starts and slow finishes. It just seems like Sean Clifford excels in the scripted portion of the game. The Nittany Lions average 8.8 points in the first quarter, 6.8 in the second, 8.0 in the third and 6.6 in the fourth.
One thing I’ll be keeping an eye on is how effective Memphis’ running game is against a stout Penn State defense. If the Tigers can’t get the run going, they won’t have much success throwing the ball, either. Everything gets set up with the run.
There’s a good chance we get a better number on Memphis live and if not, I’m fine passing on a game with this much volatility.
Notre Dame vs. Iowa State Odds
- Odds: Notre Dame -3.5
- Over/Under: 54.5
- Time: 12 p.m. ET
- TV: ABC
- Location: Orlando, Fla.
Collin Wilson: Can Either Offense Generate Consistent Points?
The Broyles Award is given to the best college football assistant coach in the nation. Nominees are considered up-and-coming prospects on the national coaching scene. Recent winners include Lincoln Riley, Tom Herman, Gus Malzahn and Kirby Smart.
Considering the prestige around the award, it was a surprise to see 2018 Broyles Award finalist Chip Long depart from Notre Dame after serving as offensive coordinator since 2017. The Irish finished the season ranked 20th in SP+ offense. Head coach Brian Kelly announced that quarterback coach Tom Rees will take over play-calling duties for the Camping World Bowl.
It’s also fair to question how motivated Notre Dame will be for this game. The Irish had their sights on a New Year’s Six game, but didn’t get the nod for an at-large bid. Brian Kelly has struggled in bowls, going 2-9 against the spread in 11 games.
Matt Campbell and Iowa State came up a few points shy of getting into the Big 12 Championship. Overall, it was an unlucky season for the Cyclones, who lost three of their games (Oklahoma, Iowa and Baylor) by a combined four points.
Quarterback Brock Purdy will have his hands full against a Notre Dame defense that is excellent against the pass. Purdy and the Cyclones rank 15th in passing success rate but the Irish defense is right there with them, ranking 19th in the same category.
Although our projected total for this game is 59, there are some indicators that point the under. Notre Dame’s offense will need to adjust to a new play-caller, while its defense should give Purdy and the Cyclones a real tough test.
Pick: Under 54.5
Steve Petrella: Iowa State Better Than It Showed
I agree with Collin that Iowa State was a little unlucky this season.
The Cyclones rank 101st with a 0.9 second order win total, meaning it was more like an 8-4 team than a 7-5 team. All five of their 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 as Collin mentioned.
I’ll take Iowa State to pull off the upset as a College Football Playoff warmup.
Pick: Iowa State ML +145
LSU vs. Oklahoma Odds
- Odds: LSU -13.5
- Over/Under: 75
- Time: 4 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN
- Location: Atlanta, Ga.
The most fun games to bet on? High totals and moderately high spreads. There’s room for so much gambling action and sometimes, heartbreak.
That’s what we’ve got Saturday between LSU and Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
The Tigers boast a dynamic passing offense behind Heisman winner Joe Burrow, while Oklahoma’s offense was as efficient as ever behind quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Can the Sooners get enough stops to keep pace with LSU? Let’s dive in.
Odds as of Friday night and via DraftKings, where Action Network users get a risk-free bet up to $500.
College Football Playoff Line Movement
This line opened in single digits offshore, but an avalanche of money drove the Tigers to double digits. Circa Sports opened -11 before the line settled at -13.5 across the betting market.
Oklahoma suspension news came down a week before Christmas, but the line had already moved on speculation, so there wasn’t a material change.
LSU is getting 65% of bets and 67% of money as of Friday night. The line is trending toward +14, but has been bet down to +13.5 nearly ever time it’s reached two touchdowns.
Latest Peach Bowl Injury & Suspension News
Oklahoma will be without defensive end Ronnie Perkins, running back Rhamondre Stevenson and wide receiver Trejan Bridges due to suspensions as a result of a failed drug test.
Stevenson averaged 8.0 yards per carry with 515 yards and six touchdowns as a backup running back. Perkins may be the biggest loss though, as the sophomore was seventh in tackles but had a team-high six sacks.
Oklahoma ranks 10th in defensive havoc, with a healthy portion of the contributions coming from tackles for loss. Perkins and his 13.5 TFL will be sorely missed.
For LSU, the big injury question mark is running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (hamstring).
He’s balled out in the biggest games this year, rushing for more than 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns, and has turned into an excellent receiving back. He’s averaging 6.2 receptions and 55 receiving yards per game over his last five contests.
Backup RBs Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery Jr. have caught just four passes out of the backfield since the beginning of November. — Collin Wilson
Oklahoma Defense Is Improved, But How Much?
The Oklahoma defense is much better under defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, ranking top 45 in both passing and rushing success rate. But the “Speed D” still gives up tons of big plays.
A top 10 rank in stuff rate may prevent the LSU ground game from getting going, especially if Edwards-Helaire sits due to a hamstring injury.
But no matter if the Sooners defense brings heat or disguises downfield coverage, LSU wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase will dominate an Oklahoma back seven that is 87th against passing explosiveness. — Collin Wilson
Pay Attention to Pace
College football’s spread and tempo revolution has made us associate elite offenses with fast tempos. Sure, it feels like Oklahoma is moving down the field with pace because the Sooners are gaining 12 yards at a time. But they’ve actually been playing pretty slow this season.
Oklahoma ranks 94th nationally in plays per second and 80th in plays per game.
I don’t think Oklahoma wants to get in a track meet with LSU. They’re going to run the ball with efficiency like always, and if the Sooners can move the ball, they’ll keep LSU’s offense off the field.
If Oklahoma trails early or at half, I want nothing to do with a live under. If it’s a tight game and the Sooners are moving the ball, I’ll definitely be looking at a live under because possessions should be more limited. — Steve Petrella
Is This Number Right?
The Action Network projection is LSU -8, but Oklahoma needs a clean boxscore from a turnover perspective to live up to that number.
Jalen Hurts has just not been careful with the ball — the Sooners’ rank outside the top 100 in actual turnover margin and expected turnover margin. So their misfortunes against Baylor and TCU, for example, have not been a product of bad luck.
Oklahoma needs a few things to fall its way.
- Edwards-Helaire’s limitations due to injury may remove Joe Burrow’s primary source of check downs. This may lead to an LSU decrease in third down conversions.
- The Sooners can cover with a clean game. While LSU is top 15 in defensive havoc, that number is completely derived from tackles for loss and passes defensed. The Tigers are the best in the nation at pass breakups and passes defensed, with a top 10 rank in interceptions. The one area LSU lacks in havoc is forced fumbles.
- It’s possible that Hurts has a big game on the ground. Oklahoma is top 10 in line yards and that should lead to success on the ground.
Ultimately, LSU will take advantage of havoc-less Sooners defense that ranks 83rd in finishing drives to win the game.
But my money will be on Oklahoma becoming only the second underdog in College Football Playoff history to cover the spread but not win the game (the Sooners did it last year). The offense will do just enough to cover +14. — Collin Wilson
Collin’s Pick: Oklahoma +14 or better
Since I make this right around LSU -10, I’d certainly jump at the opportunity to bet Oklahoma at a flat +14 or better.
I’m not sure if any defense can slow down Joe Burrow and the Tigers, and the Sooners almost certainly won’t, but I do think Lincoln Riley, Jalen Hurts and that extremely efficient Oklahoma offense can move the ball against LSU.
Catching two touchdowns would be too good to pass up — even if I think LSU will eventually win it all. — Stuckey
Stuckey’s Pick: Oklahoma +14 or better
Miller: Why I Like the Over
Do I think Oklahoma has a very good chance of winning this game? No. Are there still some really interesting betting angles that we can profit from? Of course. I think the spread is too inflated, and I think the over is worth a look as well even though it’s sitting the ghastly number of 76.
Hurts is going to have to play the best game of his career if Oklahoma is going to win. But he’ll need to play very well just to make sure his Sooners have a chance to pull off the upset.
We know all about Oklahoma’s offense.
- First in yards per play,
- First and second in rushing and passing success rate
- First in explosive plays
- Second in overall efficiency
The only soft spot on the offense is Hurts’ propensity to turn the ball over.
The Sooners haven’t seen a defense like LSU’s, but that doesn’t mean the Tigers are a force that can’t be overcame. Oklahoma plays in the Big 12, so the toughest defense they’ve had to matchup with is Baylor.
The Bears clearly gave OU some trouble, but they present a different type of defense than LSU. While they are 20th and 15th in rushing and passing success rate respectively, the Tigers tend to give up explosive plays, particularly in the air.
Open field tackling has also been a huge problem for LSU, and Oklahoma certainly has the athletes to make you miss in space.
Oklahoma’s defense is like a dollar store version of LSU’s. They’re solid in terms of success rate, but the Sooners are downright awful in defending explosive plays. That’s a tough set of skills to have against Joe Burrow and the best passing attack in the nation.
As double-digit underdog, the OU defense will have to dial up some risky plays to try and get a turnover or two. This will lead to even more chunk plays from the LSU offense.
My power ratings make this game LSU -7.5, so I think there is value on Oklahoma. I’m hesitant to pull the trigger at this point because of how poorly the Sooners matchup up with LSU’s offense.
At this point, I’m playing the over in hopes that Hurts, CeeDee Lamb, and Kennedy Brooks will get enough points on the board to have this thing in the 80’s. — Kyle Miller
Pick: Over 76
Clemson vs. Ohio State Odds
- Odds: Clemson -2
- Over/Under: 62.5
- Time: 8 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN
- Location: Glendale, Ariz.
Two unbeaten teams. The two best in our power ratings. It doesn’t get much better than this.
No. 3 Clemson is a short favorite over No. 2 Ohio State for Saturday’s College Football Playoff semifinals, with the total at 63.
The Tigers have been on a roll since a close win over North Carolina in late September, covering seven of their last eight games. And none of those point spreads were less than -24.
Ohio State has looked somewhat mortal over the last month, failing to cover against both Penn State and Wisconsin despite winning without much of a sweat.
Who has the edge in the College Football Playoff semifinal? Let’s break it all down.
Odds as of Friday night and via DraftKings, where Action Network users get a risk-free bet up to $500.
College Football Playoff Line Movement
The College Football Playoff semifinal line opened as a pick’em, but early money hammered Clemson to -2.5. The line briefly got to Clemson -3 at DraftKings, but that lasted all of three minutes before getting knocked back down to -2.5 and -2.
It now sits at -2 across the market, with 63% of bets and 62% of money on the Tigers.
Latest News: How Healthy Is Justin Fields?
News around the Fiesta Bowl fired up on Christmas Eve, as Justin Fields informed the media of his mobility, saying it was 80 to 85% and “not where I want to be right now.” He injured his knee against Penn State in late November but has played through it.
But those poor metrics are not just on the line — Fields holds onto the ball too long and tries to extend every play. That’s why he doesn’t throw interceptions but gets sacked regularly. — Collin Wilson
How Can Clemson Exploit Fields’ Injury?
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables must now decide if the Fields injury information is accurate and how will it affect the Tigers scheme.
Thanks to the versatility of linebacker Isaiah Simmons, Venables will be able to disguise a number of blitz packages. Expect defensive linemen, linebackers and safeties to rotate pressure in an attempt to confuse Fields and keep him on the move.
The Buckeyes will lean on J.K. Dobbins and the play-action pass to avoid negative plays. Ohio State averages less than a point per drive when highlighted with more than one negative play. Clemson is fourth in defensive havoc, and top 10 in tackles for loss.
Expect Simmons to be dialed in to Dobbins in reading run or pass plays from the Buckeyes offense. Ohio State will score on big passing plays, as the Buckeyes are 16th in rush rate and will get Clemson safeties to bite on a properly executed play-action from Fields. — Collin Wilson
How Will Clemson Deal With Chase Young?
When this semifinal was first announced my immediate thought was ‘Give me all the Trevor Lawrence rushing props’. Lawrence had 5 rushing touchdowns through the first six games of the season, ending with 407 total rushing yards on the season.
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 declining 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.
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. — Collin Wilson
- Game Pick: Clemson ML -130 or better
- Prop: Trevor Lawrence over rushing yards
- Prop: Justin Fields over longest passing play
- Prop: Chase Young Sacks under
Miller: Fields’ Status Has Me Betting Under
There are very knowledgeable people that I respect who like the over in this game, but I’m looking in the opposite direction. When the total first came out, I was a bit surprised to see it where it was, but I understand that both offenses have been elite in 2019.
I just feel that the defenses have been even better.
There are very few areas of the field where one of these teams has an advantage over the other, but there’s a big issue with Ohio States’ ability to protect Justin Fields, as Collin covered.
Clemson isn’t the team you want to play when that’s a concern because it ranks second in the nation in that category on defense. Other than that, you’re looking at one of the most evenly matchup games I’ve ever seen in my time handicapping college football.
The biggest area of concern for Ohio State is the health of Fields, who needs to be healthy if the Buckeyes want to have a chance. His running ability is paramount in getting JK Dobbins going on the ground.
I make Ohio State a small favorite in this game, but we truly don’t know the ceiling of Clemson yet. The Tigers haven’t been challenged all season, especially after they hit their stride in November.
I’m leery to back the Buckeyes because I don’t know what Fields we’re getting. I’m going to side with the under because I think it’s a bit too high and we’ll see more domination than expected from the two best defenses in the country. — Kyle Miller
Pick: Under 62.5