College Football Playoff Betting Picks: Our Staff’s Favorite Bets for Notre Dame-Clemson, Oklahoma-Alabama

Dec 29, 2018 03:00 PM EST

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jalen Hurts celebrates with Tua Tagovailoa

  • Our eight college football experts give their favorite betting picks for the 2018 College Football Playoff.
  • You'll find a number of intriguing angles, including sides, totals and props.

It’s the first time in the history of the college football playoff that both games feature a double-digit favorite. We also have the largest ever CFP over/under in the Oklahoma vs. Alabama (-14) primetime showdown.

There have actually only been two other double-digit favorites total since the college football playoff started in 2013. And both were (not surprisingly) Alabama:

  • Alabama -13.5 won and covered vs. Washington (24-7) in the 2016 semis
  • Alabama -10 won and covered vs. Michigan State (38-0) in the 2015 semis

To help you narrow down your final bets for Saturday, we asked our college football staff to provide their one favorite bet of Saturday’s semifinal games. We needed a fifth pick to settle a tie on the side in Notre Dame vs. Clemson (-12.5), while you’ll find a side, total and prop in the Oklahoma-Alabama game.

Let’s jump right in, starting with the first playoff game at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

*All odds pulled overnight on Dec. 27

Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Odds: Clemson -12.5 | O/U: 56.5
Time: 4 p.m. ET
Location: Arlington, Texas

Collin Wilson: Clemson -12.5, Under 56.5

The Notre Dame S&P+ defensive rank is fourth in compared to Clemson’s defensive rank (first). Surprisingly, the individual units are nowhere close in ranking. Between rushing, passing, standard downs and passing downs the Clemson Tigers lowest unit rank is sixth, with rush defense ranking first overall in the nation. Notre Dame isn’t quite as impressive ranking 18th in rush defense and 15th in standard downs.

The Irish passing defense is top 10, but a sack rate of 58th and a third-and-short success rate of 114th in the nation shows some of the holes in this Irish defense. While Notre Dame is quite good at limiting explosiveness, it is a poor rank in opponent third downs (57th) and average third down distance on defense (101st).

Another reason to be cool on the covering chances for Notre Dame is the list of opponents who lack the elite talent that Clemson possesses. While Trevor Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne and wide receiver Tee Higgins may be the toughest individual players the Irish have faced, it’s the Clemson offensive line that is 10th in stuff rate for rushing and 16th in sack rate protection and should cause big problems.

Clemson may be limited in explosive plays, but should have no issues in efficiency and moving the sticks on third down. The other side of the ball for these two teams is where the decision to take Clemson comes in.

Will Ian Book have time to throw? Plenty has been made of the Dexter Lawrence situation, but when a suspension like this happens it is important to look at the replacement player. In this case we get Senior Albert Huggins, a former 4-star recruit who has more sacks than Lawrence himself. Huggins averages over 20 snaps per game this season, and is skilled enough to start at any other FBS program.

Notre Dame’s rush offense ranks outside the top 100 in opportunity rate and stuff rate, leaving the scoring attack all on Book’s shoulders. Making an offense one-dimensional is Clemson’s specialty. If Book can’t get more than three seconds without pressure, this game could resemble something closer to a previous Clemson semifinal from 2016, where the Ohio State Buckeyes were blanked.

As for the total, Notre Dame is not a pass-first offense. Although both teams rank in the top 35 in adjusted pace, the Irish are 24th in passing downs run rate. Plenty of passing downs result in a run for Notre Dame, which could equal inefficiency with the Clemson defense ranking eighth in third down success rate and third in average third down distance.

Unless Book develops an appetite to throw it down the field, as the Irish are 70th in pass explosiveness, this should go under the total.

Ken Barkley: Notre Dame +12.5

Boca Raton, FL — 7 p.m. ET on ESPN

I’ll make the case for the Irish here.

First of all, Dexter Lawrence’s potential suspension is not really a factor for me here and should be viewed skeptically as a handicapping element. As Collin stated, Clemson’s defensive line remains elite and outstanding and has mismatches in this game regardless with many parts of their rotation.

What this is really about for me is something we’ve all said all year but yet aren’t using appropriately here: the awfulness of the ACC.

I understand the scores were gaudy in conference play for the Tigers, but where was a challenge even supposed to come from? The assumption of their dominance without reasonable competition throughout conference play, in my opinion, creates a little value here.

Is this the best team Clemson will have faced? I argue yes. Irish plus this many points is good for me.

model helps you find edges when betting moneylines and over/unders for the full game
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