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

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

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.

Stuckey: Notre Dame +12.5

Pasadena, CA — 5 p.m. ET on ESPN

I mentioned Clemson’s special teams woes on our podcast (and in our preview) this year and I really think it’s an angle being slept on since the Tigers have really blown out everyone on the 76th-toughest schedule in the nation.

And while its run defense is historically elite without a doubt, I still have questions about the secondary (which were the only questions I had about this defense coming into the season) — especially if you can protect the quarterback.

I think Ian Book can exploit some holes in the Clemson secondary that has rarely been tested by elite passing offenses this year. The Tigers failed two of their three real secondary tests, passing against only N.C. State.

Just look at the numbers Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond and South Carolina’s Jake Bentley put up:

  • Mond: 23 of 40,430 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
  • Bentley: 32 of 50, 510 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT

Even Syracuse’s Eric Dungey did a few things in a close game behind a subpar offensive line with a very average passing attack. The rest of Clemson’s schedule included an FCS school and some of the purest running teams in the nation.

And while the Clemson defensive line is one of the best ever and has depth for days, it won’t hurt Notre Dame to not have to deal with one of the best in the country in Lawrence. I think Clemson wins this game (and is the best team in the country), but anything over +10 is just too many points.

Danny Donahue: Clemson -12.5

I’ll split the difference here.

I know Notre Dame is also undefeated. I know Dexter Lawrence is (probably) out. And I know 12.5 points is a lot. You know else knows all that?


Of all the times during the year to trust oddsmakers and fade the public, bowl season is right up there with the best of ‘em.

Bowl game sides getting 40% or fewer bets have gone 153-103-3 (59.8%) ATS since 2005. And on the rare occasion where that team is a favorite, the record jumps to 16-6-0 (72.7%) ATS.

I’ll happily join the brave 30% of bettors laying the points.

Breaking the Tie

Sean Koerner: Clemson -12.5

Oklahoma vs. Alabama 

Odds: Alabama -14 | O/U: 77
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN
Location: Miami, Fla.

Scott Miller: Alabama-Oklahoma Over 76.5

I’m shocked this number isn’t in the 80s. These offenses rank 1-2 in explosiveness, success rate, passing S&P+ and big-play rate.

That by itself would be reason enough to take the over at this number. But there’s more: Tua Tagovailoa, one of the best college QBs I’ve ever seen, gets the pleasure of facing Oklahoma’s defense, which is, to be kind, very bad.

Here’s a handy list of the teams to put up 40 or more points on Oklahoma this season: Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas (!!!!) and West Virginia.

The Sooners rank 109th in defensive success rate and 117th points allowed per scoring opportunity. The Tide’s offense is second and seventh, respectively, in those two crucial categories.

I really think Alabama puts up 50 in this spot more often than not, and Oklahoma is just as likely to get into the high-30s/low-40s against a Tide defense that’s great, but not other-wordly like Saban’s championship units of yesteryear.

John Ewing: Alabama -14 (vs. Oklahoma)

Oklahoma (49.5 ppg) and Alabama (47.9 ppg) lead the nation in scoring. The biggest difference between these two explosive offensive teams is on the defensive side of the ball. The Tide have allowed only 14.8 ppg (4th) and rank eighth in defensive S&P+, while the Sooners have given up 32.4 ppg (96th) and rank 89th in defensive S&P+.

Since 2005, teams like Oklahoma that are both scoring and allowing 30 or more points per game have gone 26-50-1 (34%) ATS in bowl games. Under Nick Saban, Alabama is 43-31 ATS when facing a ranked opponent and is 21-12 ATS when favored by double-digits in these games. All the trends point to Bama.

Steve Petrella: Longest TD Under 65.5 Yards, Double Result Oklahoma-Alabama

I’ll go with something a little different. While I realize it won’t be that fun praying that neither set of receivers burns the opposing secondary over the top, I just think this is too many yards.

Oklahoma, for all its flaws, gave up two plays of 60-plus yards all season. Alabama gave up one — on the opening play to Ole Miss three months ago before it completely shut down the Rebels. The Sooners are incredibly inefficient on defense but rank middle of the pack in IsoPPP+ (a measure of explosiveness).

Alabama allowed some big passing plays early in the season but has figured things out since. As a result, the Tide rank in the top 35 in defensive passing explosiveness. Also, Oklahoma may not have its best big-play weapon, wide receiver Hollywood Brown, at 100%.

There will be big plays and long touchdowns in this game — but I don’t think they’ll be 65-plus.

I’m also interested in a double result — essentially a first-half and full-game moneyline parlay — of Oklahoma-Alabama. It pays around 6-1. You’re betting on Oklahoma to lead at halftime and Alabama to win the game.

The Sooners’ pace posed major problems for an elite Georgia defense in the Rose Bowl last year before the Dawgs got rolling on offense and ended up winning. I can see some of the same. At 6-1, there’s also ample room to hedge live or at halftime if Oklahoma does have a lead.


Editor’s note: The opinions on these games are from the individual writers and are based on their research, analysis and perspective. They are independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.