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College Football Playoff Odds, Predictions, Best Bets: Our Staff’s Top Picks for Friday’s CFP Semifinals

College Football Playoff Odds, Predictions, Best Bets: Our Staff’s Top Picks for Friday’s CFP Semifinals article feature image

Ryan Collinsworth/Action Network.

  • It's New Year's Eve, which means two things: 2021 is almost over, and the College Football Playoff semifinal games are tonight.
  • Our staff broke down all of their favorite bets for the day, ranging from spread picks, to total bets and player props.
  • Read on for all of our top bets for Alabama vs. Cincinnati and Michigan vs. Georgia.

The whole year has been building up to this moment.

After tonight, a Cotton Bowl champion and an Orange Bowl champion will be crowned, meaning we’ll also know our National Championship participants.

And what’s a College Football Playoff game without a couple of bets along the way? Our staff took that to heart, coming up with 18 of their favorite bets for Friday’s two games. That’s right. Eighteen.

From spread picks to total bets and player props, we have you covered for Cincinnati vs. Alabama and Georgia vs. Michigan. So, scroll as you please, and let’s end 2021 on a high note.

College Football Playoff Best Bets

The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college football staff is targeting from today’s slate of games. Click the team logos for one of the matchups below to navigate to a specific bet discussed in this article.

3:30 p.m. ET
Cincinnati +13.5
3:30 p.m. ET
Cincinnati +13.5
3:30 p.m. ET
Alabama -13.5
3:30 p.m. ET
Alabama -13
3:30 p.m. ET
Under 58
3:30 p.m. ET
Under 57.5
3:30 p.m. ET
Under 57
3:30 p.m. ET
Jerome Ford Under 67.5 Rushing Yards
3:30 p.m. ET
Desmond Ridder Over 240.5 Passing Yards
3:30 p.m. ET
Ryan Montgomery Under 17.5 Rushing Yards
7:30 p.m. ET
Georgia -7
7:30 p.m. ET
Georgia -7.5
7:30 p.m. ET
Georgia -7.5
7:30 p.m. ET
Michigan +8
7:30 p.m. ET
Michigan +7.5
7:30 p.m. ET
Michigan +7.5
7:30 p.m. ET
Michigan ML +240
7:30 p.m. ET
Under 45.5
Specific bet recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing. Always shop for the best price using our NCAAF Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.

Cincinnati vs. Alabama

Friday, Dec. 31
3:30 p.m. ET

Cincinnati ATS

Cincinnati +13.5

By Stuckey

In my opinion, Cincy isn’t getting enough respect in the betting market here. Why? Well, I’m not sure most still believe in this Cincy team, but I think it’s primarily a result of the market giving too much credit to Alabama for its dominant win over Georgia in the SEC Championship.

It’s not like we haven’t seen Alabama dominate good competition this year, but the Tide just haven’t done so on a consistent basis. Examples include their performance against Florida, Texas A&M, Tennessee and Auburn

Then, we all saw Alabama dismantle a previously undefeated Georgia team in the SEC Championship. Some are just assuming Alabama is back to the same dominant team we saw last year, but I’m not sold on that premise.

As you saw above, the Tide finished 5-5 ATS against teams that made a bowl, which includes an extremely lucky cover against Tennessee.

The more telling fact is they either did or easily could have lost to Emory Jones, Zach Calzada, KJ Jefferson, Max Johnson and TJ Finley. They were favorites of 14.5, 19, 29.5, 20.5 and 20.5 in those five nail-biters.

Can Cincy become the sixth underdog of 14 or more points this season to give Alabama a run for its money? I think so.

Maybe we get the good version of Alabama and the stage is too great for Desmond Ridder, but the Tide have been Jekyll and Hyde all year, and Ridder has plenty of big-game experience, including a close bowl loss to Georgia last year.

From a matchup perspective, this is the best secondary Alabama will face all year. The Bearcats boast the best corner duo in all of college football, with future pros Coby Bryant and Ahmad Gardner.

For my money, Sauce Gardner is the best corner in the country. On the season, he’s allowed a mere 136 yards on 36 targets and an opposing QB rating of 20. To put that into perspective, Iowa’s Riley Moss owns the second-lowest rating of 40.

Gardner, who primarily plays the boundary side and shuts down one half of the field, has allowed zero touchdowns to go along with nine interceptions in 1,090 career snaps. Is that good?

And oh yeah, his partner in crime on the other side of the field, Bryant, actually won the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s top defensive back. Those two have allowed just three touchdowns to go along with six interceptions on the season.

Also, don’t sleep on safety Bryan Cook either. He’s graded out elite across the board this season.

This Cincy secondary can contain an Alabama wide receiver group that will be without John Metchie III, who finished with a team-high 96 catches and over 1,100 yards. He will be sorely missed as a reliable possession receiver underneath.

Yes, Alabama has plenty of talent on the depth chart, but besides Jameson Williams, no other Alabama receiver had more than 32 catches or 33 yards. It’s a substantial loss.

I will be curious to see how much Alabama puts Williams in the slot, which is where you can attack this Cincy defense. He only played about 23% of his snaps in the slot this year, but we recently saw Houston put Nathaniel Dell in the slot for a season-high 53 snaps with great success in the AAC Championship.

I believe Alabama will come out with a run-heavy offensive game plan that tries to take advantage of its size in the trenches. While I do believe Brian Robinson Jr. can have success running the ball, this underrated Cincy front seven did finish in the top-five nationally in EPA per rush.

The Bearcats have a tremendous linebacker corps of Deshawn Pace, Joel Dublanko and Darrian Beavers, while Myjai Sanders is great off the edge and Curtis Brooks can create chaos from the interior. I think they can at least make Bama work for its yards on the ground.

The Alabama offensive line was inconsistent all year and allowed far too many negative plays, which Cincy’s front can certainly take advantage of.

On the other side, Ridder is going to have to hit some explosive plays with play-action on early downs. Throwing on third-and-long will not work in this game, especially considering some of the advantages Alabama has up front with Will Anderson Jr. and Co. against an underwhelming Cincy offensive line.

It helps to have an NFL-caliber quarterback with an abundance of experience and exceptional mobility in this spot. Ridder has plenty of weapons on the outside that can make explosive plays against an inconsistent Alabama secondary that finished below average nationally in both EPA per Pass and Pass Success Rate.

I’m also counting on Cincy being ultra-aggressive on fourth downs as large underdogs, especially with a messy kicking situation.

Lastly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a pro-Cincinnati crowd in Arlington. This is potentially a once-in-a-lifetime trip for Cincy in college football, while it’s an annual thing for Alabama fans. Tide fans might not have as much interest as usual in traveling to Texas to watch Alabama as heavy favorites over a Group of Five school.

I’d monitor the market to see if a 14 pops prior to kick before locking this in, but I do like the Bearcats at +13 or better since I project Alabama as just below a 10-point favorite.

Don’t sleep on this Cincy defense and don’t let recency bias allow you to forget how inconsistent Alabama has been all season.

I also lean toward the under (and Alabama team total under), which makes taking the points even more enticing.

Pick: Cincinnati +13.5

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Cincinnati +13.5

By BJ Cunningham

This line is a tad too high for a really good Cincinnati team that can hang with Alabama.

The Bearcats are top-30 defensively in both Rushing and Passing Success Rate Allowed, and their secondary especially should be able to slow down Bryce Young, considering they allowed only 5.7 yards per attempt and had the third-best coverage grade, per PFF.

The Alabama rushing attack hasn’t been at the elite level that it’s been in years past. The Crimson Tide averaged only 4.0 yards per carry and were outside the top 70 in both EPA/Rush, Offensive Line Yards, Stuff Rate Allowed, and rushing explosiveness.

So, this game is solely going to be on Bryce Young’s shoulders, and he will be down one of his top two receivers in John Metchie III, who led the team with 96 catches this season.

Desmond Ridder and the Bearcat offense may have stumbled in a few spots against inferior opponents, but overall for the season, they’ve been extremely efficient.

Cincinnati was very efficient on the ground, ranking inside the top 15 in Rushing Success Rate and EPA/Rush. Alabama has been incredibly stout against the run, ranking inside the top 15 in every single defensive rushing metric and allowing only 2.6 yards per rush, which was the second-best mark in the country.

So, this game is likely going to be in Ridder’s hands, as he has a pretty good matchup versus Alabama’s secondary. Ridder averaged 9.0 yards per attempt and secured an 88.7 PFF passing grade with 25 big-time throws and only nine turnover-worthy plays.

That allowed Cincinnati to rank 15th in Passing Success, which will be huge in facing an Alabama secondary that was 41st in Passing Success Rate Allowed and 71st in passing explosiveness allowed.

I only have Alabama projected as a -3.2 favorite, SP+ only has Alabama as a -4.2 favorite, and our PRO Projections only have Alabama as a -12.5 favorite, so I love the Bearcats at +13.5.

Pick: Cincinnati +13.5

Alabama ATS

Alabama -13.5

By Shawn Burns

The 2021 College Football Playoff Semifinals kick off with the Cotton Bowl Classic, as Alabama takes on the Cincinnati Bearcats in Dallas, Texas.

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young won the Heisman and had an epic performance against Georgia in the SEC title game, throwing for 421 yards and three touchdowns in the Tide’s win.

Alabama has future pro’s all over the field, including receiver Jameson Williams and running back Brian Robinson Jr., who should be healthy after suffering an injury in the Auburn game.

A few young, talented receivers will need to step up due to the loss of John Metchie III, who is out with an ACL injury. The good news for the Tide is they have plenty of talent to choose from.

Alabama is ranked eighth in the country in total defense and they only allow 2.51 yards per rush attempt, which is second in the nation.

Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder will need to play one of the best games of his career against the ferocious pass rush of Alabama, which is led by Will Anderson Jr. and his 15.5 sacks.

Ridder will need to create plays with his legs and give his receivers time to get open in the passing game. It will be a challenge for the Bearcats to just line up and run the ball, so all the pressure will be on Ridder to make smart decisions.

The Bearcats have possibly the best secondary in the country with Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant. It will be fascinating to see them match up with Young, Williams and the rest of Alabama’s talented playmakers.

Cincinnati allows 137 yards per game on the ground, and this may be an area that Alabama attempts to attack considering the talent of the Cincinnati pass defense.

Alabama played its best game of the season against Georgia and now, it can taste another National Championship. Nick Saban and his staff had extra time to game plan, which is usually a nightmare for the opposition.

The Bearcats will be up for the challenge, but Alabama has more overall talent and the greatest coach in college football history. The Tide will pull away in the second half and cover the two-touchdown spread.

Pick: Alabama -13.5

Alabama -13

By Patrick Strollo

No. 1 Alabama (12-1) and No. 4 Cincinnati (13-0) kick off semifinal action in the College Football Playoff in Arlington, Texas. This is arguably the most hyped semifinal game in the short history of the College Football Playoff, pitting the surging SEC champions against the first-ever Group of Five team to make the playoff.

Determining the appropriate spread for this game has been quite a chore given the schedule dynamics of the Power Five versus the Group of Five. In my experience, Vegas normally reverts to the historical conference win margins to set lines when the Power Five and Group of Five mix it up.

Over the last five years when the two conferences have met, the margin of victory has been 15 and a hook in favor of the SEC. This is a difficult game to handicap because of the difference in schedules and as such, I think Vegas hung approximately the five-year mean.

Cincinnati opened at +14. That attracted a lot of sharp action given the great football number and how models based on traditional and advanced statistics are projecting the outcome of this game.

The question I ultimately ask myself when breaking down this game is: what is the most likely outcome? Is it Alabama by three-plus touchdowns, Alabama in a tight contest, or Cincinnati shocking the world? All the scenarios are fun to think about, but my goal is to pick the most realistic outcome.

Nick Saban and staff are masters of preparation, especially when they are afforded a couple of extra weeks to scout their opponent. In the Crimson Tide’s six semifinal appearances, they are 5-1, winning by an average of 20.2 points.

I expect this game to prove no different given Alabama’s resource and talent advantage.

The Cincinnati defense is very good – namely its cornerbacks and defensive line – but it will be challenged on the other side of the ball in a way it hasn’t been this season.

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young – this year’s Heisman winner – is a generational talent that Cincinnati hasn’t come close to facing this season. The Crimson Tide offensive line will also be the best that the Bearcats have faced all season, sporting a size and talent differential.

Young will have the time to let plays develop and methodically pick apart the Bearcats’ secondary.

Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder will have to play an absolutely perfect game to keep his team in this one.

Unfortunately, this game won’t play out this way. The tested Crimson Tide defense ranks ninth nationally in total defense, allowing just 305.8 yards per game after a season of SEC play. Look for Crimson Tide linebacker Will Anderson Jr. and the rest of the defense to cause headaches all game for Ridder.

Group of Five teams have made noise in the past. Teams like Boise State and UCF have paved a way for Cincinnati to get to the College Football Playoff, but this is where the Cinderella story comes to a grinding halt.

Lay the points and look for Alabama to run away with this one in the second half, as it sets its sights on yet another National Championship.

Pick: Alabama -13

Cincinnati vs. Alabama Under

Under 58

By Kody Malstrom

Cincinnati is going to scare the Crimson Tide.

Will it gesecuret the upset of the year in one of the biggest games? Probably not. But it’s going to make this one ugly slugfest of a game.

All year, people were clamoring for Cincy to make it to the Final Four, only to backtrack on it when Cincy hit a skid. Little does the public know, this defense is legit. With one of the best secondaries in the nation, it’s going to make Alabama earn every yard in the air.

Worse yet for Bama, it will be without stud wide receiver John Metchie III, a huge loss for the Crimson Tide. With a team struggling to spread the ball around, Cincy will have one less viable target to worry about.

While the Tide seemingly had a “down” year en route to an 11-1 finish in the regular season, they once again reminded everyone why they are one of the greatest dynasties in sports by easily taking care of No. 1 Georgia in the SEC Championship.

It was no fluke; Alabama was always legit. While not as good as Bama’s past championship teams, this is still a defense that is capable of shutting down anyone.

That includes a Desmond Ridder-led Cincy squad that has been boom-or-bust to end the season.

I believe Alabama will have a comfortable lead and then call back the dogs come end of game as it’s been prone to do to prepare for the National Championship.

If either team starts out hot or gets a fluke touchdown early, I will look to hammer a live under as well.

Pick: Under 58

Under 57.5

By Alex Kolodziej

Of all of the potential scenarios in this intriguing, nonconference semifinal, a track meet would be the most surprising.

Cincinnati’s secondary isn’t at all behind the eight ball against an SEC skill corps. It has two of the top cornerbacks in football — Coby Bryant and Sauce Gardner — for a secondary that allowed the third-lowest completion percentage in the entire country.

Plus, Alabama’s top receiver, John Metchie III, is sidelined — that’s one less weapon to worry about, as the Crimson Tide have struggled to find a third option behind Metchie and Jameson Williams.

Both defenses allowed just 10.8 yards per completion (good for top-15 nationally). Alabama coughed up just 2.6 yards per carry, Cincinnati 3.4 — both top-12.

There could be some big plays early if one or both offenses finds an edge in an early script, but this matchup isn’t a recipe for consistent scoring throughout.

I like the under at 55 or better, with a smaller lean on Cincinnati’s team total at 21.5 or better.

Pick: Under 57.5

Under 57

By Mike McNamara

When breaking down the first semifinal of the day on New Year’s Eve, the betting angle that I keep coming back to is on the under at 57.

I think this number is a bit of an overreaction to Alabama’s offensive performance against Georgia in the SEC Championship. As impressive as the Tide were in that game, this is still an offense that really sputtered against Auburn and LSU late in the year.

Cincinnati possesses one of the most elite cornerback duos in the entire country in Coby Bryant and Sauce Gardner. These two will both play on Sunday’s, and with John Metchie III unavailable for this game, that’s one less weapon the Bearcats’ secondary needs to worry about.

On the other side of the ball, I don’t see Cincinnati being able to dial up many explosive plays against this Alabama defense. The Bama secondary has done a good job all year in terms of limiting big plays, particularly in its last time out against Georgia.

If Cincinnati is to move the ball in this game, it will be with longer and more methodical drives down the field.

Luke Fickell knows he needs to limit the number of possessions in this game to give his team a chance, so I don’t expect the Bearcats to move very quickly when they have the ball.

I’m locking in the under at 57.5, in what I hope will be an exciting first semifinal of the day.

Pick: Under 57

Cincinnati Player Props

Jerome Ford Under 67.5 Rushing Yards

By Darin Gardner

Jerome Ford is averaging over 100 rushing yards per game and has surpassed this number in eight of his 12 games. On the year, he’s ranked 20th in rushing yards and seventh in rushing touchdowns while averaging 6.2 yards per carry.

His 89.5 rushing grade, 50 missed tackles forced and 31 explosive runs all lead the American Athletic Conference, per Pro Football Focus.

He’s also running into a buzzsaw with this Alabama run defense.

There are some question marks about the Tide’s coverage unit, but the same can’t be said for their ability to stop the run, with Alabama ranked second in yards before contact per attempt, fourth in EPA allowed per carry, and first in PFF run-defense grade.

Individually, edge defender Will Anderson’s 90.5 run defense grade ranks second in the nation at his position, while teammate Byron Young’s 90.2 run defense grade ranks third among all interior defenders.

There have only been two running backs to surpass this number against Alabama this year: LSU’s Tyrion Davis-Price and Florida’s Malik Davis. Other than that, opposing running backs haven’t gotten anything against this group.

While Cincinnati’s been able to get it done on the ground for the most part this season, it hasn’t played a team anywhere near Alabama’s caliber, and it’s not hard to see an offensive line that ranks 50th in PFF run-blocking grade get overpowered by this Alabama front.

That, combined with the high probability of Cincinnati playing this game in catch-up mode from behind, makes it tough to see Ford having a big game on Friday.

Pick: Jerome Ford Under 67.5 Rushing Yards

Desmond Ridder Over 240.5 Passing Yards

By Doug Ziefel

After entering the season as a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate, Desmond Ridder did not exactly fulfill those lofty expectations on multiple occasions this season.

Though, when it was all said and done, he was 23rd in passing yards and held a 30:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Many of his “down” performances can be attributed to game script. It was no secret that the Bearcats could run at will with Jerome Ford, and with no real flaws in that plan, utilizing Ridder was put on the backburner.

That will not be the case in the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide. This Tide defense is going to be the toughest test Cincinnati has faced all season, and like many others, I believe it’s up to the task.

Though, for Cincinnati to have success on offense, Ridder will have to throw because no one runs on Alabama.

The Alabama secondary has been beaten on multiple occasions this year, and the numbers show it. The Tide are 93rd in opponent completion percentage allowed and 65th in passing yards allowed per game. That average allowed per game is 228 yards — 13 yards less than what we need from Ridder here.

To continue with averages, despite his up-and-down totals, Ridder averages 245 passing yards per game.

Lastly, this is the one game that Ridder will be game-script-proof. As I said earlier, I expect Ridder to throw early and often, but if Cincy goes down early, he will be throwing for the duration of the game.

Pick: Desmond Ridder Over 240.5 Passing Yards

Ryan Montgomery Under 17.5 Rushing Yards

By Kyle Remillard

Running against Alabama has been a near-impossible task this season. The Crimson Tide have been historically good at stopping the run, allowing just 2.6 yards per carry against FBS teams (second in the nation).

When you remove the Florida debacle from the equation, Alabama has allowed an insane 2.1 yards per carry.

The group held Auburn to 22 yards on 40 carries, New Mexico State to nine yards on 27 carries and Mississippi State to -1 yards on 19 attempts. The NFL-like front seven has produced 107 tackles for loss this season, which means Cincinnati is going to have a tough time finding running room.

Ryan Montgomery is the backup running back for the Bearcats — he also returns punts.

Montgomery has been efficient, averaging 6.1 yards per rush when he gets the rock. The issue is, he averages only 3.4 carries per game and had three separate games with zero rushing attempts.

Montgomery may not even see the ball in this game, especially if the Bearcats are trailing and need to go with a more pass-heavy approach.

But if he does, there is a better chance that Alabama gets to him in the backfield than him hitting 18 rushing yards in this game.

Pick: Ryan Montgomery Under 17.5 Rushing Yards

Georgia vs. Michigan

Friday, Dec. 31
7:30 p.m. ET

Georgia ATS

Georgia -7

By Stuckey

Similar to the first playoff game, I think recency bias is kicking in here. Bettors have seemingly forgotten how dominant Georgia was all season before a clunker in the SEC Championship.

Alabama exploited a Georgia secondary that had some lingering questions and health issues, but Michigan isn’t Alabama, and the Bulldogs’ secondary should be much healthier for this one.

The Wolverines don’t have a Jameson Williams or a Heisman quarterback and finished just 87th in EPA per pass.

The Dogs are built to completely shut down run-heavy attacks – like the one that Michigan features. Georgia has three of the four highest-rated interior run defenders in the country in Devonte Wyatt, Jordan Davis and Jalen Carter, who free up Nakobe Dean & Co. to make plays all over the field.
Georgia also excels against inside-zone runs, which Michigan loves to call.

The Wolverines also have struggled at times with stunts and twists up front, which they’ll see plenty of on Saturday.

Michigan also ranks No. 1 in the country in EPA on trick plays, but I’m not sure how much it can get in that department against an extremely disciplined Georgia D.

On the other side of the ball, I think Georgia can have success on early downs on both the ground and with a heavy dose of play-action through the air. For what it’s worth, Michigan really struggled at times against play-action, allowing 6.9 yards per dropback (and a 114 QB rating) compared to 4.3 on non-play action plays.

That spells trouble for a Georgia offense that ranked No. 1 in EPA per pass on early downs – in large part due to a high frequency of play-action.

Ultimately, I just don’t think Michigan can force Bennett into too many pure passing situations (or get him to play from behind), which is the key to beating this Georgia team.

It’s also worth monitoring the status of stud defensive back Dax Hill, who reportedly did not travel with the team. His absence would be a major loss, especially against Brock Bowers — one of the best tight ends in the country.

I just think Georgia comes out with its hair on fire after sitting on that SEC Championship loss and hearing how it is the same old Georgia for the past month. This is still the best team in the country in my eyes, and the Bulldogs now have a very favorable matchup on both sides of the ball against Michigan.

The Wolverines won’t beat themselves with mistakes or poor special teams play, but I think they eventually fall by double digits here.

Try to wait for that Georgia -7 to pop pregame or live, as I think the Dogs are the side.

Pick: Georgia -7

Georgia -7.5

By Mike Ianniello

Georgia looked nearly unbeatable and was talked about like an all-time team prior to the SEC Championship. I think this line is an overreaction to that game, and I am sticking with the Dawgs.

Prior to the SEC Championship loss, our Action Network Power Ratings would have made a Georgia vs. Michigan spread -12 in favor of the Bulldogs.

Alabama was able to beat the Georgia defense with an elite performance from their Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and All-American wide receiver. Michigan does not have that same ability to take advantage.

The Wolverines rank 94th in the country in offensive explosiveness. Quarterback Cade McNamara has thrown just 15 touchdowns this season and averages 7.9 yards per attempt. Pro Football Focus grades Stetson Bennett as the better quarterback in this matchup.

Instead, Michigan relies on its two running backs to pound the football. They have the 26th-highest rush rate and are 16th in the country in Rushing Success. That is not the recipe to beat Georgia, though.

The Bulldogs rank fifth in the country in Rushing Success Rate and are dominant against the run.

Georgia has allowed just 2.6 yards per carry and 81.7 rushing yards per game this season, the second-fewest in the country. Opponents have scored just three rushing touchdowns on the Dawgs all season.

A 10th-ranked pass blocking unit should be able to keep the Michigan edge rushers at bay and give Bennett time to find his star tight end, Brock Bowers. If Michigan safety Daxton Hill (questionable) does not play, Bowers could have a monster game.

Michigan is an excellent team but just does not have the weapons on the outside to take advantage of the one area of weakness Georgia has shown.

We are getting the Bulldogs at a discounted price because of the SEC title game. I would take the Dawgs up to -9.

Pick: Georgia -7.5

Georgia -7.5

By Anthony Dabbundo

Shop around and try to find a -7 closer to gametime, and it’s worth it to shop, even if you have to pay -115 to get one.

But this is a nightmare matchup for a Michigan offense that is run-first and run-heavy, going up against one of the most dominant run defenses in the sport in recent memory.

The Wolverines will find themselves in third-and-long quite often, and while they can hit some explosive plays, they won’t be able to do so nearly enough to sustain scoring drives.

Georgia got embarrassed by Alabama, specifically by the Tide’s ability to hit downfield for chunk passing plays. But the Bulldogs had no problems with run-first offenses like Kentucky, Florida and Arkansas when they smashed all three in the regular season.

Don’t overreact to one bad Georgia game in the SEC Championship and ignore an impressive body of work that included 11 blowouts this season.

The Bulldogs should control the line of scrimmage on the ground, and while I don’t love the idea of Stetson Bennett against the pressure Michigan can create, Georgia should be playing from ahead where he’s more comfortable. And Brock Bowers should dominate the middle of the field against the weakest part of this Michigan defense.

Thank Alabama for destroying Georgia in Atlanta a month ago for giving us a much cheaper price on the Bulldogs to set up an SEC Championship rematch for the national title with a comfortable multiple-score victory over Michigan.

Pick: Georgia -7.5

Michigan ATS

Michigan +8

By Kody Malstrom

If you followed along with the bi-weekly futures piece with Mike McNamara and I, you would know how much I love this Michigan team, which is funny to type because I’m one of the biggest Michigan haters in the world. In that article, I told readers to grab an 80-1 ticket for Michigan to win it all, as the defense won me over.

Flash forward to today, and the defense is the main reason it made it this far. Upsetting Ohio State enroute to the Big Ten Championship, this Michigan team is legit.

While I still believe Georgia is the No. 1 team in the nation, I think Michigan will hang around to the final whistle — especially with the spread over a touchdown.

The offense will need to mix it up, as the run game will not be as efficient as usual. Georgia possesses one of the best defensive lines in the nation — one that is sure to give Michigan fits.

If Michigan can blend in a quick pass across the middle or hit screens to ease off the linebackers, then Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins will have moments to do some damage.

On the other end, it’s safe to say Michigan will bring it. If it weren’t for Georgia having one of the best defensive seasons ever, we would be saying the same about Michigan.

Aidan Hutchinson is a legit top-two player in college football and will be a top-two pick as well in the NFL Draft. David Ojabo is almost just as dominant, and the pair will bring constant pressure to whoever takes snaps for Georgia.
This will force Georgia to rely more on quick passes and screens, a scheme that Michigan is more than equipped to contain, as it’se one of the best tackling units in the country.

As Jim Harbaugh’s No. 1 hater and Michigan’s biggest fan this season, I am once again believing in the Wolverines to pull off another huge win for the program and go to the National Championship.

Pick: Michigan +8

Michigan +7.5

By Alex Hinton

There has been a lot said about Georgia’s defense this season. And rightfully so, because the Bulldogs defense has been playing at a historic level this season, the Alabama game notwithstanding.

However, it will not be the only elite defense in this game.

Michigan is tied for fourth nationally in scoring defense, ninth in Finishing Drives, and 10th in yards per play allowed. It also ranks in the top 15 in both Rushing and Passing Success Rate Allowed.

Georgia averages 39.4 points per game, which is seventh nationally in scoring offense. However, against the three top-40 scoring defenses it faced (Clemson, Kentucky, and Alabama), it averaged 19 points per game.

Quarterback Stetson Bennett was sacked three times against Alabama, and one of them came from Crimson Tide star pass rusher Will Anderson.

Against Michigan, however, it will have to deal with two elite pass rushers. In David Ojabo and Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan has the best pass-rushing duo in the country. The two have combined for 25 sacks this season, which is more than half of all FBS teams had this season.

Hutchinson and Ojabo have shown up in big moments this season. They combined for five sacks against Penn State and four against Ohio State. They were instrumental in helping Michigan pull off an outright win over Ohio State as a 6.5-point underdog. They will give Michigan a chance in a similar spot against Georgia.

In a game that I expect to be a defensive struggle, 7.5 is too many points. I’ll take the points and back the Wolverines in this spot.

Pick: Michigan +7.5

Michigan +7.5

By Mike McNamara

Not many had Michigan reaching the College Football Playoff back in August. Well, here the Wolverines are.

Jim Harbaugh’s team finally got over the hump against Ohio State, and then proceeded to dominate Iowa in the Big Ten Championship game.

When the Wolverines square off against Georgia on Friday night, I expect this roster to play well once again on a big stage.

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett has been very serviceable throughout the season for the Dawgs. That said, when Bennett stepped up in weight class against Alabama in the SEC title game, things didn’t go as smoothly.

Bennett had been accustomed to playing with the lead and in many games, facing relatively weak defenses (Florida, Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Vandy, etc).

The Michigan front possesses the ability to make life difficult for Bennett, similarly to how the Tide did.

Aidan Hutchinson and Co. have been relentless throughout the year and whether or not Bennett can take care of the football, will go a long way in determining which team moves on to Indy.

Offensively, I definitely don’t think Michigan will be able to run the ball all over Georgia like it was able to against Ohio State. Georgia is simply too strong against the run.

As a result, more responsibility will be on Cade McNamara’s shoulders. I think you’ll also see a decent amount of freshman J.J. McCarthy in this game, as the youngster gives Michigan a bit of a different wrinkle in certain packages.

So many of these CFP semifinal games have seemingly been over by halftime in recent memory. That won’t be the case in this one.

I firmly expect a hard-fought, back-and-forth battle between two physical and well-coached teams. I don’t know if Michigan has the offensive firepower to win this game outright, but I have more than enough confidence to back UM getting 7.5.

Give me Michigan and the points, and let’s get an instant classic Friday night before we ring in 2022.

Pick: Michigan +7.5

Michigan Moneyline

Michigan ML +240

By Patrick Strollo

No. 2 Michigan (12-1) and No. 3 Georgia (12-1) square off in the late College Football Playoff Semifinal on New Year’s Eve.

Michigan comes into the Orange Bowl as the hotter team after righting the ship following a close loss to rival Michigan State earlier in the season.

Georgia looks to regain some respect after losing outright as favorites to Alabama in the SEC Championship.

A lot has been made of the motivation factor for Georgia after losing in the SEC Championship, but given what’s at stake in this game, I suspect the X-factor for the Bulldogs is overstated. Michigan is a disciplined team that is going to be equally motivated to reach its first-ever CFP title game.

Georgia has one of the best defenses in the country, ranking first and second in scoring defense and total defense, respectively. But Michigan is excellent on defense too, ranking fourth and 11th in the same metrics, respectively.

Both teams will be able to find success stopping their opponent throughout the course of the game.

The differentiator in this matchup will be the Michigan offense. The Wolverines come into the semifinal averaging 38.6 points per game since the loss to Michigan State.

Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara plays behind one of the best offensive lines in the country and a lot will be asked of him from the start of this game.

However, the lifeblood of the Wolverines’ offense is in the backfield. Running backs Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins are integral to coach Jim Harbaugh’s run-first attack.

The Michigan offense has shown that it can use its rushing game to open up the more creative parts of its playbook, and I fully expect that to be the game plan.

Meanwhile, behind defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, the Wolverines’ defense will be able to stifle quarterback Stetson Bennett and the Georgia offense.

Michigan comes into this game peaking at the right time. I am projecting this game as a pick ‘em, and given Michigan’s success in recent weeks, I think there is tremendous value in the moneyline at plus money.

Pick: Michigan ML +240

Georgia vs. Michigan Under

Under 45.5

By BJ Cunningham

Two of the best defenses in college football square off for a chance to play for a national title in the Orange Bowl.

Georgia put up great numbers defensively against a very average group of quarterbacks. I went back and looked at the best quarterback Georgia faced this season by PFF passing grade standards, and it was Arkansas’ KJ Jefferson, who put up an 82.0 passing grade this season.

Well, Alabama Heisman winner Bryce Young has the second-best passing grade in the country, so it’s not crazy surprising that he went off against the Bulldogs.

With that being said, Cade McNamara is nowhere near the level of Young. In fact, he’s been pretty average this season. McNamara owns a 77.9 passing grade and is averaging 7.9 yards per attempt, which are nowhere near elite.

Georgia is the No. 1 defense in college football in Success Rate Allowed and EPA/Play allowed.

Its front seven will shut down Michigan’s running back tandem of Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins, as the Bulldogs allowed only 2.7 yards per carry on the season and are graded as the best run defense, per PFF.

Stetson Bennett put up a dud of a performance in the SEC Championship game, averaging only 7.1 yards per attempt and throwing two interceptions.

The biggest question mark now with Georgia is whether or not it can win the title if Bennett has to throw over 25 passes. The game against Alabama was only the second time this season he was forced to throw it more than 25 times, so for Georgia to win, it has to rely on its ground game.

The Bulldogs are 14th in Rushing Success Rate, but they haven’t been explosive whatsoever, ranking 106th in rushing explosiveness.

Michigan has a fantastic rush defense that allowed only 3.5 yards per carry and ranks 18th Defensive Line Yards.

The Wolverines also have the potential No. 1 overall pick in Aidan Hutchinson, who fuels the second-best pass rush in college football, per PFF.

Bennett’s PFF passing grade goes from 89.4 with a clean pocket to 37.5 when he’s under pressure. So, it’s going to be difficult for Georgia to move the ball if Hutchinson and Co. put pressure on Bennett.

With these two defenses going up against offenses that play at a very slow pace (Michigan 58th in plays per minute among bowl teams, Georgia 73rd), I think this one is going to be a defensive slugfest.

I only have 38.8 points projected for this one, so I’ll back under 45.5 points.

Pick: Under 45.5

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