College Football Playoff Semifinals Odds, Predictions: Value on Underdogs in Fiesta Bowl & Peach Bowl
Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Head coach Ryan Day and the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Yes, I’m backing both TCU and Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinals. Also, yes, I may regret those bets and this entire article — but I show sufficient value in both underdogs.
Plus, I like a few of the matchups for each pup and some other intangible factors, which I’ll get into below.
My primary goal here is to simply offer my thoughts on each game to give those on the fence something to consider before ultimately deciding which way to go on either or both matchups.
Good luck with whatever you decide to bet on, and enjoy the games. It’s the last Saturday with college football until next August.
Fiesta Bowl: TCU (+7.5) vs. Michigan
-110o / -110u
-110o / -110u
I show value in this number for TCU, per my most recent power ratings, which is always the most important factor and starting point for any handicap.
I truly believe the market (perception matters in these extremely high-profile games) has given way too much credit to Michigan for its 22-point win over Ohio State. That has in turn inflated the number on both favorites on Saturday.
First, the final score was very misleading. Ohio State trailed just 24-20 at the start of the fourth quarter before a pass interference call on third-and-10 led to a Michigan touchdown.
The Wolverines then added two more touchdowns (with an Ohio State red-zone interception sandwiched in between) on a pair of long, broken runs by Donovan Edwards (75 and 85 yards) when Ohio State was selling out to get a stop.
Earlier in the game, Cornelius Johnson caught a 69-yard touchdown on an out route that was short of the sticks on third-and-long from a JJ McCarthy throw under pressure off his back foot where the defender simply missed the tackle. The Wolverines would eventually also add 75- and 45-yard scores through the air on a pair of pure coverage busts.
Now, the Wolverines certainly get credit for those explosive plays, but those aren’t as predictive. And context always matters.
Michigan gained 349 yards on those five plays but mustered only 181 on the other 55 plays for a futile average of just 3.3 yards per play. For reference, the New Mexico offense finished dead last nationally in 2022 with a 3.9 yards-per-play average.
The Buckeyes also had a miscommunication on a fake punt that in all likelihood would have gone for a touchdown. That would have given them a 27-24 lead and changed the entire complexion of the game.
— ace (playoff mode) (@AceAnbender) November 28, 2022
Ohio State also suffered key injuries at running back and in the secondary.
Long story short, the final score was very misleading in a game where Ohio State had a significantly better Success Rate (47%-37%). That edge was even more pronounced on Standard Downs (59%-45%), which are much more predictive.
Now, let’s get to why I like TCU outside of pure line value.
First off, no team that made a bowl will benefit from the extended break and rest than the Horned Frogs. After an early-season bye, they played 11 straight weeks in a gauntlet stretch that didn’t include a single cupcake opponent.
By the time the Big 12 Championship rolled around, the roster was filled with bumps, bruises and fatigue. An almost month-long break should do wonders for many of their critical pieces that had nagging injuries, including quarterback Max Duggan.
Speaking of Duggan, I expect the Horned Frogs to unleash his legs, which could give Michigan problems. The Wolverines really faced only one mobile quarterback all season in Penn State’s Sean Clifford, who ran for 76 yards on just five carries.
Duggan also gets rid of the ball very fast, which will negate Michigan’s pressure.
Then it comes down to TCU’s excellent skill position players getting it done in space. I think it will have success in that department — even on the ground with the criminally underrated Kendre Miller.
The speed of the Horned Frogs should be on full display in this game, especially on a fast track. I’d imagine Michigan would prefer to play this game outdoors on grass with weather conditions.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan should have success on the ground against a vulnerable TCU run defense — although Blake Corum will be sorely missed from a depth perspective. The Wolverines boast one of the nation’s best rushing attacks in large part due to a dominant offensive line.
However, I trust TCU defensive coordinator Joseph Gillespie to come up with a game plan to slow down Edwards — similar to the Horned Frogs’ victory over Texas in which they held Bijan Robinson (the best back in the country for my money) to just 29 yards on 12 carries.
I assume TCU will dedicate some more resources to the box since it can trust its tremendous cornerbacks — Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson and Josh Newton — on the outside to man up Michigan’s wide receivers.
In that victory over Texas, the Horned Frogs dared Quinn Ewers to beat them deep, and he simply couldn’t. I expect that same approach here, and I still don’t fully trust McCarthy and the Michigan receivers to take full advantage, especially against a scheme they haven’t seen all season.
Everybody remembers the explosive plays against Ohio State since they are top of mind. Don’t forget how inconsistent McCarthy and these receivers performed throughout the season.
Lastly, TCU is much more battle-tested with a significantly tougher strength of schedule. But more importantly, it has a coordinator advantage. That matters a lot to me with four weeks to prepare. This isn’t even a slight at Michigan’s coordinators. I just value Gillespie and Riley that highly.
Peach Bowl: Ohio State (+6.5) vs. Georgia
|Ohio State Odds|
-110o / -110u
-110o / -110u
First off, from a power ratings perspective, I have Ohio State second in the country, trailing only Georgia. The Dawgs get a slight home-field advantage bump for amazingly playing in Mercedes Benz for a third time this season.
However, even with that adjustment, I still project this spread closer to a field goal than a touchdown.
Plus, Ohio State’s speed on offense could benefit from playing on a fast track. Similar to Michigan, I’m sure Georgia would prefer to play this outdoors on a slower track.
From a matchup perspective, Ohio State has a few things going in its favor.
Let’s start on offense. The Buckeyes have a superb offensive line led by a pair of stud tackles. Plus, it’s not like Georgia has generated pressure at an elite level (111th in Sack Rate; partly due to scheme in fairness) — especially since losing star edge rusher Nolan Smith.
Ohio State has one of the few offensive lines that can match up with Jalen Carter and company.
As a result, quarterback CJ Stroud should have time in the pocket to attack downfield with his insanely talented wide receiver corps, which will have opportunities to hit explosive plays against one-on-one coverage.
If Ohio State can connect on one or two of those early (which I expect it to do), that should force Georgia to play more two-high safety. Consequently, that will open up the middle of the field, where Stroud excels.
Additionally, I expect the Buckeyes to come in with a super-aggressive game plan early on. After all, they have nothing to lose with all of the pressure on Georgia. Plus, head coach Ryan Day has heard about how he was too conservative in the Michigan game for over a month now.
I also believe you’ll see Stroud finally utilize his legs more. That would bring a deadly added dimension to this already explosive offense.
On the other side of the ball, Georgia’s offense doesn’t get enough credit, especially quarterback Stetson Bennett.
The Bulldogs feature the best tight end room in the country with Darnell Washington and Brock Bowers, which is why they run 12 personnel at the third-highest frequency in the country. That duo presents an absolute nightmare matchup for opposing defenses on a weekly basis. It also gives offensive coordinator Todd Monken an abundance of flexibility in both the run and pass game.
While Ohio State’s defense has some holes, it will still be the best defense Georgia will face all season.
Additionally, the biggest weakness of the Buckeyes defense is at cornerback on the outside. However, that’s not where Georgia is strongest.
The Buckeyes can’t shut down the Georgia tight ends (nobody can), but they do have a pair of safeties in Ronnie Hickman and Lathan Ransom who have the size and speed to match up as well as you possibly can.
I expect defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to match them up at a high rate on both tight ends with Tanner McCallister at free safety on the back end. That would mirror the game plan that worked like a charm against Notre Dame’s two-tight end sets in the regular-season opener.
Knowles’ scheme is also hyper-aggressive. He does what he wants with stunts and blitzes without any regard for what the opposing offense is doing. That can backfire at times but should be a net positive in this particular matchup against a Georgia offense that excels at scheming defenders to do what it wants.
Lastly, the Buckeyes should really benefit from this extended break from a health perspective. They really got hit hard by the injury bug at the end of the season.
Georgia is the best team in the country. The Bulldogs have undoubtedly proven that against their toughest opponents this season. However, I just don’t see a touchdown separating these teams.
I think we get two very competitive semifinal games, which would be a welcome sight after some of the blowouts we have suffered through in the past. It would also be ideal for both of my wagers.
For what it’s worth, I’m waiting to see if I can get Ohio State either at +7 (-110) or on a cheap buy.