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College Football Playoff betting: An early look at the semifinal lines

Yahoo Sports 12/5/2022 Sam Cooper

The College Football Playoff field is officially set.

No. 1 Georgia will meet No. 4 Ohio State in the Peach Bowl while No. 2 Michigan takes on No. 3 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. We have to wait nearly a month to see these teams compete on the field, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to dive into the matchups from a wagering perspective.

As expected, the top two seeds are both favorites at BetMGM.

Peach Bowl: No. 1 Georgia (-6.5) vs. No. 4 Ohio State

Georgia, the reigning national champion, is a 6.5-point favorite over Ohio State. That number opened at 7, but ticked down a half–point under the full touchdown. The total opened at 60.5 and has stayed at that number.

Georgia is a perfect 13-0 after demolishing LSU, 50-30, in the SEC title game. The Bulldogs haven’t been challenged much along the way with just one game — a 26-22 win over Missouri on Oct. 1 — being decided by a single-digit margin.

Georgia has been favored in all 13 games it has played. Before this game, the smallest point spread was when UGA was a 9.5-point favorite over Tennessee, which was ranked No. 1 at that point. UGA won that game, 27-13, and the game was nowhere near as competitive as the final score may make it seem.

For Ohio State, this game feels like a second chance. The Buckeyes were 11-0 for their home showdown with Michigan a few weeks ago, but fell to the rival Wolverines for a second straight season. The Buckeyes had a 20-17 lead at halftime that quickly deteriorated into a 45-23 loss.

Following the loss, OSU fell to No. 5 in the CFP rankings but was able to slide back into the top four thanks to USC’s loss in the Pac-12 title game. Will the Buckeyes be able to take advantage?

If Ohio State struggled with the physicality of Michigan, how will it fare against Georgia in Atlanta? At the same time, the time between games should allow the Buckeyes to be much more healthy for Georgia than they were for Michigan.

This is a fascinating matchup, and the fact that the spread is under 7 has my eyebrows raised a bit. As of now, I’d be a bit hesitant to feel like it’s a gift from the oddsmakers to get the Bulldogs under a touchdown.

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) looks for an open receiver in the first half of the Southeastern Conference Championship football game against the LSU Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) © Provided by Yahoo Sports US Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) looks for an open receiver in the first half of the Southeastern Conference Championship football game against the LSU Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 Michigan (-9) vs. No. 3 TCU

Michigan opened as a 9.5-point favorite over TCU. There’s been a bit more line movement with this game. The spread moved a full point down to Michigan -8.5 but has since budged a half-point back in UM’s direction and is Michigan -9 at the time of this writing. The total is listed at 59.5, the same as it was at open.

Michigan has the talent advantage, particularly along the lines of scrimmage, but I would be wary of dismissing the competitiveness of the Horned Frogs. We saw it all season long as TCU won close games. The comeback effort in the Big 12 title game also showed that resiliency — especially from QB Max Duggan — even though it ended with an overtime loss.

The oddsmakers have doubted TCU for most of the season. In Big 12 play, TCU was never favored by more than 10 points and was even a 7.5-point underdog on the road vs. Texas. TCU enters the CFP with a 9-3-1 ATS record.

Michigan, though, feels like a really difficult matchup. Last year, the Wolverines were so thrilled to get past Ohio State and win the Big Ten that the CFP seemed like an added bonus. This year, Michigan wants that national championship.

Michigan has covered the spread in six of its last seven games and has been able to feature a downfield passing game in addition to its stellar rushing attack.

Other New Year’s Six bowl games

There are also available betting lines for the other New Year’s Six bowl games. 

Here’s what you need to know for each game.

Orange Bowl: No. 7 Clemson (-4.5) vs. No. 6 Tennessee

Clemson has finally made the move to Cade Klubnik at quarterback. Klubnik, the five-star freshman, sat on the bench all year even as DJ Uiagalelei’s play was up-and-down. In the ACC title game, Uiagalelei was lifted after two series and the offense looked significantly better with Klubnik.

Klubnik was 20-of-24 for 279 yards and two total touchdowns in a 39-10 win over North Carolina. And with Uiagalelei now headed into the transfer portal, it’ll be Klubnik’s show vs. Tennessee. Keep in mind that North Carolina’s defense makes a lot of opposing quarterbacks look good, but it was hard not to be impressed by the freshman.

On the Tennessee side, remember that star quarterback Hendon Hooker is out with a knee injury. That means Joe Milton will start. Milton actually beat out Hooker for the starting quarterback job at the beginning of the 2021 season. Hooker got onto the field after Milton was injured and never relinquished the starting job.

Milton is nowhere near as accurate as Hooker, but he may bring more of a QB run element. Tennessee’s rushing attack has been underrated all season and the Vols will be extremely motivated while playing in the first major bowl since 2004.

Sugar Bowl: No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 5 Alabama (-5)

Kansas State has won five of its last six, including the Big 12 title game over TCU. K-State won the Big 12 for the first time since 2003 and is in a major bowl game for the first time since 2012. The offense has taken off since Will Howard became the starting quarterback and the Wildcats will relish an opportunity to play a program like Alabama on a big stage.

Will Alabama approach it the same? Probably not. This is a program that expects to win national championships, and it would be fairly surprising if some of Alabama’s top NFL draft prospects participated in this game. That includes quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson, surefire top-10 picks.

Are those potential absences baked into this point spread? I’m not sure. But Alabama is one of those teams where you need to be aware of who is playing and who is not. That’s not the case for K-State, though receiver Quentin Johnston is also a potential first-round prospect.

Kansas State quarterback Will Howard (18) runs into the end zone for a touchdown in the first half of the Big 12 Conference championship NCAA college football game against TCU, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero) © Provided by Yahoo Sports US Kansas State quarterback Will Howard (18) runs into the end zone for a touchdown in the first half of the Big 12 Conference championship NCAA college football game against TCU, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Cotton Bowl: No. 10 USC (-2.5) vs. No. 16 Tulane

Caleb Williams, the likely Heisman Trophy winner, said Sunday he expects to play, but this is a game you can’t bet until you know for sure. Williams, the USC quarterback, injured his hamstring in the Pac-12 title game. His coach, Lincoln Riley, described the injury as “significant,” and hamstrings can be tricky.

If Williams can’t go, it’s hard to have any faith in USC — especially with the way its defense has performed all season. Tulane runs a pretty unique offense and you have to be disciplined and fundamentally sound to stop it. Those are not characteristics I would use to describe the Trojans on that side of the ball.

Tulane hasn’t played in a major bowl game since 1939, so there’s no questioning how badly the Green Wave will want to win this game.

Rose Bowl: No. 8 Utah (-2.5) vs. No. 11 Penn State

It’s easy to be dazzled by what you saw from Utah in its second-half demolition of USC, but I would hesitate to back the Utes in this matchup against Penn State — especially as a favorite.

Penn State’s only two losses of the year came against two playoff teams — Michigan and Ohio State. The Nittany Lions steamrolled through pretty much everybody else on their schedule. There’s a lot to like with this team. And other than sixth-year senior quarterback Sean Clifford, many of PSU’s best players are underclassmen. That includes running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen, as well as linebacker Abdul Carter. All three are true freshmen.

Utah, now the back-to-back Pac-12 champion, lost in the Rose Bowl to Ohio State in a thriller last year, so both sides will be extremely motivated to play this game.

This is one of the best matchups of bowl season.

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