College Football Playoff betting lines, angles

LAS VEGAS — Six seasons into his run as Michigan coach, Jim Harbaugh was an overhyped underachiever. At the end of his seventh year, Harbaugh has rewritten the storyline, and now he’s a hungry underdog in the hunt for the national championship. 

If the favorites live up to the hype in the College Football Playoff semifinals, Alabama and Georgia will advance with ease. But if there’s a surprise, Harbaugh is the best bet to crash the party on New Year’s Eve and prevent an all-SEC title game. 

The Wolverines, the second-seeded Big Ten champions, are 7.5-point ’dogs against the Bulldogs in the Orange Bowl. The total of 45.5 indicates the fight will be dictated by the defenses. 

“Michigan stands a puncher’s chance against Georgia because you can keep that a low-scoring game,” VSiN’s Brent Musburger said. 

Jim Harbaugh has gone from underachiever to underdog at
Michigan.
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In the Cotton Bowl semifinal, No. 1 Alabama is a 13.5-point favorite against Cincinnati, the Cinderella of the four-team bracket. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young leads the Crimson Tide in what should be a high-scoring game with a total of 58.5. 

“I think Alabama gets pushed to 14, not that I think that’s necessarily the right move,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “Cincinnati is not a team to take lightly.” 

There are no Thursday or Saturday games in NFL Week 17, so college football gets the spotlight the remainder of the week, particularly the playoff games Friday. 

“There will be a big [wagering] handle on both games,” Avello said. 

BetMGM lists Alabama as the +115 favorite to win the championship, followed by Georgia (+135), Michigan (15/2) and Cincinnati (14/1). In the preseason, the Bearcats were getting odds of 100/1 and higher. 

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, who has won six national championships since arriving in Tuscaloosa in 2007, is always a bear to deal with and even tougher to beat with extra preparation time. In the SEC title game, Georgia had no answers for Saban’s defense and Young’s sensational playmaking. Young passed for 421 yards and three touchdowns without an interception as Alabama rolled 41-24 as a 6.5-point ’dog. 

Nick Saban, Bryce Young
Nick Saban, Bryce Young
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The Bulldogs’ top-ranked defense was allowing 6.9 points and 230 yards per game before the Young-led offense totaled 536 yards. The Tide attempted 44 passes and ran the ball 26 times, a wise plan of attack against a defense that had been rock solid against the run but mostly untested through the air. 

Paul Stone, a Texas-based handicapper and VSiN contributor, said the loss of key performers on both sides of the ball — wide receiver John Metchie III (1,142 receiving yards) and starting cornerback Josh Jobe — is a concern, but he still likes Alabama to defeat Cincinnati by two touchdowns or more in Arlington, Texas. 

“While Cincinnati is new to the big stage, Saban and Alabama are accustomed to preparing for and executing in these types of games,” Stone said. “I could see the Bearcats hanging around for a couple of quarters, but in the end, I don’t see this being a fourth-quarter game.” 

Cincinnati
This is Cincinnati’s first appearance in the College Football Playoff.
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As part of his handicap, Stone said he believes Alabama has better than a 50 percent chance of winning the turnover battle, which would go a long way toward the Tide getting the money. 

“Alabama is plus-78 in turnover margin since the start of the 2015 season, and Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder has committed more turnovers than any player in college football over the last three seasons, with the exception of Oklahoma State’s Spencer Sanders,” Stone said. “I think that bodes well for Alabama’s chances of winning by a decisive margin.” 

For three months, Georgia was propped up by the media as an invincible team with a dominant defense. In one day, Alabama exposed that perception as phony. How will coach Kirby Smart and his team respond? 

Is the Wolverines’ long-awaited breakthrough for Harbaugh the real deal? Underdog bettors are taking a leap of faith with Michigan, which physically punished Ohio State before blowing out an outclassed Iowa team 42-3 in the conference title game. 

Michigan’s run-first offense is likely to run into trouble against Georgia at the line of scrimmage, and quarterback Cade McNamara does not have Young’s talent. The Wolverines need to find success with Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum on the ground to ease the pressure on McNamara. 

Georgia Bulldogs
Georgia’s defense allowed the second-fewest yards per game in the nation.
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A Michigan defense led by end Aidan Hutchinson must slow the Bulldogs’ running attack. Georgia’s obvious weakness all season has been its mediocre quarterback play, and Stetson Bennett did nothing to quiet those doubts against Alabama. 

With more than three weeks to regroup, the Bulldogs have time to get over the hangover. The Wolverines are full of confidence and running hot. If Michigan can match Georgia’s strength on the offensive and defensive lines, the underdog should be in position to cover and possibly advance. 

“Watch the COVID situation with all four teams, especially Alabama,” Musburger said. “If healthy, the Tide rolls to another trophy.”