Bang the book ncaaf

College Football Playoff 2018-19: Updated Odds, Predictions Against the Spread

Featured Columnist December 3, 2018 Comments Comment Bubble Icon

The entire 2018 season has been a coronation for the Alabama Crimson Tide, but the Clemson Tigers, Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Oklahoma Sooners will surely have something to say about that after the reveal of the College Football Playoff field.

The four-team field was announced Sunday, and all that stands in the way of a national championship for those squads is two victories.

Here is a look at the spread and predictions for the two semifinal games scheduled for Dec. 29.

Orange Bowl Spread and Prediction

The top-seeded Crimson Tide will look to take the next step toward defending their crown against the fourth-seeded Sooners as significant favorites. According to OddsShark, Alabama is a 14.5-point favorite over the Big 12 champions on the neutral field.

It is no surprise Nick Saban’s team is such a sizable favorite. It won the national championship last season and proceeded to win all 13 games this season by an average of more than 33 points per contest. Georgia was the only team to remain within 20 points all season when it lost Saturday’s SEC Championship Game by a mere seven.

The only real question about the Crimson Tide is the status of Heisman Trophy contender Tua Tagovailoa after he left the victory over the Bulldogs in a cart with an injury. However, Saban provided a seemingly positive update on his quarterback’s ankle, per John Talty of

“Tua actually sprained his ankle in the first half. He came back and played. The other injury he got stepped on—his foot—which I don’t think is significant. We are going to evaluate his ankle tomorrow, but I don’t think it is something that would keep him out. Maybe for a little while but we probably won’t practice for a couple weeks anyway. We’ll know more about that tomorrow.”

Even an injury to the star quarterback didn’t derail Alabama, as veteran Jalen Hurts entered the game and directed a dramatic comeback to clinch a spot in the playoff field.

There was no doubt the SEC champions would make the playoff, but Oklahoma’s inclusion came at the expense of a formidable Georgia team and the Big Ten-champion Ohio State Buckeyes. That there was even discussion about the Sooners’ inclusion is no fault of their offense, though, as quarterback Kyler Murray is a Heisman Trophy contender as well following a brilliant season.

Oklahoma led the nation in total yards and total points, edging out the Crimson Tide by 20 in the latter category.

Murray led the way with 4,053 passing yards, 892 rushing yards and 51 total touchdowns, leading his team to more than 40 points in 10 of its 13 games.

Despite all of Murray’s individual heroics, Oklahoma’s defense had a hard time. In fact, it was downright abysmal and finished 108th in the country in yards allowed per game and 96th in points allowed per game while letting overmatched teams remain competitive for much of the Big 12 campaign.

The thought here is that defense doesn’t have a chance against Tagovailoa and a rushing attack that can rely on Josh Jacobs, Damien Harris and Najee Harris if needed.

Murray will make some plays, but an Alabama defense that finished fourth in the country in points allowed per game will prevent him from putting up the 50-plus points he needs to compete in this matchup. Look for the Crimson Tide to both win with relative ease and cover the spread in the process.

Prediction: Alabama 55, Oklahoma 31

Cotton Bowl Spread and Prediction

The Cotton Bowl also features a notable spread, although not as large as the Orange Bowl’s. The second-seeded Tigers are 10.5-point favorites over the third-seeded Fighting Irish, per OddsShark.

There was little controversy about the inclusion of these two teams, as both finished undefeated. However, it happened in different fashions, as Clemson was largely dominant throughout the season, while Notre Dame struggled a number of times before emerging with close wins.

Dabo Swinney’s club won 11 of 13 games by double digits, with only Texas A&M and Syracuse remaining close. The game against the Orange also featured an injury to quarterback Trevor Lawrence, skewing the outcome some.

By comparison, Notre Dame escaped close battles with Michigan, Ball State, Vanderbilt, Pittsburgh, Northwestern and USC, which is both a credit to its ability to deliver in pressure-packed situations and something of a warning sign it wasn’t as formidable as the overpowering Tigers throughout the campaign.

The raw statistics favor the ACC team, as Clemson’s offense finished fifth in the country in points per game, while Notre Dame’s finished 34th. Clemson’s defense was second in points allowed per game, while Notre Dame’s was ninth.

The thought here is the Tigers’ daunting defensive line will control the contest. Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are likely all future NFL players and anchored a defense that finished second in the nation in total sacks with 45.

“We put it all into the program for four or five years,” Wilkins said of another impressive season from the group, per the Associated Press (h/t USA Today ). “S o it’s great to see the results on the field.”

Look for the Tigers to overwhelm the Fighting Irish up front and pressure Ian Book into a critical mistake late in the game. That will give Lawrence, who lived up to the hype as a highly regarded recruit with 24 touchdown passes to just four interceptions, favorable field position for a critical score in the second half as Clemson gradually pulls away.

Playing from ahead will allow the Tigers’ defensive line to focus on the pass rush rather than slowing the run, which plays right into their strength.

It will set up a matchup with Alabama for the fourth consecutive playoff.

Prediction: Clemson 31, Notre Dame 20

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