Here’s a note to all college football teams: Don’t lose … at all. Even if a team wins a major conference title, it does not guarantee a spot in the national playoffs.
For the second year in a row, the Big Ten champion is not invited to the party. The Ohio State Buckeyes (11-2) beat the Wisconsin Badgers (12-1) in their conference final. The prize for winning their biggest game of the year: A No. 5 ranking and a date in the Cotton Bowl against No. 8 USC, which won the Pac-12 title. The Buckeyes don’t even get to play on New Year’s Day. Ohio State and USC meet on Friday, Dec. 29 in Arlington, Texas.
Last year, Ohio State got into the tournament with one loss at the expense of the Big Ten champions from Penn State, which finished the regular season with — here’s that number again — two losses.
Three of the four playoff spots were easy to pick:
- No. 1 Clemson (12-1)
- No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1)
- No. 3 Georgia (12-1)
All three won their respective conference titles. The fourth spot went to Alabama (11-1), which didn’t even win its division in the SEC. The selection committee believed that Alabama “was the better football team” over Ohio State.
So, the playoff lineup for New Year’s Day will see Georgia play Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl from Pasadena, Calif., and Alabama square off against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl from New Orleans. The winners of those two games will meet in the national championship in Atlanta on Monday, Jan. 8.
Let’s take a look at the favorites and underdogs in the two playoff games (odds provided by bovada.lv).
Rematch Of Last Year’s National Championship
No. 4 Alabama vs. No. 1 Clemson — In a rematch of last year’s national title game, the Crimson Tide are a surprise favorite over the defending champions.
They were well on their way to an undefeated season until they lost their final regular season game on the road by 12 points to Auburn. The Tigers only blemish on their resume was an October loss to Syracuse where quarterback Kelly Bryant got hurt.
Alabama has reached the final four every year since the playoff system began in 2014. This is Clemson’s third straight trip to the tournament.
Both teams have solid defenses as Alabama and Clemson allowed 20 points or more just three times this season.
Both teams can score in bunches as well. Jalen Hurts leads the Crimson Tide offense. The sophomore quarterback has thrown only one interception this season, while connecting on 15 touchdowns. He’s also ran for 21 TDs in his two seasons behind center.
This is Bryant’s first year as a starter with the Tigers. He has 13 TD passes against six interceptions. The junior quarterback is not afraid to put his head down and run with the ball either, as he’s scored 11 times this season.
Clemson is 8-4-1 against the spread this season, while Alabama is 5-7.
VGB’s pick — Clemson
Bulldogs Make First Appearance In Playoffs
No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 2 Oklahoma — According to oddsmakers, the Big 12 and SEC champions are dead even.
This is Oklahoma’s second playoff appearance. The Sooners lost to Clemson in the semifinals following the 2015 season. This will be Georgia’s first appearance as the Bulldogs won their first SEC title since 2005.
The Bulldogs won three straight games to close out the regular season. The Sooners won eight in a row.
There’s no doubt that Georgia’s rookie quarterback Jake Fromm will have a hard time keeping up with Heisman favorite Baker Mayfield. The Oklahoma offense is just about unstoppable as the Sooners have scored 38 points or more in 10 of their 13 games this season. But the Bulldogs’ defense allows fewer than 14 points per game, so something has to give.
Oklahoma is 8-5 against the spread, while Georgia is 9-4.
VGB’s pick — Oklahoma
VGB’s Top 10 College Football Teams
(Current odds, provided by bovada.lv, to win the national championship listed after team record.)
- Oklahoma (12-1) +275 — Sooners have scored 38-plus points 10 times.
- Clemson (12-1) +250 — Outscored rivals 133-16 in last three games.
- Alabama (11-1) +180 — Favored in every game this year, 5-7 ATS.
- Georgia (12-1) +333 — Bulldogs give up less than two TDs a game.
- Ohio State (11-2) — Big Ten champs huge favorites in Cotton Bowl.
- Auburn (10-3) — Tigers meet undefeated team in Peach Bowl.
- Wisconsin (12-1) — Badgers must rebound from Big Ten final loss.
- USC (11-2) — Pac-12 champions have won five straight, 3-9-1 ATS.
- UCF (12-0) — High-powered offense faces biggest test of the year.
- Miami (10-2) — Hurricanes lost two in a row when it mattered most.