Monday, January 11, 2016

National Championship Betting Preview

Confession time: I haven't really been paying attention to college football since the regular season ended. The most I saw of 90% of bowl games was the ghost town stadiums on the Empty Seats twitter account.

We didn't even really look to bet on the semifinal games. I kind of paid attention to them on New Years Eve but I was more focused on drinking rum and cokes. It capped off a week of top-tier college football games that we didn't really pay attention to.

With hockey, college basketball, and pro football seasons in full swing, it's easy to get distracted and forget about college football. Even tonight, I'll probably be more focused on David Bowie than I am on Alabama-Clemson.

But it's the biggest football game of the season so far, and I think that's a good occasion to win some money.

Total Team Points: Alabama 29.5, Clemson 23

'Bama was only held under 29 points twice all year: at home against Arkansas (27) and Tennessee (19). It's important to note that they won both of those games, limiting Arkansas and Tennessee each to just 14 points.  Tennessee ranks 36th in the nation in yards per game against (362.0), and Arkansas is 58th (391.6). Clemson, though they have admittedly played an easier schedule than any SEC team, are 6th in the nation in YPG allowed (301.6).

Clemson has been held below 23 points just once all season, when they scored 20 at Louisville. They were held close against Notre Dame (24) and Florida State (23). Again, it's important to note that they won all three of these games despite being held well below their season average of 38.4 points. It would certainly be a feat for Alabama to hold them below 23 points, but the Tide have managed to do just that against Wisconsin, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn, Florida, and Michigan State this season.

Point Spread: Alabama -7

That leads me to my first real bet of the night: Alabama -7 (or buy half a point to get it inside a touchdown if you prefer).

The Tide only lost one game all year, and won by less than a touchdown once. The narrow win was against Tennessee (discussed above), and it was a low-scoring affair that doesn't seem likely to happen again versus Clemson, who can certainly score with ease against most teams.

The Tide loss was a barn-burner against Ole Miss. The final score was 43-37 Ole Miss, and they were led by quarterback Chad Kelly's 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Had Alabama limited its turnovers (3 interceptions will kill you), the Tide could be seeking a perfect season. But they fell victim to a staunch Ole Miss defense and dug themselves a hole that proved too large to escape.

Here's why I don't expect Clemson to replicate that upset: that game was the pinnacle of Ole Miss' season. They finished 10-3 after their convincing bowl win over Oklahoma State. They finished 6-2 in the conference and came in second place in the best division in football. But their biggest accomplishment was knocking off the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. They played a perfect game and still only won by 6 points.

Clemson only played 3 ranked teams all season. They beat Notre Dame, Florida State, and North Carolina (all home games) by a combined 20 points. That may seem like a healthy margin, but those teams are decidedly in this season's second tier. Now, the Tigers have to travel 2,000 miles from home and play the best team (and the best coach) in college football for the past decade.

Jake Coker To Throw An Interception -130
Deshaun Watson To Throw An Interception -190
Parlay Both QB's To Throw At Least One Pick Each +170

There are some aspects of the loss to Ole Miss that figure to reappear in Arizona tonight: interceptions. Tide quarterback Jake Coker has not thrown one since November 14th, and has avoided turnovers in the four games down the stretch.

But Clemson's defense has tallied five picks in the past four games, bringing their total to 16 on the season. Alabama's defense has totaled 18 this year, and figures to snag at least one from Watson, who's thrown just about a pick per game all season.

Derrick Henry Rushing Yards Over/Under 145.5
Derrick Henry Total Touchdowns Over/Under 1.5

Yes, Clemson largely creamed Oklahoma in their semifinal game. They held Baker Mayfield to 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions, but the biggest disparity in the game was in rushing offense. Clemson held Oklahoma to just 67 rushing yards. Total. As an entire team. And that includes a pair of 18 yard rushes each by Mayfield and receiver Dede Westbrook.

Clemson did well to hold Samaje Perine well under 100 yards (and to just one touchdown).  On the season, Perine totaled 1349 rushing yards, 6.0 yards per carry, and 16 touchdowns on the season. Obviously, Oklahoma's defense held him below his season average.

Henry, in a tougher conference defensively than Perine, totaled 2061 yards on 5.7 yards per carry and 25 touchdowns. Even if Clemson holds him down (proportionally) the same way they held Perine in check, he's still good for about a hundred yards and two touchdowns.

I'm inclined to bet both Overs here, because Henry has gone over in at least one of these categories in 12 of 14 games this year. The outliers were against ULM (only 13 carries in a blowout) and Arkansas (only 95 yards and 1 TD.. somehow that's his worst game of the season). There were four games this year where he ran for more than 145 yards and 2+ touchdowns: Wisconsin, Texas A&M, LSU, Mississippi State. He was used lightly against Michigan State last week, but he was on pace to make it five enormous games in a row that he dominated. He's a big game performer, and I expect him to put on a show tonight.

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