Though there are few secrets about college football’s superpowers in an era of omnipresent media coverage, betting markets have been behind the curve trying to capture the point-spread power of three teams in this season’s “final four.”
Notre Dame is 6-2-1 against the spread since awarding the starting quarterback position to Ian Book. That’s a 75 percent success rate. An enduring “old school” theory in sports betting is that there’s never any value on high-profile teams such as Notre Dame because the public loves betting them. But the public has been “beating the book with Book” so far. Notre Dame likely will close as an underdog in the area of +12¹/₂ to +13 to powerful Clemson in Saturday’s Cotton Bowl (ESPN, 4 p.m.).
For its part, Clemson is 7-2 ATS in games Trevor Lawrence has finished since winning the starting quarterback job. He was injured early in a non-cover nail biter against Syracuse. When Lawrence is healthy, Clemson has been a true juggernaut. Fantastic defense was a given, it then was coupled with big offensive production under Lawrence.
Alabama, despite being recognized before the season started as an all-time super team (and priced accordingly), still managed an 8-5 ATS record. And that’s with backups seeing significant time in second halves. Alabama likely will close as a favorite of -13¹/₂ or -14 versus Oklahoma in Saturday’s Orange Bowl (ESPN, 8 p.m.)
Oklahoma is the only “overrated” team in the final four, if you accept the premise that a well-informed, liquid betting market defines how teams are “rated.” The Sooners went 5-7-1 ATS, largely because a very soft defense allowed too many opponents to hang within striking distance.
Sharp preferences in the national semifinals are pretty well-defined after weeks of betting. The public will make its presence felt on game day, as fans will treat both games like virtual Super Bowls.
Sharps bet Clemson hard at -11 and -11¹/₂, less hard at -12 and -12¹/₂. Math-minded approaches in particular were showing Clemson’s stellar defense derailing dreams of a high-scoring shootout. But Notre Dame money arrived with authority at +13. This is an underdog the public will bet (“squares” typically prefer favorites) and sharps have done well with the Fighting Irish this season. Price is always important to pro bettors. It appears 12¹/₂ is where sentiment shifts.
Some sharps bet Alabama for value at the opener of -13¹/₂, just below the key number of 14. But support dried up after the move.
That suggests most sharps are looking to take Oklahoma … and are hoping the public drives the line up to +14¹/₂ (or more). ’Dog lovers will settle for +14, if that’s the apex. It’s easier to like the ’dog after Georgia took Alabama to the wire in the SEC Championship game, particularly with a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback for OU who could produce a garbage-time TD down 17-20 points in the final minutes if needed.