College Football Playoff Primer: Will NJ Sports Bettors Roll With Alabama Crimson Tide?

Written By Dave Bontempo on December 8, 2021
CFP 2021

The 2021 College Football Playoff field is set and there are several questions for NJ online sports bettors to ponder.

Did Alabama reload enough to repeat as national college football champions?

Is Cincinnati a Cinderella story?

Did Georgia have a comeuppance against Alabama in last week’s loss or was it a hiccup?

And are the Michigan Wolverines ready to devour the college-football playoff field?

That’s an overview of sportsbook betting considerations for this season’s College Football Playoff, concluding the season-ending bowl-game circuit that starts next weekend.

The Dec. 31 semifinals run back-to-back at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. The winners meet Jan. 10 for the national championship in Indianapolis.

Here is the opening analysis from Caesars and DraftKings sportsbooks.

Alabama vs. Cincinnati odds at NJ sportsbooks

Caesars has chalk laying big numbers for CFP semifinals

Alabama opened at -13.5 versus Cincinnati.  The Crimson Tide knocked Georgia from the No. 1 ranking with a convincing 41-24 triumph in the ACC Championship Game.

Cincinnati stayed unbeaten, topping Houston 35-20 in its last game to become 13-0.  It took an unblemished record for the Bearcats to reach the playoffs for the first time.

Georgia is – 7 vs Michigan and is at least happy to stay in the championship rounds. The Bulldogs fell apart in the setback to Alabama, dropping from No. 1 to No. 3.

Michigan powered past Iowa 42-3 last weekend, gaining an impressive follow-up victory to its emotional 42-27 triumph over Ohio State one week earlier.  It was a big two-week stretch for the now second-ranked Wolverines, who garnered their first-ever playoff berth.

Georgia vs. Michigan odds at NJ sportsbooks

Alabama double-digit favorite in College Football Playoff semifinals

The Crimson Tide are 5-0 all-time against the Bearcats, but the teams have not played each other since 1990, a 45-7 Alabama blowout victory.

The Bearcats are underdogs for the first time this season. The total for this game is 59 points. The last five Alabama playoff semifinal games all went under the total.

“For Cincinnati-Alabama, I don’t expect too much movement with the number,” said Adam Pullen, Caesars Sportsbook assistant drector of trading.

“I could see it maybe reaching 14, because of the nature of Alabama. Obviously, they are usually a huge favorite, and after [the ACC Championship Game], I think people will be backing them with both fists.

“They looked really strong and Cincinnati to many people is still an unknown. Even with the big point spread, I think you’ll see more Alabama money. We’ve had big spreads before in the playoffs, so it is nothing new.”

Cincinnati has nonetheless enjoyed a superb season. Its perfect mark included a victory in the most important game, a 24-13 triumph over Notre Dame on Oct. 2.

A subsequent late-season surge put the Fighting Irish in the No. 5 spot according to the AP rankings.  Cincinnati is No. 4.

Without that victory over Notre Dame, Cincinnati would not have reached the final four.

Michigan ‘has looked really strong lately’

In the other semifinal, the Wolverines were 11-2 against the spread this season. They easily won both their outings as underdogs, beating Ohio State, 42-27, while getting 6.5 points, and upending Wisconsin, 31-17, as 2-point dogs.

Georgia went 3-4 against the spread in its last seven games, including the 41-24 loss to Alabama in Saturday’s SEC title tilt as 6-point favorites.

The total for this one is 43.5, which would be the lowest for any Georgia game this year and matches the season-low for Michigan (also 43.5 total vs. Wisconsin). The lowest total for any college football semifinal or championship was 45.5, when Alabama defeated Georgia, 26-23 in overtime, in the title game on Jan. 8, 2018.

“Michigan has looked really strong lately with the win over Ohio State and then dominating Iowa as the biggest favorite of the day, so I’m not surprised to see the number where it is,” Pullen said. “You all of a sudden saw Georgia look human, giving up 41 points.

“I don’t know if Michigan’s offense is as dynamic as Alabama’s. Still, when you put that seed of doubt in people’s minds, there will be some now who are skeptical of Georgia. But I don’t anticipate much movement with the line. In fact, I don’t see much volatility with either of these two games outside of a point move either way.”

In the semifinals of the seven previous college football playoffs, the favorite has gone 10-4 straight up and 8-6 against the spread.  Double-digit favorites are 6-0 straight up and 4-2 against the spread in the semifinal round.

Alabama has won five of its six previous semifinal contests, while hitting the number in just two of them. The lone outright loss came in the 2014-15 season. That’s when Alabama was upended by eventual champion Ohio State, who was a 9.5-point underdog.

Georgia won and covered in its only previous playoff semifinal game, a thrilling 54-48, double-overtime victory over Oklahoma (+2.5) in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2018.

DraftKings and the College Football Playoff leadup period

The futures ship has sailed regarding excellent deals. Here are the current college football national championship odds at DraftKings (as of Wednesday afternoon):

  • Alabama +120
  • Georgia +140
  • Michigan +700
  • Cincinnati +1600

All four playoff teams have shown stretches of dominance and vulnerability.

Momentum will be a huge factor, especially given the extended break leading to the matches.

“This is turning into two reasonably heavy betting games,” Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, told Play NJ. “I thought we would see a little more Cincy money but that has not been the case so far.

“In the Georgia-Michigan game, you’ve got the question of Michigan playing well, but are they up to the caliber of Georgia? And with Georgia, you saw that defense exposed by Alabama,” he added of the Crimson Tide’s blockbuster 41-point effort.

“An important thing to remember about these games is that they are still three weeks away,” Avello asserted.  “The momentum the teams had right beforehand is gone. They still need good practice sessions, they have to stay safe and guys can’t be getting kicked off the team for doing something stupid.”

Avello noted that timely bettors could have obtained Alabama in the +550 or +600 at different points in the season and about +1000 or 10-1 after Alabama was beaten by Texas A&M in October.

The Crimson Tide was all-but-beaten two weeks ago before escaping with an improbable overtime triumph against Auburn.

Michigan, was in the +3000 to +3500 range much of the season.

Cincinnati was in the +3000 area most of the season.

College Bowl season begins Dec. 17

These three College Football Playoff games may attract the most attention from NJ bettors, but the 2020-21 college bowl calendar includes 44 games. So the college bowl odds conversation is just getting started.

Up first is the Dec. 17 Bahamas Bowl between Toldeo and Middle Tennessee.

AP Photo/John Bazemore 


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Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo, a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer, authors NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City and others. He writes about all major sports in the booming legal New Jersey sports betting industry. Dave also hosts the Why Eagles Why podcast. Dave is a member of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame and the Atlantic City International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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