After a week of exciting bowl game action to wet fan’s whistles, the two games that truly matter take place on Saturday with the showdowns in the NCAAF semifinal games. With that in mind, let’s make some predictions for the Peach Bowl & Fiesta Bowl.
NCAAF Semifinal Previews
(1) LSU Tigers vs (4) Oklahoma Sooners at Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Saturday, December 28th at 4:00 PM ET
The first NCAAF semifinal game to hit our TV screens will be the Peach Bowl between the LSU Tigers (13-0) and Oklahoma Sooners (12-1). The Tigers opened as 11.5-point favorites, but that number was quickly bet up to 13.5 or 14 at some outlets, where it sits now. Oklahoma is 5-8 on the spread this season while LSU enters this game with an 8-4-1 ATS record in 2019. The LSU offense leads the nation in yards per game with 554.4 with Oklahoma a close second at 554.2 YPG. So close were these two in fact that in their combined 26 games this year, they are separated by just two yards in total offense.
We can pretty much ignore these two teams head to head history as they have only played twice, once in 1950 and once in 2004. Oklahoma shut out LSU in their first meeting and the Tigers got some long-awaited revenge with a 24-14 win in the mid-2000s, both were Sugar Bowl games.
The highlight of this third showdown will undoubtedly be the quarterback matchup. LSU and Oklahoma feature two of the best quarterbacks in the country with Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts. Both were finalists in Heisman voting with Burrow edging out a close win to become this season’s best player.
Hurts put up a very strong effort despite falling short of bringing Oklahoma their third Heisman Trophy in a row after Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield won the previous two seasons. Hurts put in work, passing for 3,634 yards and 32 touchdowns over the last 13 weeks. While these numbers are far from what Burrow has managed, you have to remember that the Oklahoma offense runs very differently than LSU, quite literally.
See, Hurts is also the Sooners leading rusher, having scrambled for 1,255 yards and an additional 18 touchdowns. That ranks him 21st overall in the nation in rushing and 2nd as a quarterback behind Navy’s QB, Malcolm Perry. This is significant considering that despite LSU’s perfect record, they rank 24th in rushing defense with teams averaging 119.6 yards per game on the ground against the Tigers. Thing is, they have yet to face a quarterback as quick and nimble as Hurts and could find themselves in a world of pain if they fail to effectively game plan. This will be Ed Orgeron’s most difficult offensive matchup of the season and it will be interesting to see just how much he can slow Hurts down, if at all.
In his Heisman winning season, Burrow put on a clinic. He passed for 4,715 yards (2nd in nation) and 48 touchdowns, which led all other QBs this year. To put his year into perspective, his ‘worst’ outing was against Auburn in a 23-20 victory against the then ninth-best team in the nation. In that game, he threw for just one touchdown and added an interception, but also managed 321-yards against perhaps the best defense in the country. That game, way back in October, might have been his ‘Heisman moment’ en route to his award-winning effort. This game is a perfect matchup for Burrow, as indicated by the two TD spread, and would be getting just one step closer to earning the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
We have witnessed much better defenses than Oklahoma do their best at slowing down Burrow and the LSU offense. As you can probably guess by LSU’s unblemished record, it didn’t go well for those teams. The Tigers have such an efficient passing attack, featuring Burrow combining with Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson, who absolutely shred each opponent they have faced this year.
Sure, the Sooner defense is much improved, but that won’t be enough to contain this beast. Oklahoma ranks 24th in the nation’s overall defense and allows 330.6 yards per game on average. They also have issues on the ground, allowing 132.1 rushing yards weekly, which could allow for LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire a chance to shine. I think they let him loose early in the hopes of disrupting the Sooners game plan of containing Burrow.
From a betting perspective for this NCAAF semifinal, LSU has been one of the most profitable teams in the Top-10 with an 8-4-1 ATS record. There is little value to be had on betting the Tigers straight up with the odds at -455 on the heavy favorites. The Sooners have some serious underdog odds at +405 for a CFP game but don’t be tempted, they just don’t have what it takes to expect an upset here. The total is set at a bonkers 75.5 points considering only five of Oklahoma’s games and seven of LSU’s games have gone over. However, when you look at this the offensive and defensive matchups, 75.5 doesn’t seem that crazy anymore. In fact, I would lean toward the over in the Peach Bowl with such firepower on offense.
As stated above, Oklahoma has not seen an offense this good all year, and while they are exceeding expectations on defense, they are not ready for what the Tigers will bring to this game. Hurts taking over and going drive for drive against Burrow is their only chance and I just don’t see that happening. Hurts, a former national champion, will stand tall and keep the Sooners in this game, but the defense won’t be able to give him the help he needs to win this game. I expect a big day for the LSU offense and am confident in laying the points for the Tigers to continue their march toward a 15-win season.
Best Bet: LSU Tigers (-13.5) -110
(2) Ohio State Buckeyes vs (3) Clemson Tigers at State Farm Stadium
Saturday, December 28th at 8:00 PM ET
Second, on the docket for this Saturday’s NCAAF semifinal action brings us to Phoenix for Ohio State vs Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. This game will be chock full of NFL talent looking to make some final impressions for pro scouts. Many projections have at least five players in this game who are expected to go in the first round in fact. This includes Clemson Quarterback Trevor Lawrence, a strong candidate to be the first overall pick.
Clemson has emerged victorious in each of the previous three matchups against Ohio State with the most recent being an embarrassing 31-0 shutout loss for the Buckeyes. Perhaps the highlight of this matchup would be Ohio State coach Woody Hayes getting fired for punching Clemson Linebacker Charlie Bauman in the neck after he intercepted a pass in the 1978 Gator Bowl. Certainly it’s worth googling that video if you’ve never seen it.
In stark contrast to the Peach Bowl, I believe this NCAAF semifinal game will be won on defense. Clemson leads the nation in points allowed, giving up a meager 10.6 points per game to their poor opponents. Ohio State is not far behind, ranking second, surrendering just 12.5 PPG, tying them with Georgia. So let’s dive into these two teams and try to find a betting edge to exploit on Saturday evening.
Clemson not only has the best defense from a scoring perspective but also when it comes to giving up yards in the air. The Tigers also possess a Top-10 rushing defense to boot, just in case you thought this might be a shootout like the Peach Bowl. The defending national champions come into this game with an insane 28-game winning streak over their last two seasons under Dabo Swinney.
Not only are the Tigers adept on defense but they also have a top offense for OSU to contend with. They have worked hard to finish the regular season ranked fourth in scoring offense, averaging 46.5 yards per game, led by QB Trevor Lawrence and RB Travis Etienne. Lawrence got off to a rough start in his sophomore campaign, tossing five interceptions in his first three games after throwing only four all of last year. But after those early stumbles, Lawrence has put together a season which was better in almost every other statistical way than his 2018 campaign. He threw for 3,172 (22nd), 34 touchdowns (T-5th) and 8 interceptions (62nd). In my opinion, only 8 INT on the year is a net positive after throwing five in his first three games, that leaves 3 interceptions in the last 10 games.
The Buckeyes are not lacking at all when it comes to their offensive game, earning the top spot in offensive scoring with 48.7 PPG on average. While the Tigers get most of their work in the air, the Buckeyes have a truly dynamic rushing attach to compliment quarterback Justin Fields. As with each of the other three quarterbacks mentioned in this article, Fields was a legit Heisman candidate after throwing 40 touchdowns (3rd) and just one single interception (1st). Let that sink in, a 40/1 TD to INT ratio. He didn’t accomplish that by ‘playing it safe’ either as his 9.6 yards per pass is sixth in the league and a 6.52 air yards per attempt is good for second best. All that adds up to a kid who likes to make big plays but has the control to make the right call under pressure.
Helping Fields in that department is four wide receivers who have legit playmaking ability and who can ruin any defense’s day. Sophomore Chris Olave leads the crew with 799 yards and 11 touchdowns. Second up is Binjimen Victor, who despite having a truly ridiculous name, is averaging 16 yards per catch on his 31 total receptions. K.J. Hill is their ‘Wes Welker’ and has made 51 catches to go along with 569 yards and 10 touchdowns. Rounding out the quarter of fear is freshman Garret Wilson who is not heavily utilized of yet, but might end up being the cream of this crop.
Let us not forget this team’s pièce de résistance, running back J.K. Dobbins. The talented Junior has contributed 1,829 yards (3rd) and 20 rushing touchdowns (6th). Backing him up is another stud in the form of freshman and future star, Master Teague. Teague has made the most of his limited touches and finished the year with 780 yards rushing as a second-string back. Protecting all of this is an offensive line that, according to a line yards metric, is third in the country.
If that isn’t scary enough for this NCAAF semifinal, I haven’t even gotten to the Buckeyes stingy defense. They can equally contain the pass and stuff any ground game in the nation. This is what really separates them from the rest of the teams left in the CFP, they can really stop any passing attack the league has. DE Chase Young was the only defensive player to reach the status as a Heisman Trophy finalist this year and it’s easy to see why. Young has the ability to wreak havoc on opposing teams in a way we haven’t seen in quite some time in college football. He leads the nation with 16.5 sacks, impressive, but even more so when you consider he missed two games. He is hands down the best pass-rusher in the league and will be unleashed on Lawrence on Saturday night. Flanking him will be Davon Hamilton, who has five sacks to his credit on the year for a terrifying one-two punch.
The pass rush is complimented like a fine wine by cornerbacks Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette and Shaun Wade. Each of which can play man to man with anybody and have playmaking ability. Sprinkle in a pair of safeties like Jordan Fuller and Brendon White and it’s clear why the Buckeyes have what might be the best defense in the entire country right now. Some have even suggested that it is the best defense OSU has ever fielded.
From a betting perspective, this is the first game in which the Buckeyes are underdogs, finishing 9-4 ATS but just 1-3 down the stretch. Clemson was also favored in each game this year and finished 10-3, ending the year on 4-0 run. The Tigers are also 7-1 ATS in Bowl games since the Playoff Era began, while Ohio State is 4-2 in the same timeframe.
This NCAAF semifinal game will not be a shootout per se, but it will be a slugfest with both teams having such strong offenses and defenses to cancel them out. While Clemson has better stats and W/L numbers, we have to remember they play in the ACC and have not seen the caliber of teams that Ohio State has encountered. Ohio State is coming off dominating wins against Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin, all Top-15 teams and all beaten by double digits. Clemson’s biggest win might have taken place way back in week two with win over a 12th ranked Texas A&M team who ended up finishing the year just 7-5. I love the fact that Ohio State is getting plus money odds to earn a slight upset and will be happy to bet on what I believe to be a better team at an underdog line.
Best Bet: Ohio State ML +115
That concludes our NCAAF betting predictions for the semifinal games. Check back soon for more NCAA action.