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Alabama favored in all-SEC title game vs. Georgia

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

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Sony Michel scored the winning touchdown for Georgia in double overtime.
© USA Today Sports Images

Another college football National Championship clinched for the storied SEC, as Georgia and Alabama advance to Monday’s title tilt with New Year’s Day wins over Oklahoma and Clemson. Numbers, notes, NFL playoff updates, and college basketball previews coming up in VSiN City.

Rose Bowl: Georgia rallies from deficits of 31-14 in the second quarter and 45-38 late to advance to National Championship
Fantastic game between two very evenly matched teams. Both offenses were able to make big plays throughout the afternoon. Georgia had “bigger” plays but struggled to convert third downs. Oklahoma had issues dealing with success. The Sooners blew a big first half lead, then got super-conservative at the worst-possible time in the final (and extra) minutes. 

Georgia (-3) 54, Oklahoma 48 (in overtime)
Yards-per-Play: Georgia 8.4, Oklahoma 6.6
Total Yardage: Georgia 527, Oklahoma 531
Third Down Pct: Georgia 27%, Oklahoma 39%
Turnovers: Georgia 1, Oklahoma 1
Rushing Yards: Georgia 317, Oklahoma 242
Passing Stats: Georgia 20-29-0-210, Oklahoma 24-36-1-289
TD Drive Lengths: Georgia 75-75-50-71-4-59-(25), Oklahoma 80-75-69-90-88

Oklahoma scored a fumble return touchdown. Georgia had that 4-yard TD drive off a Baker Mayfield interception. Those cancelled out. Most everything cancelled out until OU played it too safe with a fourth quarter lead and in the extra period. Oklahoma’s style prevailed early on, turning this into “a Big 12 shootout” between the Sooners and an opponent that the market would have considered the best team in the Big 12 based on this price. OU’s concerns at the point of attack were validated, with Georgia finishing the night at 9.3 yards-per-carry. Georgia had problems slowing down Mayfield until OU coach Lincoln Riley “took the ball out of his hands” in crunch time. 

Either team would have been a worthy adversary for the Alabama/Clemson winner. 

Sugar Bowl: Alabama’s defense drives easy win over outmatched Clemson
Either Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant was going to be able to make some plays against the stout Alabama defense, or he was going to be in WAY over his head. It was clear very early on that Clemson had limited offensive options, sending much of America to bed earlier than expected. 

Alabama (-3) 24, Clemson 6
Yards-per-Play: Alabama 4.0, Clemson 2.7
Total Yardage: Alabama 261, Clemson 188
Third Down Pct: Alabama 47%, Clemson 42%
Turnovers: Alabama 1, Clemson 2
Rushing Yards: Alabama 141, Clemson 64
Passing Stats: Alabama 16-24-0-120, Clemson 18-37-2-124
TD Drive Lengths: Alabama 46-27, Clemson no TDs

It’s not like Alabama’s offense played all that great. It didn’t have to. The defense scored a TD on its own (interception return), and set up another cheapie. Total stat squash until Clemson’s 18-play, 75-yard garbage-time drive failed to hit paydirt. Bryant was good enough to get Clemson to the Final Four, but didn’t have the skill sets necessary to move the ball when it mattered vs. such an elite defense. 

We’ll talk more about Monday’s Georgia-Alabama showdown later this week. Alabama’s offense will need to kick things up a notch. Though, Georgia’s run-based offense is going to have a lot more trouble moving the ball vs. ‘Bama than they did against Oklahoma’s softer unit. The South Point opened with Alabama as a 4.5-point favorite and a total of 47.5.

New Year’s Bowls: Underdogs sweep the early games with outright victories
Before the Final Four fireworks, underdog backers won all the money. 

Outback Bowl: South Carolina (plus 8.5) 26, Michigan 19
Yards-per-Play: Michigan 277, South Carolina 300
Total Yardage: Michigan 3.6, South Carolina 5.2
Third Down Pct: Michigan 12%, South Carolina 14%
Turnovers: Michigan 5, South Carolina 3
Rushing Yards: Michigan 74, South Carolina 61
Passing Stats: Michigan 21-45-2-203, South Carolina 19-32-1-239
TD Drive Lengths: Michigan 72, South Carolina 77-21-81

The low Over/Under of 41 hinted at the poor offensive showcase destined to come. Michigan was able to build a 19-3 lead without much productivity. The Wolverines would end the day with five turnovers, 2 of 17 on third downs, 1 of 3 on fourth downs (meaning the equivalent of SEVEN) turnovers, with only 3.6 yards-per-play and 4.5 yards-per-pass. Coach Jim Harbaugh’s days as a “quarterback guru” are way back in the rearview mirror. South Carolina didn’t exactly sparkle, with three turnovers, 2 of 14 on third downs, and a missed field goal. But the Gamecocks did have two lengthy TD drives and one cheapie. The stats say the right team won and covered, though neither was worthy of such a showcase TV spot. Michigan’s loss ends the Big 10’s undefeated postseason run, and puts the Wolverines at 8-5 for the season (5-7-1 ATS). South Carolina finishes 9-4 in the admittedly weak SEC East. Gamecocks were 7-4-2 against market expectations under Will Muschamp. 

Peach Bowl: Central Florida (plus 10.5) 34, Auburn 27
Yards-per-Play: Central Florida 5.8, Auburn 4.8
Total Yardage: Central Florida 411, Auburn 421
Third Down Pct: Central Florida 43%, Auburn 50%
Turnovers: Central Florida 1, Auburn 3
Rushing Yards: Central Florida 169, Auburn 90
Passing Stats: Central Florida 16-35-0-242, Auburn 28-43-2-331
TD Drive Lengths: Central Florida 21-65-59, Auburn 26-82-89

Both offenses took awhile to find a rhythm. UCF led 13-6 at the half, but that was off its 21-yard TD drive. Both teams would finish the day with two longer drives and one in the 20’s. Central Florida also had a defensive touchdown which served as the tie-breaker. Auburn had an advantage of 87-71 in plays run, which is why they had more total yards on a lower per-play average. Peak intensity from UCF in head coach Scott Frost’s final game before moving to Nebraska. Reasonable minds can differ about Auburn’s readiness after missing out on the Final Four. Off home field nailbiter wins over South Florida and Memphis, UCF finishes at 13-0, 8-4-1 against the point spread. Auburn loses its last two after the upset of Alabama to finish 10-4, a dead-even 6-6-2 ATS. 

Citrus Bowl: Notre Dame (plus 3.5) 21, LSU 17
Yards-per-Play: Notre Dame 6.1, LSU 5.3
Total Yardage: Notre Dame 370, LSU 399
Third Down Pct: Notre Dame 46%, LSU 53%
Turnovers: Notre Dame 2, LSU 0
Rushing Yards: Notre Dame 154, LSU 170
Passing Stats: Notre Dame 17-28-1-216, LSU 19-33-0-229
TD Drive Lengths: Notre Dame 75-73, LSU 43-75

Not sure what game those boxscore stats were watching…that’s not what the rest of us saw! Mostly an ugly game, with sharpness hurt by drizzly conditions and a loose turf that was damaged in Sunday’s New Orleans Saints/Tampa Bay Bucs game on the same field. LSU led 7-6 entering the fourth quarter before things opened up. Notre Dame backup quarterback Ian Book played the second half in lieu of the struggling Brandon Wimbish. Book would go 14-19-1-164, and throw a 55-yard TD pass to Josh Adams for the game winner. LSU didn’t have any turnovers, but was 0 for 1 on fourth downs while missing two field goals. Really, fans of the five teams who weren’t Central Florida spent much of the simultaneous early trio yelling at their TVs. Notre Dame finishes the season 10-3, 8-5 against the spread. LSU ends at 9-4, 7-5-1 ATS. 

Let’s wrap up the bowl selection records of the VSiN experts from our “Bowl Guide.” Congrats to Brent Musburger for finishing at 56% ATS on his “pick the board” challenge with Steve Makinen. Brent’s experience as the voice of college football paid off with a 25-13-1 record on team sides, and a 9-game overall advantage over Steve. Consensus plays, with input from those two plus three sets of Power Ratings, would finish at 55% after a 9-1 New Year’s Day. Matt Youmans and Dave Tuley each offered 20 best bets. Matt finished 10-9-1, Dave at 10-10. Look for selections from all in Alabama/Georgia in the next edition of Point Spread Weekly.

NFL Playoffs: “Market Watch” and “market” Power Ratings
Wildcard weekend point spreads have had a chance to settle. We’ll run a “Market Watch” today, and then again later this week. Because Tuesdays are always our “Power Rating” days in the NFL, we’ll update those for the postseason as well…then post one final full-league version you can save in your records for summer handicapping (helpful for estimating Regular Season Win totals and considering futures odds). 

Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET: Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs
Opening Line: Kansas City -8, total of 46
Current Line: Kansas City -7.5, total of 44.5

With all today’s playoff opening lines, you may see other numbers posted in other publications. We’re going with the numbers on twitter from Jeff Sherman at the Westgate that were posted Sunday night on twitter. Later spots opened at different numbers. What’s pretty clear so far is that Tennessee plus 8 draws sharp interest, while Kansas City -7 (at the spots that have tested the key number) brings in sharp and public interest. Sharps bet numbers, not teams. 

Saturday at 8:15 p.m. ET: Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams
Opening Line: LA Rams -6, total of 50
Current Line: LA Rams -6, total of 49

Some offshore spots opened as low as Rams -4 or -4.5. Very clear bookends so far here as well. Stores with -5.5 or lower on the board get Rams money. Stores that have tested 6.5 get hit right away with Atlanta money. It’s not that any individual sharp is betting Rams -5.5 and Saints plus 6.5 for the same amount hoping for the middle. Different sharp syndicates get math gradings to their side once the six is free. Plus, it can be smart to position yourself around a key number as follows: if you like the Rams, bet two units on -5.5 (or lower), then one unit on the Saints at plus 6.5. You’re still basically risking one unit (0.8 units), but if the game lands on six, you win THREE units. We’re hoping to talk more about this approach in our Wednesday tutorial. 
 
Sunday at 1 p.m. ET: Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars
Opening Line: Jacksonville -8, total of 42.5
Current Line: Jacksonville -7.5, total of 41

The first numbers up across the landscape ranged from Jacksonville -7 to -8 depending on the locale and the timing. What’s clear is that betting has generally centered on 7.5 regardless of where the number started. Anyone seeing Jags -7 jumped in right away on the favorite. Buffalo money tends to come in at plus 8. We’ll have to see if the line eventually settles at 7.5 or 8. Sportsbooks know that the combination of Kansas City and Jacksonville will be very popular in six-point teasers because the line move crosses both the 3 and the 7. The public will also include moving the six-point favorites down to pick-em. Sharps tend to leave those alone because the purchasing power isn’t the same. Very safe assumption that you’ll be hearing oddsmakers talk all week on VSiN about how the public is taking all the favorites in moneyline parlays, and in teasers. 

Sunday at 4:30 p.m.: Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
Opening Line: New Orleans by 5.5, total of 49.5
Current Line: New Orleans by 6, total of 48.5

More stores opened at -6, and we’re mostly still on the six now across the board except for a few spots that are testing -6.5. That tells us there’s some sharp interest in the Saints at -6…but that sportsbooks anticipate a lot more on Carolina if it goes higher than that. This line’s been less bouncy than all the others in the 36 hours since the numbers went up. 

Based on those lines…and where we had the four bye teams last week…we have the following estimated “market” Power Ratings for the 12 remaining championship contenders. Note that we use a standard three points for home field advantage. 

87: New England
85: Pittsburgh, Minnesota, New Orleans, LA Rams
84: Jacksonville
82: Kansas City, Atlanta, Carolina, Philadelphia
79: Buffalo
78: Tennessee

We’ll tweak these later in the week if line moves dictate. For now, you can assume that New England would be around -8 at home vs. Kansas City, -11 at home vs. Buffalo (which was the line when they played in Foxboro two weeks ago), or -12 at home over Tennessee. Pittsburgh would be -4 over Jacksonville (though sometimes bye teams get a boost in this price range), -6 over Kansas City, or -10 over Tennessee. (Given the seeding structure, New England can’t play Jacksonville in the divisional round, nor can Pittsburgh play Buffalo.) Hard to know yet how Philadelphia will be perceived in the NFC given its reduction in form when Carson Wentz was lost for the season. 

NFL: Final Regular Season Estimated “Market” Power Ratings
Here’s one final look at the full league. We’ve penciled in estimates for teams who will be regaining their starting quarterbacks. A lot of those, unfortunately. Looking forward to seeing Andrew Luck back in uniform. And Deshaun Watson!

NFL Power Ratings for Summer of 2018
87: New England
86: Philadelphia (with Wentz)
85: Pittsburgh, Minnesota, New Orleans, LA Rams
84: Jacksonville
82: Kansas City, Atlanta Carolina, Green Bay (with Rodgers)
81: Dallas
80: Houston (with Watson), Indianapolis (with Luck), Baltimore, LA Chargers, Seattle
79: Buffalo, San Francisco 
78: Tennessee, Detroit
77: Washington, Tampa Bay, Arizona (with Palmer) 
76: Cincinnati, Oakland 
75: NY Jets, Miami, Denver, NY Giants, Chicago
73: Cleveland

A good idea to print those out, then make any adjustments you deem appropriate for your own process. Your thinking might be influenced by the draft…by any offseason personnel moves…by coaching changes. You can have your own Regular Season Win projections in place before sports books post theirs this summer. 

Tonight, we begin a new feature for college basketball. Resident VSiN super-enthusiast Greg Peterson will provide notes and commentary on marquee matchups and the betting markets throughout the season. Four very interesting conference matchups on the Tuesday night card. The rest of today’s edition will be Greg’s report…

College Basketball: “Running the Floor” with Greg Peterson

#16 TCU at Baylor (7 p.m. ET on ESPNews)
Early Line: Baylor -1.5

No. 16 TCU is taking a trip to Waco to battle Baylor after Oklahoma dropped the Horned Frogs record to 12-1 with a 90-89 victory. TCU has wins over quality foes Nevada, SMU, and St. Bonaventure, but have yet to win a true road game this season. The lack of a road win could be why Baylor opened as a 1.5-point favorite.

The health of 7-foot-0 center Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. will likely dictate which way the money goes. He will likely be a game decision due to a sprained right foot. He’s averaging 15.1 points, 10 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game and Baylor lost 77-53 to Texas Tech on Friday in its first game without him in the lineup this season.

These two teams play at different paces as TCU averages 74.7 possessions per game to Baylor's 69.6. That is the difference of being 82nd and 290th in the country in that category.

Baylor makes 39.2 percent of its 3s, but is bested by TCU's 41.3 percent. With the over hitting in six of TCU's last seven games and the Under going 5-1-1 in Baylor's last seven games, it's a classic “something has to give” situation.

Butler at #5 Xavier (7 p.m. ET on FS1)
Early Line: Xavier -7

Butler was able to end Villanova's hopes of an undefeated season on Saturday with a 101-93 victory that was spearheaded by shooting 15-for-22 from 3-point range, and is pitted in a battle with No. 5 Xavier.

Butler closed as a 5.5 underdog against Villanova at home and now hits the road getting seven points against a Xavier squad that is 14-1 thus far.

The Bulldogs had the under hit in four games in a row in a stretch from the end of November to the beginning of December. That has since changed as all seven of Butler's games since that stretch have went over, with the total going over by an average of 19.9 points.

With Xavier being a team that averages 86.5 points per game and has allowed opponents to convert an average of 11 3s per game in its past three games, this could have the makings of a shootout.

As for the spread, Xavier has been a cover machine, going 18-5 against the spread in its last 23 games. Things might be catching up to the Musketeers though as Xavier has failed to cover in three of its last 5 games. All three of those non-covers were at home and were by an average of 14.8 points despite all three being straight-up wins.

With that said, the Bulldogs are a different team on the road than at home. Butler is 1-5 ATS in its last six road games, but are 7-1 ATS at home. Many might see that Butler has a winning record ATS and disregard the road struggles the Bulldogs have had of late.

Florida at #11 Texas A&M (9 p.m. ET on ESPN2)
Early Line: Texas A&M -3.5

No. 11 Texas A&M is another team looking to get back on track after suffering a 79-57 loss on the road against Alabama. The Aggies played that game without leading scorer DJ Hogg, who served game number two of a three game suspension for an undisclosed violation of school policy. Hogg is also a very lethal 3-point shooter, converting 50 percent of the 6.2 treys per game he attempts. 

Texas A&M was also without guard Admon Gilder, who has missed the past three contests with a knee injury and will be a game-time decision for this game. If he cannot go, it will be either Jay Jay Chandler or JJ Caldwell to start in his place.

Uncertainty seems to be the theme of this game as Texas A&M's roster is packed with game time decisions and Florida has been flat out inconsistent this season.

Florida has covered just once in its past seven games, but that one cover came in a neutral court win against Cincinnati. This is a team that seems to play up or down to the competition as the Gators lost by three against then-No. 1 Duke and defeated Gonzaga in overtime. This team also had played a seven-point game against New Hampshire and lost at home to Loyola of Chicago on December 6, which explains why the Gators opened as 3.5-point underdogs despite all of the absences for Texas A&M.

#18 Texas Tech at #10 Kansas (9 p.m. ET on ESPN)
Early Line: Kansas -7

No. 18 Texas Tech was mentioned earlier as a team that took down Baylor by a count of 77-53 last Friday and will look for a big win against No. 10 Kansas at Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

Both teams play at a moderate pace with Texas Tech averaging 73 possessions per game and Kansas 74.1. Kansas is eighth in DI basketball in regards to points per possession with 1.186 while Texas Tech allows just 0.798 points per possession, which is first in the nation.

Kansas is a top-heavy unit with its starting five averaging nearly 88 percent of the team's scoring. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Devonte' Graham, and Lagerald Vick all average at least 16.6 points per game and convert at least 45 percent of their 3-pointers as Kansas knocks down 42.2 percent of its triple tries.

Texas Tech is very different from the Jayhawks in that Texas Tech has 10 players that log at least 13.4 minutes per game with just one player averaging over 10.7 points per game. This depth is key as senior forward Zach Smith played just four minutes against Baylor, but the Red Raiders were still able to get a 23-point victory.

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