Kramer: A bettor's guide to college football Week 14

By Adam Kramer  (VSiN.com) 

December 4, 2021 08:25 AM
USATSI_17242390

Amid the madness and the losses and the chaos of a beautiful Saturday in college football emerged one inescapable reality.

Perhaps we’re right back where we started. 

There was Ohio State, the biggest threat to the Georgia Bulldogs, being pushed around at the line of scrimmage. There was Alabama, the biggest threat to any team over the past 10 years, needing a wild comeback against Auburn as nearly a three-touchdown favorite. 

As we emerge from the wreckage and toast one of the more memorably regular seasons in recent memory, we arrive back to a singular thought. 

This is Georgia’s year. 

I began this college football season on this very website with a simple question regarding Georgia. 

If not now, when?  

And as we barrel forward, that question has been amplified. 

Georgia is now -220 to win the national title. The Bulldogs, win or lose against Alabama, are a lock to make the College Football Playoff. 

Alabama, Georgia’s opponent in the SEC Championship Game, is next down the board at + 600.

The Bulldogs finished the regular season 12-0, and they only lost three times against the spread. For the entire regular season, Georgia allowed a grand total of 83 points. That is absurd. (And some of this was due to special teams.) Clemson was second best in the nation and allowed 180 points. 

Historically speaking, we are witnessing one of the greatest CFB seasons in recent memory. It’s different from what we saw with Joe Burrow and LSU in 2019 and Alabama’s high-octane run last year.

Those teams were built on fireworks and touchdowns. This one would prefer to stuff you in a trash can and roll you down the nearest hill. 

As the losses pile up and the entertainment starts to mount, Georgia’s greatness simply lingers. 

To be clear, that doesn’t mean Georgia is a lock to win the title. We know better than to make such declarations in a sport this unpredictable. But as most teams simply struggle to hang on, Georgia’s powers seem to grow.  

The true test is coming. Not just next week, but the games to follow. And as we move forward and the College Football Playoff finally sorts itself out, we will once again revisit those four words.

If not now, when?

 

The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations

1. Let’s talk about Alabama. It feels like we’re watching a superhero that suddenly lost its powers. The Crimson Tide needed four overtimes--and the absurd and ridiculous new overtime rule in CFB--to get past Auburn in the Iron Bowl. The offense line, in particular, was and is an enormous concern, especially with Georgia coming up. The reality is, despite having only one loss, this is about as mortal as Alabama has felt in some time. And yet, Nick Saban can still crack the playoff with an upset. More on that game in a moment.

2. Let’s talk about Michigan. What a win. The most striking aspect of that game was how dominant the Wolverines were at the line of scrimmage. Michigan, which closed around a 6.5-point underdog, ran for 297 yards and averaged more than seven yards per carry. This was Jim Harbaugh's brand of football executed perfectly. Speaking of Harbaugh, good for him. We’re tough on that guy for whatever reason. In a year that he had to win big, he’s won huge.

3. Speaking of Michigan, the Heisman race is a bit of a mess. Bryce Young’s so-so play against Auburn coupled with C.J. Stroud’s loss to Michigan adds some intrigue as we enter the final week of the season. Stroud, of course, is out of games to make an impression. Young can make a colossal impression against Georgia, one way or another. Could this be the year a defensive player, say Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, steals the award? At one point yesterday, Hutchinson’s was bet down to 7/1. With another multi-sack game against Iowa, which feels possible, if not likely, I think he might have a real shot.

4. Air Force beat UNLV on Friday, which should come as no surprise. The Falcons closed as an 18-point favorite, and they covered that spread with a 48-14 win. They did so without throwing a single pass. Not one. More than a dozen players finished with a carry, totaling 511 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. This is not something you see much of, although it is an absolutely delightful box score to comb through. To the Air Force wideouts, I appreciate you. I can’t imagine this game was very fun.

5. You actually have to marvel at Nebraska’s ability to stick with the bit the entire way through. The Cornhuskers, which closed as a 1-point favorite over Iowa despite being without their starting QB, blew a 21-6 lead in the second half and lost 28-21. Nebraska lost NINE games by single-digits this season, which is astounding. The Cornhuskers also finished 1-8 in Big Ten play by both scoring and allowing 239 points. Just a perplexing year. I’m in awe.

6. Shout out to Washington State. Even with the massive distractions this season surrounding the team’s former head coach, the Cougars destroyed rival Washington this weekend on the road. In fact, in one of the most amazing turns of events ever, Washington State fans then rushed the field at Washington to celebrate. Remarkable. The Cougars closed out the year by covering in eight of their final nine games and with this awesome moment, when interim head coach Jake Dickert was offered the job after beating the Huskies.

7. And finally, the playoff. Georgia, as mentioned, is in. If Michigan beats Iowa, it’s in as well and likely the No. 2 seed. That’s the easy part. The rest is a wonderful mess. Cincinnati should be in with a win over Houston, and that’s feeling more comfortable every week. It feels like Oklahoma State is also in with a win over Baylor. If the conference championship games play out with chalk, this could be pretty straightforward. But if it doesn’t, things could get wild. Notre Dame, which is without an opponent this week, needs to stay loose in the bullpen. The Irish have played their way into tremendous position. (And people are probably not happy about that.)

 

The Buffet: The Five Best Games of the Weekend 

SEC Championship Game: No.1 Georgia (-6. 51) vs. No. 4 Alabama

For the first time in 93 games, Alabama is an underdog. That is remarkable. It’s also the appropriate time for the streak to end. We’ve already touched on both teams in this piece, although let’s zero in on the Crimson Tide a bit more. Since the LSU game, this team hasn’t looked quite right. Alabama is 1-3 ATS in that time, and both the offense and defense have struggled in stretches. Georgia, meanwhile, has allowed just 37 points in the past five games. The Bulldogs are also hitting a rhythm offensively, and QB Stetson Bennett has played very well of late. I imagine a lot of people are going to like Georgia given what it just saw from Alabama, and it’s hard to blame them. 

Big Ten Championship Game: No. 2 Michigan (-11, 44) vs. No. 15 Iowa

Both teams are thrilled to be here for different reasons, and this is not the matchup we thought we were getting. Still, it's intriguing. For Michigan, which is now 10-2 ATS this year, everything is still in front of it. I am curious, as weird as it sounds given the stakes, if Michigan comes out flat given how much emotion went into that win over OSU. Whether Iowa can take advantage or not is another story. I really worry about the Hawkeyes’ offensive line in this game. While Tyler Linderbaum is a marvel at center, this team is not nearly as good at the tackles or guards. Against Michigan, that could be a problem. Iowa is just 2-4 against the spread in the past six, and the offense is going to have to find a way to manufacture points. Easier said than done.

Big 12 Championship Game: No. 5 Oklahoma State (-6, 47.5) vs. No. 9 Baylor

Round 1 of this game was excellent. Oklahoma State beat Baylor 24-14, covering the four-point spread. The Pokes’ defense, which has been so good this year, was certainly good in that game. Against Oklahoma in Bedlam, it wasn’t dominant although it still played well. OK State won 37-33, pushing on the spread. In what might have been a lookahead spot, Baylor barely got past Texas Tech as a 14.5-point favorite. It was only the fourth time this year that the Bears didn’t cover. As for this game, the importance is huge. Oklahoma State can make a strong push for the playoff with a win. Baylor can play spoiler. Even though it’s a rematch, it’s a doozy.  

Pac-12 Championship Game: No. 14 Utah (-2, 59.5) vs. No. 10 Oregon 

Speaking of rematches. The first time these two teams played, which was only a few weeks ago, it did not go well for Oregon. That’s probably being kind. The Ducks were clobbered as a three-point underdog, although that game took place on the road. This one will be played in Las Vegas, which should help Oregon a great deal. Also helping is Saturday’s win (and cover) against Oregon State. Utah fell well short of covering the 24-point spread, although it did handle Colorado. Two elements to watch in this game: Oregon’s rushing offense and Oregon’s rushing defense. That is where the last one went sideways. Something tells me that this, at a neutral site, will be far closer. 

ACC Championship Game: No. 17 Pittsburgh (-3, 72) vs. No. 18 Wake Forest

It won’t decide a playoff spot, although you could make an argument that this will be the most compelling championship game played all weekend. The nation’s No. 3 and No. 4 scoring offenses will go toe-to-toe, and the total speaks to the kind of game we are likely to get. Wake Forest rebounded from its loss to Clemson with a blowout of Boston College as a six-point favorite. Pittsburgh covered the 12-point spread at Syracuse. Both teams have been largely good to gamblers this year; both, as mentioned, can also score points. The difference, however, is the defense. While Wake looked solid last week, the Demon Deacons still have the nation’s No. 91 ranked scoring D. I think the over sounds rather tasty. 

 

Last Call: Parting Shots on Other Games of Note

American Athletic Conference Championship Game: No. 3 Cincinnati (-12, 54.5) vs. No. 16 Houston: I absolutely love this game, and the stakes cannot be more defined. A win and Cincinnati is (likely) in the playoff. But Houston can battle and has this season.

Sun Belt Conference Championship Game: Appalachian State (-3, 53.5) vs. No. 20 Louisiana: As I write this, Louisiana head coach Billy Napier was just named the head coach at Florida. He plans to coach UL, but how will that impact this game? Stay tuned. 

Mountain West Championship Game: No. 19 San Diego State (-5, 51.5) vs. Utah State: I’ve bet against San Diego State on a handful of occasions this year, and it has not gone well. Will I do it again? Quite possibly.

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