In recent years, the College Football Playoff national championship game has been a good practice session for the Super Bowl when it comes to handicapping the prop markets.
There aren’t quite as many props available for the ultimate college football game of the season but enough for handicappers and bettors to find some good value bets and to get a lay of the land in advance of the Big Game on Feb. 13. In many ways, I find that the prop markets are far better to attack. The Georgia -3 spread and total of 52.5 for Monday night’s game should (in theory) be the tightest and most efficient lines of the season.
Any bettor with influence who wants to take a position does so. It is the highest-bet game of the college football season. Betting action is what creates an efficient line, and this one will be examined from every possible angle by kickoff. Anybody who says they have a big bet on the side or total because of some giant edge also has oceanfront property in Topeka to sell you.
The props are where it’s at, though. If you spend the time leading up to the game thinking about how it will play out, you can really isolate some strong wagers. We also have a recent data point between these two teams to consider when breaking down that market. We know which matchups the teams exploited in the first game and we can think long and hard about whether or not those issues can be corrected by the other team.
Analyzing the SEC championship game
Alabama’s game plan in the SEC title game was to attack vertically. Nobody had been able to do that to Georgia, but the Crimson Tide were equipped to do so with Heisman-winning quarterback Bryce Young and star wideouts John Metchie III and Jameson Williams. Running back Brian Robinson Jr. had only 16 carries and Alabama had 26 total, three of which were scrambles by Young and another was a kneel-down.
The Tide averaged 16.2 yards per reception, with seven catches for 184 yards from Williams and six catches for 97 yards from Metchie, who suffered a torn ACL in the game.
Georgia tried to achieve balance early on. Quarterback Stetson Bennett had 11 pass attempts and was sacked once on the first three drives. Running backs James Cook and Zamir White combined for eight of the nine rushing attempts. Obviously, the game state in the second half altered Georgia’s plan of attack and Bennett wound up throwing 48 times, which is not a recipe for success for the Bulldogs.
Brock Bowers caught 10 of those passes for 139 yards. No other pass catcher had more than four receptions (Cook) and wide receiver George Pickens was second with 41 yards (third game off of torn ACL).
Bennett wound up with seven carries for 11 yards and was sacked three times. Young was not sacked and took off only three times.
There aren’t any prop lines out at the time of publication, but we can use this information to start formulating a plan of attack.
Alabama Crimson Tide
With a 31-17 lead in the second half, the Tide had two possessions before the pick-six that put the game out of reach. On those two drives, Young dropped back to pass on all 10 snaps. Robinson had seven of his 16 carries on Alabama’s last two possessions with the game well in hand. In other words, the game plan is very, very clear. Alabama wants to throw the ball on Georgia.
Robinson should get some token carries, but unless the game state features a huge Alabama lead, he’s unlikely to see a high volume of work. Because of that, my mind gravitates toward wide receiver props (or rushing Unders). The loss of Metchie seemed to really affect Alabama against Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl. Fortunately, Robinson was able to run for more than 200 yards and the Tide were able to manhandle the Bearcats up front. That seems unlikely against Georgia.
Williams had seven catches but only 62 yards as he was bottled up and bracketed by a talented Cincinnati defense. It was Ja’Corey Brooks with four catches and 66 yards that seemed to become the second option. Slade Bolden had three grabs for 31 yards.
Bolden had five catches for 54 yards in the SEC championship game, while Brooks had just one catch for 9 yards. I’m actually happy about Bolden’s low output in the Cotton Bowl. I think it will keep his lines a little bit lower. His season averages were 2.7 receptions per game and 28 yards per game. I’d expect his prop lines to be a little higher than that, but he strikes me as a more reliable betting option than Brooks.
I’ll also be interested to see Robinson’s receiving props. He caught only two passes for 16 yards against Georgia and didn’t have a catch against Cincinnati but did have 31 catches for 268 yards this season. I could see him used as an extension of the running game against a Georgia defense that stacks up well at the line of scrimmage.
Georgia had 30 carries against Alabama in the SEC championship game and the longest rush was 14 yards. That puts the Bulldogs in a tough spot here. Running the football is important for three reasons — it keeps Alabama’s offense off of the field, it keeps Bennett from having to do too much and it’s what the Bulldogs want to do.
Georgia had a ton of big leads during the season, so game flow did skew these numbers, but Georgia rushed 515 times against 381 pass attempts. If Georgia throws 48 times against 30 rushing attempts again, it means Alabama probably wins the national championship. One point that feels relevant is that Zamir White is more of the battering ram back at 215 pounds and Cook is the guy who fits this matchup better with more speed at 190 pounds. Cook had 15 touches in the SEC championship game with 11 carries (second most of the season) and four receptions (tied a season high).
Maybe the adjustment from offensive Todd Monken is to be more physical with Alabama and try to force White between the tackles, but I’m not sure that’s a sound strategy. I think Cook as a runner and receiver is the better move. His 15 touches against Alabama were a season high. The game state mattered, but I also feel like that was by design.
I’ll be looking for some Cook props to see if there is any value in those. I think he has to be the focal point of the offense for Georgia and probably get even more touches than in the first meeting.
Bowers is really interesting to me. He had only 37 catches during the regular season but has 15 between the conference championship game and the Orange Bowl. Alabama’s defensive game plan will likely be to bracket him and force Bennett and the wide receivers to produce in the passing game. Until the SEC title game, Bowers had not had more than six catches in a game.
Part of the reason is that Bennett’s previous high in pass attempts was 29, so there were only so many targets to go around. Be careful overpaying on Bowers’ prop lines. I think we see Saban pull a “Belichick” here and do everything he can to take away Georgia’s best player. I’m also not sure Georgia wants to throw it as often.
General prop betting tips
Lastly, a few words on prop betting strategies. A lot of people will take a position on the game, say Alabama + 3 and load up on Tide props. Overs for Young on this and that. Overs for Williams on this and that. Don’t overexpose yourself on one side of the game by doubling, tripling or quadrupling down on your Alabama investment with props. If your read on the game is wrong, it will cost a lot of money.
Game state matters a lot. If you like Alabama + 3 a good amount, then you have to assume Georgia probably does have to throw a lot. That means you’d want to look for reception props on the running backs or Unders on rush attempts and yardage. Maybe Bennett Over attempts props. Player and game props can be used as a quasi-hedge but also independent wagers that could win anyway. You can apply a lot of strategy to them.
As far as game props, things like Yes on a safety or Yes on overtime are fun because they’re at big plus-money prices, but that’s because they usually won’t win. There have been 23 CFP games and two have gone to overtime. There really aren’t many overtime games or safeties. Usually the value is on the No with those, even with the chalky odds.
Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, shop around for the best lines. You’ll find a prop at one book at 54.5 yards and at 56.5 yards at another. You’ll find a -110 at one book and -120 at another. Every yard and every cent matters, so make sure you are set up to line shop as much as you can.