Betting Stuff: Championship Weekend + The CBB game of the year
Betting Stuff is a regular sports gambling column here at Saturday Down South with a focus on college football wagering (though don’t be surprised to see some non-college football insights from time to time). Did you know that sports betting is now legal in Tennessee? You can view the best Tennessee sportsbook apps here.
Calm before the storm
The College Football Playoff committee has been lucky; there’s really no other way to say it. In comparison to its predecessor, the 4-team Playoff has gone off without a hitch. The committee was vindicated right out of the chute by selecting Ohio State as its inaugural No. 4-seed, a choice that led to a Buckeyes national championship. As I said, they’ve been lucky.
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The BCS enjoyed only 2 years of relative peace and tranquility before the college football world came for it with torches and pitchforks back in 2000. Florida State was upset on the road by Miami in early November but edged out the Canes by virtue of the BCS computer rankings later that month. The fact that the No. 3 Hurricanes had beaten the Seminoles on the field didn’t sit well with fans or analysts. The 2008 season saw a similar scenario unfold as the 1-loss Texas Longhorns were jilted in favor of the 1-loss Oklahoma Sooners, despite the fact that UT had won the Red River Shootout by 10 points.
But the real reason that the BCS began to unravel was the 2011 season, which ended with an SEC vs. SEC national championship game. Many outside the South believe that college football power brokers and media elite have sworn a blood oath to the SEC, so to see an LSU-Alabama rematch in the national title game was a bridge too far.
Those same folks who have been harping on a perceived SEC-bias have a lot of ammo after Tuesday night’s rankings were released. The main complaint centers around Florida. The Gators lost as 23-point home favorites to the defending national champions. Despite the freaky weather and bizarre late-game shoe toss, this was a colossal choke job by Dan Mullen and the Gators. LSU’s defense was truly horrid this season, particularly against the pass. No team in the country has given up more yards per game through the air (331). Kyle Trask, despite being down Kyle Pitts, should have willed UF to the victory.
But that’s not the major story. On Sunday, the AP and Coaches Poll reacted in a decidedly measured and normal way to UF’s gaffe at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Both polls dropped Florida from 6th to 11th. That’s what is supposed to happen when a team takes a “bad” loss. The College Football Playoff committee docked them a single slot, moving UF from 6th to 7th. And the internet collectively lost its mind.
The committee’s decision now sets up a potentially disastrous situation should Florida somehow upset Alabama in Atlanta. How will they treat a 2-loss conference champion (UF), a 1-loss divisional runner-up (A&M) and an Alabama team that has been dominating its opponents for 10 straight weeks? This doesn’t even begin to dig into the absurdity of Iowa State, with 2 losses, being ranked ahead of Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina. Despite 2 losses, the Cyclones are 6 slots ahead of Coastal. The programs even have a shared opponent for comparisons’ sake. Iowa State lost by 17 (!!) to Louisiana Lafayette at home, while Coastal beat the Ragin’ Cajuns by 3 on the road.
The committee has painted itself into a corner if mayhem unfolds Saturday. Its best-case scenario is a Clemson victory over Notre Dame, which would just reshuffle the top 4 without the need for a new guest list.
Personally, I’m rooting for chaos, because they flat out got the top 15 wrong and it’s high time they felt the consequences of their actions.
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My Championship Weekend card
- Oklahoma-5.5 vs. Iowa State
- Ohio State-21 vs. Northwestern
- Louisiana+3.5 vs. Coastal Carolina
- Under 46 Tulsa-Cincinnati
Oklahoma is playing as well as any team in the country for the past month. Far removed from the pressure of the CFP race, OU has shored up its defense and stopped giving the ball away as it did early in the season. Spencer Rattler and the Sooners’ offense have just 2 giveaways in their last 4 games, which has boosted their efficiency stats considerably. Defensively, Ronnie Perkins has been a game-changer off the edge and, as a result, OU has a bonafide top-25 defense for the first time in years. You can throw their rankings out the window, because oddsmakers have essentially signaled that they view OU as the higher-ranked team, installing Lincoln Riley’s crew at 5.5-point favorites. That isn’t enough to scare me off of the Sooners and I’ll also be playing them up to -10 at +185.
When Oklahoma and Iowa State meet on Saturday, it will be between two teams who are playing some of the best ball in the country as of late.
— soonerswire (@soonerswire) December 16, 2020
It’s rare for a team as talented as Ohio State to have the opportunity to play the “no one believes in us” card, but that’s exactly what’s happening at the Ohio State facility this week. People have been trashing the Buckeyes because of their light schedule, which has been wholly outside their control this year. As a result, Ohio State has every incentive to blast Northwestern in this matchup.
Keep in mind, this is still the same Ohio State team with the 3rd most talented roster in college football according to 247’s composite roster rankings. Northwestern checks in at 48th. The Buckeyes outnumber the Wildcats on the 4- and 5-star recruit front 66 to 4. Last season, when they met, Ohio State shellacked NW 52-3 in Evanston. And after watching all 4 quarters of the NW-Illinois game on Saturday, I’m confident that once the Wildcats fall behind, they’ll have nothing in their bag of tricks to move the ball consistently against a well-rested and prepared Ohio State defense.
Coastal Carolina is the best story of 2020. It’s also a well-coached team that executes Jamey Chadwell’s vision to a T. But, in my opinion, they’re not good enough to beat the most talented team in the Sun Belt twice in one season.
I actually had this game penciled in as ULL-1.5, so to see it open at Coastal-3.5 caught my attention. In their first meeting, Louisiana ran for 236 yards at a 7.9 yards per carry clip. But a critical 4th-quarter drop by Elijah Mitchell on a 3rd-and-6 took the ball out of ULL’s hands on the potential game-winning drive and gave it back to Coastal. The Chanticleers took advantage and kicked a game-winning field goal in the closing seconds. I see the value in ULL exacting revenge in this one and will be playing them ATS and straight up.
Finally, in the AAC title game, we have 2 of the best Group of 5 defenses facing off against offenses that I expect to be rusty. Tulsa and Cincinnati have spent the entirety of the season in the top 20 of the defensive Havoc Ratings, and I don’t see either team deviating from that script here. Tulsa has serious limitations offensively, which means that this total really comes down to Cincinnati’s offense. The Bearcats have been explosive at times this season, but they haven’t faced a team with a top-30 defense yet. I think this game will mirror the Bearcats’ 24-10 victory over Army in September. I would play the under here all the way down to 42.5.
A college basketball heavyweight fight
A nonconference matchup pitting a pair of undefeated top-5 teams is rare enough on its own, but when you add in the fact that these are the top 2 scoring teams in the country, it’s hard not to get really excited about this one.
Iowa and Gonzaga have both handled the pressure and weighty expectations that come with high rankings, evidenced by their collective 7-2 record against the spread.
Gonzaga’s big win this year was a 12-point triumph over Kansas, while Iowa’s major accomplishment was a 13-point home victory over North Carolina. So is there any daylight between these teams? From an offensive perspective, absolutely.
Iowa’s offensive engine is Luka Garza. The senior big is on pace to break nearly every advanced efficiency metric and is the odds-on favorite to win both the Wooden and Naismith Awards. He’s averaging 29 and 9, while shooting nearly 70% from the floor and a shocking 68.4% from 3-point range. With defenses keyed in on him, there are plenty of open 3s for Joe Wieskamp and CJ Fredrick. Both guards are shooting over 50% from long range, and have the ability to catch fire as they did against North Carolina (10-for-14 on 3-pointers combined). But the key to stopping Iowa remains slowing Garza. If Gonzaga can get him into foul trouble, they have a shot of gumming up Iowa’s offensive works.
Luka Garza is the 3rd major conference player over the last 25 seasons to score 30 points and shoot 90% from the field in multiple games in a season.
He joins J.J. Hickson and Carlos Boozer. pic.twitter.com/uAvK7FP8fV
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 12, 2020
On the other side of the floor, Gonzaga is a well-oiled machine. Unlike Iowa, all 5 of Gonzaga’s starters average double figures. They’ve also chosen to shrink their bench this year, relying on just 2 rotational players through 3 games (Anton Watson, Aaron Cook). What I love about this Bulldogs team is its backcourt. The Bulldogs were fortunate that Florida transfer Andrew Nembhard was granted immediate eligibility. The 6-5 guard is pairing perfectly with Jalen Suggs, and has been able to play both the point or off the ball when called upon. In years past Gonzaga was overly dependent on the 3-point shot, but this team has achieved the kind of inside-outside balance that is generally the hallmark of a national champion. Drew Timme and Corey Kispert don’t receive the same kind of love from the national media that Garza does, but they are combining to average 45.5 points and 11 rebounds per game.
I re-watched Gonzaga-West Virginia today because there's nothing else going on… They torched the Mountaineers in the second half with their 4-out spread ball screen actions pic.twitter.com/q3qGhP3rb6
— Steven Karr (@SKarrG0) December 16, 2020
The NBA is about superstars and college basketball is about team play- at least that’s the cliche. And while Garza has been otherworldly, I still worry about Iowa going cold from long range. Fran McCaffery’s team has always been capable of shooting their way into and out of games, but for the first time in 2020, I think they get burned here.
I’ll take the Zags and lay the 3, but finding a good number is critical here. This line could bubble up close to 5 by tip-off, at which point it would be a pass for me.
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