College Football Picks: Go Against the Public & Bet Clemson ML Over Alabama

Jason Lake

Monday, January 11, 2016 12:08 PM GMT

No big surprise that the Alabama Crimson Tide are the popular college football pick for Monday's title game against the Clemson Tigers. But popular doesn't always win.

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College Football Pick: Tigers +230
Best Line Offered: at 5Dimes

 

Was there any doubt that the betting public would be on the Alabama Crimson Tide this Monday? Alabama is one of the most popular football programs in the FBS, winners of three National Championships (2009, 2011, 2012) under head coach Nick Saban. They're so popular, the Tide are 6.5-point “road” faves for Monday's title match (8:30 p.m. ET) in Glendale with the undefeated Clemson Tigers. Our consensus reports show 57 percent of bettors on 'Bama at press time.

This would normally be where we point out how overvalued the Tide (13-1 SU, 8-6 ATS) are, and how people are overlooking Clemson (14-0 SU, 7-7 ATS) and all that. Here's the thing: Alabama is 5-1 ATS in its last six games. These guys have really taken it up a notch. The Tigers are 2-4 ATS in their last six, and they've been pulling in plenty of public support all year long. So who belongs in our final college football pick of the season?

 

DH vs. DE
We'd probably still be inclined to fade the Crimson Tide, especially if they sneak up to -7 or higher before kick-off. They're available at that magic number on our college football odds as we go to press, although it'll cost you a premium in vigorish. But the way 'Bama has been performing lately, we'd definitely want to see something in the matchup itself that encourages us to bet on Clemson.

Here's something: Run defense. Everyone talks about Alabama's top-ranked defense, but Clemson ranks higher in efficiency against the run in “standard down” situations, according to Football Outsiders. That would be anything other than 2nd-and-8, 3rd-and-5, and 4th-and-5 or longer. Nobody's been able to stop 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry (5.7 yards per carry, 25 TDs) this year. Clemson could be the first, especially with DE Shaq Lawson (10.5 sacks) declaring himself ready to go on Saturday.

 

Quite Contrary
These two programs don't get to face each other much, so it's not easy to compare the teams – unless you're a data wizard like the guys at Sports-Reference. They've got Alabama ranked No. 1 in the country on their Simple Rating System at +23.57 SRS, with Clemson coming in third at 19.08 SRS. That's only a difference of about 4.5 points. Keep in mind, they'll be playing on a neutral field at the U. of Phoenix Stadium. Looks like the chalk has already been baked in.

Now that we've gotten all that out of the way – was there any doubt we'd end up fading the Tide? It's a standard-issue contrarian play. The question now is whether to bet the spread or the moneyline, where the Tigers (+230) are the more popular pick at 62-percent consensus. That's a toughie, but Clemson has won its last four bowl games as underdogs, and at this price, we'll be going with the undefeated team, thank you kindly.