The inaugural College Football Playoff is now less than two weeks off. Here's how the betting lines have moved for No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
Tide Not Likely to Close as Double-Digit Favorites
Currently, both the Crimson Tide and Buckeyes are taking nearly identical action at sportsbooks on the spread. Alabama opened as high as a 10-point betting favorite at some books and at 9.5 at most others. Some early action on Bama at those books that opened at 10 did get the line to 10.5. However, it largely has been dropping since and you will find it at 9 points nearly everywhere now -- the same line that No. 2 Oregon is favored over No. 3 Florida State in the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl that precedes the Sugar Bowl. Incidentally, the Big Ten is an underdog in every single bowl game this year. The Big Ten entered this bowl season just 19-35 in the past seven years.
OSU has been a dog twice this season, at Michigan State and vs. Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Ohio State won both easily. Alabama was a single-digit favorite in four games: -5.5 at Ole Miss, -9 at Arkansas, -6.5 at LSU and -9.5 against Auburn in the Iron Bowl. The Tide only covered against Auburn, lost to Ole Miss and could have -- and perhaps should have -- lost to Arkansas and LSU. Also, the Tide didn't cover any of their four non-conference games.
The College Football odds total opened at 57.5 or 58 at the majority of books and has risen a half-point to 58.5. Don't rule out bettors being influenced by the scores of early bowl games. If these games continue to be high scoring like Monday's 55-48 Memphis win over BYU in the first-ever Miami Beach Bowl, that will influence casual bettors to bet 'over,' which already has taken a slight lean in the Sugar Bowl. Remember, too, that weather won't be a factor in the Superdome. It's a fast track.
The Bovada futures odds also have stayed pretty steady. Alabama remains the +110 national title favorite, followed by Oregon (+170), Florida State (+600) and Ohio State (+800). On the exact title matchup. Tide-Ducks is -150, followed by Tide-Seminoles (+375), Ducks-Buckeyes (+375) and Buckeyes-Seminoles (+1100).
One of the negatives of a powerhouse school like Ohio State being so successful is that other schools siphon off members of the coaching staff. That's the case with the Ohio State Buckeyes as they might have a minor distraction to deal with because offensive coordinator Tom Herman was hired by the University of Houston as its head coach. Obviously Herman won't take over until after the playoff, but he has his work cut out for him in getting third-string quarterback Cardale Jones ready against that formidable Alabama defense. Herman won the Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in college football.
Behind former starter QB J.T. Barrett, just a redshirt freshman, Ohio State set school records for points per game (45.5), touchdowns (87), total offense (7,167 yards) and yards per play (7.1) this season. Barrett was lost for the year in the regular-season finale against Michigan. Jones looked just fine in the Big Ten Championship Game against a Wisconsin defense that was ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten and among the nation's best. He was 12-for-17 for 257 yards and three touchdowns.
The key for Ohio State will be getting chunks of yardage on first and second down so Jones can be in those third-and-4 or less situations. That gives him a run-pass option, and he's a big guy and would be hard to bring down in short-yardage situations. Only three teams in the country were more successful on third downs than Ohio State, which converted 85 of 165 chances, or 51.5 percent, during the season. Third-and-short also brings play action into play. Jones burned Wisconsin for some big plays. Jones was 4-for-6 for 157 yards and all three touchdowns on throws of 15 or more yards downfield against the Badgers.
Free College Football Picks: It's possible this line gets under 9 by kickoff. I believe the Tide win so I'm holding off on my College Football pick to see how low it gets. Like the 'over' at anything under 60.