Gimme Some Sugar on Underdog Clemson in Trilogy Game vs. Alabama

Jason Lake

Thursday, December 21, 2017 10:31 PM UTC

Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 10:31 PM UTC

This year’s Sugar Bowl features one of the two CFP semifinal matchups – and once again, it’s Alabama vs. Clemson. Will we fade the Tide for the third year in a row?


No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide vs. No. 1 Clemson TigersFree NCAAF Pick: Clemson +3Best Line: Pinnacle

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If the Alabama Crimson Tide are playing the Clemson Tigers, we have to put Clemson in our college football picks, right? That was the obvious play in each of the last two National Championship Games; Clemson covered both times, losing the first 45-40 as 6-point underdogs and winning the second 35-31 as 6.5-point puppies. They’ll meet a third time on New Year’s Day (8:45 p.m. ET, ESPN) at the Sugar Bowl, and at press time Alabama is laying 3 points on the NCAAF odds board after opening at –1.5.

Things are a bit different this time around. These two outstanding teams will not be playing for the title – the Sugar Bowl is one of this year’s College Football Playoff semifinals. Deshaun Watson won’t be Clemson’s quarterback – that job belongs to Kelly Bryant now. And it’s the Tigers (12-1 SU, 8-4-1 ATS) who earned the No. 1 seed for the CFP, while the Crimson Tide (11-1 SU, 5-7 ATS) backed into the postseason after losing the Iron Bowl to Auburn. Maybe we should change our pick, too.

Moses’ Toes

Nah. These major bowl games are perfect for fading popular teams like Alabama. Recreational fans who haven’t bet on college football all year are going to bet on the Crimson Tide to win the Sugar Bowl, simply because it’s mighty Alabama, and that public money has already had an impact on the NCAAF lines for this matchup. These are two closely matched teams; giving Clemson the full 3 points at the relatively neutral Superdome is a gift.

The numbers back us up. FiveThirtyEight likes Alabama to win the Sugar Bowl 52 percent of the time, which is pretty darn close to a pick ‘em according to Wizard of Odds. ESPN’s Football Power Index has the Tide’s chances at 57.9 percent, which is closer to –2.5. Not a fan of projections? The F/+ Combined Ratings at Football Outsiders have Clemson ranked second overall in efficiency, one spot ahead of Alabama. Sports Reference has the Tigers (plus-22.43 SRS) third overall according to their Simple Rating System; the Tide are No. 8 at plus-19.04 SRS.

Here’s the kicker: Alabama LB Shaun Dion Hamilton is out for the season with a fractured kneecap, and now LB Dylan Moses could miss the Sugar Bowl after injuring his foot during a recent practice. So yes, we’re sticking with Clemson, and we’ll recommend waiting until closer to kickoff to see if the spread moves to +3.5. All good things to those who wait.

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