After months of speculations and arguments, the College Football Playoff is finally upon us. On Dec. 31, Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan and TCU battle for the last two spots in the CFP National Championship game and a chance at a title. Michigan and TCU will face off in the Chic-Fil-A Peach Bowl at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN, while defending national champion Georgia meets Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl at 8 p.m. ET. The bowl madness doesn’t stop on New Year’s Eve. This year’s New Years’ Six Bowl Games will be played on Mon. Jan 2, with plenty of star power set to play on the field none bigger than the grandaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl from Pasadena, Calif, where the No. 11 Penn State Nittany Lions will face the Pac-12 champion No. 8 Utah Utes.
All of these games offer great opportunities for some smart wagering throughout the weekend.
Our betting analysts have got you covered with everything you need to know to make smart wagers on the biggest college football bowl games of the year including both CFP semifinal matchups and the top New Years’ Six Bowls
The No. 2 Michigan Wolverines take on the upstart No. 3 TCU Horned Frogs at the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona on Saturday. Michigan (-7.5, 58.5), making its second straight CFP appearance under Jim Harbaugh, enters the New Year’s Eve with a top 10 ranked offense and defense, while Sonny Dykes and the Horned Frogs are led by Heisman Trophy runner-up Max Duggan and a offense that averaged 40.3 points per game this season. What are your thoughts on the spread and total for this semifinal matchup and who are you taking to advance to the National Championship game?
Doug Kezirian: No result would surprise me. I lean to taking the points, but I would not be shocked if Michigan rolled. The Horned Frogs are solid, but they also certainly had some fortunate comebacks. So, while the Wolverines had a knack for struggling in the first half once conference play started, TCU needed several late rallies to remain undefeated in the regular season. Ultimately, I will grab the points with TCU, but I do see them as the worst of the four CFP participants.
Joe Fortenbaugh: Beer money wager on TCU +7.5. I think they benefit from the extended rest the most of the four playoff teams. Remember, the Horned Frogs had their bye week on September 17 and then played 11 straight games before the end of the season, with seemingly all of them coming down to the wire. The rest will be huge for both their physical and mental health.
David Hale: I’m not one of those folks who doesn’t buy TCU as a playoff team. The Horned Frogs earned their way in. But let’s also be clear-headed about how they got here. It took TCU a half-dozen near-miracles to get here. It was a team that had its share of defensive woes (allowing 71 points to Kansas and Oklahoma State in consecutive weeks) and offensive struggles (Max Duggan was effectively running a one-man show in the Big 12 title game) and, on sheer talent alone, TCU is more frisky than good. Again, it’s no knock on the Horned Frogs. They’ve been a blast to follow all year. But this is an awful matchup for them against a Michigan team that’s every bit as physical and fundamentally sound as Kansas State, but significantly more talented. Moreover, 11 of 14 semifinal games since 2015 have been decided by 14 or more points. Blowouts are the norm, and unfortunately for TCU, I expect they’ll be on the wrong end of one this time.
Bill Connelly: Of those 11 semifinal blowouts since 2015, eight (and all six since 2018) came from teams favored by at least a touchdown. A team with a decent advantage on paper turns it into an immense advantage in the playoff. It’s certainly not hard to see Michigan doing that, too: TCU’s allowed either 200-plus rushing yards or 5.0 yards per carry (or both) in four of its last five games and now takes on one of the most persistent run games — and one of the best offensive lines — in college football. It’s possible that TCU lands a couple of 1-2 scoring punches here and there and picks off a couple of J.J. McCarthy passes (he’s been lucky not to throw a couple more picks this year) to make this a game deep into the second half. It’s also possible that the Wolverines rush for 300-plus yards and roll. SP+ says Wolverines by 9.0, and I’m thinking more like 10 to 12. And if they win comfortably, I doubt TCU scores enough to top the 58.5 points.
Jason Fitz: This matchup is entirely about TCU’s ability to score on Michigan. I say that because, frankly, I think there’s little to no chance TCU can stop the Wolverines from doing whatever they want to do offensively. Certainly, TCU has been kissed by the football gods this season, and that’s not usually karma I want to jump in the middle of, but look no further than the matchup against Ohio State last month to see what Michigan is capable of doing against dynamic offenses. Kendre Miller is going to have to get the ground game going simply to give TCU’s defense any chance to rest, and as good as Quentin Johnston is, I think Michigan will be comfortable letting him get his opportunities to catch the ball as long as they can shut the running game down. This feels like a blowout in the makin, and even though I love a good Cinderella story, this game isn’t likely to have a storybook ending. I like Michigan and the over in a blowout.
Anita Marks: Michigan is the all-around better team. Better run game, offensive line and defense. They are 5-2 ATS their last 7 games against ranked opponents, and always step up on big stages. McCarthy has a favorable matchup against TCU’s secondary, and Donovan Edwards has stepped up at running back in place of Blake Corum.
The No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs (-6.5, 62) start their quest for a second straight national championship against the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Bulldogs enter Saturday night’s CFP semifinal as less than 10-point favorites for only the second time this season (Week 10 vs. Tennessee). Meanwhile the Buckeyes boast the second-best offense in the nation led by Heisman Trophy finalist C.J. Stroud and dynamic wide receivers Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka. Are you rolling with the Dawgs to reach the championship game again, or can the Buckeyes pull off the upset?
Doug Kezirian: Georgia is not as consistently dominant as we’d prefer from an undefeated and top-ranked school that’s an odds-on favorite entering the playoff. However, in their biggest games, the Bulldogs dominated Tennessee and LSU. There is something to be said about that. As for Ohio State, they have elite talent at the offensive skill positions, but I also believe the Buckeyes are getting by on brand name. They’ve underperformed in their biggest games and the offensive line play also concerns me. I believe the Buckeyes and their reputation have Georgia’s attention, and that’s a bad thing. Give be the Dawgs.
Joe Fortenbaugh: Give me Georgia all day long and twice on Saturday night. Why is this line south of 7? Ohio State played exactly three games this season that are worth mentioning: An unimpressive grind over Notre Dame, a massive fourth quarter comeback against Penn State and a butt-kicking at the hands of Michigan. This team is overrated. Georgia is going to push them around.
David Hale: No team was impacted more by the College Football Playoff committee’s final rankings than Georgia, because the one team the Bulldogs should’ve hoped to avoid was Ohio State. True, the Buckeyes lost to Michigan to end the regular season, and that game should offer a blueprint for how UGA wins the Peach Bowl, too. But go back and watch the first half of that game against the Wolverines. Ohio State had multiple chances to break the game wide open, to put Michigan on its heels for good — and it just didn’t happen. The Buckeyes may be the No. 4 seed, but they’re still quite likely the second-most talented team in the country, and offensively, they’re more dynamic than anyone else in this playoff. It’s tough to bet against the defending champs, and stylistically this game doesn’t provide a lot of apples-to-apples comparisons, but it remains a matchup of the two teams who, for virtually the entirety of the season, were considered the two best in the country. A touchdown seems like too much to give here, even if betting against Georgia doesn’t exactly engender much confidence either. I’ll take the Buckeyes and the points in a game that should also hit the 62.5 total before it’s over.
Bill Connelly: For nearly a month now, I’ve been torn between two different visions for this one. In one, Georgia — a team that plays as physically as Michigan, but with more blue-chip talent — basically does to Ohio State what Michigan did (but with more blue-chip talent). That sounds like a pretty painful experience for the Buckeyes. In the other vision, however, a well-rested Buckeye defense suffers far fewer glitches against a Georgia team that doesn’t throw vertically very well or very often and can’t punish them deep. Marvin Harrison Jr. makes a couple of huge catches on Kelee Ringo, the Ohio State defense mostly holds up, the announcing crew and all of Twitter reminds you that Ohio State has as many blue-chippers as Georgia, and we’ve got a spectacular game deep into the fourth quarter. At this exact moment, I like the latter vision more than the former, and I don’t THINK it’s just because I don’t want two more semifinal blowouts. Give me the Buckeyes to cover. That’s a pretty optimistic point total, though.
Jason Fitz: Remember, this game is in Atlanta, so it becomes a home game for Georgia. Stetson Bennett has some of the best playmakers in the country to throw to, especially with Brock Bowers being a mismatch nightmare, and I would argue that the two best players on the field both play for Georgia when you factor in difference-making defensive lineman Jalen Carter. Ohio State handled pressure well in the first half against Michigan, but CJ Stroud doesn’t always love to use his legs, and I feel like pressure up the gut from Carter will make a big difference. Marvin Harrison Jr is going to have to have the game of his life, but that’s a tall task against a Georgia defense that does a great job of taking away what you do best. Look at the Tennessee game for a great example of how the Bulldogs can shut down an explosive offense and wide receivers. Georgia at home, with a wealth of playoff experience on their roster have too many advantages to ignore. I love Georgia here and — again — I like the over in a game full of talented players.
New Years’ Six Bowl Games
The New Year’s Six Bowls kick off on Friday night from Hard Rock Stadium as the No. 6 Tennessee Volunteers face the No. 7 Clemson Tigers (-4.5, 63.5) in the Capital One Orange Bowl. Both offenses have explosive playmakers while their defenses have allowed a ton of points. Are you laying the points with Dabo Swinney’s squad, or can Josh Heupel’s Volunteers cover the spread?
David Hale: I hate that Tennessee won’t have its best offensive players in this one, but I’ll still take the points with the Volunteers. What do we really know about Clemson QB Cade Klubnik? Yes, he dominated the ACC championship game, but that came against one of the worst secondaries in the country (UNC made NC State’s fourth-stringer, Ben Finley, look like a star a week earlier, too) and involved a true freshman wideout who’d barely seen the field all year becoming the Tigers’ first 100-yard receiver in nearly two years. Klubnik has a high ceiling, but there’s a reason Swinney didn’t turn over the offense to him any sooner. He’d been inconsistent in practice all year, and his limited game reps were often downright ugly. Tennessee’s run defense, meanwhile, was one of the best in the country this season, and the Vols are unlikely to let Clemson run wild. The game comes down to the two QBs, and I feel a bit better about Joe Milton and the Tennessee offense than I do about the limited sample size we have of Klubnik and the Tigers.
Bill Connelly: Let’s start with this: SP+ has no idea who’s starting at QB but projects Tennessee to win by an average of 6.2 points. That’s 10.7 points off from the spread, a HUGE cushion … and a cushion that gets eaten away by Tennessee’s absences. Are the losses of Hendon Hooker, Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman worth 10.7 points? What about the potential upgrade of Clemson going from DJ Uiagalelei to Klubnik? Tennessee’s run defense is strong enough that the Vols really might force Klubnik to beat them, but … he might! I watched the South Carolina game! I don’t usually go against SP+ when it’s disagreeing with the line by this much, but I just can’t pull the trigger on a Tennessee team without those players. Prove me wrong, Joe Milton and Ramel Keyton.
Jason Fitz: Cade Klubnik might turn out to be a great quarterback, but right now just being anyone other than Uiagalelei is reason enough to excite the Clemson fan base. The Vols have a chip on their shoulder as they continue to feel like the committee slighted them by ranking Alabama ahead of them in the final CFP rankings, and the entire coaching staff is eager to prove that their system can be dynamic no matter who the quarterback is. I think the Vols care more in this game, and that’s a world of difference in any bowl matchup. I’ll take Tennessee, but questions for both quarterbacks make me lean towards the under.
For only the second time in history, No. 5 Alabama failed to secure a berth in the College Football playoff. However, they will get an opportunity to play a conference champion when they battle the No. 9 Kansas State Wildcats in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on New Years Eve. The Crimson Tide are 6.5 point favorites and are expected to have projected 2023 first round picks Bryce Young and Will Anderson on the field for the game. Kansas State is playing in their first New Year’s Six bowl game since 2013. Do you like Wildcats to shock the world or will the Tide continue to roll?
Doug Kezirian: Alabama is my favorite bowl bet, given Young and Anderson are playing. That commitment sets the tone for the entire roster, which is superior to Kansas State’s. I have heard speculation that both may only play a portion of the game, but I do not see it that way. The Wildcats are a solid team, and the Big 12 was a competitive conference, but the Crimson Tide are in another class. Nick Saban should have his guys ready for what is still considered a prestigious bowl game. I do not expect a letdown.
Joe Fortenbaugh: A motivated Alabama team with Bryce Young and Will Anderson playing should be -7.5 or higher. There is value on the Tide here.
David Hale: The two things I feel most confident in saying about this matchup are that Bryce Young is still the best player in college football, and Alabama’s defense has shown no signs of wanting to play down-and-dirty, physical football this season. Given Kansas State’s penchant for making more talented teams look foolish, this all tells me there will be some points scored. The total (55.5) comes more from a perception that both teams play strong D, but when either team has played a good opponent (they have nine combined games vs. teams with eight wins or more), they’ve allowed, on average, 28 points per game — or 56 points total. Take the over.
Bill Connelly: It’s worth mentioning that while Bama is indeed favored and is projected to have a 7.6-point advantage per SP+, the Tide have played five games against SP+ top-20 teams this season (KSU’s eighth) and underachieved by an average of six points per game. They handled lesser teams like they were supposed to for the most part (when Bryce Young was healthy, anyway), but they were just far glitchier than normal against particularly good opponents. K-State’s definitely that. I guess I’m going to lean toward the Tide anyway, if only because with Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr. both playing for the last time, I figure we’ll get the best possible version of this Bama team. K-State’s got enough playmakers to give them hell, though.
Jason Fitz: I agree with David regarding the points in this one, but I also think that Alabama has spent a lot of practice time being reminded of their failings this season and being chewed out by Saban. Combine that with the fact that two likely top 5 picks are risking a ton to even step on the field and it tells you that Saban and the leaders on this team are looking to reset the overall tone. Alabama was an undisciplined football team this year with penalties and mental mistakes an undeniable part of their fabric. That changes in this game as the program looks to make a statement about who they will be this offseason and next year with a big win.
The last New Year’s Six Bowl of the day features the No. 11 Penn State Nittany Lions and No. 8 Utah Utes from Pasadena, California. The Utes (-2.5, 52.5) are playing in their second straight Rose Bowl after defeating Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and the USC Trojans in the Pac-12 Championship game. The Nittany Lions went 10-2 this season but had no wins against ranked teams. Can Penn State prove they can beat a top team, or will Utah redeem themselves from last year’s loss to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl?
David Hale: Who is Penn State? The Nittany Lions lost to the two best teams they played — Ohio State and Michigan — in relatively convincing fashion. Their next best win? They narrowly beat Purdue in the opener. The crushed a bad Auburn team. They hung 45 on a good Minnesota defense in a game when the Gophers were missing their starting QB. It’s all fine, but offers little reason to assume Penn State is actually a top-tier team. Utah, on the other hand, has two wins over USC, a win over Oregon State, and competitive losses to two good teams in UCLA and Oregon. Maybe I’m wrong about Penn State, but it just hasn’t been challenged enough to be a buyer here. I’ll lay the points with a team who’s been challenged more during the regular season.
Bill Connelly: Penn State turned it on nicely late in the season. After the loss to Ohio State, they overachieved SP+ projections by an average of 12.3 points over their last four games and rose to ninth in SP+. Utah’s 10th, and while the Nittany Lions have played a super weird schedule — they’ve played the teams ranked second and third in SP+ but have only played one team ranked between third and 47th (Minnesota, who they stomped) — I feel like I trust them quite a bit in this game. I feel like Utah will miss its major opt-out guy (tight end Dalton Kincaid) more than PSU will miss its own (corner Joey Porter Jr.), and I think Sean Clifford goes out a winner after a nice, 17-year career in State College. (I also feel super twingy going against Utah here. The Utes tend to make you feel pretty silly when you go against them.)
Jason Fitz: This is simple. Penn State isn’t very good, compared to what we expect from this program annually. Utah is. Utah is the MUCH better football team and they showed the world the passion they can bring to make a statement in the PAC 12 Championship game. The only way Utah loses to a lesser Penn State opponent is if they come out lifeless in this game, and I can’t imagine that happening for a program that understands what the Rose Bowl means for them. Take Utah big and I’m not scared of the over in a blowout.