They’re a pair of double-digit favorites in a College Football Playoff format that over its brief existence has rarely seen upsets. So from a college football betting standpoint, why do things suddenly seem so complicated for Alabama and Clemson?
That the two favorites will meet in the final still feels like a strong likelihood, given that the Crimson Tide are 14-point favorites over Oklahoma, and the Tigers 12.5-point favorites over Notre Dame.
But when it comes to wagering on those point relatively large spreads, there are now a few more things to consider beyond Alabama’s defense and Clemson’s passing game. Both teams now face variables that weren’t present for their unbeaten regular seasons.
Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the catalyst behind the best offense coach Nick Saban has had in Tuscaloosa, likely lost the Heisman Trophy in the Dec. 1 SEC title game, when he suffered through a miserable performance and left with a sprained ankle.
And tackle Dexter Lawrence, the best player on Clemson’s vaunted defense, was ruled ineligible Thursday night after a positive drug test.
They play different positions on opposite sides of the ball, but both Tagovailoa and Lawrence are game-changers. Their presence and effectiveness on the field could dictate whether their respective teams cover double-digit lines. Their status has left bettors hoping more information out of their bowl camps will clarify the picture.
2018 CFP Semifinals Betting Tips
Tagovailoa told reporters at the Orange Bowl that his left ankle is 80 to 85 percent after undergoing surgery to repair the sprain suffered against Georgia. He’s practiced as much as he needs to, Saban adds, and a proven backup in Jalen Hurts waits in the wings.
For bettors, how effectively are those potential replacements? Hurts may have rescued Alabama in the SEC title game, but the Tide didn’t cover the 12-point spread. Hurts was 6-8 as a starter against the spread last season, as opposed to Tagovailoa and his 8-4 record this year.
Tua makes a difference, and having him limited or absent could clearly force bettors to sweat out that two-touchdown point spread.
Clemson-Notre Dame Betting Tips
Lawrence tested positive for ostarine, a performance-enhancer that reportedly helps build lean muscle, and was ruled out for the Cotton Bowl after a second sample turned up positive as well.
Albert Huggins and Nyles Pinckney, who saw lots of time last year when the All-American battled a foot injury, are experienced backups with 48 tackles between them.
Lawrence missed two games and was limited in three others last season due to his foot injury, and the Tigers still went 4-1 against the spread in those contests.
But the real worry for Clemson bettors may be last year’s CFP semifinal against Alabama, when a hobbled Lawrence tried to play more snaps than he had in weeks, and was a relative non-factor in a 24-6 loss in which the Tigers struggled to get pressure on Hurts. Saturday against the Irish, he won’t be there at all.
College Football National Semifinal Best Bets
How to Bet Orange Bowl 2018
Bet Alabama -14: Tagovailoa’s status aside, Alabama still has two huge factors in its favor: a proven backup in Hurts who’s won a national championship and a dreadful Oklahoma defense that ranks 108th nationally.
The Sooners were lit up with regularity in the Big 12, and scored enough points to win all but one of those games. It’s hard to foresee that bend-bend-bend-bend-don’t break approach working against Alabama, even with Heisman winner Kyler Murray behind center.
Bet Under 77.5 points: If Hurts plays most or all of the game, Alabama’s quick-strike passing game will be more limited. If Tagovailoa plays, his trademark elusiveness in the pocket likely won’t be the same. Oklahoma is facing a juggernaut of a defense.
Hot to Bet Cotton Bowl 20183>
Bet Notre Dame +12.5: The Irish haven’t been impressive in every game this season, but they do have a very good defense and an accurate quarterback capable of keeping things close against the Tigers.
Bet Under 56.5 points: Clemson and Notre Dame both rank in the top 11 nationally in scoring defense, so points promise to be at a premium. Clemson is the best defense the Irish have faced since the opening week against Michigan, a game where the teams combined for 41 points.