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New Year's Day College Football Gambling Preview

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All statistics are taken from Football Study Hall or Football Outsiders unless noted. All stats are explained herehere, and at the Football Outsiders link above. I prefer to use advanced stats, so when I say a team ranks 82nd in rushing defense, I am saying they rank 82nd in Bill Connely’s S&P+ statistics relating to rushing, not 82nd in rushing yards allowed a game. As always, just tweet me (@JackMacCFB) with any questions.

All lines are taken from Bet Online at 1:45 PM on 12/31

Rose Bowl: 3. Georgia (-2.5, O/U 61) vs. 2. Oklahoma, 5:00 PM, ESPN:

MY BODY IS READY.

I have watched the ESPN commercials around what feels like 872 times. That “DO YOU BELIEVE YOU CAN WIN THIS FIGHT TONIGHT” song has been stuck in my head since September. All….for…this.

If you made a bucket list as a college football fan, I would argue that attending the Rose Bowl should be at the top of the list. Watching the sun go down as the 4th quarter is starting must be, and I don’t put this lightly, orgasmic.

I am so, so, SO excited for this game, but before we begin, let’s discuss the “you don’t want it” illness heard around the world.

Although the media is acting like Baker Mayfield is dying, the Heisman winner is going to play. For those of you who have been living under a rock, Oklahoma’s offense is CRAZY good: 1st in overall offense, success rate, IsoPPP, rushing, AND passing. Baker Mayfield has led an offense that has been unstoppable all season long. Georgia, who ranks 8th in overall defense, will be Baker’s toughest test yet. Georgia ranks 9th in success rate+, 3rd in IsoPP+, 8th in rushing and 6th in passing. On 3rd downs, the Dawgs rank 9th. The back 7 have a havoc rate of 11 and 23, which will prevent successful plays by Oklahoma, which are bound to happen, turning into explosive 20+ yard plays.

Most would argue the most important matchup in this game is the Oklahoma offense against the Georgia defense, but I would argue otherwise. If I’m looking at who won this game, I will look at how effective the Georgia offense was. Jake Fromm & Co. have a formula in front of them that seems too perfect. The Dawgs offense is no Oklahoma, but they do rank 18th. They rank 8th running the ball, 4th passing it, a success rate+ that ranks 4th, and scored the 7th most points per trip inside the 40-yard line. In those same statistics, Oklahoma’s poor 35th worst defense ranks 62nd, 52nd, 58th, and 88th. Georgia is going to have one hell of a chance to control this game. Funny enough, Georgia’s best defense against Oklahoma is their offense. Their biggest advantage is in passing explosiveness, where they rank 16th and Oklahoma is a miserable 113th. Georgia is going to run the ball down Oklahoma’s throats with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel then run a few beautiful play-action passes for big gains.

Georgia also adds another matchup advantage: special teams. Georgia has the best special teams unit in the country with a kicker who hasn’t missed a PAT all season and has missed just 2 kicks. The kickoff and punt units rank in the top-20, while both return units rank in the top-30. Oklahoma ranks 56th overall in special teams and have one glaring weakness: punts (98th). I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but there is no easier way to flip a game on it’s head with a big punt return.

As you probably assumed by this point, I am going with Georgia here. Their defense is going to be too much. DAWGS.

Pick: Georgia -2.5

Sugar Bowl: 4. Alabama (-3 (-126), O/U 47.5) vs. 1. Clemson, 8:45 PM, ESPN:

Dabo. Saban. The walk-on who is balding. THE TRILOGY.

The last two games were classics. Games that we will remember forever. At 8:45 when this starts there will be one missing part: Deshaun Watson. Not having #4 out there will be difficult for Clemson, but let’s not forget they have played pretty damn well with Kelly Bryant for the past 13 games. Clemson ranks 35th on offense according to S&P+, Alabama’s defense ranks 3rd. Alabama outranks Clemson’s offense in about every category. I could go through them, but I think you have looked at enough numbers for this preview. When you look at Alabama’s defense there are two weaknesses: adjusted sack rate and power success rate (percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first). Alabama ranks 50th and 104th in those categories. Clemson, on the other hand, rank 74th and 54th in those same categories. Ironically enough, the places Clemson struggle the most on offense are the same places Alabama struggle on defense. Clemson’s offensive line isn’t great pass protecting, but they do rank 5th in adjusted line yards. Alabama ranks 13th in the same category. Clemson is going to be able to control the line of scrimmage, very similar to what they have done the past two seasons against Alabama. This will allow for Kelly Bryant & Co. to score just enough points to stay in this one.

On the other side of the ball, one of the two defenses better than Alabama’s will be featured. Clemson ranks 3rd in success rate+ and 2nd in IsoPPP+. They rank 9th against the rush and 2nd against the pass. Alabama’s offense led by Jalen Hurts, who doesn’t get enough credit, ranks 19th. The Tide rank 6th when passing the ball and 14th while running it, but interestingly enough they had the 31st worst offensive line when it came to protecting Jalen Hurts. Brian Daboll and Nick Saban better pray that changes, because this man and the 1st ranked pass rush is coming for that ass:

Another place Alabama struggles is on 3rd down, ranking 33rd and having a 69th ranked passing down success rate and 36th overall. Clemson’s defense ranks 4th, 1st, and 1st in those same categories. Clemson’s defense is going to cause a lot of the same problems they caused last year to Alabama’s offense.

If you put a gun to my head and asked me who I think is going to win, I’d say Clemson. There are things that concern me, like Alabama’s defense and Clemson’s 118th ranked special teams unit which has an FG value (explained here) of .40, which ranks 108th in the country. That’s why I am adding them in a teaser, with 6 more points, with the game below. I could see this game 24-21, either way. Outside of a garbage time TD, I don’t see this game finishing with more than a score difference. Enjoy this game. It’s going to be special.

Pick: 6-point teaser Clemson +9/Auburn -4.5

Peach Bowl: UCF vs. Auburn (-10 (-113), O/U 67), 12:30 PM, ABC:

Two seasons ago, UCF finished the season 0-12. On the first day of 2018, UCF will play an NY6 game against Auburn with a chance to go 14-0. Give credit to Scott Frost for that miraculous turnaround. There were many roadblocks along the way, which is fitting because in their preparation for Auburn more roadblocks were thrown in front of them. We can start with the obvious one: Scott Frost leaving for Nebraska. Everybody in the program saw this was coming, but losing your head coach is no easy task. Surprisingly enough, Scott Frost has decided to coach in this game for UCF. Frost will be one of three head coaches UCF has had over the past month. Yes, three:

Another roadblock for UCF is the Auburn team awaiting them in the Mercedez-Benz Stadium. UCF ranks 2nd in S&P+ offense and will face an Auburn defense that ranks 5th. Where UCF ranks 14th passing the ball, Auburn ranks 1st. In success rate+ UCF ranks 32nd, a respectable mark, Auburn ranks 1st. In IsoPPP+, UCF ranks 8th, Auburn, again, ranks 1st. Are you noticing a trend here? On top of all this, UCF will be without their left tackle:

That’s not the greatest news when you are going up against the 16th ranked pass rush in the country. When UCF has the ball, it’s strength against strength.

You can’t say the same thing when looking at the matchup for Auburn’s offense against UCF’s defense. Our last memory of Auburn is them being dominated in every facet by a scary Georgia defense. What we probably don’t remember is Auburn’s star RB Karryon Johnson was playing with a bum shoulder and nowhere near 100%. After close to a month off, Johnson is close to 100% and ready to go up against a UCF defense that ranks 78th overall and 63rd against the run. Jarrett Stidham will have plenty of open space to throw into as well, as UCF ranks 125th against explosive pass plays, a place Auburn ranks 32nd in. I can see UCF being forced to put 7-8 in the box, only to see Auburn run a play-action pass for a 70-yard touchdown.

It’d be unfair for us to talk about UCF in a NY6 game without bringing up their performance as a 17-point underdog in the Fiesta Bowl:

I’m pretty sure nobody on that team is on this one, but UCF has been in this exact situation before. They don’t have Blake Bortles this time, though. Auburn is going to dominate this game on both sides of the ball. I loved UCF this season and thought they didn’t get the proper respect from the playoff committee, but this is not a favorable matchup for them. They could stick around, which is why I will not take Auburn minus the points, but I want to be involved in this one. As I mentioned above, I’m going to teaser them with Clemson. WAR DAMN EAGLE.

Pick: 6-point teaser Clemson +9/Auburn -4.5

Outback Bowl: South Carolina vs. Michigan (-7.5 (-117), O/U 42), 12:00 PM, ESPN2:

They should really just rename the Outback Bowl to the Bloomin Onion bowl:

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I can’t recall the last time I was advertised something so heavily and went out of my way to purchase it, but the Outback Bowl got me with the Bloomin’ Onion. Last year, I drove 25 minutes to the nearest Outback, just to get an okay steak and an amazing appetizer, a plate of Bloomin’ Onions.

The Outback Bowl starts off our New Years Day extravaganza and I think we may have found ourselves a play to have as we lay on our couches hungover. Michigan had a rocky season, but they still finished 21st in S&P+. If they had any semblance of an okay QB, they could’ve made a serious run with their top-10 defense. The good news for Michigan in this game is Brandon Peters, by far their best QB to start this season, will be dressing for this game. South Carolina ranks an average 57th against the pass and has allowed the 97th worst passing success rate in the country. Michigan runs the ball the 31st most in the country, so passing won’t be their main weapon as Karan Higdon and his 6.3 YPC will try to exploit the 24th ranked Gamecocks rushing defense. The advantage for Michigan isn’t huge if you look at the overall numbers, but if you dive in deeper and compare the trenches, Michigan ranks 10th in adjusted line yards, while South Carolina’s defense ranks 40th. Michigan will control the trenches, which will draw South Carolina to bring more players to the box, which will allow Brandon Peters more openings in the secondary.

The cause of concern for Michigan in this game is their offense, not their defense. Here are some numbers from the absurd unit led by Don Brown: 10th overall, 1st in success rate, 10th in rushing, 2nd in adjusted line yards, 3rd against the pass, 1st in allowed passing success rate, and 2nd in adjusted sack rate. Here is what South Carolina ranks in those same categories: 88th overall, 57th in success rate, 67th in rushing, 54th in adjusted line yards, 48th through the air, 63rd in passing success rate, and 71st in adjusted sack rate. Michigan is going to control the line of scrimmage, the secondary, and get after QB Jake Bentley.

This spread should be around 10-11 points. 7.5 is a steal. Take Michigan and run.

Pick: Michigan -7.5 (-117)

Florida Citrus Bowl: LSU (-3 (-118), O/U 51.5) vs. Notre Dame, 1:00 PM, ESPN:

What do we do here? This is LSU’s second straight season in the Citrus Bowl, while Notre Dame is still bummed that they aren’t in a NY6 game/playoff. Motivation may be low for both teams, at least as low as they can be for a game on New Year’s Day. Motivation is hard to cap, but it is easy to tell which players rally around their coach more in this game. Coach O isn’t going to let his team come out flat. If you had to bet who has been the better motivator over the past three weeks of practice, who would you pick? Coach O or Red Face Brian Kelly?

The Tigers have advantages on the field as well, where they rank 17th defensively and 14th in havoc rate. Brandon Wimbush and Notre Dame struggled mightily against awesome defenses (Georgia and Miami), so it is fair to assume that LSU will take a similar approach. Star DE Arden Key will sit out this one, but the LSU pass rush will still disrupt Wimbush.

LSU doesn’t have a high flying offense, but it still does rank 42nd. Their rushing attacks that ranks 6th overall and 6th in success rate will be able to get going against Notre Dame’s rush defense (13th overall and 27th in success rate). Danny Etling has gotten a lot of slack over the past two seasons, but his 16th rated QBR is rated above the likes of Brandon Wimbush, Jarrett Stidham, Will Grier, and Sam Darnold.

LSU takes care of the ball better than Notre Dame (4th in expected turnovers vs. 39th) and ranks far above them on kickoffs. In terms of kickoff success rate, Notre Dame ranks 120th and kickoff return rate, LSU ranks 13th. The Tigers could rip a momentum swinging return off at any point in the game. I lean with LSU here. I could see this one being close, so I don’t want to lay the 3 to make it an official pick….GO TIGERS!

Lean: LSU -3

Official #JackieGambling Picks:

2017 Season: 65-47-2, 58.03%

Bowl Season: 7-4-1 (Leans: 7-12)

Michigan -7.5 (-117)

Georgia -2.5

6-Point Teaser: Clemson +9/Auburn -4.5

@JackMacCFB on Twitter