"Coach Nick Saban Statue -- University of Alabama Football Stadium (Gate 1) Tuscaloosa (AL) February 2019" by Ron Cogswell is licensed under CC BY 2.0
College

College Football Playoff picks

After weeks of frustrating bowl games, full of positive tests, opt-outs, and questionable team motivation, the College Football Playoff is finally here.

To say it’s been a strange season would be an understatement. NIL, the transfer portal, and the coaching carousel have resulted in a great deal of roster turnover and general pandemonium amongst fans.

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A Look Ahead to the CFP

As the SEC continues to struggle this bowl season (1-5 thus far), more and more questions about the validity of two SEC teams in the CFP are being raised. Regardless of those questions (as fair as they may be), at least the hype around both games is growing as a result. What looked like two bad matchups weeks ago now appear to be solid matchups overall.

Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook

 

Michigan +7.5 vs Georgia

Michigan came on strong to close the season. Following some offensive and defensive inconsistencies to start the season, Michigan held their last five opponents to just 12.8 PPG to close the season. With the defense getting off the field faster, it’s given the offense more opportunities, as well as more time to settle-in.

With both sides of the ball firing on all cylinders, Michigan looks to be primed for a close game against a Georgia team previously thought to be unstoppable.

Georgia was on a historic pace this season, prior to their collapse in the SEC Championship game. After their big loss to the Crimson Tide, it started to become apparent their SOS may not have been as difficult as many once considered it. Great defenses tend to spark good offense, simply by the taxing play count they force on opposing defenses, and Georgia is a prime example of that.

With the way the season ended for both these teams, it’s natural to feel high about Michigan while feeling low about Georgia. However, there is real merit to such feelings. The fear amongst Michigan fans is the balanced attack of Georgia. If Georgia can utilize play action well enough, they might be able to hold Aidan Hutchinson at bay, while keeping third downs manageable.

The Rub

For Georgia, the same holds true. Michigan will be attacking heavily on the ground (57% runs this season at a .09 EPA per run). A good balance should give Michigan the same third and short opportunities. Where things get tricky is passer rating in clean vs under pressure. Michigan’s rating under both is 100, while Georgia has a 126 passer rating when clean and just a 29 under pressure.

You have to think Georgia should be able to move the ball slightly more successfully on the ground, but the dangers of dropping back to pass with the talented Michigan pass rush on the other side will be a recipe for disaster. Despite the big game issues for Harbaugh, Georgia also has been plagued by big game failure as well. This one should be closer than the 7.5 point spread.

Georgia under 26.5 points

With the strength of both defenses, combined with the efficiency on run plays, expect there to be a very fast clock in this game. Barring some unfortunate mistakes, this game should be very close throughout. There’s a strong possibility we see little in the ways of negative game scripts, which should indicate a relatively low-scoring game overall. I like for Georgia to stumble on offense in this one.

Georgia 20 Michigan 17

 

Cincinnati vs Alabama -13.5

To some extent, Cincinnati’s run this season has been slightly overrated. At the same time, I was one of the few who felt early-on that the Bearcats should get a spot in the playoff if they finished the season undefeated. This team has an incredible defense and an amazing QB. Outside of that, they have had some real shaky performances along the way.

Now, the Bearcats face the prospect of being in a negative game script against possibly the most talented team in the country. Prior to the SEC title game, I’d have said this potential matchup would have been closer to 20.5, but after the SEC title game, it looks like Bama’s defense may be showing signs of life.

All season long, Cincinnati has been able to match the size and physicality of their opposition up-front. Aside from Notre Dame, their opponents have not been a threat in the trenches. Alabama is far and away the best line they will face this season. My concern here is the chaos Alabama can potentially inflict. If Cincy falls behind early, we could see this game snowball into a blowout.

A Little Perspective

In the SEC title game, we saw what Bama was able to do slowing the Bulldogs on the ground. Cincy runs the ball 47% of the time, so their success through the air comes largely from their favorable down and distance numbers and setting up play action.

On the one hand, we can point to Cincy’s one-score wins over Navy and Tulsa and point-out what went wrong. Conversely, we can do the same for Bama in their narrow wins over Florida and Auburn, as well as their loss to Texas A&M. If both these teams show up on Friday and bring their best, Bama should roll to a two or three score victory. The problem is, which Alabama team will we see?

I expect Cincy may run into some problems in this game matching the physicality of Alabama. I think it should be close early, but the big play ability of Alabama’s offense should put Cincy into a more pass-heavy, negative game script. For a team whose success is built on balance, expect Bama to throw Cincy’s balance off early.

Alabama 38 Cincinnati 24

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