College Football Playoff chance could come down to a beauty contest for Utah

Joe Burrow never was good enough to start at Ohio State, but the Louisiana State quarterback could finish his college career by facing the Buckeyes for the national championship.

If that scenario develops, William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said, “I like Ohio State over LSU on a neutral field by 2½ to 3 points.”

Of course, a lot could change before January’s national championship game.

As of now, the four-team College Football Playoff bracket appears to be 50% complete with LSU and Ohio State in ink while four teams fight for the other two spots.

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Clemson, the other remaining undefeated team, sits at No. 3 and is a 28.5-point favorite over Virginia in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game. Bruce Marshall, editor of the Gold Sheet handicapping site, said he’s been impressed enough by Clemson, which won the past two ACC championship games by 32 and 35 points, to take the Cavaliers even giving more than four touchdowns.

“It’s a lot of points, but I like Clemson,” Marshall said. “Dabo [Swinney] is doing everything he can to light a fire under his team and now it’s the us-against-the-world routine.”

The fourth and final spot is a real debate. No. 1 LSU is a seven-point favorite over No. 4 Georgia in Atlanta. If the Bulldogs win, they are assumed to be in and there would be no chaos. A win by LSU would open the door for either No. 5 Utah if the Utes defeat Oregon for the Pac-12 title, or for the Oklahoma-Baylor winner in the Big 12.

“If Georgia loses, I think the Big 12 will be in,” Bogdanovich said. “If they win, Oklahoma for sure will get in over Utah. I think Utah is going to get the shaft.”

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Arguments in favor of Utah being a worthy playoff team will be made all week, but the Utes need to win once more before that debate matters, and coach Kyle Whittingham probably is aware his team needs to pile up style points and beat Oregon by double digits Friday night at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara.

The Utes are stuck with a 30-23 loss at USC in September on their resume. So Utah not only must win the Pac-12 championship game, it must win impressively to have a realistic playoff shot.

Ten of the Utes’ 11 wins were by double digits. Utah is a 6.5-point favorite over the Ducks, who are underdogs for the first time since their season-opening 27-21 loss to Auburn on a neutral field.

The Big 12 title game in Arlington, Texas, is a rematch from Nov. 16, when Oklahoma rallied from a 28-3 deficit to stun Baylor, 34-31. The Sooners were 10.5-point favorites in Waco, and they are a nine-point favorite on Saturday.

The Sooners are 5-7 against the spread (ATS), including 2-6 in the past eight games, so they have not handled most inflated point spreads. The Big 12 winner also must impress the committee to sneak into the playoff field.

The Big Ten championship in Indianapolis is another rematch. Ohio State is a 16.5-point favorite over Wisconsin, after the Buckeyes whipped the Badgers 38-7 in late October.

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In the SEC title game, there is no reason to think top-ranked LSU will let off the gas.

Texas A&M v LSU

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow

(Sean Gardner / Getty Images)

Burrow, who transferred from Ohio State two years ago, is trying to clinch the Heisman Trophy. He has passed for 4,366 yards and 44 touchdowns this season. The game pits Burrow and LSU’s wide-open offense against Georgia’s elite defense. Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart has the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense (10.4 points per game) and 15th-ranked pass defense.

“There’s no way LSU should be a touchdown favorite against Georgia,” Westgate SuperBook director John Murray said. “That’s crazy.”

The betting market disagrees. The Tigers, double-digit favorites in 10 of 12 games, opened -6 and the line was quickly bet up one point.

Matt Youmans writes for VSiN.com and appears on “The Edge” weeknights from 10 p.m.-midnight on SiriusXM 204, TuneIn and VSiN.com.

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