There have been easier handicapping chores in 2019-20 than the College Football Playoff, and no matter what novelty-selection of picks WagerBop might offer to stand out from the pack, all prop betting markets are affected by the public’s overall opinions of the teams playing in the CFP Final on Monday night.
That’s the trouble, because line-movement on the title tilt has been so subtle that it’s hard to tell what is actual sentiment or mere statistical noise. Joe Burrow and the LSU Tigers are (-5.5) favorites on most online betting boards, a paltry half-point from where the line began. But the ever-influential (well, maybe not this time) Bovada Sportsbook has shifted LSU to (-6.5) with Clemson – the defending champs and a team with a 25-0 quarterback – standing at a fat (+190) moneyline payoff.
Update: As this preview was being published, breaking news out of Sin City began to indicate that LSU has gotten an enormous amount of casual betting action. If the 80% lean to the SEC holds across all online betting sites and clientele, then Bovada’s current line (still holding at (-6.5) and (-230) on Louisiana State as of Sunday afternoon) is a restrained and pro-Clemson move by the bookmakers. Underdog victories typically take more out of a sportsbook’s coffers, but in this case a Clemson Tigers cover ATS could pay-off bigly.
No matter what the goal, we have to make an overall W/L + O/U pick, ala some kind of final score prediction, to get a proper feel for how the scrum in New Orleans might go. Only then can intelligent proposition bets be picked out and identified for value.
I can’t get it out of my mind that Clemson is the smart pick-to-win at 2-to-1 odds. Whoever is on TV saying that Dabo Swinney’s offense doesn’t have the “talent” to score points on LSU hasn’t been paying attention to college pigskin in the past 12 months. Many of the same Death Valley enrollees were on-hand when Clemson’s offense played like an NFL unit while clobbering Alabama for another title.
If Clemson has a problem it’s that most of the “Power Rangers” are gone from a still-stout defensive line. Defense is still a strong suit for the reigning national champions, but if everything goes wrong against LSU, there’s no dominant group of bull-rushers to produce sacks by the bushel and make everything OK. Trevor Lawrence will have to produce points through the air, allowing Justyn Ross and Travis Etienne to operate in space as they did in last season’s final triumph. LSU’s secondary won’t make that easy – Etienne’s best path could be up the middle for chain-grinding yards on 2nd and 3rd down.
But there’s a macro-analysis factor getting overlooked. Clemson made its own conference look bad in 2019. We’ve been watching the same thing happen to the SEC while Alabama has reigned supreme, and LSU did the same to the SEC this season. In fact, Alabama’s shut-out victory over Louisiana State earlier in Joe Burrow’s career made some pundits say the Tide hadn’t been challenged prior to the SEC Championship Game, and were a weak favorite on that basis. LSU was still a terrific team – but less-highly rated as an opponent thanks to the whipping from ‘Bama.
Since then Burrow has developed into the Heisman QB we know. But the syndrome of Power-5 conferences looking bad thanks to the tremendously-high ceiling of a champion is in play again in 2020. Look at an ACC team like Virginia. The resurgent Cavaliers beat FSU, Pitt, and rival VT convincingly, went 9-4 overall with a 3-2 OOC record, fought in close losses to Notre Dame and to #9 Florida in the postseason. Why isn’t Virginia considered a top-tier P5 program as of yet? Largely because of a zillion-point loss to Clemson in late November. If Clemson had slipped that weekend and gotten upset by UVA, suddenly the Cavaliers would have been the sexy New Year’s Six team on everyone’s lips. Instead, because Clemson won in a blow out, the latter school kept hearing complaints about playing a weak ACC schedule. It’s absurd! When a school consistently closes the door on its conference rivals, that’s good news for that school, not necessarily a reflection of an FBS that forgot how to play ball.
Did the Tigers get a little lucky against Ohio State? Certainly. But there was no better D1 team than Ohio State this season – the Buckeyes just happened to lose at the wrong time.
I can’t imagine Clemson being unlucky in 60:00 and still defeating Ohio State. But can you imagine Ed Orgeron’s side having lots of bad luck against OSU and still prevailing? If the Buckeyes had faced 2 unlucky teams in the College Football Playoff this year, they might have waltzed to a national title. All due respect to Oklahoma, but LSU got the easier Q-final draw by leaps and bounds.
As was the case last January, I’m handicapping the ACC representatives as the far-smarter moneyline pick at low-risk, high-reward odds. But just because Clemson is the better gamble (and will most likely cover (+5.5) points) doesn’t mean the Carolinians can lay claim to the W in our score prediction.
The outcome is 80% or 90% likely to be settled in the waning moments of the 4th quarter, by 1 or both amazing QBs. I’m giving LSU a slight nod thanks to what could be a slight home-field advantage vibe in the Big Easy…notwithstanding Clemson’s ability to travel well and a % contingent of “neutral” fans and celebrities. It’s also 55%+ likely that the total will go under the eye-popping line of (69.5) currently offered in Las Vegas, because each coaching staff has a reason to utilize what game-control tactics it can. If Burrow is the hot hand (imagine that) early in the 1st half, Swinney will want to play keep-away with the ball. If Lawrence happens to be cold in the early-going, Orgeron will want to put time-consuming drives together and keep the phenom iced on the sideline.
Expect a final score like 35-30 or 29-27.
Now, with the above prediction and basic scenario in mind, let’s take a look at 10 potential prop wagers to turn a fun night into a better Tuesday morning.
All prop lines courtesy of Bovada.
Alternate Point Spread/Payoff Line
The well-known sportsbook is wise to avoid offering an alternate spread on Clemson (+7) – not that (+6.5) hasn’t flickered across its board to begin with. But Clemson (+10) at (-225) is a fairly risk-free wager that you could prevail on even if the unexpected happens and LSU closes the 2019 champs out by mid-way through the 4th frame.
Alternate Over/Under + Payoff Line
Under (60) at (+240) payoff odds. Say no more. It’s like betting a 2.4-to-1 underdog you know has at least a 40% chance of winning.
While the LSU and Clemson offenses may have averaged 40-50 points so far this season, the defenses and kick-coverage units are the reason that the teams won so many games by the same 6-7 touchdown margin.
War of the Totals: Highest Scoring Half
Is at least .10 or .20 of a (-130) line on “Most Number of Points to be Scored in 2nd Half & OT” (as opposed to the 1st half getting a higher tally of combined points) due to factors other than overtime? Bovada’s bookies know that all things considered, the “2nd half” should always get a little more juice, or house % on the 1st half vs 2nd half point total-prop, since any scoring in overtime counts toward the “2nd half + OT” combined point total if it happens. Since the “2nd half + OT” market is more likely to win and pay off under most circumstances, the sportsbook is offering less money as usual. However, chances that LSU and Clemson will go to OT are not great even as we expect a close game. There’s also a natural inclination – which I share – to think the teams might go through a feeling-out process in the 1st quarter and hold the opening half’s point total down.
But consider that Clemson and LSU each gave up early scoring drives before settling-in on defense in the semifinals. Special-teams could even make the 1st half’s point total heftier as a rush of adrenaline creates big plays and short fields for Lawrence and Burrow to take advantage of. Later in the night, it’s more likely we’ll see defensive adjustments snap into place and emotional Red Zone stands. My pick is Highest Total = 1st Half at a far less-chintzy (-110) payoff.
Longest TD Play of the Game
Even though I think a 50-yard kick or punt return is a possibility (especially in the early stage) I believe the sportsbook is using some deception by setting the Over/Under on “Longest TD Play of the Game” at (66.5) yards. It’s easy to forget that most drives start at the 25 yard line now, not the 20. “But I remembered!” you say? Quick, what’s a nice round yardage total for a game-winning 2-minute drill or an epic catch-and-run for a score? 80 yards sounds good, right? In this case…80 yards (vs 75 yards) is the bugaboo.
Bovada wants impulsive gamblers to take the Under thinking that Grant Delpit and other blue-chip DBs in the game won’t miss many tackles, so even if Lawrence or Burrow manages to complete a quick pop pass to begin a drive, it’s not likely to go for more than 12 or 13 yards. Even if that occurs, it still leaves the opportunity for a 67+ yard scoring play after the chains move. Or does it?
The 1st successful play of most of the drives in the game is likely to end with a 1st down or 2nd-down-and-short around midfield or short of midfield. 10-yard passes from the 25 yard line will result in 65 yards-to-go maximum for the drive. That means an “Over” bet on this prop line is counting on the 1st successful play of at least 1 out of maybe 6-7 potential drives going all the way for a TD. TD-per-play stats – even for electric teams like Clemson and LSU – tell us that’s unlikely. Take the Under (66.5).
1st Scoring Play of the Game
Probably the most mispriced market on the Bovada board, this prop is offering gamblers a (+180) payoff if a field goal or a safety, not a TD, is the opening score of the game. “TD” gets its kingly moneyline of (-270) because a TD can be scored by any unit from anywhere, and those who are reading every prediction instead of scrolling for their favorite prop know that I’ve already handicapped the 1st half as potentially the highest-scoring stretch of Monday’s final.
But it’s not hard to imagine either school busting 1 big, nice play on an otherwise nervous opening-drive and kicking a FG. There won’t be a lot of special teams ball-handling blunders or shanked kick-attempts by Clemson or LSU, meaning that a chip-shot FG attempt is 90% likely to end in 3 points and almost 0% likely to end in a weird TD or a different kind of scoring opportunity. That’s why the near-2-to-1 odds are folly on the “FG or Safety” market.
While the late-1st quarter and early 2nd quarter may be full of fireworks as receivers like Ross and LSU’s Justin Jefferson get warmed-up on the outside, you’ll never find a “safer” pick at (+180) considering it would be hard to lose due to bad defense or a funny bounce.
1st Scoring Play Exact Outcome
This pick is related to the last (obviously) and despite what handicappers say about “gut” feelings, this is more of a clairvoyant’s vision based on years of experience watching pigskin.
If you can’t imagine Clemson taking the opening kickoff out to midfield in a rabbit-hopping fit of emotion, springing Etienne on a fancy counter-play down to the 20, then running into a bunch of surly and composed LSU linemen and LBs for 3 straight downs before B.T. Potter kicks a field goal to get the scoring started, you haven’t been paying attention to college football over the last, say, 40 years.
The prop bet is “1st Scoring Play – Clemson FG” at (+300) while LSU’s identical prop market gets all the house “juice” at (+215). It’s a steal considering the circumstances, but there might be an even better long-odds pick on the Bovada board.
What Does the “3 Unanswered Times” CFP Scoring Prop Mean?
When a blogger was recently tasked with handicapping nerdy news stories, AKA the potential “storming” of Area 51, he called down to Costa Rica and talked to the folks at MyBookie.
MyBookie had placed a nice payoff line on the news-outcome of at least a few UFO hunters breaching the Area 51 perimeter on the designated day in 2019. But what if the bookmaker’s rules defined the “storming” of a military base in strict terms? No secrets of Area 51 would have been compromised if a few Yahoos stripped bare and streaked past MPs at the border of the facility only to be cited and let go far away. The Associated Press would not report that sort of incident as a “storming,” and so in that scenario what would be the verifiable outcome of the news vis-a-vis the MyBookie market? As it turned out, MyBookie confirmed that if a lady ran up and stuck her foot past a “No Trespassing” sign at Area 51, it would qualify as a “storming.” Which made total sense from a PR point of view. It was – literally – the only objective line to draw. Did anybody go across the border of Area 51 or not?
But that the question came up at all shows just how subtle and tricky a prop board can be. And on the gridiron, there are many drawn lines.
I had to check myself before recommending prop wager #7, since it appears to be another mispriced set of odds courtesy of either Bovada Sportsbook or its clientele. Odds are a big fat (+250) on neither Clemson or LSU scoring 3 unanswered times in the College Football Playoff final. A (-400) payoff line on prop bettors predicting 3 unanswered scores from either Clemson or LSU at some point on Monday would reflect at least a 75% chance it will happen. That’s way too generous a conceit.
Sure, 1 of the 2 FBS title hopefuls could put a rally together and score 2 touchdowns and a field goal, or a TD and 2 FGs, or even a pair of offensive scores and a safety during an otherwise close scrum. But how much of that 75%/80% chance prediction by the gambling community is based on the possibility that LSU will run away from Clemson, as Clemson ran away from Alabama last year?
Since we’re confident that the 2020 CFP will not end with a 3-quarter snoozer, we can surmise that the chances of an unanswered 3-score rally by either program are far below what the price indicates. What a high-risk gamble to try to win 1 dollar on $4 if an evenly-matched championship game turns lopsided, and risk losing the 4 or 8-unit bet if it doesn’t! “No” at (+250) is the obvious pick.
But wait – does an XP or 2-point conversion count as a “score”? Ahhh…that would be a classic bookmaker’s trick, wouldn’t it? To make things nice and suspenseful, Bovada doesn’t include fine-print clarification under the (-400)/(+250) odds as it does under some other propositions. If a TD and a successful conversion added-up to “2 scores” then it would actually make sense to bet Yes.
On investigation, it appears that – notwithstanding whatever’s inside Area 51 – Bovada’s bookmakers are human beings from Earth and don’t enjoy getting belted in the jaw any more than the next person. The sportsbook’s rules clearly state (ahem):
“The proposition “Will either team score 3 unanswered times in the game?” refers to a team scoring 3 consecutive times during the game, without the other team scoring in between. This only includes Touchdown, Field Goal or Safety. Any extra point after a touchdown or 2 point conversions are not included.”
Well then. Looks like our 7th prop is safe from trouble, unless Clemson suffers its only collapse on the gridiron since the Alabama loss on New Year’s Day 2018…a game in which ‘Bama never scored 3 times in a row despite winning by 18 points.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.