Ohio State fans should be giddy. Their team made the four-team College Football Playoff field without playing a snap last week, making the Big Ten the second conference ever — the SEC was the first — to score two spots in the tournament.
USC, Tennessee, and Alabama fans will be disappointed, but they really don’t have anyone to blame but their own teams’ performance when it counted most. The bracket is now set for the two semifinal games that will determine who plays in the Jan. 9 title game at SoFi Stadium near LAX Airport.
Those semifinal games don’t kick off until New Year’s Eve, offering weeks of potential line movement as injuries crop up, players with NFL futures consider opting out, and the regulated mobile sportsbooks adjust to the money flowing in. But this can be a good time to grab an early line to lock in some value, so let’s take a dive into the odds:
Shop around for the best lines as they shift in coming days and weeks, but as of mid-morning Monday, here were the best futures odds being offered for each of the four teams:
Even though Georgia is less than a touchdown favorite in its semifinal game with Ohio State, the Bulldogs (-130 at DraftKings) are fairly heavy chalk to hoist the trophy when it’s all said and done. Michigan (+300 at BetMGM), which took care of Purdue in the Big Ten title game to lock up the No. 2 seed, is the second choice, followed by rival Ohio State (+400 at FanDuel), and longshot TCU (+1800 at FanDuel).
The easiest way to think about all of this is simply to translate those odds into probabilities. The DraftKings odds imply Georgia has a 56.5% chance to win its next two games, Michigan has a 25% shot, the Buckeyes have a 20% chance, and the Horned Frogs only have a 5.3% chance to carry their Cinderella run all the way to the end.
There are a number of computer projection systems that can be used as reference points for those odds. One of them, created by FiveThirtyEight.com, puts the probabilities as such: Georgia 37%, Michigan 29%, Ohio State 23%, and TCU 10%. Based on those numbers, Georgia is a bad bet, while the other three could offer moderate value.
A smarter play, if you like the Bulldogs, may be to bet the moneyline on each of their games individually. But there’s another wagering approach to consider as well …
More specific forecasting
At DraftKings, among others, you can bet on the exact national championship matchup and outcome, which can make some sense since there are only three games left. If you think the two favorites will win in the semifinals, you could wager that Georgia will play Michigan (-125), for example, or that Georgia will beat Michigan in the title game (+145). Conversely, you could bet Michigan defeats Georgia (+500).
Now, imagine chaos breaks out and both underdogs win in the semis. That opens up TCU vs. Ohio State (+1100), and Ohio State defeats TCU (+1400) or TCU defeats Ohio State (+4500).
Each of the other potential permutations also is available. An all-Big Ten final is priced at +300. Georgia vs. TCU is +425.
Game lines (odds via DraftKings)
Michigan -9 vs. TCU
The Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, features a 13-0 Wolverines squad, coming off a huge win at Ohio State and a take-care-of-business win over Purdue, vs. a TCU squad that was picked to finish fourth in the Big 12 in a preseason media poll but finds itself with a chance at glory despite losing a heartbreaker to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship.
Michigan is 8-4-1 against the spread (ATS) this season, while TCU is 9-3-1.
The over-under total is set at 60. The over has hit in seven of TCU’s 13 games this season while the under has hit in eight of Michigan’s 13 contests. There’s no need to monitor the weather for either of these games since they’re both being played in domes.
This is one of the few games on the bowl slate for which DraftKings already has released a moneyline: Michigan is -330, while TCU is +275. Those odds imply Michigan has a 76.7% chance of winning while TCU’s odds imply a 26.7% chance of advancing. For what it’s worth, FiveThirtyEight sets those probabilities at Michigan 66% and TCU 34%, so that’s a fairly strong endorsement of TCU as the better value here.
Georgia -6.5 vs. Ohio State
The sportsbooks seem remarkably forgiving of the Buckeyes’ 22-point loss at home to Michigan, a team that didn’t even have its best running back, Blake Corum, who is out for the season with a knee injury. This line coming in at under a touchdown is even more interesting since Georgia will be playing just 72 miles from campus at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Ohio State is 5-6-1 ATS this season while Georgia is 7-6, so there’s not a lot to go on there.
The over-under is set at 61.5. Georgia has hit the under in eight of its 13 games while Ohio State has hit the over in nine of 12. Again, no obvious way to wager based on these trends.
The moneyline has Georgia at -250, implying Georgia’s odds of winning are 71.4%. It has Ohio State at +210, implying a 32.3% probability of a Buckeyes upset. FiveThirtyEight pegs Georgia with a 59% chance of advancing and Ohio State with a 41% chance of playing in the title game, so that projection system once again points to value on the underdog.