With the arrival of rivalry week, the college football season officially enters its endgame.
Intrastate showdowns to settle old scores, clashes between conference leaders, and tough tests for the Associated Press (AP) Top-25 teams await.
The rivalry week festivities this Saturday start with top-ranked Alabama (11-0) visiting sixth-ranked Auburn (9-2) in the 82nd edition of the Iron Bowl.
The latest release of the College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings puts the Crimson Tide on top, while the Tigers are lurking just outside the final four in the sixth spot. Since losing to LSU (8-3) five weeks ago, Auburn has scored 40 points or more in four straight blowout wins – including a 42-27 shocker over then second-ranked Georgia (10-1).
As for Alabama, the juggernaut rolls on for head coach Nick Saban, whose team has only been tested a single time all year. The Tide needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns to score a comeback win over 16th-ranked Mississippi State (8-3) two weeks ago, but aside from that near stumble, Alabama has ridden high scores and stingy defense to a spotless record.
It’s the last regular season game for both teams, and for the victor, a date with Georgia in the SEC Championship Game awaits.
Per the latest odds posted by online sportsbook Bovada, Alabama enters the Iron Bowl as 5-point road favorites.
Elsewhere, third-ranked Oklahoma (10-1) will be in action Saturday hosting West Virginia (7-4), as the Sooners cling to the fourth and final CFP postseason bid.
The Sooners’ only loss on the season came against Iowa State, but during Oklahoma’s current six-game win streak, they’ve beaten a pair of ranked teams in then 11th-ranked Oklahoma State and then sixth-ranked TCU (9-2).
The Mountaineers are an enigma, with a 28-14 loss to Texas last week representing their only defeat against an unranked opponent all year. West Virginia has gone 2-3 against the AP Top-25 this year, getting blasted 50-39 by then 11th-ranked Oklahoma State (8-3) one week, before showing signs of brilliance in a 20-16 win over then 15th-ranked Iowa State (7-4) the next.
One team has everything to play for, while the other is simply playing out the string. Accordingly, the heavy lean goes to Oklahoma as 23-point home favorites.
Fourth-ranked Clemson (10-1) has surprised most pigskin pundits, defending last year’s national championship despite losing star quarterback Deshaun Watson to the NFL. The Tigers are third in the most recent CFP rankings, but with a showdown with CFP No. 2 Miami looming next weekend, Clemson can’t afford to look past this Saturday’s road clash with South Carolina.
Fortunately for them, the Gamecocks represent the bitterest of rivals in the 115th meeting of the Palmetto State’s two top teams.
It could be a trap game for most teams, but with a national title to defend, Clemson is tabbed as 14-point favorites even on the road.
Fifth-ranked Wisconsin (11-0) hasn’t lost a game all year, but the Badgers are still boxed out of the CFP rankings at the moment. Last week’s win over then 24th-ranked Michigan (8-3) would’ve been enough to lift Wisconsin into a playoff spot in most years, but a down season for the Wolverines has reduced their résumé’s influence on the rankings.
The Badgers hit the road to take on a middling Minnesota (5-6) team, but ninth-ranked Ohio State (9-2) lies in wait to close out the regular season in the Big Ten title game. A win in that high-profile matchup to cap a perfect season may be enough to get Wisconsin over the CFP hump, but they’ve got to get through Minnesota first to make that possible.
In another potential trap game, Wisconsin holds a 17-point edge as road favorites.
If college football fans thought Week 7 was wacky – what with highly ranked Oklahoma (5-1) and Michigan (5-1) falling in massive upsets – last Saturday was something else altogether.
The upsets began in earnest when defending national champion and then second-ranked Clemson (6-1) fell to unranked Syracuse (4-3) in a 27-24 instant classic.
Next up, then eighth-ranked Washington State (6-1) was demolished in a 37-rout to unranked California (4-3).
To finish things off, then fifth-ranked Washington (6-1) couldn’t get anything going as 17.5-point favorites, losing a 14-7 wrestling match against unranked Arizona State (3-3).
And just like that, the Associated Press (AP) Top-10 rankings were shaken and shuffled – giving a new group of teams hope for a potential College Football Playoff run.
Looking ahead to this Saturday, top-ranked Alabama (7-0) should have little trouble dodging the upset bug. The Tide aren’t messing around this season, dispatching SEC “rival” Arkansas (2-4) by the score of 41-9 last week – and covering the 31-point opening spread to boot.
This Saturday they’ll host another SEC also-ran in Tennessee (3-3), and online sportsbook Bovada has Alabama as enormous 36.5-point favorites.
Sitting idle on its bye week, now second-ranked Penn State (6-0) benefited immensely from Clemson’s stumble to move up a spot in the AP rankings. But the Nittany Lions have beaten up on six unranked teams so far, and that all changes this week when 19th-ranked Michigan (5-1) comes to College Station.
In what many expect to be the game of the year thus far, and one which will go a long way in deciding the Big Ten champion, the Wolverines are pegged as 9.5-point road underdogs.
Third-ranked Georgia (7-0) takes the week off, while fourth-ranked TCU (6-0) takes on a woefully outmatched Kansas (1-5) team at home. The Jayhawks are allowing an abysmal 44.8 points per game, which doesn’t bode well given the Horned Frogs’ propensity for scoring points in bunches (41.3 points per game).
This primetime matchup boasts one of the biggest spreads of the season, with the Horned Frogs favored by an astounding 39 points.
Fifth-ranked Wisconsin (6-0) hosts an uninspiring Maryland (3-3) squad as 24.5-point favorites, but bettors may be wary of that line after last week.
The Badgers scored just three points over the final three quarters last week in a 17-9 defeat of Purdue (3-3), but while the offense may be struggling, Wisconsin did hold a team to 10 points or fewer for the third time this year.
Sixth-ranked Ohio State (6-1) and now seventh-ranked Clemson both have their bye weeks – and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Tigers.
The team that knocked them off gets right back to it though, as Syracuse visits eighth-ranked Miami (5-0).
Fittingly enough, the Hurricanes had one game cancelled and another postponed due to Hurricane Irma, hence their 5-0 record. But those logistical issues haven’t affected Miami’s on-field performance, and they’ve steadily climbed the AP rankings all year. Miami will enjoy a 17-point advantage as road favorites in this one.
Ninth-ranked Oklahoma (5-1) and 10th-ranked Oklahoma State (5-1) are sticking close, and they’ll both hit the road to battle Kansas State (3-3) and Texas (3-3), respectively. The Sooners are 14-point favorites over the Wildcats, while the Cowboys are only 7-point favorites against the Longhorns.
Eleventh-ranked USC (6-1) travels to South Bend for a date with 13th-ranked Notre Dame (5-1), renewing one of the best rivalries in college football. Both teams count an early loss to a ranked opponent as their only blemishes on the year, so this game should live up to its billing.
The books certainly think so, as Notre Dame has been installed as slight 3.5-point favorites – and with the Fighting Irish enjoying home field advantage, that line essentially makes this one a pick’em.
Week 3 of the NFL season may be remembered one day as the “Sunday Slaughter,” with 10 of 13 underdogs either covering or winning outright to punish the public.
And it wasn’t really a statistical aberration, as underdogs have gone 27-19-1 against the spread thus far.
With that in mind, we’ll keep an eye on the dogs to watch for this week while examining the opening lines posted by online sportsbook Bovada.
The most lopsided line of the week, by far, lends 13 points to the Indianapolis Colts (1-2), who head into the maw of the 12th Man to face the Seattle Seahawks (1-2).
Taking place under the primetime spotlight of Sunday Night Football, this game features a Seahawks team that has underachieved offensively all year – which makes the enormous spread a head-scratcher to say the least. Quarterback Russell Wilson has led the Seahawks offense to a paltry 15.0 points per game average – with two 9-point performances thrown in – leading many pigskin pundits to openly question whether Seattle’s window of championship-caliber play has come to a close.
Conversely, the Colts are surprising bettors and opponents alike, covering as big dogs against the Arizona Cardinals (1-2) in Week 2, and defeating the Cleveland Browns (0-3) last Sunday. New quarterback Jacoby Brissett seems to have brought a winning attitude with him, as the Colts exploded for 31 points in beating the Browns.
Amidst allegations of open tanking, the New York Jets (1-2) were installed as 6-point home underdogs last Sunday – before trouncing the Miami Dolphins (1-1) in a 20-6 slugfest. The Jets defense was simply ferocious, surrendering nothing on the scoreboard until a last-second face-saving touchdown by Miami.
This week, the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-1) head to the Big Apple, and once again the Jets are being discounted as 3.5-point home dogs.
Despite the Jets’ thorough domination of the Dolphins, this line may be attributable to Jacksonville’s unexpected 44-7 rampage over the Baltimore Ravens (2-1), as the Jags entertained their adopted “home crowd” in London last week.
The Browns (0-3) host the Cincinnati Bengals (0-3) in an intrastate battle of winless AFC North rivals.
But despite keeping things close in a pair of 3-point losses thus far, the Browns have been tabbed as 3.5-point home dogs – even facing a Bengals squad that has posted a dismal 11.0 points per game to begin the season.
Cleveland’s youngsters have been playing with passion under head coach Hue Jackson, while his counterpart Marvin Lewis can’t seem to get a veteran bunch in gear. Those facts, combined with a “Dawg Pound” home crowd that has turned out for far worse clubs, makes Cleveland’s status as a home dog curious on all accounts.
Another surprise underdog on the Week 4 slate is the Oakland Raiders (2-1).
The reigning AFC West champions head to Mile High for a date with the Denver Broncos (2-1) as 2.5-point road dogs, following a Week 3 both teams would rather forget. Oakland was trucked by the Washington Redskins (2-1) in a 27-10 laugher, while Denver couldn’t get anything going in a 26-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills (2-1).
Those listless performances were out of character for two teams built to win, so the linemakers are leaning towards a close contest by giving Oakland nothing but the standard field goal spread on the road.
Speaking of those Bills, they’ll be facing an 8-point disadvantage against the Atlanta Falcons (3-0).
The Falcons don’t seem to be aware of the “Super Bowl Slump” most fans believed would strike after February’s infamous collapse, as evidenced by a spotless record. Atlanta’s offense takes things to another level when playing indoors, but the Buffalo defense has been stout while surrendering just 12.3 points per game.
It’s only been three years since the College Football Playoff was created, but in that short time one team has staked its claim to supremacy over the sport’s postseason: The Alabama Crimson Tide (14-0).
Under the careful management of head coach Nick Saban, and powered by a steady stream of NFL-caliber players, Alabama has secured a spot in the four-team Playoff every year so far. And while the 2015 edition saw the top-ranked Tide upset by Ohio State, Saban’s squad prevailed over last year’s postseason bracket to become national champions.
As defending champs, Alabama strung together an undefeated regular season – including yet another SEC Championship Game victory under Saban’s tenure. Upon reaching their third consecutive Playoff, the Tide rolled over an outclassed, but fourth-ranked Washington Huskies (12-2) team in a 24-7 game that was never really as close as the score would suggest.
All told, Alabama is riding a 26-game winning streak across regular season and postseason play, putting Saban in position to win his sixth National Championship. That would tie him with legendary Crimson Tide coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, while making it five titles in his last seven seasons (’09, ’11, ’12, ’15).
The only thing standing in Alabama’s way is a Clemson Tigers (13-1) team that pushed them to the limit in last year’s 45-40 title game thriller.
Head coach Dabo Sweeney has made the Playoff two out of three years, but while Saban is the common thread in the Tide’s dominance, the Tigers have been powered by star quarterback Deshaun Watson over that span.
In the last two years Watson has finished second on the big stage twice, first in last year’s title tilt, and again this season when he was named runner-up in the Heisman Trophy balloting. After scoring three touchdowns, one through the air and two more on the ground, in last weekend’s 31-0 rout over third-seeded Ohio State, Watson will undoubtedly be looking to complete his college career standing in the winner’s circle.
Having combined to allow just 7 points between their respective defenses in the Playoff semifinals, Alabama and Clemson don’t appear poised to reprise their previous shootout. On the other hand, the Tigers ranked 13th in the nation by scoring 39.5 points per game, while the Tide were 15th at 39.4 per game, so the scoreboard operator may be busy after all.
The Bovada Sportsbook has installed Alabama as 6-point favorites for Monday’s matchup. If the score resembles that of last year’s instant classic, the Tide would win the game but the Tigers would narrowly cover.
Additionally, Bovada has bettors covered with a bevy of game wagers and prop bets, so take a look below to see a few of the latest lines:
Moneyline: Clemson (+185) / Alabama (-225)
Over/Under: 51 (-110)
First Half: Alabama (-3.5)
Team to Score First: Clemson (+120) / Alabama (-160)
First Team to 10 Points: Clemson (+140) / Alabama (-190) / Neither (+7500)
Will the Game go to Overtime: Yes (+700) / No (-2000)
Total Passing Yards for Watson: Over 269.5 (-120) / Under 269.5 (-120)
Total Passing TDs for Watson: Over 2.5 (-120) / Under 2.5 (-120)
Following a nationwide bye week of sorts, aside from the annual Army (6-5) / Navy (9-3) game , the last days of December will see dozens of bowl games play out.
Serving as a reward for programs that have persevered through a long summer schedule to build a winning record, even the most minor of bowl games – think the Dollar General Bowl and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – provide the perfect setting for a season-ending clash.
While diehard fans and alumni savor the appetizers, the most prestigious bowl games offer football fans everywhere a full platter of premium play. The top teams in all of college football square off on neutral turf, the senior class battles their collective heart out to experience the thrill of victory one last time, and Playoff bubble teams make their case.
Bowl season starts to simmer on December 17, but the most important games are reserved for New Year’s weekend. Below you’ll find a game capsule with early betting lines for the best bowl games on the schedule – beginning of course with the College Football Playoff semifinal games – before moving down the line in order of prominence:
Peach Bowl (December 31 at 3pm ET)
#1 Alabama (13-0) vs. #4 Washington (12-1)
The fourth-ranked Huskies made the Playoff by nipping fifth-ranked Penn State, but their reward is a Peach Bowl date with the defending national champion Crimson Tide. The game will be played at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, so Alabama fans have the travel advantage, but Washington’s contingent will represent itself well on the heels of a Cinderella season.
Alabama ended the regular season with consecutive victories over ranked teams, beating Auburn and Florida by a combined score of 84-28. The consensus line likes that trend to continue, as Alabama opened as 14-point favorites, before moving up to a 16-point edge.
Fiesta Bowl (December 31 at 7pm ET)
#2 Clemson (12-1) vs. #3 Ohio State (11-1)
The second semifinal game pits second-ranked Clemson against third-ranked Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, held at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Tigers hope to return to the championship game for a second straight season, after pushing Alabama to the limit in a 45-40 thriller last year.
To do so, they’ll need to beat a determined Buckeyes squad which is riding high after eliminating archrival Michigan from Playoff consideration in The Game. The consensus line leans toward Ohio State, as the Buckeyes opened as 3-point favorites, before inching up to a 3.5-point advantage.
Rose Bowl (January 2 at 7pm ET)
#5 Penn State (11-2) vs. #9 USC (9-3)
This year’s Rose Bowl sees the ninth-ranked USC Trojans defend home turf against a fifth-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions team that is still smarting from a Playoff snub.
For the Trojans, who started 1-3 before reeling off eight straight wins, the Rose Bowl is essentially a freeroll, as nobody expected them to be here. That puts all the pressure on Penn State, who will be desperate to show the nation that they deserved to be playing for a national championship.
Considering the home field advantage enjoyed by USC, the consensus line opened with the Trojans as 6.5-point favorites, and has since moved to a full touchdown spread.
Orange Bowl (December 30 at 8pm ET)
#6 Michigan (10-2) vs. #11 Florida State (9-3)
A berth in the Orange Bowl is likely no consolation to head coach Jim Harbaugh and his sixth-ranked Michigan Wolverines, a team that was considered a Playoff lock all year.
For a rebuilding 11th-ranked Florida State squad, any big bowl game is big, and playing in their home state at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami is just a bonus. Despite playing in friendly confines though, the consensus line opened with Michigan as 6.5-point favorites, and has hovered there since.
Sugar Bowl (January 2 at 8:30pm ET)
#7 Oklahoma (10-2) vs. #14 Auburn (8-4)
In the Sugar Bowl, two perennial powers who fell a bit short of the finish line look to end their season on a high note. The consensus line favored seventh-ranked Oklahoma by 5.5 points, but the number has since slipped to 4.5 points.
Cotton Bowl (January 2 at 1pm ET)
#8 Wisconsin (10-3) vs. #15 Western Michigan (13-0)
As the only undefeated Top-25 team not coached by Nick Saban, the 15th-ranked Western Michigan Broncos ran roughshod through their entire schedule this year. Unfortunately for them, the caliber of play within the mid-level Mid-American Conference (MAC) wasn’t high enough to warrant Playoff consideration, so a Cotton Bowl date with Big Ten bullies have to suffice.
The eighth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers played well all year, and their only losses on the season were to the aforementioned Ohio State/Penn State/Michigan trio of conference rivals. The consensus line opened with Wisconsin as 6.5-point favorites, and early betting has already pushed the number to 7.5 points.
With over three months’ worth of action in the books, the 2016 college football regular season boils everything down to the game’s very essence: Rivalry Week.
Enemies from across the state and conference foes form the bulk of Week 13’s slate, and for good reason. Only a few elite teams are left standing after the regular season gauntlet, so it’s only fitting that the final hurdle on the path to a College Football Playoff berth is provided by an old rival.
On Tuesday the latest set of rankings were released by the Playoff Committee, setting the stage for a momentous Saturday of high-profile games. Defending national champion and class of the SEC Alabama (11-0) is the consensus choice at number one, followed by Big Ten powers Ohio State (10-1) and Michigan (10-1) in the second- and third-seeds, respectively, while Clemson (10-1) occupies the fourth and final spot representing the ACC.
On the outside looking in is a Washington (10-1) team that has feasted on weak Pac-12 competition, and Wisconsin (9-2), which counts narrow 7-point losses against the aforementioned Buckeyes and Wolverines as its only defeats.
Both the Huskies and the Badgers will clearly need one of the Top-Four to stumble this week, while posting big wins of their own, if either dark horse is to secure an unlikely postseason appearance.
They just might get what they need too, with two of the current Playoff selections facing off against upset-minded in-state rivals, and the other two finally meeting after a season-long conference collision course.
Top-ranked Alabama hosts Associated Press (AP) 16th-ranked Auburn (8-3) in the 81st edition of the Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide lead the all-time series 44-35-1, including two consecutive wins by at least 10 points.
The Tigers have won seven of their last eight, but they’ve already been boxed out of the SEC Championship Game by Nick Saban’s juggernaut. That puts Auburn in upset mode, looking to put Alabama’s quest for a fifth title in eight years in jeopardy.
The consensus line made the Tide 20-point home favorites, but that number has slipped to -17.5 as of now.
The showcase game this Saturday sees Michigan travel to Ohio State with the Big Ten East title on the line in what locals call simply The Game. Both teams have spent the year blowing out overmatched foes en route to compiling identical 10-1 overall and 7-1 conference records.
A win for the Wolverines sends Jim Harbaugh’s team to the Big Ten Championship Game, while the Buckeyes will need to win and hope for Penn State (9-2) to fall. In any event, if the winner here winds up as the Big Ten champion, both teams are expected to reach the eventual Playoff.
Harbaugh is keeping his quarterback choice close to the vest so far, with starter Wilton Speight still suffering from a shoulder injury. For this reason, the Bovada sportsbook has yet to post a line, while the consensus number makes Ohio State 6.5-point home favorites.
In other rivalry games with Playoff ramifications, fourth-ranked Clemson hosts South Carolina (6-5) in the Palmetto Bowl – the second-longest continuous rivalry in college football at 107 consecutive games played – and the Tigers are big 24-point home favorites via Bovada.
Fifth-ranked Washington travels across the state from Seattle to Pullman to take on 23rd-ranked Washington State (8-3). The Huskies will be fighting for their postseason lives, and Bovada has them as 6.5-point road favorites.
In the wake of last Saturday’s shocking results, with three of the four Associated Press (AP) top-ranked teams suffering upset losses, the college football landscape has been turned upside down.
Ranked number two last week, Michigan (9-1) struggled to move the ball against Iowa (6-4) in a Big Ten showdown, amassing only 201 total yards before losing 14-13 on a last-second field goal.
The third-ranked team in the land was Clemson (9-1), but the Tigers were outgunned in a 43-42 shootout against Pittsburgh (6-4).
As for previously fourth-ranked Washington (9-1), the Huskies couldn’t get anything going in a Pac-12 clash against USC (7-3) in a 26-13 disappointment.
Top-ranked Alabama (10-0), meanwhile, took care of its business in a 51-3 dismantling of SEC rival Mississippi State (4-6), as the defending national champions retained a firm hold on the number one spot.
Before Saturday’s slaughter, the second edition of the College Football Playoff rankings went Alabama-Clemson-Michigan-Washington, but this week the postseason hierarchy has shifted dramatically.
As expected, losing nail-biters to late comebacks has softened the blow for Michigan and Clemson, who clung on to the third seed and fourth seed, respectively. Alabama wasn’t going anywhere at number one, so the Selection Committee had one major task: deciding on the second-seed.
When the third set of rankings were released on Tuesday, it was Ohio State (9-1) that earned its way into the postseason discussion. The Buckeyes limited an overmatched Maryland (5-5) squad to just one field goal in a 62-3 rout. With their only loss coming to an impressive Penn State (8-2) team battling through the tough Big Ten conference, Ohio State was given the edge over Washington and its relatively weak Pac-12 schedule.
Looking to preserve their hold on a playoff berth, the Buckeyes visit struggling Michigan State (3-7) this Saturday. Despite playing on the road, the bookmakers at Bovada rate the Buckeyes as massive 22-point favorites in this appetizer for next week’s pivotal Big Ten showdown against Michigan.
The Wolverines host Indiana (5-5), but even after the Hoosiers acquitted themselves well in a 45-31 game that was actually much closer, Bovada has head coach Jim Harbaugh’s boys as big time 23.5-point favorites.
Clemson travels to Wake Forest (6-4) hoping to right the ship after the stunning upset loss to Pitt, and the Demon Deacons’ middling offense should have trouble keeping up with the Tigers’ relentless pace. They believe so over at Bovada, where Clemson is currently tabbed as 22.5-point road favorites.
The fifth-ranked team in the Playoff Rankings – and thus, the first team on the outside looking in – is Louisville (9-1), which visits a talented Houston (8-2) team that briefly entertained postseason aspirations after an exciting 5-0 start to the season. The Cardinals destroyed the aforementioned Demon Deacons last week in a 44-12 laugher, and Bovada has Louisville as 14-point road favorites against the mid-major monsters from Houston this week.
Washington is still hanging around at sixth in the latest Playoff Rankings, so the Huskies will need to win, and win big, over Arizona State (5-5) – while also hoping one of the top five happen to fall. The Sun Devils have lost four straight, and they’ll be traveling to Washington, which makes the Huskies consensus 27-point favorites.