How Alabama And Oklahoma Got To The College Football Playoff

FairwayJay breaks down the Orange Bowl match-up and profiles Alabama and Oklahoma on their roads to the College Football Playoff.

Alabama and Oklahoma meet in the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami on Dec. 29, and the Crimson Tide are a prohibitive 14-point favorite. Odds makers are expecting a shootout with a posted total of 77. Two Heisman Trophy finalist quarterbacks lead explosive offenses and the two highest-scoring teams in college football this season. No college football quarterback has ever finished the season with a passer efficiency rating over 200. Yet Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray (205.72) and Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa (202.30) are both having record-setting seasons.  

Just days before the national semifinal game, Alabama is taking 56% of the side bets according to Sports Insights, which tracks betting activity at seven of the biggest online sportsbooks, including BookMaker and reduced juice sports book 5Dimes. More bettors thus far are supporting less scoring than expected with 57% of the bets ‘under’ the total.

Odds to Win the National Title

Immediately following last year’s National Championship overtime victory by Alabama, the Crimson Tide were made the 5-2 favorite in Las Vegas to win it again. Current odds at industry-leading sportsbook BookMaker show Alabama a -217 favorite to win the 2019 National Championship. Oklahoma was 18-1 to win the National Championship prior to the season, early last year, and currently the Sooners are 11-1 to take home the title on Jan. 7, 2017 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.

Alabama’s Road to the College Football Playoff

The undefeated season for Alabama (13-0) may not be a surprise, as the Crimson Tide was rated the strongest team in preseason power rankings. But nobody could project a team to beat their first 12 opponents by 20 or more points. Nobody could touch Alabama until Georgia in the SEC Championship game. Alabama’s explosive offense led by first-year starting QB Tua Tagovailoa became the talk of college football. Tagavailoa was the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy from the early part of the season to late November before Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray passed him with a final push. Tagovailoa passed for 3,353 yards at 11.4 yards per pass with 37 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions. Backup QB Jalen Hurts took more snaps early in the season often in mop-up time in the fourth quarter, and Hurts added 755 passing yards and 8 touchdown passes. Tagovailoa suffered a high-ankle sprain in the SEC Championship game, which may have cost him the Heisman Trophy, and Hurts led the comeback win over Georgia with a game-tying touchdown pass in the fourth quarter followed by Hurts’ go ahead 15 yard touchdown run with one minute remaining. Tagovailoa has been rehabilitating since and practicing with the team since Dec. 14. Tagovailoa  says he’s “80 to 85%’ a few days before the big game but will start and says he’s ready.

Alabama averaged 524.1 yards per game against FBS opponents to rank top-5 in the country, and the ‘Tide average 47.8 points per game which is No. 2 behind Oklahoma. The left-handed Tagovailoa is supremely skilled and accurate and throws to an immensely talented wide receiving core. Four receivers caught at least 37 passes with 7 touchdowns, and all four averaged more than 17 yards per reception. A strong and deep set of running backs with a top-tier offensive line completes the offensive profile of one of the country’s elite offenses.

college football playoffs Orange Bowl pickAlabama went 8-5 ATS and was a double-digit favorite in all 13 games. The Crimson Tide played a schedule of 12 FBS opponents that had a combined win percentage of .541. The ‘Tide went 8-0 SU and 5-3 ATS against bowl teams outgaining them by an average of 212 yards per game. Alabama out-gained seven of those bowl opponents and only Georgia (454-402) had the yardage edge in the SEC championship game. Yet Alabama recovered from a 28-14 second half deficit to win 35-28. Alabama’s schedule included three opponents that were considered defensive dominators in LSU, Mississippi State and Georgia.

Alabama’s defense allowed just 14.7 points per game against 12 FBS opponents. The Tide’s 298.0 yards per game and 4.3 yards per play defense are both top-10 in the country.  

Alabama was so strong that even if they had suffered their first loss of the season to Georgia in the SEC Championship game, the Crimson Tide would have still made the College Football Playoff. A win over Oklahoma followed by another national championship victory and this year’s Alabama team will be in the discussion of the greatest college football team of all-time.   

Oklahoma’s Road to the College Football Playoff

Oklahoma (12-1) had some close calls on their way to earning a spot in the national semifinal. Late season road wins at Texas Tech and West Virginia were decided by 5 and 3 points, and Oklahoma won the Bedlam battle over Oklahoma State 48-47. A 3-point loss to Texas in October was returned in the Big 12 Championship game when Oklahoma got redemption with a 39-27 win over Texas to secure their spot in the College Football Playoff when Georgia lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship. Oklahoma was 5-7 ATS with their 3-point win over West Virginia a push for many bettors. Shopping lines is always important when wagering at the leading online sportsbooks,  and that result could have gone either way depending on when you bet.

The Sooners offense led by Heisman Trophy winning QB Kyler Murray is explosive and dynamic. Oklahoma averaged a nation-best 578 yards per game and led the country in scoring at 49.5 PPG against FBS foes. But the Sooner’s 8.6 yards per play is a record and a full yard better than Alabama (7.6), which was second best in the country. It takes a certain type of quarterback and offense to beat Alabama and their defense, but Murray is quick, sharp and accurate, and the offensive line is massive and strong. Murray was sacked just 16 times in 364 passing attempts. Oklahoma did not face any defense as strong as Alabama this season, so we’ll find out if Murray can handle more pressure and minimize mistakes while executing on offense.

Murray passed for 4,053 yards at 11.9 yards per pass with 40 touchdown passes and 7 interceptions. He also is a big part of the Big 12’s No. 1 rushing attack, as Murray scampered for 892 yards and 11 more touchdowns. Running backs Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon combined for 1,949 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns. Wide receivers Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb combined for 132 receptions for 2,367 yards and 20 touchdowns.

The issue for Oklahoma is their defense, which allowed 32 points per game against FBS opponents. Frankly, the Sooners defense is deficient, defenseless and a disaster. They only had 11 takeaways, and just one interception in their final six games. The Sooners allow 291 passing yards per game against FBS opponents which is second-worst in the country.

Oklahoma played a schedule of opponents with a combined win percentage of .510. The Sooners went 7-1 SU and 4-4 ATS against eight bowl opponents, and out-gained those eight opponents by 70 yards per game.

Oklahoma did not play a defense as strong as Alabama, but the Crimson Tide played just one team with close to the talent and balance of Oklahoma, and that Georgia team nearly beat Alabama in the SEC Championship.

The strength and explosiveness of these two offenses and Heisman Trophy finalist quarterbacks makes the Orange Bowl national semifinal game definitely one to watch. There is a concern with the layoff affecting the offenses and timing, but Oklahoma’s defense is a bigger concern for Sooner’s supporters. Alabama’s dominance and winning margin is most impressive. I initially had an opinion towards Oklahoma, but did not bet. Taking two touchdowns with a talented Oklahoma team and one of the elite offenses we’ve seen the past decade seems like an easy take. But after digging deeper and further review, a team total bet of OVER 45.5 points on Alabama is the preferred play with confirmation that QB Tagovailoa is suited to start.

I believe Clemson will win the other national semi-final and the Tigers will be a better play in the National Championship game with their dominant defense.

You can bet on it. 

FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay

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