College Football Betting Guide: Friday 1/1/21

The College Football Playoff is on the horizon, and while the field is made up of familiar teams, college football fans will be in for a treat. There are some other solid bowl games on Friday, but the semifinal games will be the highlight of the day. Our model’s projections see an edge in each semifinal matchup, which will make the day much more exciting for bettors.

numberFire has built comprehensive algorithms to pinpoint the bets with the highest probability of returning money, whether you are betting on the total, the spread, or the moneyline. For those new to numberFire, we use a five-star system to show which bets you should be targeting for any given game. Stars represent how much you should risk on a wager relative to what you would normally bet.

For example, if you would normally bet $110 to win $100 on a -110-spread wager, if we give a 3-star ranking, we suggest risking three times that amount: $330 to win $300. Here are the best bets for this weekend with guidance from our model.

Please note that lines are subject to change throughout the day after this article is published. Please check here to make sure you are seeing the most updated information.

Rose Bowl: Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

Notre Dame +19.5: 4-Star Rating out of 5

The first College Football Playoff semifinal is a rematch of the 2012 BCS National Championship Game, in which Alabama dismantled the Irish, 42-14. This season, Alabama has been dominant, ranking first in our power rankings, while Notre Dame ranks sixth. Notre Dame’s strength has been their defense led by Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who is a top NFL prospect at linebacker. The Irish are the 11th best defense by ESPN’s SP+, but they are going up against the best offense by the same metric.

Notre Dame has been great up front, especially against the run; the Irish are first in stuff rate and seventh in line yards according to Football Outsiders. Alabama’s stellar offense is driven by their skill players, and if Notre Dame can take away the balance to the Tide’s attack by limiting the run game, they’ll have a chance to make this game closer than oddsmakers think. Najee Harris is one of the best NFL prospects at running back and he’s a relentless rusher always looking for an extra yard. If the Irish can contain him and force quarterback Mac Jones to make plays on offense, they’ll be in good shape to cover.

The current spread is too high according to our model, which project the Irish to cover with 67.70% likelihood. Notre Dame almost certainly doesn’t have a chance to win this game -- Alabama has 84.20% probability to win per our model, and that seems low -- but they have strengths that can make this game close.

Sugar Bowl: Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Clemson Tigers

Over 66.5: 3-Star Rating out of 5

It likely comes as no surprise that our model projects the total to go over in a game featuring the top two NFL prospects at quarterback, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. Both teams rank amongst the top five in offensive SP+ per ESPN (Ohio State second and Clemson fifth), but Clemson missed Lawrence for a couple games, one of which was a loss to Notre Dame. These teams have prolific defenses as well, but the skill players on both sides will likely make this game into a shootout.

There are weaknesses to be exploited in this matchup that could lead to more points scored. For example, Ohio State is only 98th in power success rate on defense, so running back Travis Etienne and the Tigers could take advantage of short yardage situations on third and fourth down.

The Buckeyes’ line ranks amongst the top five in line yards and opportunity rate, so they have the means to move the ball on the ground. Balanced offenses should likely make money for over bettors, but this matchup will be defined by elite quarterback play, as Lawrence and Fields each have a QBR within the top ten according to ESPN.

Our model projects the total score to be over 66.5 with a likelihood of 66.04%. This is the marquee matchup of the bowl season thus far, and these teams are loaded on both sides of the ball, but the offensive prowess each team has displayed this season is the main story coming into this game.