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Mark Lindquist

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CFB Title Game Prop Bets

Friday, January 4, 2019


 

National Championship Game Prop Bets


In this column, I will be running through my favorite prop bets and sides for Monday's National Championship Game between Clemson and Alabama, set to be played in Santa Clara with an 8 PM EST kickoff. These are far from all the props that will be released before the game -- you can expect a flood of them over the weekend -- but in the early leadup, they are the ones which most caught my eye. You'll have to look elsewhere if you want a side for the coin flip prop, as we're focusing exclusively on on-field props, here.

 

If you're looking for a full breakdown of the game -- including props, DFS plays and ATS picks -- check out the latest episode of the Rotoworld College Football Podcast, where my co-host Thor Nystrom and I dissect the matchup from every angle, with a special assist from DFS guru Hayden Winks.

 

 


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Trevor Lawrence UNDER 22.5 completions (-110) -- You can slice this one in several different ways. Lawrence has played 14 games this season, with just four of those seeing him complete more than 22 passes. He hit on 26 against NC State on Oct. 20, 29 against Boston College on Nov. 11, 27 against South Carolina in the penultimate game of the regular season, and, most recently, in Clemson’s Playoff semifinal win over Notre Dame just before the calendar flipped over to the new year. All told, three of his four games that would have hit the over came over the Tigers’ last five contests. By degrees, you can see Dabo Swinney feeding him a longer and longer leash.


That he completed 27 passes against Notre Dame is outwardly encouraging, because Notre Dame boasted a strong pass defense on the whole this season, ranking S&P+ No. 9. Alabama boasts the No. 5 unit. Dig in a little deeper, though, and there’s one clear arena on S&P+ in which the Tide washes over the Irish by a fair degree -- and what do you know, it’s completion rate. Notre Dame ranks a fine-but-not-spectacular No. 46. And Alabama, Alabama has the No. 4 completion rate defense. Alabama also ranks No. 3 in sack rate, Notre Dame No. 55. It’s not difficult to see a correlation, here. Notre Dame allows for a cleaner opposing pocket and more time for receivers to get open. Alabama is the opposite. We think Clemson’s going to take a run-heavy approach (more on that below) to ease some pressure off Lawrence, too. Confidently take the under.


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Trevor Lawrence UNDER two touchdown passes (-140) -- Another Lawrence prop in which we’ll ride on the under. Two of Lawrence’s four games this season with three or more touchdown passes came before he had even taken over the starting job at the end of September (if you’ll recall, he was seeing playing time even before officially deposing Kelly Bryant). Since then, his only two outings with two-plus scoring passes came against Florida State (Oct. 27) and against Notre Dame. Don’t be swayed by recency bias. That Lawrence roasted the Irish for 327 yards and three touchdowns should not necessarily be viewed as a sign of things to come. The only quarterback to throw for more than two touchdowns against Alabama this season was Georgia’s Jake Fromm. And that’s it. Parlaying the under on Lawrence completions and passing touchdowns would be a recommended play. There’s always the thought ticking in the back of your head that this could potentially turn into a shootout and that we might see similar fireworks to what we saw against Notre Dame. If Clemson cannot slow Tua Tagovailoa and the Alabama offense, and they are forced to throw, that’s when you start to get nervous about your unders.


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Travis Etienne OVER 85.5 rushing yards (-110) -- We love the over on this one, because Etienne is adept at doing the one thing that Alabama has occasionally had issue with, that being the explosive run. The Tide rank a mere-mortal S&P+ No. 29 against rushing explosion and No. 40 in stuff rate. You can run on Alabama. That plays right into the hands of a team starting a true freshman quarterback -- however talented, still a true freshman -- which possesses arguably the best overall defense in the country. Clemson’s not going to try to turn this into a throw-for-throw contest with Tua Tagovailoa. We don’t think Lawrence is ready for that (wait for next year). Etienne is working on a string of three consecutive games of at least 100 yards rushing and has hit that mark in eight of 14 games total. What we love about the over here is not just Etienne’s consistency coupled with the game plan that’s beginning to build in our heads, but also the fact that he is aces at ripping off long runs. Even if Alabama has him bottled up, he is a threat to go for 50+ on any given carry. Case in point, against Notre Dame, Etienne broke through with a 62-yard run in the third quarter on his way to 106 yards for the game.


Etienne is also relatively fresh by lead-back standards, having taken just 190 carries for the campaign. He entered the semifinal against Notre Dame averaging just 12.6 carries per game. That Etienne was able to put up the numbers that he did on the season -- again, 85-plus yards rushing in eight of 14 games -- is ultra-encouraging. He doesn’t need a ton of work to put up the yardage. By the by, Alabama has allowed three rushers (non-Kyler Murray division) to top 85 yards this season. One was Rakeem Boyd of Arkansas. The other two were Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell, both of Louisiana.


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Tee Higgins UNDER 53.5 receiving yards (-110) -- As much as we love the over on Etienne’s rushing yards, we love love love the under for Higgins on the receiving front. Higgins has been all kinds of hit and miss this season, going for 54 or more in six games and being held under 50 altogether in an equal amount. You always skirt the edge of danger with Higgins, who is certainly capable of vaporizing your ticket with one big grab, but we will skirt that edge and do so with gusto. While he leads Clemson with 6.5 targets per game, this under, as with our Lawrence ones, plays very much into how we see the game playing out. That we view it in this conservative light isn’t to say that we think that Dabo Swinney will turn into David Shaw. This isn’t those two Deshaun Watson-led Tigers teams, though, and should not be viewed as such.


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Justyn Ross UNDER 69.5 receiving yards (-110)  -- While Higgins leads the Tigers in receiving yardage, Ross is just eight yards back of him with 847 for the campaign. He is also coming off a monster performance in which he caught six passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns against Notre Dame. He has gone for at least 70 yards in four of his last six games and an even half of the 14 games which Clemson has played to date. What makes both of these Clemson receiving props interesting to us is that Alabama is at least somewhat prone to giving up big-time yardage to opposing receivers, allowing six to hit the over of Ross’ mark this year, including two (CeeDee Lamb, Charleston Rambo) who did so in the Orange Bowl. If you’re doggedly insistent on taking a Clemson receiving prop on the over side, we would take Ross over Higgins. You’re forced to cover 16 additional receiving yards in that case, but Ross has shown that even with Higgins receiving almost two more targets a game, he is the more consistent player at this point.


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Hunter Renfrow UNDER 41.5 receiving yards (-110) -- OK, this one’s just fun, because you’re essentially just betting that Renfrow will continue to be a thorn on Alabama’s paw. In two of the previous three matchups between these teams, Renfrow cruised past the this number, logging a 7-88-2 receiving line in the title game in 2015 and a 10-92-2 receiving line (including the game-winning touchdown) in the title game in the 2016 championship season. Only in the 2017 Playoff, against a weaker Clemson squad, did Alabama finally manage to shut down Renfrow, holding him to five catches for 31 yards. We will ultimately be on the side of no-fun, as this is another under for us. Renfrow has topped 41 receiving yards just six times this season. If you’re going to take a flier on a Clemson receiver popping off for a big game, take a flier on Tee Higgins or Justyn Ross. Not Hunter Renfrow. As enjoyable as it might be to envision history repeating itself.


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Tua Tagovailoa OVER 22.5 completions (-125) -- The Tigers boast an elite defensive, not just against the run (that’s an obvious one given their front seven) but also against the pass (S&P+ No. 4), which would seem to play against us, there. Even so, those advanced metrics have not consistently resulted in tangible on-field results. Kellen Mond, Eric Dungey, Daniel Jones and Jake Bentley all hit the over on this number during the regular season. Those guys are all great. Tua Tagovailoa should have won the Heisman trophy. While Tagovailoa has just four games of more than 22 completions this year, same as Trevor Lawrence, it’s important to remember that Alabama so easily built large leads that there were multiple fourth quarters during the year where Tua could have picked up a few more completions had he actually been playing. Thus his game logs are sprinkled with lines like 18-of-22, 19-of-29, 14-of-21. Tua completed 25 passes against each of LSU and Auburn. Not quite Clemson, but possessing of very strong defenses in their own right.


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Tua Tagovailoa OVER 2.5 touchdown passes (+100) -- This one feels too easy? Trap? Are we stepping into a trap? Tagovailoa threw for at least three touchdowns in eight of 12 games. And really, that should be considered eight of 11 games, as he left injured against Georgia with an ankle injury (on which he subsequently underwent minor surgery). Now, the aforementioned Bentley was the only one to throw for at least three touchdown passes against Clemson, tis true, as the Tigers possess a killer red zone defense (as you would expect), ranking S&P+ No. 5 in inside 10 success rate. Of course, Tua and friends can strike from all over the field in a way that no team Clemson has faced this year could. The most explosive passing offense the Tigers have faced this season was South Carolina (S&P+ No. 22 passing explosion) and in that game, our guy Bentley threw for 510 yards and five touchdowns. We like overs for Tua, so long as he is healthy. He showed us a year ago that he has the knack for the big moment. He’s going to have four quarters of big moments on Monday.


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Alabama RB Damien Harris UNDER 51.5 rushing yards (-110) -- Harris did score two touchdowns against Oklahoma in the semis, but those masked a contest in which he rushed for 48 yards on 13 carries to Joshua Jacobs’ 98 yards on 15 carries. Najee Harris almost lapped him, rushing for 45 yards on just six totes of the rock. In total this season, Harris has been held to 51 or fewer rushing yards in five games. It’s not the most convincing of marks if you are going to ride on the under. We get it. In this case, we will trust recent history on two fronts. First, that Orange Bowl performance against Oklahoma, which was ho-hum despite the touchdowns, and second, the tendencies of Nick Saban. We know that Saban is willing to make hard changes when necessary. We saw him do it a year ago, when he benched Jalen Hurts for Tagovailoa. We don’t need a benching. We just need Joshua Jacobs (or Najee Harris) to get hot and this under hits. Jacobs rushed for 83 yards on just eight carries in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia, to Harris’ nine carries for 52 yards. We think Saban lets Jacobs loose.


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Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy OVER 74.5 receiving yards (-110) -- It’s been Tua getting all the love this year, but Jeudy has been brilliant in his own right. Like a metronome, that kid. You know what you are going to get from him game-in and game-out. That’s why we’ll be ponying up for this one. Jeudy has topped 74 yards receiving in eight of 14 games, but if you expand your field of vision just a hair, he has topped 70 yards in 10 games. That number won’t get you over, of course, but it is indicative of his consistency around that mark. Jeudy has already shown that he can succeed against an SEC schedule -- he would have hit this over against LSU and Auburn, for instance -- and we’re confident that he’s going to come through on this number. Or put it this way: If Tagovailoa completes more than 22 passes (as we believe he will), we would be surprised if Jeudy did not find the over. Consider parlaying the Tagovailoa completions over and the Jeudy yardage over. We think they find each other multiple times. The over on Jeudy scoring a touchdown has been set at -150 on 5dimes. He’s found paydirt in three consecutive games and has 13 for the campaign as a whole. That’s one we’re somewhat interested in as well, though we tend to prefer yardage props (touchdowns are too variable for our liking).


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Alabama WR Henry Ruggs III UNDER 49.5 receiving yards (-110) -- This is a tricky one for us, as Ruggs was red hot to finish out the year, topping 49 receiving yards in each of Alabama’s final five games prior to their SEC Championship tilt with Georgia. The Bulldogs held him to exactly that. Fast forward a little less than a month and Ruggs was almost completely blanked by Oklahoma (it happens?) in the Orange Bowl, managing just three catches for 13 yards. Ruggs is averaging a 5.2 targets per game (1.8 fewer per-contest than Jeudy) and has been held to four or fewer grabs in 10 of 14 games. He has far less of a safety net to work with than Jeudy, simply because the ball is not coming his way as often. We feel confident that Jeudy will have opportunities even if he ultimately falls short of the over on his yardage prop, something that we cannot say with Ruggs.


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Alabama WR Devonta Smith OVER 47.5 receiving yards (-110) -- Smith is an even more volatile player to back for a yardage prop than teammate Henry Ruggs. That’s because he’s great at pairing the ol’ disappearing act with the “appear literally everywhere” act depending on the breeze. Smith has had six games this season in which he has been held under 40 yards receiving -- four of which went for fewer than 40 yards receiving. Smith was dealing with a hamstring injury at the beginning of November which kept him from recording a catch against LSU. He was held to one grab in each of the next two contests (against Mississippi State and The Citadel). Since that injury, Smith has come on strong, logging seven catches in Alabama’s final two games. With a month off, he came out fresh against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, posting his strongest overall game of the campaign with six catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. We trust the recent production.





Mark Lindquist holds a master's degree from the University of Iowa and writes baseball and college football for Rotoworld.com. He's currently working on a memoir about life, death, rock 'n' roll and his year teaching at a Chinese university. You can reach him on Twitter @markrlindquist.
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