When it comes to ranking the top four teams in the country, Las Vegas oddsmakers disagree with the College Football Playoff selection committee, which has Clemson at No. 1 followed by Auburn, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
“What they have and what we have are two completely different things,” Westgate sports book manager Ed Salmons said. “Ours would be Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Clemson.”
While the Crimson Tide, No. 5 in the CFP rankings, would be favored over every team in the country — and remain the 4-1 co-favorites, with Clemson and Oklahoma, to win the national title — they’ll spend conference championship weekend at home for the first time since 2013.
Unless Texas Christian, a 7-point underdog, upsets Oklahoma in Saturday’s Big 12 title game, Alabama’s best bet to earn a spot in the CFP’s final top four would be a win by the Buckeyes over the Badgers in the Big Ten championship.
Ohio State (10-2) is a 6-point favorite over unbeaten Wisconsin (12-0).
“If Ohio State beats Wisconsin and all the other favorites win, it sounds like it’s a 50-50 choice between Ohio State or Alabama as the last team,” Salmons said. “If I know these guys (on the committee), they’ll take the easy way out and take the conference champion over a team that didn’t win its conference.”
Despite being Las Vegas’ top two power-rated teams, there’s a decent chance Alabama and Ohio State could both be shut out of the final four.
Wisconsin a live underdog
Handicapper Lee Sterling, who won the Review-Journal’s College Challenge this season with a 35-27-3 ATS record, recommends plays on the the Badgers plus the points and on the money line (plus-200) as he sees them pulling off the outright upset.
“In conference championship games, I tend to favor teams that have the better defense and Wisconsin is either No. 1 or No. 2 in every major statistical category,” said Sterling (ParamountSports.com). “As good as Ohio State was this year, against the two top-1o teams they faced, they lost by 13 to Oklahoma and only beat Penn State by one.”
The Badgers are No. 1 in the nation in total defense and rushing defense, are No. 2 in scoring defense and No. 3 in passing defense.
Salmons also leans to Wisconsin.
“The more I watch Ohio State, the more unimpressed I am by them,” he said. “Wisconsin’s just a better version of Michigan and Michigan certainly played with (Ohio State) last week (in a 31-20 loss). I look for Wisconsin to keep competitive and I really think Wisconsin can win this game.”
Underdogs have edge in rematches
There are several rematches on this week’s card and Salmons and Wynn Las Vegas sports book director Johnny Avello said, in general, they favor the team that lost the first meeting.
“If it’s a good team that just didn’t play well in the first game, I think they’ll come up with a better effort,” Avello said. “If a team’s just not as good, it doesn’t matter if they play 100 times.”
Avello expects Friday’s Pac-12 title game between Stanford (+3½) and Southern California to be much closer than the Trojans’ 42-24 win earlier this season. He also likes Georgia (+2½) to avenge its 40-17 loss to Auburn.
“Auburn blowing out Georgia put all the motivation on Georgia’s side,” Salmons said. “The human instinct for Auburn, off beating Georgia and Alabama, is they’re going to be overconfident.
“But it’s hard to back Georgia in that spot. It’s not something I would bet.”
Salmons leans to TCU to cover in the rematch of its 38-20 loss at Oklahoma.
“I think it will be a close game,” he said. “I like the TCU coach (Gary) Patterson a lot. He’ll come up with a better game plan than the first game. I’d be shocked if it’s the same type of game again.”
Avello leans to Memphis to cover as a 7-point underdog in the rematch of its 40-13 loss at Central Florida (11-0), which is coming off a wild 49-42 win over South Florida.
“UCF had its hands full with South Florida and Memphis is probably better than South Florida,” Avello said.
The Mirage sports book director Jeff Stoneback said sharp money on Boise State made it a 9½-point home favorite over Fresno State, which beat the Broncos 28-17 on Saturday.
“I think Boise wins, but I think Fresno can keep it within 7,” Salmons said.
The Atlantic Coast Conference title game between Clemson (-9) and Miami isn’t a rematch. But Salmons said it promises to be a repeat of the Tigers’ past dominance in conference title and CFP games in which they’re on an 8-1 ATS run.
“Clemson can name the score here,” he said. “I don’t see this as a competitive game.”
Home team in CAPS:
Southern California (-3.5) over Stanford
GEORGIA STATE (-6) over Idaho
Georgia Southern (-2.5) over COASTAL CAROLINA
CENTRAL FLORIDA (-7) over Memphis
Auburn (-2) over Georgia
Fresno State (+9.5) over BOISE STATE
Clemson (-9) over Miami
Wisconsin (+6) over Ohio State
Last week: 4-5 against the spread