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College Football Playoff semifinals predictions, ATS picks

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college football playoff prediction pick
PHOTO CREDIT: CRAIG DUDEK

Despite a bumpy ride through the early stages of bowl week, the College Football Playoff semifinals look set to take place on New Year’s Eve. Alabama will meet Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl Classic, while Georgia and Michigan will do battle in the Orange Bowl. While Alabama and Georgia are sizable favorites in their respective matchups, an undefeated Cincinnati program as well as a red-hot Michigan squad could disrupt an expected SEC Championship Game rematch .

Let’s take a look  at our College Football Playoff semifinals predictions and ATS picks, complete with full betting analysis for Cincinnati-Alabama and Michigan-Georgia.

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College Football Playoff Semifinal Predictions, ATS Picks

Cincinnati vs. Alabama

Much has been made about Alabama’s SEC Championship Game victory over Georgia and for good reason. The Crimson Tide offense tore apart a Bulldogs scoring defense that was on a record setting pace. However, inconsistency often plagued Alabama throughout the regular season. Alabama was erratic at best when they outlasted Auburn in three overtimes. In particularly, the offensive line was frequently overmatched throughout that game. Meanwhile, Alabama played it close with struggling Florida and LSU squads, teams that are unquestionably inferior to this Cincinnati bunch.

Making matters tougher for Alabama, who passed the ball all over a previously untested Georgia secondary, will be the absence of standout wide receiver John Metchie, who tore his ACL in the win. Of course, the Tide will still have Jameson Williams lining up outside, but the drop off after from there is dramatic. That’s notable as Cincinnati boasts an elite secondary which allows the second least passing yards per game and has two electric corners in Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant. It’s unlikely the Crimson Tide will have the same success through the air this time.

Notably, Alabama is just 2-5 ATS after its last seven ATS victories and has covered just one of its last five outings after scoring more than 40 points its last time out. Nick Saban’s guys are also just 1-6 ATS in their last seven against winning non-conference foes off a double-digit SU win. What’s more, the Tide have failed to cover any of their last seven games off a SU underdog win. 

On the other side, Cincinnati is an undefeated team being spotted nearly two touchdowns by oddsmakers. The Bearcats beat Notre Dame in South Bend, holding the Irish to just 13 points. They also knocked off Houston in the AAC Championship Game, allowing the potent Cougars offense just 20 points. In fact, Cincy did not allow more than 28 points in any game this season, conceding 21 points or less in nine of their last 10 and sitting fifth in points per game against (16.1).

The Bearcats also have a respectable offense, one averaging 39.2 points per game, good for eighth most in the FBS. Cincinnati put up 24 points on Notre Dame, the nation’s No. 8 scoring defense, one which happens to be ranked higher than Alabama’s. In fact, the Bearcats scored at least 24 points in every game this season, something which, if they can accomplish it again here against a Crimson Tide defense that has allowed that many five times already, means Alabama would have to put up 38 or more to cover, a feat that has not happened against Cincinnati in 2021.

The Bearcats have covered five straight as underdogs and seven straight when getting points in the second of back-to-back games away from home. The Bearcats have covered six straight against above .500 opposition while going 5-1 ATS in their last six non-conference games.

Cincinnati vs. Alabama Prediction

Cincinnati should be bolstered by its performance in last season’s Peach Bowl, when the Bearcats hung with Georgia in a narrow 24-21 defeat. They are 4-3 ATS in their last seven bowl games against Power-5 opponents. By contrast, Alabama is just 3-8 ATS in its last 11 New Year’s Six bowl games. The Crimson Tide have won nine of their last 13 bowl games, but have only covered five such contests. This feels like too many points for them to lay to an undefeated opponent with a line based off of what seems like mainly the Georgia win alone.

ATS Pick: Cincinnati +13.5

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Michigan vs. Georgia

When Michigan and Georgia meet Friday night, much of the attention will be paid to the defensive side of the ball. Rightfully so. The game features Georgia’s top-ranked scoring defense, one allowing 9.5 points per game, and Michigan’s fourth-ranked group which allows just 16.1 points per contest.

In fact, Georgia allowed 17 points or less to every opponent ahead of the SEC Championship Game, including three shutouts and five more opponents held to 10 points or less. The Bulldogs were actually conceding just 6.9 points per game leading up to the defeat against Alabama. Georgia’s defensive line and run-stopping abilities are elite, a tremendous foil for Michigan’s 10th-ranked rushing offense.

And while Michigan’s attack is certainly formidable, Georgia faced five other teams currently ranked in the FBS top 50 in rushing yards per game. Notably, the Bulldogs allowed just 8.6 points per game in those contests.

If Georgia can control Michigan’s run game, it’s unlikely the Wolverines will be able to turn to the air with much success. Michigan is the nation’s 67th best team in terms of in the passing yards per game. Meanwhile, quarterback Cade McNamara cannot extend plays the way Alabama’s Bryce Young did in the SEC Championship Game. Georgia is the FBS’ second best team in total yards per game allowed, far better than any opponent Michigan has faced in that category.

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Interestingly, both of these teams fall outside the FBS top 50 in passing yards per game, as Georgia ranks 53rd. And it’s hard to imagine that mark improving here against Michigan’s 19th ranked pass defense. After all, despite piling up 340 passing yards playing catch up, Stetson Bennett looked lost against Alabama’s 65th ranked pass defense on the big stage of the SEC Championship Game. Is he going to be able to shake off a lackluster effort against an even better defensive unit here? If not, look for the continuation of a Georgia trend of playing nine of its last 13 under the total after gaining more than 280 yards through the air in its previous outing.

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Georgia has played just one of its last six games over the number following a SU loss. Moreover, the Bulldogs played just two games over in their last 11 neutral site games, including two of their last eight as neutral site favorites. In fact, Georgia has played six of its last seven bowl games under the total.

Michigan vs. Georgia Prediction

For Michigan, its last four season finales saw the team muster just 17, 16, 15, and 19 points, respectively, with the first three of those contests being bowl games. In fact, Michigan’s last eight bowl games averaged just 51.8 points per game with four of those games staying under 50 points and three finishing under Friday’s posted total. And none of those games pitted two defenses on par with what the Wolverines and Bulldogs bring to the table here. Look for points to be at a premium.

ATS Pick: Michigan/Georgia Under 45.5 

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