In Sunday’s selection wake, all the hullabaloo was about the four-team College Football Playoff. But along with the two national semifinal games, the rest of the New Year’s Six matchups were set as well, and they are compelling, to say the least. Covers checks in on the opening lines and early action for those contests, with insights from Scott Cooley, odds consultant for offshore sportsbook Bookmaker.eu.
No. 7 Southern California Trojans vs. No. 5 Ohio State Buckeye vs. (-7)
Ohio State gets the CFP consolation prize of what appears to be a perfect Rose Bowl matchup, except that it’s taking place in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Buckeyes (11-2 SU, 6-7 ATS) knocked off previously unbeaten Wisconsin 27-21 in Saturday’s Big Ten championship game, covering as a 3-point favorite at neutral-site Lucas Oil Stadium.
Southern California is also 11-2 SU, but with one of the worst ATS marks in the nation at 3-9-1. The Trojans failed to cover in Saturday’s Pac-12 final, but got the needed SU win 31-28 over Stanford as a 3.5-point neutral-site fave at Levi’s Stadium.
Bookmaker.eu opened Ohio State -7 and has since gone down a tick to -6.5.
“Not a ton of early action from the sharps, but what we have seen has been on USC,” Cooley said. “Ohio State is clearly the better club, which is why we opened on the key number, but are you going to get a team that feels slighted and unmotivated, or one that has something to prove to the nation? That’s where the handicapping begins.”
No. 12 Washington Huskies vs. No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions (-3)
It’s another Pac-12/Big Ten clash that could just as easily be in the Rose Bowl any other year. But since the Rose Bowl is host to one of the two CFP semifinals this year – Georgia vs. Oklahoma – Penn State and Washington will head to Glendale, Ariz., for the Fiesta Bowl.
The Nittany Lions were on track for the CFP before blowing a big lead at Ohio State on Oct. 28, then losing at Michigan State a week later. Penn State (10-2 SU, 7-4-1 ATS) capped the regular season with a 66-3 punishment of Maryland as a 23.5-point road fave.
The Huskies (10-2 SU, 7-5 ATS) finished with a 41-14 trouncing of rival Washington State in the Apple Cup, easily cashing as 7.5-point home chalk.
“Washington is getting the early love from bettors, but again, we won’t really see where the wiseguys are going until limits are raised,” Cooley said. “You can be sure the squares are on Penn State, and it does feel like the line should be a bit higher. But don’t ever discount Washington coach Chris Petersen in a meaningful game with time to prepare.”
No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers vs. No. 11 Miami Hurricanes (+7)
The Orange Bowl is allegedly a neutral-site game, but Miami will obviously feel right at home and hopes to bounce back from a CFP-killing two-game losing streak. The Hurricanes (10-2 SU, 5-7 ATS) took a stunning outright loss laying 12 points at Pittsburgh in Week 13, then got thumped by Clemson 38-3 catching 12.5 points in Saturday’s ACC title game at Charlotte, N.C.
Wisconsin saw its unbeaten season and CFP hopes dashed in the Big Ten final Saturday in Indianapolis. The Badgers (12-1 SU, 8-5 ATS) fell to Ohio State 27-21 as a 3-point underdog.
“Neither team could live up to the hype when playing a quality opponent, so we’ll see what happens between these once-contending frauds,” Cooley said. “The public will remember how ugly Miami looked in its last two games, so we wanted to be high on the Wisky side. The underdog is seeing some love early, but it’s doubtful that will last.”
That early Miami love prompted a half-point move in the line, from Badgers -7 to -6.5.
No. 10 Central Florida Knights vs. No. 8 Auburn Tigers (-9.5)
Auburn had a pair of huge home wins in November, against previously unbeaten teams Georgia and Alabama, but couldn’t sustain it in Saturday’s SEC championship game. The Tigers (10-3 SU, 6-5-2 ATS) landed in a rematch with the Bulldogs, but on a neutral field at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and were no match in a 28-7 loss as a 2-point pup.
Central Florida is the one unbeaten team in the entire postseason landscape, which helped it land this Peach Bowl berth. The Knights (12-0 SU, 7-4-1 ATS) won a monstrously high-scoring shootout with South Florida in the American Athletic Conference final, going to double overtime for a 62-55 victory laying 6.5 points at home Saturday.
UCF coach Scott Frost is set to take over as head coach at Nebraska, his alma mater, but he’s expected to coach in the Peach Bowl.
“Everyone knew that whichever (New Year’s Six) bowl UCF ended up in, the Knights were going to be two-score underdogs,” Cooley said. “We’ve seen these mid-major teams get absolutely obliterated during bowl season, but of course, we all remember the Boise State ‘Statue of Liberty’ game. Anything could happen, but early money is on Auburn.”
Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.