"Introduce a little anarchy, upset the established order and everything becomes chaos. I'm an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It's fair."
I'm not going to advocate for the Joker's political ideologies from "The Dark Knight" -- one of the best movies ever -- but I am going to agree with how that quote can apply to the College Football Playoff. As an alum of a Division I-AA football school (shoutout to Villanova in the second round of the FCS playoffs this Saturday!) I don't have a significant attachment to FBS teams. My best friend went to Alabama for law school, so I dabble in Crimson Tide fandom here and there. But I mostly root for chaos and upsets.
Which could make this the best conference championship week of college football in quite some time.
Excluding the 2020 COVID-19-shortened season, only seven 1-loss Power 5 teams have missed the CFP (less than one per year). With the right amount of chaos, we could have four of them this year alone. Sure, that would require Iowa Hawkeyes to beat Michigan Wolverines, Louisville Cardinals to beat Florida State Seminoles, Alabama to beat Georgia Bulldogs, Oregon Ducks to beat Washington Huskies and Texas Longhorns to beat Oklahoma State Cowboys. But it's possible!
The betting public seems to be on the other side, expecting the status quo to continue. All 4 unbeaten teams were seeing the majority of tickets on the spread at ESPN BET as of Tuesday night.
The public seems to think chaos won't happen at all. The above scenarios paint a picture where we have four unbeatens and ZERO 1-loss Power 5 teams. In that situation, even the infamously indecisive Chidi Anagonye from The Good Place could pick the playoff teams without any stress.
But we need to have some chaos right? These head coaches have to earn their paychecks somehow. As the Joker notes, "If you're good at something, never do it for free."
Trend or Trap
We probably won't see Gotham descend into true chaos, but might there be a few upsets brewing? Here's a quick look at some of the notable betting storylines in Power 5 championship games this weekend.
Oregon is a 9.5-point favorite over Washington despite losing their first meeting this season. It's the first time since 2020 that a team has been at least a nine-point favorite in a same-season rematch after losing the first meeting. That year, Clemson won and covered an 11-point spread against Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game.
This doesn't bode well for the Huskies, who clung to victory in Seattle but were significantly outplayed in most of the ways that are predictive moving forward. Washington was outgained by 126 yards, had nine fewer minutes of possession, and blew an 11-point lead. The Ducks were 0-3 on fourth down, including multiple possessions inside the 10-yard line and a third opportunity to seal the victory with 2 minutes left. Even after all that, Oregon missed a 43-yard field goal that would have sent the game to OT.
Washington deserved the win, and Michael Penix Jr. had his shining moment, but they were not the better team in October, and they won't be the better team in December. I can't wait for this game, but I would lean towards Oregon if forced to make a pick here. The Ducks are 9-2 ATS as a favorite this season and 15-3-1 ATS vs Washington since 2004 (including covering two months ago as 3.5-point dogs).
Washington is the hero the College Football Playoff deserves, but not the one it needs right now.
This is the fourth time Alabama has been an underdog since 2010. All four of those games have been against Georgia.
The chart above paints a similar picture of Alabama as an underdog, occasionally sparking the upset and winning big, or losing by multiple scores.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are the Harvey Dent of college football. You either lose as an underdog, or you win so often that you see yourself become the villain. Georgia has lost just once in the last three calendar years, an SEC title game defeat to Alabama, which they avenged one month later.
Will the new Goliath fall? We'll find out on Saturday afternoon.
"Two-Face": split bets on Georgia-Alabama
As I mentioned above, we've seen two versions of this Alabama team this season. We've also seen Georgia's offense look unstoppable for much of the last month since Brock Bowers returned. There's a reason the total opened at 49.5 and is now at 54.5 and pushing higher.
Ideally you could have gotten these bets in with more closing line value, but the concept is the same. I expect the over to hit, and I also expect Alabama to win outright, or Georgia to win in dominant fashion.
That means using Harvey Dent's lucky coin and grabbing significant plus-money odds on two separate outcomes. On one side, give me Alabama ML (+180) and over 54.5 (-115) parlayed together. On the other side, I'll take Georgia -11.5 (+175) and the over 54.5 (-115) in another parlay. Both would pay out over 4-to-1.
Place 0.5 units on each bet, so you have a full wager on the game, and if 1 of them hits, you're still going to win more than double your money.
One last parting nugget of info: Alabama is 6-5 outright and 6-4-1 against the spread as an underdog under Nick Saban. Breaking that down, all six outright wins are also covers. Which means in all five Saban losses as an underdog, they failed to cover the spread, which gives me more confidence in the split bet above.
SMU +3.5 (-115), SMU ML (+150), SMU -6.5 alt line
Another different way to balance out your bets is to use a "ladder" when you think the projection or line is way off the market.
In this scenario, ESPN Analytics has SMU as an 8.3-point favorite against Tulane in the AAC title game, listing the Mustangs as the 20th best team and the Green Wave as the 50th best team according to FPI.
You could simply say "I'm very confident SMU covers here" and leave it at that. You could also say "SMU should win this game, so I'll take the moneyline bet". Or a riskier bettor could take the exact FPI projection and find an alternate line for SMU -8.5.
Laddering allows you to mitigate risk on an overall bet while banking in some extra upside for a line that has the potential for extreme outcomes. My suggestion for this bet would be a half-unit on SMU to cover +3.5, and a quarter-unit on each of the next two options listed above.
If SMU wins by a touchdown or more, all 3 bets pay out and you profit a lot more thanks to the risk you took. If SMU covers but doesn't win, you end up about breakeven. But the reason for using less than full bets on each is that if SMU fails to cover the +3.5, you only lose one full unit rather than three all at once.