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Books and bettors love the Tar Heels, why don’t you?
By Joe Fortenbaugh
If there’s one thing that we can bank on without a shadow of a doubt, it’s the fact that every Tuesday night in November and early December will feature a collective up-in-arms disgruntlement on behalf of the majority of college football fans who feel the playoff selection committee has unfairly judged and ranked their favorite programs.
As the famous saying goes, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
However, the one thing we all forget while regularly lambasting the playoff committee’s rankings is how poorly the sport operated just two years ago when only two programs were given the opportunity to play for the national championship instead of four.
The current system may have a few flaws, but it’s a hell of a lot less strenuous debating who deserves the No. 4 seed as opposed to which team deserves the second and final spot for the right to play for the title.
And now that we’ve shown some respect for the current format, it’s time to bash what could turn out to be an egregious oversight.
For each of the five weeks in which the playoff committee has been tasked with ranking the best college football teams in the nation, the Clemson Tigers have claimed the top spot. Make no mistake about it: the committee has made it abundantly clear that from early November until now, Dabo Sweeney’s Tigers are without question the best team in all the land.
So what happens if a one-loss North Carolina club upsets Clemson in the ACC Championship game Saturday night?
“North Carolina would have to beat Clemson convincingly on Saturday night and even then, I’m not sure they will make it,” Chris Andrews, former bookmaker and founder of AgainstTheNumber.com told Covers.
But does the other side of the counter feel the same way?
“I’m not sure what the committee will do, as they haven’t shown a lot of respect for North Carolina so far,” the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook’s Randy Blum told Covers. “But in our opinion, if North Carolina beats Clemson, they should be in the four-team playoff.”
Winners of 11 straight, North Carolina (11-1) is currently ranked 10th behind two-loss programs Stanford, Notre Dame and Florida State. A win over Clemson should certainly vault the Tar Heels above those three schools, but would it put Larry Fedora’s team in position to play for a national championship?
The argument against UNC focuses on the school’s relatively soft schedule – which features two wins over FCS opponents – when compared to programs like Alabama and Michigan State. But 12 straight wins with a victory over the committee’s top squad should be deemed enough to earn a spot in the final four, since that would be considered the most marquee of wins any team has earned this season.
After all, if the committee has told us for five consecutive weeks that no team is better than Clemson, well then a win over Clemson should be worth more than any other win imaginable.
Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I believe the committee purposefully ranked North Carolina lower than they should have this past week because they’re gearing up to keep the Tar Heels from the four-team playoff in the event UNC wins Saturday. A Clemson defeat opens the door for Alabama, Oklahoma, the winner of Iowa-Michigan State and most likely television-ratings-bonanza Ohio State as your new top-four, with UNC in “a respectable fifth.”
Because when you think about it, Ohio State would garner a hell of a lot more attention and generate far more revenue than North Carolina.
Of course, all of this becomes moot with a Clemson win Saturday, but somebody needs to stand up for Larry Fedora and the Tar Heels, who have won each of their last 11 games by an average of 22.7 points per contest.
And with that in mind…
SHARP SIDE OF THE WEEK
North Carolina Tar Heels (+4.5) vs. Clemson Tigers: Saturday’s ACC Championship game opened Clemson -5.5 and despite the fact that 56 percent of the action has favored the Tigers, this number has since been adjusted to Clemson -4.5. Such a move indicates that quite a bit of money has been wagered on the Tar Heels.
We reached out to both sides of the counter on Thursday afternoon to get an idea of which position the sharps were taking heading into Saturday’s slate of action. Andrews immediately replied with, “North Carolina,” while Randy Blum from the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook echoed that exact same sentiment.
As mentioned above, North Carolina has been shredding the opposition since suffering a season-opening defeat to South Carolina, going 6-0 ATS over its last six games against teams with a winning record and 4-1 ATS over its last five contests overall.
Meanwhile, “heavy lies the head that wears the crown,” may be the best way to summarize what’s happened to Clemson over the last month of the season, as the Tigers have failed to cover the number in four straight outings while permitting a staggering 59 points and 727 total yards of total offense against Syracuse and South Carolina, who are a combined 7-17 on the season.
I think it’s safe to say that the playoff selection committee would be more than thrilled if the sharps failed to cash this ticket on Saturday night.
PUBLIC SIDE OF THE WEEK
Michigan State Spartans (-3.5) vs. Iowa Hawkeyes: No surprise here as the Hawkeyes have defeated just four teams this season with winning records (Illinois State, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Northwestern) and lack the offensive flash possessed by teams like Oklahoma and Clemson. Meanwhile, Sparty has rebounded nicely from a controversial loss at Nebraska four weeks ago, with victories over Maryland, Ohio State and Penn State by an average of 19.6 points per contest.
This game hit the board with Michigan State as a 3-point favorite, but thanks to 71 percent of the action coming in on the Spartans, that number has since been readjusted to Michigan State -3.5.
Take note that Michigan State is 6-0 ATS over its last six neutral-site games and 18-7-1 ATS over the program’s last 26 contests against teams with a winning record.
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP ODDS
“I don’t see any real bargains, but Oklahoma at 5/2 might be worth a play,” said Andrews. “I have them a pick with Alabama, but I am the only one who has the Sooners rated that highly. 5/2 is about the price of a two-team parlay and I think Oklahoma would be favored in at least one game no matter who they play.”
We asked Randy Blum from the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook the following two questions on Thursday:
Q: Have you taken any large wagers on any college football futures recently? If so, which teams?
A: Michigan State Spartans
Q: Which team winning the national championship would be the worst possible result for your sportsbook?
A: Stanford Cardinal
Here’s a rundown of what the college football championship odds board at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook currently looks like:
Alabama Crimson Tide (6/5): Beat Florida in the SEC Championship game and the Tide are back in the college football playoff for the second consecutive season.
Oklahoma Sooners (5/2): Currently ranked No. 3 with a completed schedule, there is virtually nothing that can happen this weekend that would keep Bob Stoops and the Sooners from the playoff.
Clemson Tigers (5/1): Defeat North Carolina in the ACC Championship game on Saturday night and the Tigers will retain the No. 1 seed.
Michigan State Spartans (8/1): On the outside looking in from the No. 5 position, a win over Iowa on Saturday night in the Big Ten Championship game will no doubt advance Sparty into the Final Four.
Ohio State Buckeyes (15/1): With Oklahoma and the winner of Iowa-Michigan State safely in, the Buckeyes need Alabama to lose to Florida or Clemson to fall to North Carolina. And even if the Tar Heels upset the Tigers there’s no guarantee that the committee will opt for Ohio State over North Carolina.
In addition, should Clemson or Alabama lose, the Buckeyes need to worry about Stanford (No. 7) convincingly defeating USC in the Pac-12 Championship game and then leapfrogging them in the standings.
Iowa Hawkeyes (20/1): Currently ranked No. 4, a win over Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Saturday night would not only solidify Iowa’s spot in the college football playoff, but it should silence the critics who believe the Hawkeyes have played too soft a schedule.
North Carolina Tar Heels (30/1): A win over Clemson should be enough for a spot in the playoff, but that’s unlikely to happen. So Larry Fedora & Co. need to take care of the Tigers along with Florida upsetting Alabama. In that scenario, there’s a chance. But even then, Ohio State and Stanford could slide into the equation along with Oklahoma and the Iowa-Michigan State winner, leaving the Tar Heels out in the cold.
Stanford Cardinal (40/1): Currently ranked seventh as a two-loss program (Northwestern and Oregon), Stanford needs to manhandle USC Saturday in the Pac-12 Championship while North Carolina upsets Clemson and Florida upsets Alabama.
However, that could still result in a Stanford freeze-out with North Carolina and Ohio State getting the nod instead. On the optimistic side, if a win over USC is enough to jump the Buckeyes at No. 6, an Alabama loss would be enough to vault Stanford to No. 4. Without question, this is the most intriguing price on the board.
HOT STREAK OF THE WEEK
Since commencing the season 1-4 straight-up and 0-4 ATS, the San Diego State Aztecs have gone eight straight games (7-0-1) without losing against the spread.
Credit head coach Rocky Long with the turnaround of the season, as his Aztecs have won eight straight games by an average of 24.8 points per contest. SDSU’s remarkable run can be attributed to both running back Donnel Pumphrey, who has rushed for 100 or more yards in eight straight games, and a defense that is permitting an average of just 11.2 points per contest with 23 turnovers forced during that same stretch.
San Diego State is currently listed as a 6-point favorite over Air Force for Saturday’s Mountain West Championship game.