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Bettors buy back Clemson, sharp money moves CFP title game total
By Jason Logan

It didn’t take long for sportsbooks to realize that they had greatly underestimated the Alabama Crimson Tide in their College Football Playoff odds. In fact, it took less than 60 minutes of football for books to figure out Alabama was the team to beat, as the Tide demolished Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Eve.

“About two weeks or so before the playoff games, we opened odds on all the potential matchups and had Alabama -4 versus Clemson. It drew zero handle – no one bet it,” Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology in Las Vegas. “But with Alabama up 31-0 in the third quarter versus Michigan State, we opened Alabama -4.5 (versus Clemson). They (bettors) laid that -4.5, laid -6, laid -6.5 and that’s how we ended up at -7.”

A similar story played out online at Sportsbook, which opened the Crimson Tide as more conservative 6-point favorites. But after thrashing the Spartans in the semifinal, the betting public was in love with Nick Saban’s program and pushed their line toward a touchdown.

“Honestly, we thought using -6 was a bit of an inflated number but it wasn’t inflated enough as money poured in on Alabama,” Peter Childs, supervisor of risk management for Sportsbook. “Looking back, it makes sense as Bama absolutely crushed Michigan State and that crushing was literally happening as we opened the line. As money came in on Alabama, we quickly went to -6.5 and then to -7.”

Once books adjusted the National Championship spread to a touchdown, money started to show up on the underdog from the ACC. According to multiple sportsbooks, Clemson money has started to come in as of midweek and some shops have trimmed half a point off the spread, dealing Alabama -6.5.

According to William Hill sportsbooks in Nevada, 61 percent of the betting handle for the January 11 title game is riding on the Crimson Tide with 71 percent of wagers being placed on the SEC power. However, one trend showing up at sportsbooks is moneyline bets being placed on the Tigers, with bettors passing on the points and taking Clemson to win outright at +220.

The total for the National Championship Game has also moved significantly at some sportsbooks, opening as high as 53.5 and drawing one-sided sharp action on the Under since the Alabama-Clemson matchup was made.

“They’ve been betting the Under hard, which makes sense because that (opening) total was too high,” Scott Kaminsky, sportsbook director at The Greek “We opened 53 and dropped to 50.5. I would have made the total much lower.”

But like most high-profile games, while the sharp money may side with the Under, the betting public is hoping for an exciting high-scoring game, and gravitates toward the Over. This number may not be done moving, with plenty of time for the public to make its opinion felt between Wednesday and Monday night’s kickoff.

“Being a championship game and knowing the betting public is going to get involved in this game in a big way, we opened our total high assuming sharps would bet it Under and the public would bet it Over,” says Childs, who opened the total at 53 points. “For now, we’re happy with our action and it’s somewhat balanced with just over 60 percent on the Over. But I do see us having to at least get back to 52 as we get closer to game time.”

The total may not be the only odds looking different come Monday night. The books that are dealing Alabama -6.5 have a feeling they will get back to a touchdown spread with the public pounding the Crimson Tide, after such a dominant display in the Cotton Bowl and the prestige of the SEC – compared to the lack of depth in the ACC.

“You have to think the game will close seven,” says Kaminsky. “Based on Alabama’s performance against MSU, and that I just think the line should be -7. Clemson is good and all, but I think the Alabama defense is the big difference. I think they’ll be able to stop that Clemson offense. Defense is the key when it comes to winning championships and this defense is exceptional.”

Alabama has covered in its last four meetings with ACC schools and is 5-2 ATS in its last seven bowl games. Clemson has covered in four straight postseason games and is 5-2 ATS in its last seven non-conference contests.