#1 Alabama (13-0) is favored against #4 Oklahoma (12-1) in the 2018 Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium. The game kicks off on Saturday, December 29th, at 20:00ET. It is the second semifinal of the College Football Playoff, and will decide who meets the winner of the Cotton Bowl in the National Championship Game.
The betting line opened at a stout -14.0 points for the Crimson Tide. They’ve been absolutely dominant this year, going 13-0 SU as favorites. The Tide were a respectable 8-5-0 against the spread, which is doubly impressive given the huge spreads they’ve faced. The Sooners have not been underdogs so far this season, so they have no record in this position.
Will Alabama’s Reign Continue?
Alabama have lunched through their entire schedule in 2018. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, filling a new role as “Alabama Star Quarterback” and filling it well. He’s completed 67.7% of his passes for 3,353 yards and 37 touchdowns, which (when balanced against his 4 interceptions) gives him an absurd 202.3 Passing Efficiency Rating. That number exceeds the all-time record set by Baker Mayfield in 2017, but comes up short of setting the new record.
Tua hurt his ankle in the SEC Championship game, but after undergoing surgery is expected back for the College Football Playoff. If he’s unavailable, the Tide will be forced to play 2016 SEC Offensive Player of the Year Jalen Hurts. Whichever of the two takes the field, they’ll be throwing to a lethal combination of receivers in Jerry Jeudy, JAylen Waddle, Henry Ruggs III, and Irv Smith Jr.
Jalen Hurts with the comeback story of the year ? pic.twitter.com/s3CGP79DQz
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 2, 2018
This team is also capable of running the ball! Damien Harris gained 947 yards from scrimmage and rushed for 7 touchdowns, averaging a respectable 6.1 yards per carry. Najee Harris added 679 yards and 4 touchdowns, for 6.7 yards per carry.
The defense is just about as excellent as you’ve come to expect from Alabama. Quinnen Williams, Deionte Thompson, Dylan Moses, and a fair chunk of their teammates will be playing in the NFL very soon. The Tide defense allowed just 296.2 yards and 14.8 points per game, the fourth least in the country. Stopping teams that effectively while maintaining an offensive tempo high enough to score the second most points per game is a deeply impressive achievement.
Can Oklahoma’s Offense Score an Upset?
Oklahoma has one real hope of winning this game, and it lies in an Oakland A’s outfielder. Kyler Murray is officially the most efficient quarterback in the history of college football (his 2018 season beats Baker Mayfield’s 2017 and Tua Tagovailoa’s 2018 season in passing efficiency rating) and the Orange Bowl could be the last football game he ever plays.
55 yards and a cloud of dust for Kyler Murray ?♂️? pic.twitter.com/2aIK7jU8Eb
— ESPN (@espn) November 24, 2018
Murray threw for 4,053 yards and 40 TD’s this season. He completed 70.9% of his passes, which works out to a passer rating of 205.7. Those are all just silly numbers. His teammate, Kennedy Brooks, ran for 771 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging an astounding 9.0 yards per carry.
Altogether, Oklahoma averaged 578.1 yards per game and 49.5 points. That helped make up for the somewhat lacking defense, which allowed 448.1 yards and 32.4 points per game. It’s not clear that the formula will work against a team as well-rounded and explosive as Alabama, but Oklahoma will have to try.
Oklahoma vs Alabama Statistical Comparison
|47.8 (2nd)||PPG||49.5 (1st)|
|524.8 (5th)||YPG||578.1 (1st)|
|203.2 (33rd)||Rushing YPG||254.1 (11th)|
|321.7 (9th)||Passing YPG||324.0 (8th)|
|14.7 (4th)||PPG Allowed||32.4 (91st)|
The standard advice is to take the points in a shootout, which this game could very well become. The standard advice is also to never fade Alabama, which specializes in covering these big spreads.
The most important point is that at the highest level of college football the gulf in skill shrinks more than the betting market believes. All of Alabama’s last three national title games have come down to the last play or come very close to it. The SEC Championship was decided on the last play. Take the points!
If you’re thinking about taking the under in this game, you belong in a padded cell.