The best offensive player on one team continues to rehabilitate an ankle that isn’t 100 percent. The best defensive player on another team tested positive for a banned substance. The status of both lends an air of uncertainty to the College Football Playoff semifinals, for fans and college football betting fans alike.
There’s now a substantial degree of mystery to Saturday’s Cotton and Sugar bowls, complicating college football bowl betting decisions over games with double-digit lines.
Alabama is a 14-point favorite over Oklahoma in Miami, but how ready is the sprained ankle of Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa? Clemson is a 12.5-point favorite over Notre Dame in Arlington, Texas, but will Tigers defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence even play?
The respective successes of Alabama and Clemson are due to more than one player — Jalen Hurts showed that in the SEC championship, and Lawrence’s backups saw plenty of action last season when the All-American battled a foot injury.
But for bettors, there are huge questions over how much a limited Tagovailoa or a missing Lawrence will impact their teams’ ability to cover sizeable point spreads.
The Alabama quarterback told reporters Wednesday that his left ankle is “80 to 85 percent” after undergoing surgery to repair a sprain suffered Dec. 1 against Georgia. Tide coach Nick Saban told reporters that Tagovailoa has gotten “all the reps he’s needed to get.”
So Tua appears on track to play, though how much and how well against Sooners remains to be seen. Before the injury, Tagovailoa was suffering through his worst outing as a starter. While Hurts came salvaged the victory, the Tide still fell short of covering the 12-point spread.
Prior to that, Alabama had been 8-4 against the spread with Tua as a starter, even though he rarely played late in games due to large leads, leaving the Tide short of some large spreads against mismatched opponents. Last year behind Hurts, Alabama was 6-8 against the spread.
Tagovailoa makes a big difference, and it’s legitimate to ask whether the Tide can cover a two-touchdown line without him.
Coach Dabo Swinney said the star defensive lineman “had no clue” how the performance enhancer ostarine got into his system. Lawrence’s status hinges on the second of two samples he gave during the drug test — if that also turns up positive, he’s out.
Which is what the Tigers are preparing for, given Wednesday’s news that Lawrence isn’t taking practice reps. With 13.5 tackles for loss and five sacks, the likely top-5 NFL draft pick is the most decorated member of a defensive line that holds opponents to 13.7 ppg, and would be critical in pressuring Irish quarterback Ian Book.
Yet, the Tigers have some experience playing without him, should it come to that. Lawrence battled foot and ankle injuries over the second half of last season, missing two games completely and being limited in three others.
In those games the Tigers were 4-1 against the spread, with Nyles Pinckney and Albert Huggins picking up the slack.
Lawrence isn’t the most statistically dominant member of Clemson’s defense, but that’s because he draws so many double-teams. The foot injury made him a non-factor in last year’s semifinal against Alabama, where Clemson struggled to pressure Hurts and the Tide pulled away.
Against the very accurate Book, his absence could be enough to keep Notre Dame in the game. Take the Irish and the points with Karamba.
The Tigers and Irish rank seventh and 11th, respectively, in scoring defense. Regardless of Lawrence’s status, this doesn’t figure to be a high-scoring game. Bet the under with 888Sport.
If Tagovailoa doesn’t play, Alabama still has the luxury of a backup quarterback with a national title, and a defense that can win games by itself. Then there’s that atrocious Oklahoma defense, which ranks 108th nationally and allowed 40 or more points in each of its last four regular-season games. You’re not playing Texas Tech anymore, Sooners.
If Tagovailoa plays, he’s unlikely to be as mobile, a key trait that allows him to buy time in the pocket. If Hurts plays, the Alabama passing attack won’t be as effective. Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray is up against the best defense he’s ever faced. While it may not be close, it won’t be a shootout, either.
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