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Opening Line Report - Bowls
NFL - OLR Week 14

When the South Point posted the first College Football Playoff lines in Las Vegas on Sunday, sharp money showed up on Alabama at pick ‘em vs. Clemson in the Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m., ESPN). Chris Andrews, sports book director at the South Point, was happy to take that action and moved the line to Alabama -1.

Other Vegas books opened Alabama as the slight chalk, the Westgate SuperBook hanging -1 and CG Technology going -2, and the Crimson Tide are now laying points at every shop in town.

Andrews thinks the betting market has it wrong.

“I really thought Clemson should be the favorite, but I opened pick, let them (sharp bettors) take me where they want to go, but I’m comfortable needing Clemson,” Andrews said. “If I go into the game needing them, that’s fine with me.”

There are many observers among the mainstream (non-gambling) college football punditry who questioned the Selection Committee’s decision to invite to Alabama to the playoffs, suggesting the Tide are in the final four because of reputation, not so much their 2017 resume. Andrews offered a similar notion regarding the betting line.

“This is probably one of those situations where we’re thinking of the historic Alabama rather than the current Alabama,” Andrews said. “I just think Clemson’s better than them right now.”

He added, “Alabama’s been exposed a little bit. It’s probably not Nick Saban’s best team. I predicted the Auburn win (over the Tide two weeks ago, 26-14). I just thought they weren’t that great of a team this year. They rely on (quarterback) Jalen Hurts an awful lot, their defense has clusters of injuries in linebacking, and if you look around the pros there’s tons of linebackers for Alabama, so it’s always been a key part of their defense.”

Over at CG Technology, sharp money grabbed Clemson +2, prompting a move to +1.5. But it’s likely that those early bettors were shopping for the best number, rather than expressing an opinion on the game, Jason Simbal, vice president of risk at the sports book operator, said.

Simbal, in fact, said his bookmaking team’s power ratings had Alabama a 3.5-point favorite, but that’s not a number they wanted to offer on a game certain to attract immediate high-volume action, particularly since betting opened Sunday as gamblers lined up to make their NFL wagers.

“In a normal week, where you’re not going to get a ton of attention on the game right away and nobody’s going to really bet it till the day of, you can hang 3 or 3.5 there,” Simbal said. “But in this case, it’s hard to hang that number because so many people are going to be betting this right away, fans and sharps alike, that you have to build in the perception.”

This, of course, is the third season in a row in which Alabama and Clemson will have met in the postseason. Clemson has covered the spread in the previous two meetings, winning outright 35-31 as 6.5-point dogs in last season’s championship game, and cashing as 6-point dogs in a 45-40 loss two years ago.

“I thought Alabama would be a really small favorite, but I’m hesitant to bet against Clemson in a big spot,” Simbal said. “Athletically, they have the ability to keep up with Alabama, one of the few teams that can do that, so we’ll see how they do without Deshaun Watson. If I had to bet that game I’d probably take Clemson.”

Rose Bowl - Georgia vs. Oklahoma (-1)
Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN

The early Rose Bowl betting sentiment has been on underdog Georgia, as the line opened between Oklahoma -2 and -2.5, before drifting to -1 at most shops and even to pick ‘em at MGM Resorts.

CG opened Oklahoma -2.5 but moved to -1.5 after writing a sharp money-line play on Georgia.

The most appropriate number on this game is Oklahoma -1.5, Andrews believes, although he opened -2.

“If a wiseguy bet me -2, I would have gone right to -3, and conversely, if a wiseguy bet me +2, I would have gone to 1,” Andrews said. “Just in that area off an opening number, you move things a little more quickly.” While no respected money showed up on either side, an abundance of smaller bets on the dog prompted the South Point to move to Oklahoma -1.

“We didn’t have any big bets on the dog, but it was just kind of trickling in,” Andrews said, “so it looked like at this point in time, people were either going to bet Georgia or they were going to pass.”

Simbal, though, expects most casual bettors to back Oklahoma as game day approaches.

“I think we’re going to end up needing Georgia because the public is in love with Oklahoma,” Simbal said. “(Baker) Mayfield is a pretty popular player and they’ve been so hot ever since the Iowa State loss, and in hindsight that Iowa State loss wasn’t as bad as we thought at the time.”

Here’s a peek at some other intriguing bowl matchups:

Cotton Bowl - USC vs. Ohio State (-6.5)
Dec. 29, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

There’s a consensus on the Cotton Bowl, as Ohio State -6.5 is the number being dealt throughout Las Vegas, with no action significant enough for early adjustments.

Fiesta Bowl - Washington vs. Penn State (-3)
Dec. 30, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN

Penn State’s been as high as -4.5 and as low as -2 offshore, but the line has settled at a field goal in Vegas.

Orange Bowl - Wisconsin (-6.5) vs. Miami
Dec. 30, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Respect for the Big Ten continues, with the Badgers listed as substantial favorites in what’s essentially a home game for Miami.

Outback Bowl - South Carolina vs. Michigan (-10)
Jan. 1, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2

There’s been a strong early move on Michigan, as the Wolverines opened -7 at the Wynn and have been bet to between -9.5 and -10 around town.

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Central Florida vs. Auburn (-10)
Jan. 1, 12:30 p.m. , ESPN

Doubt abounds around unbeaten Central Florida as they take a major step up in class. Auburn can be found for -9.5 at some betting locales.

Citrus Bowl - LSU (-2.5) vs. Notre Dame
Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET, ABC

Wiseguys are on LSU early, driving the line at the Wynn to Tigers -2.5 after Notre Dame opened the 1-point chalk. LSU is laying as many as 3 at some shops.

Marcus DiNitto is a writer in Charlotte, N.C., who covers sports betting and all kinds of other stuff. Follow him on Twitter @MarcusDiNitto.

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