At last, the College Football Playoff is here. The two most important games of the season thus far will be played on Saturday, and although the semifinal games of the recent past have been blowouts, there is reason to believe that this year’s matchups will be exciting.
Big Ten Champion Michigan will face TCU, who lost in the Big 12 Championship, in the Fiesta Bowl. Ohio State will play SEC Champion Georgia in the Peach Bowl. There is an abundance of storylines that come with these games, including the possibility of Michigan and Ohio State rematching for a title.
That’s not all Saturday has to offer; Alabama will play Big 12 Champion Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl. Our model doesn’t project as much value across the four bowl games as has in recent days, but there are still edges to be had. Let’s investigate.
Note: All college football odds are from FanDuel Sportsbook. Lines are subject to change throughout the day after this article is published. All ratings are out of five stars. Please check numberFire's model to make sure you're seeing the most updated information.
TCU Horned Frogs vs. Michigan Wolverines
Over 58.5 (-110): 1 Star
There’s not too much here in terms of strong leans from our model, but each of these teams has great offenses.
TCU is sixth in ESPN’s SP+ on offense, led by Heisman runner-up Max Duggan at quarterback. Michigan is 18th by the same measure, but they’ll be without their own Heisman candidate, running back Blake Corum, but two sophomores give the Wolverines a higher ceiling than their SP+ ranking would indicate.
Quarterback J.J. McCarthy and tailback Donovan Edwards were the headliners of Michigan’s 2020 recruiting class, and they began to prove why in the Wolverines’ rout of Ohio State. McCarthy only completed half of his 24 throws, but 3 of them went for touchdowns. Edwards racked up 216 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground. Michigan’s offense mostly relied on Corum this year, so McCarthy had played more conservatively with him, and Edwards received fewer carries before his absence.
Michigan has an excellent defense led by first-team all-Big Ten selections Mike Morris and Mazi Smith. Those two anchor a defensive line that is fourth in opportunity rate, per Football Outsiders. TCU will likely have a difficult time running the ball, but Duggan is capable of moving the ball consistently through the air. TCU has a perfect safety net for Duggan in receiver Quentin Johnston, who is arguably the best available player at his position in the upcoming NFL Draft.
If the Wolverines’ defense is successful, this bet is probably a loser, but given how well Max Duggan has played as of late -- even in the loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship -- it’s reasonable to pick the over and back a shootout. Our model gives that a 54.6% probability of happening.
Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Georgia Bulldogs
Ohio State +6.5 (-104): 1 Star
Many pundits see this as another blowout for Georgia, but this Buckeyes team has the talent to stay with the Bulldogs. -- even if they couldn’t do the same against Michigan.
Ohio State has the best offense in the playoff, led by quarterback C.J. Stroud and the best receiver in the country this season, Marvin Harrison Jr.
Obviously, Georgia is here because of their dominant defense, but the Stroud-Harrison connection will be a challenge. The Bulldogs have two consensus all-Americans on defense: defensive tackle Jalen Carter and safety Christopher Smith. They’ll need both of them to show why they were selected by every major outlet in this matchup with the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes' offense feels like the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object of the Bulldogs’ defense -- and rightfully so. Ohio State is capable of moving the ball on any team, but they’ll have difficulty with consistency against Georgia.
The Buckeyes’ defense shouldn’t be overlooked, though; Ohio State has many top-tier defenders, such as defensive linemen Zach Harrison and J.T. Tuimoloau and linebacker Tommy Eichenberg. Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett has quieted his critics and even received Heisman votes this season, but he isn’t an elite signal-caller that can steal a game on his own.
Ultimately, it’s likely that Georgia wins this game. However, Ohio State is better than the line might indicate despite their performance at home against Michigan. The Buckeyes have the personnel to keep the game close, and while Georgia has been a juggernaut over the last two seasons, our model projects Ohio State to cover with a 54.5% probability.
Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Kansas State Wildcats
Kansas State +6.5 (-110): 2 Stars
The Sugar Bowl has the potential to be the best of the New Year’s Six outside of the semifinal games because Alabama isn’t expecting any opt-outs. That means that top NFL prospects like quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson Jr. will be suiting up, and Kansas State will be seeing the Tide’s best.
The Wildcats are playing great football as of late, and they avenged their regular season loss to TCU in the Big 12 Championship. Quarterback Adrian Martinez did not play, but Will Howard played well in his absence, throwing for 199 yards and 2 touchdowns. Kansas State has a strong rushing attack led by running back Deuce Vaughn, who is an even better return specialist.
Despite Alabama’s two losses, they’re the best team outside of the playoff field per SP+ and ESPN’s FPI. Young didn’t play as well as in his Heisman campaign last season but was limited by injuries throughout the year. The Tide’s defense is what makes them the favorites in this game; Anderson and fellow linebacker Henry To’oto’o were named to the all-SEC first team and have been dominant all year.
Vaughn will be the key for Kansas State to neutralize Alabama’s elite linebackers and keep the game close. In the Wildcats’ loss to the Longhorns earlier this year, Vaughn was held to only 73 yards. Since then, he’s amassed at least 100 yards in three of Kansas State’s four games.
Our model projects Kansas State to keep it within a touchdown 60.8% of the time, which is good enough for a two-star rating.