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CFP National Title: Ranking 3 Top Futures Picks for 2019-20

SEC(2-2 ) @ ACC(2-1 )

  • Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Neutral Site). New Orleans, LA
  • When: January 13, 2020 8:30 pm EST
  • Moneyline: Clemson (+165), Alabama (+230), Georgia (+800)

It feels strange to admit, but the Jalen Hurts version of Alabama was more enjoyable than the Tago Tagovailoa version. One could relax and watch the 2017-18 Crimson Tide shut out their opponents and win by 2-4 touchdowns. At least until the team met Georgia for a wild National Championship Game in January 2018, it didn’t feel like the entire thing was on a hair-trigger.

Nick Saban’s program has developed – for better or worse – into an organization that succeeds or fails spectacularly.

The autumn ’18 regular season was an example of the former. Alabama roared through its early schedule with Tagovailoa looking like the next coming of…well actually he looked like the prototypical 21st century NFL quarterback who every franchise would want to draft 1st overall. Damien Harris ran like a beast behind an offensive line that a few wisecracking pundits compared favorably with that of the Buffalo Bills.

But things changed in the College Football Playoff. ‘Bama beat Oklahoma without too much of a problem, but the trademark defense wasn’t there, and when Clemson finally exposed Tagavailoa’s flaws in the final game of the year, there was no magnificent front-7 to fall back on.

The Crimson Tide are slight underdogs to the defending-champion Tigers on the Bovada Sportsbook futures board for 2019-20 national champion.

But there’s a 3rd contender who may be the best pick at current lines. Let’s go through the trio of FBS teams that may comprise a group of prohibitive favorites (if they don’t already) by November.

Clemson ((+165) Odds-to-Win 2019-20 College Football Playoff)

You have to know that student-athletes from 100+ other FBS schools had the creeps watching Clemson trounce ‘Bama in the season’s climax. Kids already had been told that the SEC was on another level vs wherever they played. Now, an ACC school had turned the Crimson Tide into a Floral Brook.

A standing ovation to the Tiger defense for stopping Tagovailoa’s dual threat on multiple 4th-down and goal-line efforts. But, the real story of the National Championship Game was a pair of teenagers playing throw-and-catch. Frosh QB Trevor Lawrence and classmate Justyn Ross connected on several huge plays as Ross made at least 2 of the most fantastic catches of the modern era. The out of this world performance went beyond “pretty good for freshmen.” Lawrence and Ross played better than half of their counterparts in the NFL might have under the same circumstances.

RB Travis Etienne is coming back along with the receiving corps and almost all of the offensive line. That spells big trouble for Clemson opponents, but it better, because the defense might be projected on smoke and mirrors at this point. Coordinator Brett Venables is losing a huge part of his “Power Rangers” defensive line, a cracking LB in Kendall Joseph, and CB Travyon Mullen who will play on Sundays this fall.

Pundits are promoting the backups who are “ready to step in,” but sometimes that’s just a bunch of talk. Clemson’s front-7 is being gutted in the offseason and must be rebuilt with green recruits.

Alabama (+220)

There is a trend in football that works almost like gravity. We’re still not sure how it happens, but it sure enough happens over and over.

When a team starts scoring all kinds of points, it also starts giving up more points. This concept seems to contradict Lombardi’s First Rule – that a weakness or strength tends to remain as it was.

Defenses don’t forget how to perform when their offense scores a ton of touchdowns. But sometimes it does help wake up the opposing attack just a bit.

Alabama ran and passed their opponents ragged all season that is until the visiting Citadel Bulldogs killed the clock and the hosts’ field position for 2+ quarters in mid-November, almost taking a 3-point lead into a deadlocked halftime.

Yes, an FCS squad was the first team to challenge ‘Bama for more than 15 minutes of game clock.

Opposing coaches came up with a formula – to put Tagovailoa in tougher situations on the field than what he had been so-far experiencing. Success is tricky for a young player to handle. Clemson tricked Tago on more than a few occasions in January, but any 28-point loss is a team-wide deal.

Does ‘Bama merit its current sub-3-to-1 betting line to retake the mountain? Alabama is an annual powerhouse and it is never really a surprise to see the Tide lifting the CFP hardware at season’s end. However, despite a WR corps in which Jerry Jeudy is just icing on a deep cake, and a decent returning crew of rushers, I’m not handicapping the offense to put up nearly as many Nintendo numbers as it did early last autumn.

The offense really should not be moving so quickly, using up little time before scoring or punting, and giving QBs like Lawrence plenty of accumulated stats in good field position. That is a reason teams that score a lot must be cautious of giving up more points than their defense ought to be allowing. Alabama’s offense was OK against Clemson but the defense was helpless.

Alabama’s front-7 must show that it really can react better to play-action and bootlegs. A veteran LB corps that boasts Dylan Moses, Terrell Lewis and Anfernee Jennings will be illustrious, but ‘backers looked slow and sluggish against the pass in the Georgia game.

It does help that enormous DE Raekwon Davis has decided to stay with the program for another year.

Georgia (+800)

Make a 2019-20 futures wager on the Georgia Bulldogs and receive a sign-up bonus from Bovada.

With any luck, Kirby Smart has learned from his mistakes in the conference title game. Georgia’s defense deserved an opportunity to stop Jalen Hurts and the Alabama offense on a full field, not half a field after a ridiculous fake punt attempt.

Sometimes coaches do learn lessons, and Smart will have all kinds of toys in his quest for vengeance in 2019-20. Signal-caller Jake Fromm and tailback D’Andre Swift are back. While the program’s WR and TE corps loses a lot to the NFL, young wideouts like Tyler Simmons will continue to come out.

On defense UGA does lose names like Deandre Baker and Jonathan Ledbetter. But Ledbetter was often a pain in the neck, and there’s plenty of size and talent coming up on all levels.

It was only LSU’s upset defeat of Georgia on October 13th that kept the Bulldogs out of the College Football Playoff. Good luck to the Tigers in replacing former LB Devin White, who had 12 tackles that day.

Missouri has also welcomed the transfer of former Clemson QB Kelly Bryant, potentially making Georgia’s division a harder row to hoe. But it won’t matter if the Dawg defense plays up to its ceiling by October. Clemson’s take-down of the Tide might have given UGA more confidence than its own almost-triumph against Alabama last year.

Is Georgia priced too long at 8/1? It has to be, because everyone else at the top of the betting board appears to be overvalued in some way. Alabama has a lot to prove, Clemson has a lot to replace, Ohio State (+900) loses Urban Meyer’s tactical brilliance. The Oklahoma Sooners (+1000) may be welcoming Jalen Hurts to campus, but if you can’t win a national title with Heisman-level QBs, can you do it with Hurts?

UGA returns the most complete team of any of the 5 shortest markets. Take the Bulldogs for a fantastic value pick at (+800).

Kurt BoyerThis article was written by Kurt Boyer

A freelance sportswriter from Missouri, Kurt has covered court, gridiron, rink and ring for 10+ years. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.

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