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The best bets from around college football. Handicapper Brett Ciancia's best bets for the 2021 College Football Playoff semifinals, plus a bonus New Year's Eve bowl pick. Don't miss these picks ahead of Friday's opening kicks.

College Football Best Bets: Picks for Friday's New Year's Eve Games

Alabama vs. Cincinnati

Alabama vs. Cincinnati odds

The barrier has finally been broken.  Since the BCS was created in 1998, and eventually the 4-team Playoff in 2014, no non-AQ team has ever made it into the championship bracket. 

There have been some close calls over the years.  2008 Utah went undefeated and beat Saban’s Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and then 2009 TCU finished #3 and would have moved to #2 (and into the national title) if not for a controversial final-second field goal by #2 Texas in the Big 12 title game.  In the Playoff era, UCF went undefeated twice but was denied bracket access.  But finally, in their second straight undefeated regular season, Cincinnati claimed the #4 spot and beat #5 Notre Dame in South Bend as their resume headliner.

Welcome to the Playoff!  Your reward: facing off against defending national champion Alabama, 7-time national champion head coach Nick Saban, Heisman winner Bryce Young, and the annual top-rated recruiting program.

It has taken monumental quarterback performances to pull off the rare Alabama upsets in the past decade.  Think of Johnny Manziel, Deshaun Watson, Joe Burrow, etc.  That’s a high bar, but a reality, that Desmond Ridder has to perform at an elite clip.  Additionally, Cincinnati’s other roster strength, the cornerbacks, need to neutralize Jameson Williams on the outsides.  Corner Sauce Gardner earned All-America honors and headlines a secondary that leads the entire nation in opposing QB rating.

While the defense may hold Alabama in check for a bit, the levy will eventually break.  There is simply too much firepower.  And the same could be said of the Cincinnati offensive line holding water against a record-setting pass rush with Will Anderson off the edge. Anderson leads the entire nation in both sacks (15.5) and tackles for loss (31.5).

A new Playoff face, the same old result:  Tide Rolls

Prediction: Alabama 34, Cincinnati 17

Pick:  Alabama -13.5  @ -110

Washington State vs. Central Michigan

Washington State vs. Central Michigan odds

Jake Dickert is a name you won’t find on “Coach of the Year” lists, but he is certainly deserving of consideration.  He started the season as the defensive coordinator but took over as the interim when the program was going through an off-field situation that became a national news story.  Dickert kept Washington State focused, and they played solid football down the stretch.

The Cougars finally snapped their Apple Cup losing streak by knocking off Washington in the season finale.  Before that they notched wins over bowl teams Oregon State and Arizona State en route to finishing 6th in the Pac-12 in Pick Six Previews’ Game Grader formula.

Washington State is 7-3 ATS in their past 10 games.  Meanwhile the “Fade the MAC” strategy has worked again this bowl season, as Central Michigan’s peers are just 2-5 straight-up and 3-4 ATS. 

Washington State is without some key personnel but should still win and cover the touchdown spread.

Prediction:  Washington State 31,  Central Michigan 23

Pick:  Washington State -6.5  @ -110

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Georgia vs. Michigan

Georgia vs. Michigan odds

1980. 1997.  Bulldog and Wolverine fans have waited for decades to hoist the national championship trophy.  The wait has been longer for UGA fans, and over those four decades all of their closest rivals have won titles (Auburn, Florida, Alabama, Clemson, and yes even Georgia Tech).  Opposing fans even chant “1980” at random events, like UGA baseball games.

On the other side, Michigan’s title drought has been more of an “Ohio State” drought, as the Maize & Blue won their season finale rivalry game just once in 16 years heading into 2021.

Michigan cleared that hurdle this year, as they overpowered Ohio State along both lines of scrimmage, and their power run offense scored touchdowns on five straight drives.

Michigan’s offensive line earned the Joe Moore Award given to the best line unit in the nation.  They open up holes for the dynamic duo of runners Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins, and also allow Cade McNamara to have ample time in the pocket.  Since the run game is so effective, Michigan leans on it and is the 10th most run-heavy offense in playcalling.  That opens up the pass game when they want to try vertical shots placing Michigan in the Top 10 in explosive long-yardage passing.

And if there ever was a relatively weaker unit on the #1 defense in America, it may be their secondary.  Alabama hit on several long-yard pass plays, and scored more than double the most UGA had allowed all season. UGA struggled in the red zone against Alabama, tossing two costly picks.  Stetson Bennett is effective with his legs, and Todd Monken has done an excellent job tailoring the offense to his skill sets.  With Bennett under center, it is more power run and play-action.  With JT Daniels the offense takes more vertical shots and plays more towards his big arm. They have also gotten their 5-star backs involved in the pass game in the flats and on wheel routes. 

Two key unknowns for UGA:  Daniels’ health (will he play and has the offense been reshaping towards that) and the return of playmakers on the outsides. 

Michigan has a Top 5 defense of their own, and a rare defensive lineman Heisman finalist in Aidan Hutchinson who plays his best in the biggest spotlights.

Pick Six Previews’ Game Grader has this as UGA -3.5.  Going four whole points in the other direction, crossing the key touchdown number, makes this a Michigan call.

Prediction: Michigan 24, Georgia 23

Pick:  Michigan +7.5  @ -110

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