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Betting on the 2015 NCAAF National Championship: Oregon-Ohio State

The 2014-15 college football bowl season has served as the perfect example of how the collegiate ball is at the same time both thrilling and infuriating. In a span of merely 15 days, there were a total of 38 bowl games, including the inaugural College Football Playoffs, which produced a staggering 62.3 points per game, with the over hitting on 24 of them (63.15%). Amongst them, we witnessed two separate 20+ point comebacks in the fourth quarter (Michigan State over Baylor, and Houston over Pitt), along with a 35-point 4th quarter comeback that fell just short because Central Michigan's coach decided to go for two points and the win instead of securing overtime against Western Kentucky.

As it stands, if you think that betting on the NFL is risky, the level of uncertainty explodes in the NCAA, where players are not as polished and coaching can tend to be suspect, to say the least. After all the madness and the non-stop action, there is still one game to be played – the biggest one of them all: the CFP National Championship.

In its first edition under this name, Cowboys Stadium is about to host Oregon's blur offense against Ohio State's mastermind in Urban Meyer. Oregon destroyed defending champ Florida State to the tune of a 59-20 blowout, while the Buckeyes upset Alabama, winner of 3 titles between 2009 and 2012, despite being down to their third-string QB and being down by 15 points late in the second quarter.

This matchup is intriguing and fascinating on many levels, with the potential of becoming an instant classic when it's all said and done. However, beyond the pure enjoyment of watching the game as a fan, the status as a prime-time event that will gather millions on a Monday night makes it all the more enthralling for betting purposes. The championship game now commands a healthy dose of prop bets and exotic wagers much like the Super Bowl, even as the amounts bet on the game still are far away from what we see in the pros.

Today we take a look at the most basic bets involving Oregon-Ohio State, the point spread and the over/under, using some of the most useful trends and numbers around the game. As it stands today, Oregon is favored by 6.5 points while the over/under has been climbing to now be at a whopping 74 points.

2014 and Recent History

In raw terms, the Ducks and Buckeyes and evenly matched all across the board. They both stand at 13-1 records, with Oregon posting a 10-4 mark against the spread and Ohio State going 9-5. Oregon outscored its opponents by an average of 23.8 points per game, while OSU did it by an even 24 points. They both won their respective divisions, with Oregon winning 12 games by double digits and Ohio State doing it 11 times.

All in all, 2014's numbers look eerily similar for squads that entered the year with lofty expectations. Oregon stood at 15/2 odds to win the title, while Ohio State was at 20/1, the 8th biggest favorite to hoist the trophy. Just a year after Auburn came awfully close to pulling the upset of the century, the order of college football was restored for the rich and powerful.

When we take a look at how each coach has performed with his respective team, the stories are also quite similar. Urban Meyer is finishing his third season in Columbus, where he was accrued a 37-3 record straight up, and 22-17-1 against the spread (.564). As an underdog, the Buckeyes now stand at a 5-0 mark that tops the FBS since 2012.

On the other hand, Mark Helfrich was promoted after Chip Kelly went to the NFL, and he has led the Ducks to not miss a beat in the process. In his two seasons, Oregon has gone 24-3 overall and 18-9 against the spread (.667), which is the sixth best mark in college football since 2013. Notably, the Ducks were favored in all of these games. In fact, since Kelly took over the program in 2009, Oregon has been listed as underdog only 4 times.

The BCS and National Championship Games

Even as the new playoff system was supposed to eradicate the injustice of the BCS, the fact remains that we will crown the national champion in a winner-take-all game. This system was adopted in 1998 and, much like the Super Bowl, has given us a number of close, exciting games while also presenting its fair number of duds.

Of the previous 16 finals, only 5 were decided by 7 points or fewer, and only one of them went to overtime (2002). The novelty for this year comes in the fact that the SEC has been completely left out after 8 consecutive seasons in which one of its teams made the championship game, while winning 7 straight from 2006 to 2012.

Here's a list of how the championship games have unfolded since 1998:

Year Winning Team Conference Losing Team Conference Score Line
1998 Tennessee SEC Florida State ACC 23-16 FSU -5.5
1999 Florida State ACC Virginia Tech Big East 46-29 FSU -5.5
2000 Oklahoma Big 12 Florida State ACC 13-2 FSU -11
2001 Miami Big East Nebraska Big 12 37-14 MIA -8.5
2002 Ohio State Big 10 Miami Big East 31-24 MIA -11.5
2003 LSU SEC Oklahoma Big 12 21-14 OU -6.5
2004 USC Pac-10 Oklahoma Big 12 55-19 OU -1
2005 Texas Big 12 USC Pac-10 41-38 USC -7
2006 Florida  SEC Ohio State Big 10 41-14 OSU -7
2007 LSU SEC Ohio State Big 10 38-24 LSU -5.5
2008 Florida SEC Oklahoma Big 12 24-14 FLA -5.5
2009 Alabama SEC Texas Big 12 37-21 ALA -4
2010 Auburn SEC Oregon Pac-10 22-19 AUB -2
2011 Alabama SEC LSU SEC 21-0 ALA -1.5
2012 Alabama SEC Notre Dame N/A 42-14 ALA -10
2013 Florida State ACC Auburn SEC 34-31 FSU -8.5

Teams who entered the game as favorites have gone 9-7 straight up, while being 8-8 against the spread. Florida State in 2013 has been the only favorite to win but not cover in the national championship game. Teams that have been favorite by 6 points or more, just like Oregon is right now, have performed poorly with a 2-6 mark against the spread.

Heisman Quarterbacks in Title Games

As it is well known, Oregon's Marcus Mariota became the first player in school history to win the Heisman trophy. After advancing to the national championship game, he will become the ninth quarterback in 1998 to play for the title during the same year he won the Heisman. In the past, the combination has failed to produce much success, as the previous 8 signal callers produced a combined record of 3-5 overall, and 2-6 against the spread.

Here's the short list of quarterbacks who faced this combination:

2000- Chris Weinke - Florida State (Loss)
2001 - Eric Crouch – Nebraska (Loss)
2003 - Jason White – Oklahoma (Loss)
2004 - Matt Leinart – USC (Win)
2006 - Troy Smith - Ohio State (Loss)
2008 - Sam Bradford – Oklahoma (Loss)
2010 - Cam Newton – Auburn (Win)
2013 - Jameis Winston - Florida State (Win but not cover)

Playing the Over/Under

The line opened at an even 70 points and has climbed steadily since, winding up at an unprecedented 74. Coming off semifinals that averaged 78 points, it is understandable that the public expects a high-scoring game to close out the year, but that may be an overreaction.

The closest precedent for this kind of inflated line comes from the 2010 title game, which closed at 70.5 points, but ended up producing a tight, low-scoring contest that only had a total of 14 points in the second half. In the BCS era, championship games have averaged 51.19 points per game, while the ones played in domes have only seen an average of 48.17.

Despite its reputation as a high-flying offense, Oregon's games only managed to go 6-7-1 in terms of the over/under in 2014, though Ohio State did go an impressive 12-2 for the same stat.

Final Pick

After closely watching both semifinals, the idea that Mariota was being especially careful floated my mind and hasn't left since. Oregon's defense did most of the work in the second half while Florida State imploded, allowing the Heisman winner the chance to save himself for this game and his future as the NFL's first overall pick in the upcoming draft. On the other hand, Urban Meyer managed to outcoach Nick Saban using his third-string quarterback, which is no small feat.

I am betting on the coaching mismatch to give the Buckeyes an edge that manages to close the gap in talent, as Oregon is clearly the better team. In the end, I expect a game full of jitters in which both teams take their time to get into rhythm, much like it happened in 2010. Take the points and the under.

My pick: Oregon 31-Ohio State 28


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