Inside The Sportsbook: Why Georgia Is Favorite Vs. Alabama In National Championship

Written By Brett Gibbons on January 6, 2022
2022 college football playoff odds

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me? After Alabama handed Georgia a 17-point loss in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 4, the Bulldogs opened right back up as -2.5 favorites in 2022 College Football Playoff odds.

In the SEC title game, Georgia opened as a nine-point favorite and closed a six-point favorite.

The National Championship line may come as a surprise to many. After all, we just saw Alabama handily win this game. So why do books favor Georgia favored again in this game?

We asked two books about their process in setting this line: Circa Sports and BetMGM.

Finding An Actionable Price

Matt Metcalf, Sportsbook Director at Circa Sports, said his line was determinant on when he began to see action on Alabama. “After the playoff teams were announced and due to market perception from the previous game, we hung a look-ahead line… of Georgia -1.” Metcalf told TheLines that number didn’t see much action. So, a change needed to be made.

“Not seeing a lot of action and hoping to take a bet, I kept creeping the number up and closer to my raw power rating number looking for some resistance. Eventually I got up to Georgia -3 where we finally saw some Alabama money,” Metcalf said.

Power ratings are numbers pinned to teams that help handicappers set accurate lines. It’s done through a complex system of models and take into account dozens of factors. According to Metcalf, “Most of our college football lines we open at Circa Sports are 75% power rating, 25% trying to get a sense of the market and what people are going to bet.”

Finding the right price for a game isn’t so much about guessing what the outcome is for books. It’s more about finding a number that draws action on both sides. After all, books need to make their money. They will make less money if lines are not attracting action from sharp bettors on both sides.

Georgia Is The Better Team… On Paper

A commonality between both books we spoke with is the belief that Georgia is still the better team on paper. The Bulldogs finished the regular season with a record points per drive allowed (0.36) and second nationally in points per drive scored (3.50). By comparison, Alabama ranked 22nd and third, respectively.

The Dawgs also finished the regular season first in net EPA per play (0.190). From surface-level to advanced metrics, Georgia finishes higher than Alabama.

Their historic front seven was anchored by Outland Trophy winner Jordan Davis and Butkis Award winner Nakobe Dean. Whether or not they were the better team on Dec. 4, they’ve been the best team all year. 17 points was the maximum scored against them during the regular season and they held their semifinal opponent, Michigan, to just 11.

After the semifinal, Metcalf raised Georgia a point in his power ratings. “I raised Georgia one point because of their blowout win vs. Michigan, who I believed to be a more quality opponent than Cincinnati. [That] would have my power rating line now at Georgia -4.”

Sharp Influence

Once an oddsmaker sets their line based on power rating, it’s not quite ready to go.

Christian Cipollini, a sports trader at BetMGM, gave us a peek at the final step. “For us at BetMGM, we typically let our sharp customers help us determine where we want our price to sit. [A]t the moment, they are betting Georgia.”

“Sharp” money refers to bets placed by influential, professional sports bettors or groups. These may be those with proven advanced models, longtime customers, or those with a long track record of success. Money bet by sharps is considerable– they aren’t putting $100 down every other Sunday. These bets are tracked by books and have a considerable influence on lines. If a line moves suddenly one way or another, it’s likely in response to sharp money.

Metcalf talked about the influence after 2022 College Football Playoff odds were set:

“We decided to re-open the line right where we closed it, at Georgia -2.5, to see what the bettors did with it. Since reopening, we have seen great two-way action– much of it sharp money– on both sides of this matchup. However, we have slightly more action that we respect on Georgia at this point, which has led us to adjust the number up to Georgia -3.”

Where Does The Line Go From Here?

Cipollini said he doesn’t expect the line to move much leading up to game day. “[W]hile our sharps are on Georgia, the public is still heavy on Bama.”

“A majority of the money will come in on game day and in the hours leading up to the game,” Cipollini siad, “but we have already seen a ton of interest, we expect it to be a big one handle-wise.”

That’s not much of a surprise– while handle bet on the National Championship pales in comparison to mega-events like the Super Bowl, it’s typically the most bet on event in college football.

Of course, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has its influence on how people bet on 2022 College Football Playoff odds. “COVID [is] a bit of a factor as well. [We] could see people wanting to wait until closer to game time to ensure all the key players are going to be able to play.”

The virus ravaged bowl season, cancelling multiple games. In the final bowl game of the season, LSU had just 37 scholarship players available against Kansas State (out of the 85 the NCAA allows). While it didn’t affect the semifinal games, any player can be declared unavailable at any moment.

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Brett Gibbons

Brett is an avid sports traveler and former Division-I football recruiter for Bowling Green and Texas State. He’s a graduate of BGSU and works as an auditor for Google content curation products. He’s also contributed to Sports Illustrated and Fansided during his young writing career.

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