Ness Notes: Friday, Jan 1

by Larry Ness

This column will be available Monday through Friday (posted no later than 1:00 ET), EXCLUSIVELY at I like to call it my daily 'random thoughts' on the sports betting world, although I'll pass along that my therapist refers to it as "thoughtful commentary."

Before getting to the bowls, let's take a quick "look back" on college hoops from Monday thru Thursday, then a quick "look ahead" to Saturday and Sunday. Higher ranked teams opened the week 15-7 SU but just 11-11 ATS against lower-ranked teams. Ranked teams were 119-19 (.862) SU but a more modest 74-62-2 (54.4%) ATS vs unranked opponents Y-T-D. There were just four games between ranked opponents the last four days (one each day) and the higher ranked team won and covered THREE of the four. The lone exception was No. 17 Michigan St losing 81-56 at No. 21 Minnesota. The Spartans have now lost their first three conference games for the first time since the 2001-02 season. That makes the higher ranked team 18-8 (.692) SU but just 14-12 (53.8%) ATS. There were 13 games the last four days with ranked teams playing unranked teams, with the ranked teams going 10-3 SU and 6-7 ATS. The losers were No. 6 Wisconsin losing at Maryland on Monday plus No. 5 Houston losing at Tulsa and No. 18 FSU losing at Clemson on Tuesday. Doing the math, ranked teams are now 129-22 (.854) SU but a much more modest 80-69-2 (53.7%) ATS.

There are no ranked teams in action on Friday but it's a  BUSY Saturday and Sunday. There are four matchups of ranked teams on Saturday; No. 3 Kansas at No. 8 Texas, No. 10 Iowa at No. 14 Rutgers, No. 18 FSU at No. 20 Duke and No. 23 UVa home to No. 24 Va Tech. There are 11 ranked teams playing unranked opponents, including No. 1 Gonzaga (9-0) home to San Francisco and No. 2 Baylor (8-0) at Iowa St. Moving to Sunday, No. 16 Michigan (8-0) is home to No. 19 Northwestern and No. 21 N Minnesota is home to Ohio St. No. 5 Houston will play at unranked SMU (6-0) and No. 6 Wisconsin is at unranked Penn St. Monday's Notes will be all football with a CFB bowl recap) and NFL week 17 recap. I'll catch up with the new AP poll (released Monday) plus the Saturday and Sunday happenings in college hoops in Tuesday's Notes.

Bowl Update: Heading into Tuesday's two bowl games, favorites are 7-3 SU and 6-4 ATS and there have been four overs and six unders. Over the last three days (Tuesday-Thursday), favorites have gone 6-1 SU and 4-2 ATS, while SIX of the seven games have gone over. During the previous three days, there was only ONE meeting between a ranked and unranked opponent (using AP rankings) and one meeting between ranked opponents. OSU was ranked 21st in the CFP rankings but unranked in the AP, while Miami entered ranked 18th in both the AP and CFP. The Cowboys won 37-34 in Tuesday's Cheez-It Bowl. Wednesday saw the first of the New Year's Six bowls with 8-3 Florida and 8-2 Oklahoma squaring off in the Cotton Bowl. The Sooners are ranked 8th in the AP and Gators 10th, giving us just our second ranked vs ranked bowl game (Liberty/Coastal Carolina was the first). However, the game was marred by the fact that the Gators showed up with a JV-like version and got CREAMED, 55-20. New Year's Eve produced two competitive games, Mississippi St 28-26 over Tulsa and West Va 24-21 over Army, plus a Ball St 34-13 blowout of previously unbeaten San Jose St. The Miss St/Tulsa game was marred by an 'ugly' brawl at the end. Through 17 bowls, favorites are 13-4 SU and 11-6 ATS with 10 overs and seven unders. In the two games between ranked opponents, the higher ranked team is 1-1 SU and ATS and in the bowls with a ranked team playing an unranked opponent, the ranked team is 3-1 SU but just 1-3 ATS.

The bowl season concludes (save the CFP national championship game set for Jan 11) with four games on Friday and Saturday. No two games are bigger than the national semifinal games played on Friday but we also have three of the remaining New Year's Six Bowl games being contested over the next two days.

Only in "The Year of COVID" would the Rose Bowl (the first of two CFP semifinal games) be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. It's No. 1 Alabama (11-0) vs No. 4 Notre Dame (10-1) at 4:00 ET. When the teams last met eight seasons ago in the BCS title game, Alabama scored the game's first 35 points in a 42-14 romp. Notre Dame's defense ranks 14th in allowing 18.6 PPG but down the stretch allowed 30-plus points in three of its last five games. How can that be good news when facing an Alabama team that topped 50 points six times and averaged 49.7 PPG (second-best nationally)? Alabama has scored 35 or more points in a major-college record 24 consecutive games since losing to Clemson 44-16 in the CFP title game to end the 2018 season, with the Crimson Tide going  22-2 during that stretch. Any surprise that Alabama is favored by 19 1/2-points? The over/under is 66.

The second College Football Playoff Semifinal game is the Sugar Bowl between No.2 Clemson and No. 3 Ohio St. This game will be contested in its familiar 'home,' at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans at 8:00 ET. While Alabama/Notre Dame may be a rematch from EIGHT seasons ago, Clemson and Ohio St is a rematch from a semifinal game from last season. Ohio St led 16-0 through the first 25 minutes of that game but Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence and RB Travis Etienne led a comeback that put the Tigers up 29-23. The Buckeyes drove to the Tigers' 23 with a chance to potentially win the game but Justin Fields was intercepted in the end zone with 37 seconds left in the game. Lawrence had 259 passing yards and a touchdown plus 107 yards and a rushing TD, while Etienne had 134 all-purpose yards and three TDs.

According to Ohio St head coach Ryan Day, that loss has reverberated for nearly a year among the Buckeyes. "Fresh off of that game, it was right on our minds, and something that when we got back to work and winter workouts, January, February, it was right there for us," Day said Sunday. "Coming off that game, we just didn't get over it in one day. It took time. "There was even a sign with the score posted in the Buckeyes' weight room, an honor usually reserved for rival Michigan. Ohio St played just SIX games this season and some think the Buckeyes are NOT deserving of a 'Final 4' berth. One person, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, has been particularly vocal about that point.

Swinney said he felt the six-game resume of Ohio State put the Buckeyes on a different playing field than many of the other contenders. Swinney backed up his feelings by ranking the Buckeyes No. 11 in the final coaches' poll of the season. In his own words. "I think any time you step in between the lines, the game of football, there's a lot that can happen. A lot," Swinney said. "I mean, heck, in 2017, we lost to a three-win or four-win Syracuse team and still went to the playoffs. So anything can happen. Guys can get hurt. There's a lot. So I think the fact that we're going to have 11 games as well as the SEC teams -- I mean, you look at Florida and Texas A&M and Alabama. I mean, these teams are going to have 11 games this year. It's incredible and I think the Big Ten had the same opportunity and they chose not to play, and I think the only reason they ended up playing is because of the leadership of the SEC and the ACC and the Big 12, and have demonstrated that we can do it and do it in a safe way. So it's been an unbelievably challenging season, that's for sure. Enough said. Ohio St has ALL the motivation but will that be enough? Clemson is favored by seven points and the over/under is 68 1/2.

Cincinnati won the American Athletic Conference championship game in a squeaker (27-24 over Tulsa), to finish the regular season 9-0. After Notre Dame was soundly defeated by Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, there was talk that maybe the Bearcats were deserving of finishing among the top -our teams in the CFP. The 9-0 Bearcats finished No. 8. 10-1 Notre Dame (No. 4) and 8-1 Texas A&M (No. 5) finishing ahead of Cincy was not really a surprise but when the Bearcats also fell behind 8-2 Oklahoma (No. 6) and 8-3 Florida (No. 7) it became clear that the committee NEVER considered them a 'Final 4' option. As the top-ranked Group of 5 school, Cincy got a New Year's Six Bowl bid to the Peach Bowl (Friday at 12:00 ET at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta), where it will meet a 7-2 Georgia team that finished No. 9 in the final rankings. Georgia was the AP's preseason No. 4 team but the Bulldogs lost BADLY in both of their "biggest" tests in 2020, losing 41-24 at Alabama and 44-28 in Jacksonville to Florida. Yes, the Bearcats enter the game with a 'chip on their shoulders,' but DON'T make the mistake of thinking Georgia DOESN'T have anything to play for (prove) in this game. Georgia is favored by points 9 1/2-points and the over/under is 52 1/2.

The last two New Year's Six Bowls are on Saturday. Up first is the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Az, between Oregon and Iowa St at 4:00 ET. When the pandemic-delayed Pac-12 season started, Oregon (AP preseason No. 9) was a co-favorite with USC to reach the title game. Both schools were only able to play five games but while USC went 5-0 (with THREE "close calls''), Oregon finished 3-2, second in the Pac-12's North Division behind Washington (3-1). The Ducks were scheduled to play Washington at home on Dec 12 but a COVID-19 spike in the Huskies' program caused Washington to cancel that game. That left Oregon 'out in the cold,' with the Huskies set to play the Trojans. However, the COVID situation in Seattle did NOT improve, so lo and behold, the Ducks replaced the Huskies in the championship game. In less than a week, Oregon went from understudy to center stage. Oregon made the most of the opportunity by defeating host USC 31-24 for the championship. The victory gave Oregon (25th in both the AP and CFP) the Pac-12's automatic berth to a New Year's Six game. Waiting for them will be 8-3 Iowa State (No. 10 CFP / No. 12 AP). The Cyclones lost their season opener at home to ULL but then won SEVEN of their next eight games, including a 37-30 home win over then-No. 18 Oklahoma and a 23-20 road win at then-No. 17 Texas (it was Iowa St's first win in Austin since 2010). The Cyclones have never won a championship in the Big 12 or their previous league, the Big Eight. Iowa State's last conference title came back in 1912 (MVC). Iowa State made its first-ever appearance in the Big 12 championship game on Dec 19 but couldn't beat Oklahoma second time, falling 27-21. Iowa St is favored by 4 1/2-points and the over/under is 58.

The bowl weekend concludes with the Orange Bowl from Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, as 8-1 Texas A&M (No. 5 in both polls) takes on 8-3 North Carolina (No. 13 in the CFP and No. 14 in the AP). Texas A&M was one spot away from making its first appearance in the College Football Playoff. Instead, the Aggies will go to the Orange Bowl for the first time since a 1944 loss to LSU. However, it's a school-record 12th consecutive year in which Texas A&M is headed to a bowl, although it's the school's first appearance in a CFP-era New Year's Six bowl. As for North Carolina, it's the first time the Tar Heels have played in the Orange Bowl, with North Carolina making its first major bowl appearance since the 1950 Cotton Bowl. "Hanging over' this game is the fact that BOTH of North Carolina's RBs have opted out! Carter and Williams combined for 544 rushing yards in North Carolina's 62-26 rout of Mia-Fl in this very same stadium back on Dec 12. It set a Football Bowl Subdivision record for a twosome in a single game. We still could have a 'shootout' between North Carolina QB Sam Howell (27 TDs / 6 INTs) and his Texas A&M counterpart, Kelly Mond (19 TDs / 3 INTs). Texas A&M is favored by 7 1/2-points and the over/under is 65 1/2.

A special NFL week 17 edition of Ness Notes is available on Saturday.

Good luck...Larry

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