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Best bets for CFP semifinals; sharps take total

Cincinnati, the first non-Power Five team to make the College Football Playoff, hasn’t lost since suffering a 24-21 setback to Georgia in last season’s Peach Bowl on a 53-yard field goal in the final seconds.

The Bearcats led the Bulldogs 21-10 in the fourth quarter before getting dealt the only loss in their past 24 games.

Cincinnati (13-0) will need a similar effort against defending national champion Alabama to cover as a 13½-point underdog in Friday’s CFP semifinal at the Cotton Bowl.

Yahoo Sportsbook betting analyst Pamela Maldonado and Westgate SuperBook vice president of risk Ed Salmons like the Bearcats to compete with the Crimson Tide and cover.

“They played with Georgia,” Salmons said. “Playing Alabama can be a little intimidating. But they’ve stood up to everybody so far.”

Maldonado entered Friday tied for the lead in the Review-Journal College Bowl Challenge with a 9-6 ATS record. She’s mostly backing Cincinnati because of its defense, which ranks second in the nation in passing yards allowed (168.3 ypg) and 27th in sacks.

Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young threw for 421 yards and three touchdowns in Alabama’s 41-24 rout of Georgia in the Southeastern Conference title game. The Tide will be without John Metchie III, who leads the team in receptions.

“With Metchie out, does Nick Saban turn more to the ground game? I’ll go with no because he has a Heisman-winning QB in Bryce Young,” said Maldonado (@pamelam35). “The problem with that is, for two straight seasons, the Bearcats have proven they have a secondary that can stop anyone. This will be competitive.”

Handicapping turnovers

Alabama has qualified for the CFP seven times in its eight-year history, and Texas-based professional sports bettor Paul Stone likes the Crimson Tide to cover, in part, because of their wealth of experience.

“We know Alabama is going to be ready and respond favorably to the playoff stage,” said Stone (@PaulStoneSports). “However, we can only guess how Cincinnati will handle it because the entire experience is brand new for the Bearcats.”

Stone also pointed out that Alabama is a collective +78 in the turnover department since the start of the 2015 season. Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder has committed more turnovers in the past three seasons than any other player with the exception of Oklahoma State’s Spencer Sanders.

“Turnovers can be part of a game’s handicap,” Stone said. “And I’m projecting Alabama to have the advantage in that category.”

A SuperBook bettor wagered a total of $100,000 on Cincinnati +13.

Sharps go under

The total is 57½ after opening at 59, and sharp bettors are backing the under.

“The sharp money is definitely on the under,” Salmons said. “It makes sense. Cincinnati is probably going to be a little bit careful in the game.”

Michigan and under

In the other semifinal, Georgia is a 7½-point favorite over Michigan in the Orange Bowl, and the total is 45½.

Handicapper Doug Fitz, tied for the Bowl Challenge lead with Maldonado with nine points (5-3-6) after hitting his best bet and pushing on six canceled games, likes the Wolverines ATS and on the money line (+260).

“Michigan is 11-2 ATS and has a +5 turnover ratio,” said Fitz (Systemplays.com). “Their defense should dominate Georgia, similar to Alabama’s defensive dominance in the SEC title game.”

Maldonado likes the game to go under, and Salmons leans to the under.

“This is Georgia’s wheelhouse, playing run-heavy teams,” Maldonado said. “The Bulldogs and Wolverines are both in the top 10 in opponent points per play and opponent red zone scores and touchdowns allowed.”

Georgia leads the nation in scoring defense, allowing 9.8 points per game, and Michigan is third (16.1 ppga).

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that game started slow and both teams were very conservative for a while,” Salmons said.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.