Handicapping Footballs Final Four

I've been giving a lot of thought to how to handicap Saturday's college football Final Four matchups featuring Notre Dame vs. Clemson and Oklahoma vs. Alabama. I'm not going to post my official selections here in my College of Advanced Sports Betting and Handicapping. That's not fair to clients. I will tell you what I believe to be the key to divining winners.

You've surely noted the following similarities between these games.

*Both point spreads are near two touchdowns
*Both favorites have great defenses
*Both underdogs have very productive quarterbacks

It's not much of an oversimplification to say that the underdogs will cover if those very productive quarterbacks can put points on the board, but the favorites will cover if their great defenses can prevent that from happening. I'll take that a step further. Because these point spreads are so high, you really only need to think about the fourth quarter. Can Notre Dame and Oklahoma score from behind in garbage time if they're trailing by 17-20 points? That might be what determines who gets the money if that hasn't already been answered before garbage time.

Not exactly brain surgery. But, that doesn't mean finding a solution is easy. It does mean, however, that you can throw a lot of things out of the mix when handicapping the game. You don't have to worry about trends, angles, "momentum," and the like. I've already heard several hours of "mainstream media" talk about these games...nobody's mentioning the dynamic I just laid out for you.

What SHOULD you focus on, given my read on the game?

*Try to evaluate how the defenses of Clemson and Alabama are likely to perform IN THE FOURTH QUARTER vs. quality quarterbacks. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of evidence to go on from the regular season. There wasn't a lot of depth of quality this year across the sport (as you're already seeing in bowl action). There aren't many "perfect matches" to use for guidance. OU's quarterback is a unique talent anyway. Nobody else is that good or they would have won the Heisman Trophy!

*Try to ascertain the chances that either (or both) defenses will wear down in those final minutes. It's a lot easier to play strong when you're facing mediocre (or worse) quarterbacks who can't move the chains or make big plays. You don't get tired chasing slow receivers or running backs. Are the defenses of Clemson and Alabama up to the challenge of chasing real talent for a full game?

*Review your analysis of PLAYMAKERS AND GAMEBREAKERS for the Notre Dame and OU offenses to get a better read on that challenge. How spread out will the favored defenses be? Will they be focused on just a couple of guys, or a variety of weapons? Does OU create an extra headache by having a quarterback who can run himself for big plays? Or, does that energy ultimately just lead to more turnovers that make life easier for Alabama?

Try not to let what's been happening in these other bowls affect your thinking. We've seen blowout after blowout so far, even at point spreads near pick-em or a field goal. It's not as easy to win by 28-plus points as Wisconsin, Duke, and Army made it look. Yes, either (or both) Final Four favorites could continue the blowout trend. Notre Dame and OU represent a much higher quality of underdog than we've been seeing so far.

I've said enough. If you're a do-it-yourselfer, I wish you the best of luck with your final side and total decisions. What about the rest of the upcoming bowl card? I'll talk more about the final blast of action Monday and Tuesday in our Monday coursework. I would re-iterate the following points from earlier discussions.

*Focus on the point of attack. That's held true the whole way through. Many of these blowouts are occurring because one team can move the ball easily on the ground or with short passes, while the opponent is awful at playing catch up. That feels like the script for about 80% of these games. It will certainly be the script for more than 50% of what's left.

*Respect conference strengths and weaknesses. The market continues to give too much respect to some conferences, not enough to others. Though, the lousy Mid-American Conference may be finished, other exploitable leagues are not.

If you'd like additional help, KELSO STURGEON'S top plays can always be purchased at this website by credit card. Questions about extended service and combination packages can be answered in the Vegas Sports Masters office by calling my office at 1-800-755-2255 during normal business hours.

Be sure to ask about long-term programs that include basketball. As college football winds down, college basketball steps into the spotlight. Conference play will begin across the nation (though it's already started in the Big 10) in very short order.

The Dean of Sports Handicapping greatly appreciates your attendance and hard work. As I mentioned earlier, our next class get-together will be Monday to discuss handicapping strategies for all the games on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day (particularly the marquee bowls like the Rose and Sugar). A week from today I'll talk about how to handicap Wildcard Weekend in the NFL. The following Monday, naturally, will dive into college football's national championship game matching Saturday's winners.

Once we're through that stretch, basketball will be featured more often in the coursework. So great to have important, exciting events to handicap. Particularly at a time in our history when more and more states are allowing its citizens to bet legally. See you Monday to wish you a Happy New Year and talk more football!