Orange Bowl Preview: Georgia vs. Michigan

Most spots have UGA as a 7.5-point favorite vs. Michigan in Friday's CFP semifinals.

No. 2 Michigan Wolverines vs. No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs

Line: Georgia -7.5

Total: 45.5

Where: Hard Rock Stadium

When: Friday, 12/31 at 7:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Much like the other College Football Playoff semifinal game, bettors have not done much to move the line in Friday’s Orange Bowl.

No. 3 Georgia opened at -7 against No. 2 Michigan before quickly ticking up to -7.5, which is where the line remained as of Thursday afternoon. The total has seen slightly more movement, opening at 43 and now sitting at 45.5.

The Bulldogs ripped through their regular season slate in historic fashion, allowing less than one touchdown per game during a 12-0 campaign. They were in line for the top seed in the CFP, but Alabama had other plans. The Crimson Tide blew past the Bulldogs in a 41-24 final in the SEC Championship Game, pulling off the upset as 6.5-point underdogs.

Georgia will settle for the No. 3 seed and a date with No. 2 Michigan in the Orange Bowl. The Bulldogs opened the season with a win over Clemson and then proceeded to win their following 11 games by an average of 36.2 points.

Their offense is led by quarterback Stetson Bennett, who finished fourth in the country in passing efficiency (176.85). He completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 2,325 yards and 24 touchdowns. Bennett’s top target is tight end Brock Bowers, who has 47 receptions for 791 yards and 11 scores.

Running back Zamir White and James Cook are a two-headed duo who led a rushing attack that averaged more than five yards per carry. They will be facing a Michigan defense that is No. 12, allowing 316.7 yards per game.

The Wolverines have taken a much different path to the CFP. They were not seen as a legitimate contender for one of the four spots for most of the season, especially after losing on the road in a rivalry game against Michigan State in late October.

Michigan responded with three straight wins following that loss, though, setting up a showdown with then-No. 2 Ohio State in Week 12. Not only did the Wolverines cover the 7.5-point spread—they sprung the outright upset to advance to the Big Ten title game. They took advantage of the opportunity, booking their spot in the playoff with a 42-3 blowout against Iowa.

Jim Harbaugh’s team relies on its defense as well, giving up just 16.1 points per game. He will need a strong day from a rushing attack that ranks ninth in the country in yards per game (223.8). Running back Hassan Haskins has rushed for 1,288 yards and 20 touchdowns, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Blake Corum added 141 attempts for 939 yards and 11 scores.

Quarterback Cade McNamara has completed 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,470 yards and 15 touchdowns. Wide receiver Cornelius Johnson hauled in a team-high 38 receptions for 609 yards.

Michigan has won just two of its last 20 games as an underdog, but it has covered the spread in each of its last five games overall. Georgia is 7-2 in its last nine games against a Big Ten opponent. The total has gone ‘under’ in six of the Bulldogs’ last nine games, while Michigan has gone ‘over’ in six of its last nine games.

The pick: Georgia -7.5

These teams might have taken different paths to the College Football Playoff, but they have a very similar makeup. They both want to control the game with strong defense and a consistent rushing attack. Michigan has silenced critics throughout the season, particularly in its win over Ohio State, but I still have questions about their ability to match up with Georgia. The Bulldogs are undervalued following their loss to Alabama. This is still one of the best defenses in college football history and Michigan’s offense does not have enough balance to move the ball. It will not take much from Georgia’s offense to cover this spread.

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