The College Football Playoff selection committee set out to identify the best four teams. Las Vegas oddsmakers aren't sure they were successful.
Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State advanced to the national semifinals, with Baylor and TCU the last two teams out.
However, Ed Salmons, head football oddsmaker at the Westgate SuperBook, said both Baylor and TCU would be favored over Ohio State.
"Ohio State numbers are hard to make because of the quarterback situation," Salmons said of the Buckeyes, who are down to their third quarterback. "I would say TCU probably would have been 4½ and Baylor about 2½ or 3½ (over Ohio State). Somewhere in that range. But Ohio State definitely would be 'dogs to both those teams."
Oddsmakers from sportsbooks at CG Technology, the Wynn and the Aliante casinos also said they'd have both Baylor and TCU favored over Ohio State. There were some dissenting opinions, though, especially after the Buckeyes blew out Wisconsin 59-0 behind backup quarterback Cardale Jones.
"I wouldn't want to be fading Ohio State right now," Hugh Citron, sportsbook supervisor at the Stratosphere, said. The Golden Nugget had potential playoff lines up in November and had the Buckeyes favored by 4.5 points over both Baylor and TCU.
David Pemberton, sportsbook director for Caesars Entertainment, was also extremely impressed by Ohio State's performance in the Big Ten championship and stopped short of saying the Buckeyes would be underdogs.
Teams that were favored won roughly 77 percent of games this season. But that is moot now. The Buckeyes are in and will face Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1. The SuperBook opened Crimson Tide as 9.5-point favorites over the Buckeyes shortly after the playoff pairings were announced.
The Wynn made Alabama an 8.5-point favorite and attracted two $5,000-limit bets on the Tide. Limits will grow as the game approaches. As of Sunday night, the line had settled at Crimson Tide minus-9.5 in Vegas and minus-10 offshore.
"I personally think the Bama number is absurd," said William Hill director of trading Nick Bogdanovich, another sportsbook veteran wary of the Buckeyes heading into college football's first playoff.
The Crimson Tide have now been favored in 68 consecutive games, the longest such streak in the modern era. The last time Alabama was an underdog came against Urban Meyer's Florida team in the 2009 SEC championship game. The Sugar Bowl will be the fourth head-to-head meeting between the two elite coaches.
Nick Saban is one of only four coaches to have beaten Meyer twice, according to Cleveland.com. Saban is 2-1 SU and ATS versus Meyer. The Sugar Bowl will mark only the fifth time Ohio State has been an underdog under Meyer. For his career, Meyer is 14-8 SU as an underdog and 7-2 AYS in bowl games overall. Saban is 8-7 ATS in bowl games.
In the other semifinal, Oregon opened as an 8.5-point favorite over Florida State. The line dipped to Oregon minus-8 as of late Sunday afternoon. It's the first time the Seminoles have been an underdog in their last 50 games, a streak that dates to September 2011 at Clemson.
Only Connecticut (2-10 ATS) finished with a worse record against the spread than Florida State's 3-10 ATS mark. Oregon went 9-4 ATS and covered the number in its last eight games, the longest current streak in the nation.
There were some potentially lucrative futures tickets on TCU that went up in flames Sunday. William Hill took 11 bets on TCU to win the national championship when the Frogs' odds were at 500-1. Among those 11 bets was a $150 wager that would have paid $75,000. The SuperBook took one $50 bet on TCU at 500-1, and CG Technology took a couple of $50 bets on the Frogs at 250-1.
There were some even bigger tickets offshore, where the Frogs' national title odds could be found at 650-1. Alas, those tickets are worth exactly nothing now. But there are plenty of tickets on the remaining teams still alive, especially on Ohio State.
"The book cheered loudly when Ohio State got in," Salmons said.
More bets were placed on Ohio State to win the national championship than any other team at the SuperBook, according to Salmons. The Buckeyes opened at 12-1 to win the national championship last January at the SuperBook, but their odds lengthened to 50-1 after quarterback Braxton Miller was ruled out for the season with a shoulder injury.
"There was a four-figure bet at 50-to-1," Salmons said.
Even so, the SuperBook said it wasn't facing any significant liability from its futures market (odds to win the national championship). That was the case at the Wynn, MGM and Stratosphere books as well. Citron said he was also happy the Buckeyes got into the playoff.
"I think we may get 50 percent more handle because Ohio State made it instead of Baylor or TCU," Citron said. "I'm not sure I've ever met a TCU or Baylor fan, but I know a lot of Ohio State fans."
Odds and ends
• Prominent offshore sportsbook PinnacleSports offered a prop bet on whether Ohio State would make the playoff. The Buckeyes were around a minus-300 favorite to be selected for most of Sunday morning, although the odds fluctuated down to minus-285 roughly 30 minutes before the announcement, before eventually closing at minus-330. A spokesman for Pinnacle told ESPN that 57 percent of the bets were against the Buckeyes getting selected.
• Six teams -- Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, Marshall, Oklahoma and Oregon -- were favored in every game this season.
• New Mexico State and Southern Methodist were the only teams to be an underdog in every game this season.
• Behind Oregon's eight-game covering streak, Texas State and Georgia Tech each finished with six straight covers.
• San Jose State and New Mexico State failed to cover the spread in their last six games, the longest such streaks in the nation. Notre Dame failed to cover in its last five games.
• Eleven of Ohio State's 13 games went over the total.
• Eleven of San Diego State's 12 games stayed under the total.
Lines for bowl games
Courtesy of the Wynn Las Vegas
Saturday, Dec. 20
New Orleans Bowl: Nevada -3 vs. UL-Lafayette
New Mexico Bowl: UTEP vs. Utah State -11
Las Vegas Bowl: Utah -4.5 vs. Colorado State
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Western Michigan -1.5 vs. Air Force
Camellia Bowl: South Alabama vs. Bowling Green -1
Monday, Dec. 22
Miami Beach Bowl: BYU -1.5 vs. Memphis
Tuesday, Dec. 23
Boca Raton Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. Marshall -11
Poinsettia Bowl: Navy vs. San Diego State -1.5
Wednesday, Dec. 24
Bahamas Bowl: Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky -4.5
Hawaii Bowl: Fresno State -1 vs. Rice
Friday, Dec. 26
Heart of Dallas Bowl: Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech -3
Quick Lane Bowl: Rutgers at North Carolina -4
St. Petersburg Bowl: North Carolina State vs. Central Florida -2.5
Saturday, Dec. 27
Military Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati -3.5
Sun Bowl: Duke vs. Arizona State -8.5
Independence Bowl: Miami, Fla. vs. South Carolina -1.5
Pinstripe Bowl: Penn State vs. Boston College -3.5
Holiday Bowl: Nebraska vs. Southern California -6
Monday, Dec. 29
Liberty Bowl: West Virginia vs. Texas A&M NL
Russell Athletic Bowl: Clemson vs. Oklahoma NL
Texas Bowl: Texas vs. Arkansas -6
Tuesday, Dec. 30
Music City Bowl: Notre Dame vs. LSU -8.5
Belk Bowl: Louisville vs. Georgia -7.5
Foster Farms Bowl: Maryland vs. Stanford -14
Wednesday, Dec. 31
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Mississippi vs. TCU -3
Fiesta Bowl: Boise State vs. Arizona -4.5
Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Mississippi State -7.5
Thursday, Jan. 1
Outback Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Auburn -6
Cotton Bowl: Michigan State vs. Baylor -1
Citrus Bowl: Minnesota vs. Missouri -6
Rose Bowl: Florida State vs. Oregon -8.5
Sugar Bowl: Ohio State vs. Alabama -9
Friday, Jan. 2
Armed Forces Bowl: Pittsburgh -3 vs. Houston
TaxSlayer Bowl: Iowa vs. Tennessee -3.5
Alamo Bowl: UCLA vs. Kansas St -3.5
Cactus Bowl: Oklahoma St vs. Washington -6.5
Saturday, Jan. 3
Birmingham Bowl: East Carolina vs. Florida -8.5
GoDaddy Bowl: Toledo -1.5 vs. Arkansas State