The most unusual college football season of all time is nearing its conclusion. A new national champion will be crowned on Monday night in Miami Gardens, Florida, when No. 1 Alabama takes on No. 3 Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Championship. The action all goes down from Hard Rock Stadium in front of a limited crowd due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It is not the first time these schools have met in this event, but it is the first time they will play for the national title.
Ohio State hasn't been in this position since 2014, when it knocked off Alabama in the Sugar Bowl semifinal, 42-35. It was the first year of the College Football Playoff and led to the Buckeyes lone championship of the era when they beat Oregon for the national title. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide keep on rolling. Despite missing the playoff last season, Alabama has made the championship game five times in the last six years.
So how does this incredibly difficult season finish up on Monday in these two teams first meeting in seven years? Alabama is a sizable favorite over Ohio State with a large point total set. However, the Buckeyes are great as an underdog -- as we saw in the semifinal matchup against Clemson.
Let's take a closer look at how you can attack every angle available for this game. Follow Alabama vs. Ohio State live as they battle on Monday night. Also check out our national championship viewer's guide.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 3 Ohio State
Spread (Alabama -8): The line opened with Alabama at -7.5 but has grown as the game approaches. Odds are this is due both to public action (casual, public bettors tend to like favorites) and the news of a possible postponement to the game. It was reported earlier in the week that Ohio State was dealing with COVID-19 issues that could leave it too short-handed to play Monday. The concerns were alleviated a bit by Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith saying the school intends to play as scheduled. Still, if the game is played Monday, we don't know how it impacts the Ohio State roster.
Will the Buckeyes be missing a number of key starters? And if so, what positions will be affected? It's vital information to have when handicapping a game, but it's also important to remember that this isn't the first time Ohio State has dealt with such issues. The Buckeyes had three games postponed this year due to COVID-19, and one of them (against Illinois) was due to an outbreak on their roster. They returned a week later against Michigan State, missing half their offensive line and other players, and won 52-12. A couple of weeks later, against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Buckeyes were missing star players like receiver Chris Olave and linebacker Baron Browning. They won then, too, just not as convincingly.
Even last week against Clemson, it was Ohio State without a few players that still managed to win convincingly, 49-28. Still, even as good as Clemson may be, Alabama is a different case entirely. Assuming large chunks of the roster aren't missing, this is an Ohio State team capable of giving Alabama problems. The Crimson Tide have been an absolute juggernaut all season. Their offense is led by three players who finished in the top five of Heisman Trophy voting with the winner in wide receiver DeVonta Smith as well as quarterback Mac Jones and running back Najee Harris. They also have one of the best offensive lines in the country, and oh yeah, they might get WR Jaylen Waddle back this week as well.
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So, long story short, you aren't going to stop the Alabama offense. It's going to get at least 35 points, and your only hope is to contain as many big plays as possible. At the end of the day, you need to outscore Alabama, which is difficult to do not only because the offense is prolific but also because its defense has been terrific. It ranks 13th nationally in points allowed per game with 19, though more advanced defensive metrics like SP+ rank it fifth nationally.
If you look at how Alabama has performed this season, two games stand out as struggles. The first was back in October when Ole Miss put up 48 points, and the last was in the SEC Championship Game when Florida scored 46. Those are two offenses that can stretch the field vertically with their passing game. The Notre Dame offense Alabama faced last week cannot do that. This Ohio State offense -- featuring QB Justin Fields and WRs Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson -- can do exactly that.
Furthermore, Ohio State's offense runs the ball more effectively than either of those teams. The emergence of Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon (636 yards rushing and four touchdowns in the last three games) has added another dimension to the Ohio State offense and takes a lot of the load off Justin Fields' shoulders. The Buckeyes should be able to move the ball and score on this Alabama defense. This is why, with the information available now, the Buckeyes cover the spread. Pick: Ohio State +8
Total (75): If we look at both these teams, the over has been a smart bet for both this season. The over is 7-5 in Alabama's 12 games, and it's 4-2-1 in Ohio State's seven. What's more relevant to this discussion, however, is the points involved in those games.
There has been an average of 67.2 points scored in Alabama's 12 games this season. Only three of Alabama's games featured more than the 75 points in this total. There was its 52-24 win over Texas A&M, the 63-48 win over Ole Miss, and the 52-46 win over Florida. This would be the fourth time Alabama has played a game with a total in the 70s, and they've gone over in two of the three (Ole Miss, Florida). The third, against Arkansas, finished 15.5 points below the projected total.
On the Ohio State side, its games have featured an average of 65.4 points. Of the seven games the Buckeyes have played, three have gone over this 75-point total as well. There was a 49-27 win over Rutgers, a 42-35 win over Indiana, and last week's 49-28 win over Clemson. None of those games featured a total this high. The total of 69 in last week's semifinal against Clemson was the highest.
Now, if we move to the College Football Playoff National Championship itself, we see this is the highest total for any title game in the event's seven years. The previous high was in the 2014 game between Ohio State in Oregon, which was set at 72.5; the teams finished well below that with 62 points. The average total for the first six title games has been 57.8 points, and the average title game has finished with 64.8 points. The only title game to finish with more than 75 points scored was at the end of the 2015 season when Alabama beat Clemson, 45-40.
These are two prolific offenses capable of matching that feat, which is why the total is so high. But considering the history and the stakes, the smartest play here is to take the under. It'll likely be a terrifying ride, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Pick: Under 75
Special sides: While I have Ohio State covering the full-game spread, I like Alabama's value in the first quarter. All season long, Ohio State has been a slower-starting team in the first quarter, and it picks up in the second quarter. In the first quarter, the Buckeyes offense ranks 10th nationally, scoring 10.4 points per game; however, the defense ranks 40th, allowing 4.9 points. In the second quarter, Ohio State ranks third nationally with 14.9 points scored, and the defense leaps to first nationally, allowing only 2.9 points. Compare that to Alabama, which ranks third nationally in points scored per game in the first quarter (12.2) and 14th on defense with only 3.1 points allowed. Based on those trends, the odds favor Alabama having a lead after the first 15 minutes. Pick: Alabama -0.5 First Quarter
Player Prop: DeVonta Smith won the Heisman Trophy for a reason. Even on a team filled with future NFL players -- as well as two other Heisman finalists -- he was the player who managed to stand out repeatedly due to his big plays. He enters tonight's game averaging a ridiculous 136.8 receiving yards per game, but that average needs context. It's hurt by the fact that Smith caught only three passes for 22 yards in a 52-3 win over Arkansas in mid-December. That was Alabama's final game before the SEC Championship, and after building an early lead, the Tide got a bit conservative and rested key players to ensure their health the following week against Florida. If we remove that game, Smith has averaged 147.2 yards per game. He's finished with 139 yards or more in seven of 12 games this season, and tonight he's facing an Ohio State defense allowing 281.1 yards per game. That ranks 116th nationally. Some of that is due to teams having to throw to keep up, but not all of it. Pick: DeVonta Smith Over 138.5 Receiving Yards
So who will win Alabama vs. Ohio State in the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship, and which side of the spread has all the value? Visit SportsLine now to see which side you need to jump on, all from the model on a 56-36 roll on top-rated college football picks.