Not only is No. 1 Alabama good, it is really good -- at covering. With the Crimson Tide an eight-point favorite entering the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship against No. 3 Ohio State, you may not only want to side with them, you may want to take the points in the game.
Their 8-4 record against the spread this season is best among CFP teams. Since the playoff started in 2014, the Tide are 52-46 ATS (53.1%). Not bad. Those are some good reasons to like Alabama, which is playing in its CFP National Championship in seven years. (It is 2-2 in those prior appearances.)
At stake is the extension of a dynasty. A seventh championship for Nick Saban would his record-breaking. This game also marks offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian's send off. Whatever happens, this doesn't feel like the end for Alabama. For another perspective, here's keys to Ohio State taking down Alabama.
1. The streak
No, not the fact that Alabama has won 13 games in a row to lead the nation. This refers to the pattern wide receiver DeVonta Smith runs when he blows the top off defenses. Smith seems unstoppable when he a runs a vert, streak, whatever you want to call it. The Heisman Trophy winner is at his most dangerous when he simply goes deep against opposing defensive backs. This is a warning for an Ohio State secondary that has underachieved this season. The Buckeyes' pass efficiency defense is its worst in seven years.
Only one team has stopped Smith this season. That was Arkansas, which decided to take away the deep pass on Dec. 12. It lost 52-3. Almost 71% of Smith's 105 catches have gone for a first down or touchdown. He has dropped just two passes all season. No receiver has had more targets (130). It's possible to hold him down, but that just means Ohio State will have to deal with quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris and possibly a healthy WR Jaylen Waddle.
2. The experience
This is one of the most decorated teams in Alabama history or really any program's history. This Tide team features six AP All-Americans, a Heisman winner (Smith), an Outland Trophy winner (offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood), the Davey O'Brien Award winner (Jones) and the Doak Walker Award winner (Harris). The offensive line was named the best in the country (Joe Moore Award). That plus Patrick Surtain II, who was named the top defensive back by Pro Football Focus. Sarkisian was the Broyles Award winner (best assistant coach). There's also a man named Saban; perhaps you've heard of him.
3. The efficiency
... on third down, in particular. If you can get that record-breaking Bama offense off the field, the better chances you have to pull off an upset. One problem: Alabama leads the country converting almost 60% of its third-down attempts. If that number holds, it would be the best nationally in at least 13 years. More importantly, Ohio State's defense is 25th in that category. It hasn't been great lately, allowing 43% on third down against Northwestern and Clemson. First, you have to get to third down against Alabama. Only 16.5% of its plays have come on that down.
4. The defense
The numbers say this is Saban's worst defense since his first Alabama team in 2007. If Bama wins on Monday, it will do so with the third-worst defense ever to claim a national title. However, its defense has improved consistently over the second half of the season. Since a 41-24 win over Georgia on Oct. 17, it has allowed 17 or less points in seven of eight games. Just don't expect Ohio State to be held to 17 points. This will be a shootout. That's the best way to beat Alabama: a shootout. Two teams got close -- Ole Miss and Florida -- putting up a combined 94 points. Other than that, Pete Golding's defense has held up.
5. Yes, the coach
There is no one better in game preparation that Saban. His decision to join the offensive revolution in 2014 is a reason the Tide are still relevant in his 14th season. Despite all that success, the coach has led only one undefeated team at Alabama. That 2009 national championship squad went 14-0. The guess here is that Saban will have an answer for Ohio State RB Trey Sermon. He will find a way to get QB Justin Fields off his game. He will try to exploit Shaun Wade, the Big Ten's defensive back of the year.
There has always been an air of inscrutability surrounding Saban. The coach always has a beehive of analysts and assistants breaking down games. He is seeking help at all times from a network of friends and coaches. There is someone within the program we may never know about who could be the key to this game. Hey, whatever happened to Joe Pendry, Saban's first offensive line coach at Alabama and a trusted advisor over the years? Pendry has a ring from that 2009 team. Would he get another one if Bama wins Monday night?