2019 National Championship Betting Guide: How Much Separates Alabama, Clemson?
USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Clemson Tigers football coach Dabo Swinney and Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban
2019 National Championship Betting Odds: Alabama-Clemson
- Odds: Alabama -5.5
- Over/Under: 58.5
- Time: 8 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN
- Location: Santa Clara, Calif.
>> All odds as of Sunday morning. Download The Action Network App to get real-time college football odds and win probabilities.
In one of the chalkiest college football seasons of the last decade, we’re hoping the chalk can deliver a memorable national title game.
Unbeaten and No. 1 faces unbeaten and No. 2 Clemson on Monday night at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. The Tide are a 5.5-point favorite, an almost identical point spread to the previous two national championship meetings between the Tide and Tigers.
They’ve met in each of the last three College Football Playoffs, splitting the national title games in 2016 and 2017 before Alabama dominated last year’s Sugar Bowl semifinal.
Just how far apart are these teams in Clemson-Bama IV? Let’s dive in.
How Odds Have Moved for Clemson-Alabama
By Danny Donahue
Alabama has been the more popular bet in this game, drawing a 57% backing. Bigger bettors, however, seem to be favoring the Tigers, as evidenced by the 51% of money they’ve generated on 43% of bets. That’s caused oddsmakers to drop this line from the opening number of -6.5 to -5.5, and even -5 at some books.
An almost identical story is taking place on the total. While only 41% of bettors are behind the under, they’ve accounted for 51% of actual money being wagered, and this number has fallen from 60.5 to 58.5.
National Championship Trends to Know
By John Ewing
Dabo Swinney is 18-10 against the spread as an underdog, including 7-1 ATS in postseason games. In the past 10 games as a dog, Clemson has won six outright.
By Evan Abrams
Alabama is -3 on the first half line. Under Nick Saban, Alabama is 21-6-1 (77.8%) against the first half spread when favored by a field goal or less, or listed as an underdog.
By Steve Petrella
The under at Levi’s Stadium — which hasn’t fixed its horrid field conditions in its five years of existence — is 36-23 (61%) in college and NFL games. Athleticism isn’t always on full display on that grass.
The under is 5-6 in college games there, but the two games this season have seen a combined 29 points (Michigan State-Oregon, Washington-Utah).
Rain is also expected all weekend in Santa Clara, though it’s supposed to stop mid-day on Monday. This field could be an absolute mess.
Stuckey’s Pick: Where Is Alabama Weak?
Since these teams are so good at almost everything on offense and defense, and both have subpar special teams units, I decided to look at what they aren’t good at.
Alabama actually struggles to contain explosive plays, ranking 82nd in IsoPPP+. The Tide are 56th in defending pass explosiveness, but Clemson’s offense is only 50th in that category.
One stat that I think could make the difference is finishing drives. Clemson ranks No. 6 on offense and No. 1 on defense, while Bama ranks No. 3 on offense and No. 40 on defense. Third vs. 40th is a big difference and could mean Clemson’s defense forces Alabama to attempt one or two more field goals.
Where Is Clemson Weak?
I do think Alabama will hit some big plays in the passing game, which should be Saban’s focus. I don’t think Alabama could or really wants to even try to have success running the ball against a historically great Clemson rush defense that allowed just 2.4 yards per carry, which led the nation. Only two teams in the past 10 years have allowed fewer.
Clemson’s defense also led the nation in overall S&P+ rush defense, defending rush explosiveness and opportunity rate. Surprisingly, Bama’s rush offense ranked 82nd in rush explosiveness.
Now, I know Clemson ranks 16th in defending passing explosiveness, but let’s take a closer look at their cupcake schedule in terms of opposing pass offenses, because I think that ranking may be inflated:
- Furman (FCS)
- Georgia Tech
- Georgia Southern
Throw out those four since it’s an FCS school, two option teams and essentially a third with Pitt that doesn’t throw.
Six of its 10 opponents ranked outside the top 50 in pass explosiveness, including Notre Dame.
Throw them out.
That leaves four opponents that ranked inside the top 50 in pass explosiveness:
- Florida State
- Boston College
- South Carolina
But only one of those teams also ranked top 60 in adjusted sack rate and gave its quarterback time to throw against Clemson’s elite front.
In that game, Jake Bentley went 32-of-50 for 510 yards with two completions over 67 yards. In all other games combined, Clemson only allowed two pass plays over 50 yards against teams that either didn’t have explosive passing attacks or couldn’t protect the quarterback.
That’s all to say the Clemson secondary still might have holes and hasn’t really been tested all season.
Alabama clearly has both big-play ability and protection, ranking 14th in Adjusted Sack Rate and fifth in passing explosiveness. I think Saban is going to test this defense with a frequent and deep passing attack and should hit some big plays vertically.
It’s one of the reasons my favorite prop is Tua Tagovailoa throwing a pass of at least 42 yards. This is an Alabama offense that completed 19 passes of more than 44 yards this season — and did so at least once in all but two games.
Regardless, these are clearly the two best teams in the country and not much separates them on paper in my opinion. I make this close to a toss up so would obviously recommend the +5.5 and a little moneyline. I think Clemson wins in a thriller (which we all deserve after this dud of a bowl season).
However, given how fast Alabama generally starts, I will certainly be waiting to add something on Clemson live. I’ll be looking for anything over +10 and if Bama keeps scoring, I’ll keep adding — similar to Oklahoma last week.
What to Watch When Clemson’s On Offense
By Collin Wilson
Lawrence signed with Clemson 12 days before Alabama beat Clemson 24-6 in last season’s semifinal Sugar Bowl game. One year later, through the spring camp hype and the decision to overtake Kelly Bryant before the Syracuse game, coach Swinney pinned Lawrence to be the explosive difference maker Clemson needed to top the Crimson Tide.
Of Clemson’s 22 passing plays of at least 30 yards this season, Lawrence had 17. Bryant had five against worse competition.
But the Tigers should be able to move the ball on the ground when necessary. Per Pro Football Focus, Clemson runs the second-most run pass option plays at an average of 7.7 yards per attempt. Running back Travis Etienne is the beneficiary of this scheme and may have a big day against the Alabama rush defense.
The Crimson Tide are fourth overall S&P+ rush defense, but rank 46th against opponent explosiveness and 29th in stuff rate. Etienne should have a nice day and break a long run or two.
What to Watch When Alabama’s On Offense
By Collin Wilson
Before the suspension to defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, Clemson was the only team in FBS that allowed less than a yard on the ground before contact.
Albert Huggins, better as a pass rusher, filled in admirably for Dexter Lawrence against Notre Dame. But Alabama will present the Tigers their biggest test, as the Crimson Tide rank fifth in rushing S&P+ and top 10 in opportunity and stuff rate.
If Alabama is going to win the national title, though, Tagovailoa will need to be efficient and explosive for a full four quarters. Where the Crimson Tide rank first in almost every passing category, Clemson is no slouch at fourth in passing S&P+. Tagovailoa will need time though, as Mississippi State and Auburn were both able to get their hits on the quarterback.
The Alabama offensive line is 39th in sack rate on passing downs, which may spell trouble against a ferocious Clemson defensive line that is first in havoc and top 10 in sack rate. Keep in mind that if Tagovailoa gets hurt in this contest, Clemson defensive coordinator has seen Jalen Hurts in three previous games.
How Far Apart Are Clemson and Alabama?
By Ken Barkley
Collin and Stuckey have done an excellent job breaking down the matchups of this game in fine detail. It’s not possible to really disagree with any of the analysis, because the statistics and trends are all correct.
What I would echo (and maybe harp on) is the fact that the Crimson Tide are in such rarefied air with their recruiting and talent levels that they rarely (even in the SEC) face teams that they can legitimately say are their equals. This will be one of those games.
The only game this season where you could really say that so far was against Georgia, and let’s face it, that game in Atlanta was wild. Tagovailoa played poorly, got hurt, Georgia went up by two touchdowns late and the world was spinning. Jalen Hurts saved the day, but we all saw the tape. Alabama bleeds, just like anyone else.
All this is to say that the things we thought could be Alabama’s weaknesses this year — their inexperienced coordinators and difficulty on special teams — are things which really only matter when there aren’t HUGE mismatches in other parts of the game.
If Alabama can steamroll Oklahoma and get up 28 points with physicality and raw talent and athleticism, who cares that they can’t punt quite as far as some teams, or that they occasionally miss field goals in big spots?
Who cares that their coordinators can’t adjust when there’s absolutely nothing to adjust to?
Some fine adjustments aren’t required when it’s 28-0. You figure out which five-star running back you want to spell Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris and take 10-15 carries in the second half. Neat.
This isn’t to say Alabama won’t pass this test with flying colors; rather, it just means there is actually some unknown here, a mystery. And uncertainty usually creates value on the underdog.
I actually think that since Alabama won’t be so physically imposing against this opponent, they could be in some trouble here. Clemson is the best defense they’ll play, and Trevor Lawrence is the best quarterback they’ll play. I agree with Collin that at the current market prices, there is value in the Tigers. These teams are, at a minimum, not far apart at all.
Wilson: Why I’m On Clemson
By Collin Wilson
As I said in the spring, Clemson is just as talented in every aspect of the game as Alabama, but with much different price tag. Lawrence has been groomed for this spot and has been granted the better defense in this game.
Saban may be considered the better coach than Swinney, but there is a stark contrast in coordinators. The Clemson coordinators are getting Alabama a fourth consecutive year, while the rotating names at Alabama may play a factor.
If you have read any of my work with The Action Network since last spring, Clemson +750 along with Clemson to make the playoff +110 were the first bets of 2018. I later added Clemson +8 vs. Alabama in a lookahead line.
Collin’s Pick: Clemson +3.5 or better