Alabama-Notre Dame & Clemson-Ohio State: Odds, Picks & Best Bets for Friday’s College Football Playoff Games
Todd Kirkland, Quinn Harris, Streeter Lecka and Justin Casterline via Getty Images. Pictured: Alabama WR Devonta Smith (6), Notre Dame QB Ian Book (12), Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence (1) & Ohio State QB Justin Fields (1).
- There are a number of ways to bet the College Football Playoff semifinal games on Friday, and our staff has narrowed it down.
- Our college football experts broke down the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl and explained multiple ways to bet each game.
- Check out each pick below complete with full betting analysis.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The College Football Playoff — the very tail end of the holiday season — is officially upon us, helping fans and bettors alike kick 2021 off on a high note.
In fact, it’s quite amazing that we’re here. Cancellations and postponements have plagued the entire 2020 season, but those events couldn’t stop us. College football overcame each hurdle, and we’re reaping the benefits now.
It all starts with No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl at 4 p.m. ET.
The Fighting Irish are looking to prove they belong after their first season in the ACC, while the Tide hope to keep rolling as they have all season.
But it doesn’t stop there. Once the first CFP semifinal wraps up, another one kicks off.
No. 2 Clemson takes on No. 3 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl at 8 p.m. ET, when the Buckeyes attempt to show the nation they belong with the country’s top teams despite a shortened season. Meanwhile, Dabo Swinney and the Tigers will look to Trevor Lawrence to carry them to the CFP National Championship without their usual play-caller on hand.
Our college football staff offered 11 of their best picks for the two games below, ranging from spread and total bets to player props and first touchdown scorer picks.
Click any of our picks below to skip to that specific betting analysis.
Reported odds come via DraftKings unless otherwise noted and have been updated as of Thursday evening. Specific bet recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing on Thursday afternoon.
Always shop for the best price using our NCAAF Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.
Rose Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Notre Dame
We had to wait the length of what was quite possibly the weirdest college football season ever, but we’ve finally made it to New Year’s Day and the College Football Playoff semifinal games.
First, we’re blessed with a battle between the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide and the No. 4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
The Tide have rolled to a historic season and look impossible to stop. The Irish’s only option is to slow them down. On the other side, Ian Book and Kyren Williams have led Notre Dame to an impressive first season in the ACC that included an upset over Clemson in the regular season.
The best part? There’s plenty of betting value from almost every angle.
Our college football staff broke down five bets for the Rose Bowl, including two spread picks, a total pick, two player props, and a first touchdown scorer bet.
With the biggest game of the season up to this point coming up, be sure to check out each pick complete with full betting analysis below:
In regards to Alabama-Notre Dame, I show value in Notre Dame in a game I make closer to two touchdowns, but I have no interest in getting in front of this Alabama train.
Despite getting a cover with Florida in the SEC championship, I just fear I can’t catch up to how good Alabama is — similar to LSU last year. I would have to back the Irish if this line gets to +21 or higher, so fingers crossed it doesn’t get there. The one bet I’m looking at in this game (and it’s scary) is the under.
I think the only way Notre Dame can stay in this game is to play slow and go run-heavy in order to shorten the game and keep Mac Jones, DeVonta Smith and company off the field.
I also think Alabama will take its foot off the gas if it gets a big lead late with a championship on the horizon. Simply based on how I see this playing out, I’d look at the under at anything over 65.
Notre Dame +20
Despite putting up only 10 points against Clemson, Notre Dame’s offense has been competent this year with Ian Book under center. The senior quarterback is passing the ball for 8.3 yards per attempt and actually wasn’t the problem against Clemson, as he threw for 7.8 yards per attempt.
The problem, which usually isn’t the case for the Irish, is they couldn’t run the ball, carrying it for 1.5 yards per carry. The way you beat this Alabama team is on the ground, which is something a lot of teams have to get away from early on because they are usually down three touchdowns in a blink of an eye against the Tide.
If you look all the way back to the Georgia game, the Bulldogs ran the ball with a lot of success against the Tide (4.8 yards per carry), but they didn’t have stable quarterback play to keep up with Mac Jones and the Alabama offense.
Now, Florida threw the ball all over Alabama’s secondary, but Book does not have the weapons Trask has, and quite frankly, the only way to stop the nation’s best offense is to keep it on the sidelines, so I expect Notre Dame to try and commit to the run early and play a much more balanced game than Florida did.
Yes, Jones and the Alabama offense are going to move the ball effectively this game. But this is the best defense they’ve seen all season. Notre Dame ranks top-20 in both Defensive Rushing and Passing Success, per College Football Data, and have allowed only 5.1 yards per play this season while playing Clemson twice.
Now, I am not going to get crazy and say Notre Dame is going to shut down Alabama’s offense, but it has the capability of slowing it down.
I have Alabama projected as only a -11.11 favorite, so I think there’s some value on the Irish getting 20 points.
Notre Dame +20
I hate to fade Alabama because it’s uncomfortable, but I think 20 points is about seven points too many, based on my model. Alabama is clearly an excellent team, and it can light up the scoreboard, but Notre Dame is a very good team as well, even in the face of an ACC Championship loss to Clemson.
Alabama heads into Arlington with the second-ranked scoring offense in FBS, averaging 49.7 points per game. The Crimson Tide rank in the top five in Rushing and Passing Success Rates. This is the offense that you would want to rely on when the game is on the line.
The Tide also rank 17th in FBS scoring defense, allowing 19.5 points per game. The Bama defense is anchored by the run defense with the passing defense showing signs of vulnerability.
Notre Dame is no slouch on offense, ranking 21st in FBS scoring offense, putting up 35.2 points per game. The offense is led by Ian Book and boasts a Passing Success Rate that ranks 20th in FBS.
The Fighting Irish rank 14th in FBS scoring defense, allowing an average of only 17.9 points per game. The Irish passing defense is on par with its rushing defense and should be able to put up a good fight against Alabama.
My model has Alabama as 13-point favorites on a neutral site against Notre Dame.
I think Alabama will face its stiffest defensive opponent of the year in this matchup. Additionally, Notre Dame will be the second-best offense that Alabama has faced this season outside of the Florida Gators. I think the value play here is taking the 20 points. If you’re uncomfortable fading Alabama (nothing wrong with that), bet it live at -13.5 or better.
Najee Harris Player Prop
On the season, Najee Harris is averaging 143.5 yards from scrimmage per game on 6.4 yards per touch. Normally that wouldn’t look like value, since it’s right on the number, but I think it has value in this situation.
For one, there have been a lot of blowouts for Alabama this year in which Harris was taken out of the game early. In fact, Alabama has only played four games in which it won by 20 points or less. Harris averages 22.4 touches per game on the season, but this is factoring in blowout games against Texas A&M, Kentucky, Auburn, and Arkansas — games he had 15 or fewer touches in. In games within three scores, Harris’ usage increases to 28.25 touches per game.
Notre Dame should be able to do a much better job of keeping it relatively close than most of Alabama’s opponents so far this season. Alabama should be leading comfortably throughout most of the game, but not to the point where starters are sitting on the bench.
That should lead to a lot of carries for Harris to help put the game away. Against a fully-loaded Clemson offense in the ACC Championship, Notre Dame allowed Travis Etienne to go for 12.4 yards per carry behind an offensive line that has struggled in the run game.
If Harris can match his normal efficiency of 6.4 yards per touch, he should get the workload to jump over the number.
Javon McKinley Player Prop
by Pat McMahon
I like this Javon McKinley prop because I think there are a number of ways it can get there.
As a 20-point underdog, it would be a surprise to no one if the Irish got down by several scores early on. If that’s the case, they’ll be forced to air it out for the rest of the game in order to take as little time off the clock as possible.
McKinley has gone over the 70-yard mark in five of the 10 games he’s played this season. However, in the four games that Ian Book has greater than 30 pass attempts, McKinley has gone over this total three times, eclipsing 100 yards in each of them. It’s hard to imagine Book not throwing more than 30 times against the Tide, and if he does, McKinley will see his fair share of targets.
Another reason to have faith in McKinley is that he doesn’t need a ton of catches to get to 70 yards. McKinley is a true deep threat and is averaging 17.4 yards per reception. As much as the Irish like to run the ball and keep things short in the passing game, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees knows he will have to take some shots downfield to have any chance of hanging around with Alabama.
Looking at this prop from Alabama’s side, the Tide defense hasn’t been as stingy against the pass this season as usual. Alabama ranks just 77th in passing defense and 85th in opponent completions of over 20 yards, giving up 32 such plays. The Tide have allowed plenty of their opponents’ top pass-catchers to have big days and allowed three Florida receivers to eclipse the 70 yard-mark in the SEC title game.
Book might not have the numbers and arm strength of Kyle Trask, but he’s capable of airing it out when he has to, and McKinley is the best bet to break off some explosive plays in the passing game for the Irish.
First Touchdown DeVonta Smith
by Matt Wispe
Alabama scores touchdowns — not field goals — when it gets into scoring position. It’s averaged 5.082 points per opportunity. If Alabama is going to cover a 19.5 point spread, it’s going to need to get off to a strong start, and that includes scoring first.
There are only two real candidates on the Alabama offense. Either the Tide will get close and run the ball in with Najee Harris, or they’re going to get an explosive play from DeVonta Smith.
Notre Dame has a 30% Stuff Rate and has only allowed 2.356 Line Yards per attempt. And in its first game against Clemson, it made a concerted effort to control the running game. The Fighting Irish held Travis Etienne to 28 rushing yards and 1.8 yards per attempt. Assuming Notre Dame recognizes its defensive strengths, it’ll likely focus on shutting down Harris in this game.
So, that leaves Smith in an explosive play. And while Notre Dame has allowed only a 36% Passing Success Rate, it’s more prone to explosive plays, allowing an average of 3.45 passes over 20 yards per game.
It’s always a risk to take a first touchdown prop, but if you’re expecting Alabama to win by a large margin, then you’re best betting on them to score first. And there aren’t many better options than a receiver with 17 receiving touchdowns this year.
No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State
It’s the biggest day of the college football season thus far.
After No. 1 Alabama takes on No. 4 Notre Dame, we have yet another College Football Playoff semifinal game — and one that should be much closer if the betting lines are any indication.
No. 2 Clemson takes on No. 3 Ohio State in a battle between two of the country’s elite quarterbacks in Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields.
The Buckeyes are looking to get over a relatively lackluster performance in the Big Ten Championship to prove they belong in the top four, while the Tigers hope to show they’re as good as they have been in years past, even without their play-caller on hand.
To make things even more fun, there are betting angles everywhere.
Our college football team has broken down five picks for the game, ranging from your typical spread picks to a plus-money wager on the Buckeyes’ moneyline.
Check out each pick complete with full betting analysis that our staff has to offer for the final game of the night below:
It’s not often you see a head coach willing to give their opponent bulletin board material the week of a big game. I have a hunch that’s only because Dabo Swinney is confident his team can easily beat Ohio State.
Obviously when you think of Ohio State, you think of Justin Fields and its star wide receivers. But the Buckeyes have really been a run-first team for most of the season. Ohio State has the 23rd-highest rushing rate in the country. It boasts the fifth-most rush yards per game in the nation and rank 42nd in passing.
Both Trey Sermon and Master Teague have tallied multiple 100-yard games, including Sermon’s breakout 331-yard performance in the Big Ten Championship game. Add in the fact that Fields is dealing with the thumb sprain, and the Buckeyes will clearly continue to establish the run.
Clemson ranks third in the country in Rushing Success Rate on defense, second in Havoc, 10th in Line Yards and 11th in Stuff Rate. As we saw in the ACC Championship game, linebacker James Skalski is the heart of that defense, and his return made a huge difference in holding Notre Dame to just 44 rushing yards.
When Ohio State looks to pass, its offense ranks 111th in the country in Sack Rate and will face a Clemson defense that ranks second in Sack Rate. Fields has really struggled when facing pressure this season. Brent Venables will surely dial up the blitz on third downs and force Fields into mistakes.
Ohio State’s weakness all season has been in the secondary, where it ranks 60th in Passing Success Rate and 50th in passing explosiveness.
Trevor Lawrence is the best quarterback in the country and will be able to pick apart this defense. Look for Amari Rodgers and Cornell Powell to have big games, as well as Travis Etienne out of the backfield.
It won’t be as big of a blowout as the other semifinal game, but Clemson should be able to pull away with a couple of big plays through the air to win this comfortably.
Ohio State +7.5
I make the Buckeyes a 3.5-point underdog on a neutral field. So, I jumped on +7.5 as soon as I saw it. Sometimes it’s as simple as that — a 4-point difference between my number and the market across multiple key numbers (4, 6 and 7).
I think this comes down to the wire. Also, don’t sleep on the loss of offensive coordinator Tony Elliott. Clemson has really benefited from coordinator continuity over the past few seasons. However, it will be tested for the first time this weekend with some uncertainty when it comes to play-calling on the offensive side of the ball.
Before the season, the Tigers lost former co-OC Jeff Scott, who took the head coach job at South Florida.
Now, former co-OC and current OC Elliott will not be on the sidelines on Friday due to COVID-19 issues. Quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter will call plays for the first time. This could really make a difference in the second half against an Ohio State staff that is as good as any when it comes to halftime adjustments.
I do have some concerns about the Ohio State secondary, but there’s too much value to pass up on here in a game I personally just feel will come down to the wire.
The Buckeyes report an 8-1 record against the spread (ATS) as an underdog since 2012. And if I need a backdoor touchdown to sneak in the number late, having Justin Fields on my side is not the worst position to be in.
Ohio State +7.5
We all know Clemson is a juggernaut, but I do see value on Ohio State at this number.
The one area where you can say Clemson has a weakness is on the offensive line, specifically when it comes to run blocking. The offensive line ranks only 45th in Line Yards, and Clemson’s interior offensive linemen have Pro Football Focus run blocking grades of 61.5, 62.6, and 63.9.
Ohio State’s strength on defense is definitely stopping the run, as the Buckeyes rank third in Expected Points Added allowed per rush and second in both Line Yards and Stuff Rate. No secondary is equipped to stop Trevor Lawrence, so I’m not even going to try to convince you that Ohio State’s secondary will win that matchup, but I think the Buckeyes can find success against the run.
On offense, I think we are overreacting to a performance against Northwestern that really wasn’t that bad. Ohio State still averaged 7.2 yards per play and had nine drives that went past Northwestern’s 40-yard line. The problem was putting points on the board when it got those opportunities, but the Buckeyes had been efficient in opponent territory up until that point.
On the season, the Buckeyes still rank fifth in EPA per play, second in Rushing Success Rate, and third in Passing Success Rate. This is admittedly a small sample size of only six games, but the Buckeyes rank higher in all of those metrics than Clemson’s offense. Their worst offensive game of the season came against Penn State, when it gained 6.7 yards per play. There are only 18 offenses averaging that many yards per play this year, and that was Ohio State’s worst offensive performance.
I just have a hard time getting to Clemson being a seven-point favorite from a numbers perspective. I have it at 3.7, Collin Wilson has it at 3.5, and SP+ has it at just 1.9. It’s never fun to fade Clemson, but I think the value is on the Buckeyes.
Ohio State +7.5
Two things jump right off the screen at me when I look at this game.
First, I really can’t believe that Ohio State is an underdog in this CFP semifinal. Secondly, I can’t believe that the Buckeye are getting 7.5 points. That’s a huge value and an excellent betting number.
My model has Ohio State as 1.5-point favorites at a neutral site for this game. I think this will be a close game, but taking the points is a no-brainer here. Ohio State doesn’t have the sample size that Clemson has, and it needed a little love from the Big Ten to get into the CFB, but it’s one of the best teams in the country.
Both of these teams are very evenly matched. From a skill and talent level, Ohio State and Clemson each have top recruiting classes every year. Ohio State ranks second in FBS Rushing Success Rate, and Clemson ranks 11th in the metric. Ohio State sits fourth in FBS Passing Success Rate whereas Clemson ranks 12th.
Defensively, Clemson find itself at 11th in FBS scoring defense, allowing 17.5 points per game. Ohio State ranks 25th in the metric, allowing 21 points per game.
Ohio State’s weakness is its passing defense. It will have to protect the pass against Trevor Lawrence. That’s the only major discrepancy between the two teams, but I don’t think it shifts things seven points on a stage like this.
Offensively, the nod goes to Ohio State. But on the opposite side of the ball, Clemson is the better team.
I like backing Ohio State’s offense in New Orleans. I suggest taking the points here, but I also see tremendous value in the Buckeyes moneyline at +230 if you like the plus-money proposition.
Ohio State ML (+240)
If you track lookahead lines, this game was hovering around Clemson -2 to Clemson -4 just a month ago. But the combination of Clemson blowing out Notre Dame and Ohio State struggling through the air against Northwestern was enough to shoot this spread past a touchdown in favor of the Tigers.
I actually view Ohio State’s performance against a previously top-20 ranked Northwestern defense as a positive indicator of the Buckeyes’ versatility. Without the pieces on the perimeter to carve up the NW secondary, Ryan Day’s offense ran at will, racking up 399 yards on the ground.
And if we learned anything from Notre Dame’s upset of Clemson back in early November, if you want to break Clemson’s defense, you need to do it on the ground first. The Irish’s 208 rushing yards paved the way for that upset, and I see a similar blueprint being implemented in this one.
The bottom line is that this is too many points to give an Ohio State offense that has the capacity (with a full deck) to play at an elite level. The same logic can be applied to the moneyline, which is what I’m taking in this spot.