Ohio State vs. Alabama Odds & Picks: Our College Football Staff’s 11 Best Bets for the National Championship
Getty Images. Pictured, from left: DeVonta Smith (6), Mac Jones (10), Justin Fields (1) & Garrett Wilson (5).
Editor’s Note: Ohio State has 13 players out, including defensive tackle Tommy Togiai, defensive end Tyreke Smith, and kickers Blake Haubeil and Dominic DiMaccio.
Ohio State vs. Alabama Odds
It’s been a season full of ups and downs, and it’s all come down to this: a matchup between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
The Crimson Tide have rolled through opponents all season before taking down Notre Dame, 31-14, in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
The Buckeyes, meanwhile, faced some backlash after being included in the playoff after playing just a six-game season, but they ended any debate when they dominated Clemson in the Sugar Bowl, 49-28.
With only one game left for the next five months, our college football staff went all out. Our writers combined to break down 11 bets for the season’s most important game, ranging from the usual spread and total picks to single-quarter bets and player props.
Check out each pick complete with full betting analysis below.
Alabama vs. Ohio State Staff Best Bets
Our staff broke down 11 bets for Monday’s National Championship, including two spread picks, two total bets, two single-quarter wagers, a double result, and four player props.
Click on any of our staff’s picks in the table of contents below to skip to an individual author’s betting analysis.
Ohio State +9
Ohio State’s offense numbers are damn impressive, even with the small-sample-size caveat.
The Buckeyes are gaining a crazy 7.2 yards per play, much of which can be contributed to quarterback Justin Fields. In his five starts this season, Fields is averaging a ridiculous 9.9 yards per attempt and has thrown 21 touchdown passes in only seven games. That made Ohio State the third-ranked offense in terms of Passing Success Rate this season.
Now, how do you beat Alabama? No team has come close to figuring out, but teams that have hung with it in the early stages of games have run the ball with a lot of success.
Trey Sermon may be the best back Alabama has seen all season and has been on an Ezekiel Elliott-type run over the last two games, rushing for 524 yards in his last two games and averaging 7.5 yards per carry on the season.
Alabama ranks 34th in Defensive Rushing Success and 63rd in explosive rushing plays allowed, so if the Buckeyes can establish the run early and control the game on the ground, it will give them the best chance to win.
Not surprisingly, the Crimson Tide lead the country, gaining 7.7 yards per play. The reason Alabama is so good is that it’s incredibly balanced. Quarterback Mac Jones averages a crazy 11.3 yards per attempt.
However, it helps when he has the Heisman Trophy winner and best player in college football on his roster. DeVonta Smith is the most dynamic skill-position player in the country, with the senior wideout recording 105 receptions and 20 touchdowns for the Crimson Tide.
Smith is also averaging 15.6 yards per catch. It looks like Ohio State’s Shaun Wade wants to shadow Smith the entire game, but in my opinion, that would be a death sentence for Ohio State if Jaylen Waddle does indeed return for the game.
Ohio State’s defense has really struggled against the pass this season, ranking 92nd in Passing Success. Even though Clemson scored only 28 points in the Sugar Bowl, Trevor Lawrence threw for 400 yards and 8.3 yards per attempt, so Jones should be able to move the ball with ease.
The only team that could hang with Alabama was Florida because of how good its passing attack was. By just about every metric, Ohio State has a better passing attack than Florida and a much better rushing attack. So, if there’s an offense out there that can hang with Alabama, it’s Ohio State.
I’ll take the Buckeyes and the points in a game that might come down to who has the ball last.
Ohio State +9
Let’s start out with a quick scenario analysis.
Suppose that the consensus No. 1 team is playing the consensus No. 3 team in the College Football Playoff National Championship. The game is at a neutral venue, say Miami, and there are a few questions surrounding the availability of the No. 3 team’s players because of COVID-19 testing. Seems pretty even so far, right?
The No. 3 team has an SP+ rating of 28.4, whereas the consensus No. 1 team has a ranking of 28.3, making the third-ranked team in the country a slight favorite based on SP+.
The consensus No. 1 team is ranked second in FBS scoring offense, averaging 48.2 points per game while its opponents are ranked fifth in FBS, averaging 43.4 points per game. In terms of FBS total defense, the No. 1 team in the nation ranks 32nd in total defense, allowing 353.4 yards per game while its opponents rank 41st in the same metric. Still seems pretty close.
After running through that, do you think the No. 1 team in the nation should be almost 10-point favorites? Does that seem like way too many points? Does this pass the sniff test? Or is this spread significantly padded to counter the public money that will surely chase this consensus No. 1 Alabama team?
Don’t get me wrong here. Alabama is an excellent team. I have been in awe of it all season. Nick Saban has been totally focused, and it’s pretty easy to tell that he has a chip on his shoulder. Bama has covered the spread in 66.7% of its games this season and has rarely shown signs of vulnerability.
The only problem is that No. 3 Ohio State is really doggone good, too. The Buckeyes are coached to near perfection as well and were able to persevere in the face of adversity all season.
My model has Alabama as 3.99 favorites in this game. Ohio State has the team to hang with Alabama, and that was on full display when tithey stomped Clemson in the Sugar Bowl, 49-28.
I think the public perception is that Alabama is unstoppable and will cover no matter what. This game will draw casual bettors that like to have action and are inclined to bet with a favorite bias.
Given that scenario, the public will likely drive this line to 9.5 or higher by kickoff. Take the points here as the explosive Buckeyes have more than enough weapons to hang with Bama. Play at +9 or better.
Additionally, I recommend live-betting the Ohio State spread at +14 or better and Bama moneyline at -200 or better.
I’m not even sure last year’s Ohio State defense could really slow down this Alabama offense. And that was a unit with a generational pass rusher in Chase Young and three starters in the secondary who were drafted in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft, including two first-round cornerbacks.
The Tide have a record-setting offense that ranks first in almost every advanced metric for a reason.
I’m not sure how a defense slows down this group.
I ultimately just don’t trust this Ohio State secondary against the Alabama receivers. The Buckeyes rank outside the top 100 in defending pass explosiveness. That spells disaster against Mac Jones and Company.
Out of 211 corners with at least 200 coverage snaps, Shaun Wade ranks 202nd in snaps per reception. Fellow corners Sevyn Banks and Marcus Williamson rank 89th and 199th, respectively. Wade also ranked 189th in passer rating allowed.
It’s a different story for the Buckeyes on the other side of the ball.
Ohio State also has a future top-five pick at quarterback in Justin Fields, who ripped apart Clemson in the semifinal. There are questions about his health, but I think he’ll be ready to roll at close to 100% from everything I’ve read.
The Ohio State offense has elevated to another level since the emergence of Trey Sermon as the No. 1 running back. The Oklahoma transfer has been running like a man possessed over the past few games.
I know Alabama has the best cornerback in the nation in Patrick Surtain and its other corners have graded out well this season, but I still think this Ohio State offense will put up its fair share of points. Elite offenses can attack Alabama’s safeties and linebackers through the air.
Plus, the Ohio State receivers are just too talented to not make a handful of big plays on the outside, especially considering this Alabama defense doesn’t really feature an elite pass rush, ranking 58th in Passing Down Sacks Rate.
Based on my projections and manual adjustments, I made this total a touch below 79 (crazy!), so I took some over 74.5 and would play anything 75 or below.
In the props department, I’m targeting overs and touchdown props for tight ends on both sides.
by Pat McMahon
There’s a reason this number is so high — you’re looking at two of the most talented and explosive offenses in the sport.
Everyone knows about Heisman winner DeVonta Smith, do-it-all running back Najee Harris, and the multitude of other weapons Mac Jones has to distribute the rock to. To add to Alabama’s embarrassment of riches, it looks like Jaylen Waddle will return to the lineup for the first time since he fractured his ankle on Oct. 24.
The Tide took their foot off the gas early against Notre Dame but moved the ball with ease in the first half against the best defense they’ve faced all season. With the firepower that Ryan Day’s Buckeyes have on the other sideline, Nick Saban will keep the offense running at full throttle all game long.
The speed at which the Tide can score also bodes well for the over. Alabama’s three first-half touchdown drives against the Irish averaged just 2:23 of game time.
After a mediocre performance in the Big Ten title game, Justin Fields was dominant against a very good Clemson defense in the Sugar Bowl.
Fields threw for 385 yards and six touchdowns, and the Buckeyes offense carved up the Tigers for 8.9 yards per play. The Alabama defense has been vulnerable against top passing attacks this season. It allowed 48 points to Ole Miss and 46 to Florida, and Fields and his array of weapons have the ability to do the same kind of damage.
The Buckeyes have the running game going strong as well, and Trey Sermon should be able to find plenty of room to run as the Tide must respect Fields and the Buckeyes’ receivers.
I think we’re in for a fast-paced, back-and-forth game, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see both teams eclipse 40 points.
Alabama 1Q -0.5 (-110)
I expect the Crimson Tide to come out fast and jump out to an early lead here. Alabama ranks third in the nation in first-quarter scoring, putting up 12.2 points per game in the first quarter. Ohio State ranks 10th, averaging 10.4 points per first quarter.
On defense, Alabama allows just 3.1 points per game in the first quarter, 11th in the nation. Ohio State ranks 37th, allowing 4.9 points.
Alabama has had the lead at the end of the first quarter in 10 of its 12 games this year, and it has never trailed at the end of the first frame.
Even in a dominating semifinal victory over Clemson, the Buckeyes allowed touchdowns on two of Clemson’s first three drives.
Ohio State 2Q ML +160
by Matt Wispe
Both Alabama and Ohio State have been very strong in the second quarter this season. For both teams, it’s the quarter with their largest average margin of victory.
Alabama has won the quarter by an average of 9.91 points per game, while Ohio State has done so by an average of 12.
With this being the “strength quarter” for both teams, there appears to be a slight value getting better than 1.5 to 1 with Ohio State.
Ohio State hasn’t lost a second quarter all season and has tied it only once. Alabama, meanwhile, has tied the quarter twice and lost it once.
My expectation is that Alabama will get off to a quick start with Ohio State making a few in-game adjustments. And if the Buckeyes have any chance of winning this game outright, they’ll need to win their strongest quarter, particularly considering their struggles in the second half.
Double Result: Ohio State 1H ML / Alabama to Win (+700)
by Pete Ruden
What better way to celebrate making it through the college football season than by making obscure bets that still hold a ton of value?
When taking a step back, Ohio State leading at half and Alabama winning the game is certainly in the realm of possibilities.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ryan Day feed Trey Sermon — who has run for 524 yards and three touchdowns in his last two games — early to keep Alabama’s elite offense of the field for as long as possible.
To go along with Sermon’s production on the ground, Fields will likely attack the middle of the Crimson Tide defense — namely Dylan Moses and Christian Harris, who give up an NFL rating of 120 to opposing quarterbacks — to find his groove through the air.
After putting up 385 yards and six touchdowns against Brent Venables’ Clemson defense, I don’t want to bet against him keeping his hot streak going.
But the question is whether or not Fields and the Buckeyes can keep it up for 60 minutes.
We can’t forget that the Tide offense ranks first in nearly every advanced metric for a reason. After all, it’s a record-setting unit.
Alabama is undoubtedly going to put points up on the board by attacking Buckeye cornerbacks Shaun Wade and Marcus Williamson on the outside with Heisman winner DeVonta Smith, John Metchie, and potentially even Jaylen Waddle.
According to our very own Stuckey, Wade ranks 202nd in snaps per reception allowed out of 211 cornerbacks with at least 200 coverage snaps. Add in the fact that Sevyn Banks and Williamson rank 89th and 199th, respectively, and it’s clear Bama will feast at one point or another.
But the Tide can’t do that if the Buckeyes keep them off the field early while putting up their own numbers.
Is this bet risky? Sure. It’s always risky to bet against Alabama. Am I going to put a ton of money on it? No. But at +700, it’s certainly worth sprinkling a few dollars on.
Najee Harris Over 37.5 Receiving Yards (-105)
This Ohio State defense ranks second in the country in rushing defense. It’s allowed just 89.1 yards per game on the ground this year. Its defensive line is fantastic, ranking second in Line Yards and second in Stuff Rate.
Now, do I think Ohio State will completely stop Najee Harris from running the ball? No. But I think it’s capable of slowing him enough that Alabama will need to find creative ways to get one of its best players the ball in space.
Najee Harris doesn’t get enough credit for his ability as a pass-catcher. He has averaged 3.0 receptions per game and 28.8 yards out of the backfield.
The most competitive game the Crimson Tide have been in all season was the SEC Championship game against Florida. In that matchup, Harris had five catches for 67 yards and three touchdowns.
We saw the Buckeyes hold Travis Etienne to just 32 rushing yards while allowing him to total 64 yards receiving on four catches out of the backfield last week during the semifinal game against Clemson.
Alabama will make sure it gets Harris the ball in as many ways as possible in this one.
DeVonta Smith Over 134.5 Receiving Yards (-114)
Obviously, I’m not really going out on a limb here by telling you to bet the over on the Heisman winner’s prop, but I do like it quite a bit.
Smith’s receiving yardage props for the Florida and Notre Dame games were in the 160s and 170s, and now it’s at 134.5 in this game. This may be factoring in a lower target share with Jaylen Waddle potentially coming back, but I still can’t see him having a huge role in his first game back in months.
Ohio State has faced three legit No. 1 receivers on the outside this year: Penn State’s Jahan Dotson, Indiana’s Ty Fryfogle, and Clemson’s Cornell Powell.
In all three of those games, cornerback Shaun Wade allowed more than 100 yards when targeted. Dotson hit the Buckeyes with 144 receiving yards, Fryfogle racked up 223, and Powell had 139 last week. Smith is averaging 136.8 yards per game this year, and that has gone up to 155 per game since Waddle’s injury.
In games in which the opposing offense was able to keep it relatively close and force Alabama to continue throwing, he posted yardages of 164 (Ole Miss) and 184 (Florida). The Buckeyes have been horrendous against any legitimate wide receiver this year, and I really don’t see how they contain the Heisman winner.
Garrett Wilson Over 70.5 Receiving Yards (-114)
Alabama has been vulnerable against slot receivers this year, and starting slot cornerback Malachi Moore is “pretty questionable” to play in this game, according to Nick Saban.
On the season, Wilson has played 65% of his snaps from the slot. The two offenses that found the most success against Alabama were Ole Miss and Florida, and both did a lot of damage with their slot receivers.
Ole Miss’ Elijah Moore brought in 11 catches for 143 yards against the Tide, and Kadarius Toney hit Alabama with eight catches for 153 yards from the slot for the Gators.
Garrett Wilson is averaging 95.8 yards per game on the season, and his median yardage sits at 104. To beat Alabama through the air, you’ll find a lot more success throwing over the middle of the field rather than trying to test Patrick Surtain and Josh Jobe on the outside.
The Buckeyes will have to sling it around to keep up with the Tide’s offense, and I think Wilson will find himself in a lot of advantageous matchups on the inside throughout the game.
Chris Olave Under 95.5 Receiving Yards (-115)
Outside receivers like Olave just don’t have success against these Alabama cornerbacks. Patrick Surtain is Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded cornerback in the country. On the other side, Josh Jobe grades in the top 30 as well.
Alabama has faced four legitimate outside receivers this year and erased them all.
Those were Auburn’s Seth Williams (17 yards against Alabama, 69.1 average), Arkansas’ Treylon Burks (16 vs. Alabama, 91.1 average), Notre Dame’s Javon McKinley (20 vs. Alabama, 65.2 average), and Georgia’s George Pickens (53 vs. Alabama, 64.1 average).
Olave has gone over 100 yards in five of his six games this year, but he hasn’t faced any corners that come close to what Alabama is going to throw at him. There are ways to exploit this Alabama defense, but targeting the outside corners is not one of those ways.