For having a reputation as a contrarian pigskin handicapper, I suspect I’ve been stunned, shocked, and baffled about the same 2 times as the rest of the FBS pundit community over the course of the 2020-21 College Football Playoff. Or more precisely, once before and once during the Semifinal round.
I agree with the consensus that Notre Dame has gotten 1 too many turns at a national championship in the modern era, and it was nice to see #5 Texas A&M come through with a statement win at the Orange Bowl after UND’s crushing loss by a top team for the 2nd time in a few weeks. The controversy doesn’t have to be about southern snobbishness – whether or not an SEC team deserved to jump the Irish, somebody surely did.
Yet it seems as though Alabama’s yawner of a victory over Notre Dame did more to inspire college football ‘cappers than Ohio State’s mind-boggling 49-28 upset of Clemson. Opening lines had Alabama giving at least a TD to the #3-seeded Buckeyes, and after an initial rush of action on the Crimson Tide against the spread, the number has settled at (-7.5) in a title game with a nuclear (74.5) Over/Under total.
Okay, call me shocked 3 total times so far. Casting the Tide as a favorite over another unbeaten team is logical, since Nick Saban’s outfit not only comes with a more-impressive slate of conference outcomes, but a CFP pedigree of the likes only Clemson can match. Ohio State plus a TD + XP plus more seems a little extreme.
Erm…make that 4 damn times. As we speak, FanDuel Sportsbook has once again raised the number to (+8.5) points, the same margin that Washington Football Team was sitting at for most of the NFL betting week, prior to a match-up with Tom Brady and Tampa.
Clearly, the value is on Ohio State, since the Buckeyes proved their mettle against Clemson and may be the fresher team in the title game. However, first we should take a look at the gambling community’s possible reasons for favoring the Crimson Tide so drastically.
CFP Final Betting: Forecast of a Shootout, With a Chance of Drama
An Over/Under total in the stratosphere is 1 reason why the College Football Playoff Final point spread could be expanding. It’s not necessarily a rib on the Buckeyes. If 2 teams played 10 quarters and scored 200 total points, the slightly-superior side might win by 2 or 3 touchdowns even in a well-played contest. Then again, the (74.5) O/U total owes a lot of its extra fat to Alabama’s offense, and the perception of the match-up on Monday.
It is expected that the Crimson Tide will attack Ohio State on the edges, running and throwing short passes to the boundary for explosive gains. It’s what Clemson was able to do early in the 1st half against the Buckeyes, and it’s what helped Indiana QB Michael Penix Jr. rack-up 5 TDs and nearly 500 yards passing in OSU anxious 42-35 Big Ten victory in November. Only 1 opponent bothered Alabama in a similar way all season, and that was Ole Miss – or more-specifically Ole Miss’s fast-break offense.
2 pieces of evidence from the postseason contradict the angle that Alabama will abuse Ohio State’s defense in a way that the Buckeyes won’t be able to answer. First, the Crimson Tide’s woeful 2nd half against Florida, in which Kyle Trask and the Gators snuck back into the SEC Championship Game and came close to enabling an all-time choke job. Write off Florida’s bowl loss to NFL Draft attrition if you must (the head coach sure did!) but the Gators lost to LSU, and scored more points on Alabama than on Vanderbilt or Towson.
So is it only the Big Ten defense that’s vulnerable headed into the CFP final? QB Mac Jones and the Alabama offense had a chance to attack a Notre Dame defense that’s relatively weak at the corners, and yet the Tide couldn’t quite run away and embarrass the Irish after taking a quick 2-touchdown lead.
An Alabama game plan full of more of flanker-reverses and quick outside throws might have racked-up a bigger point total against UND, but it also invites turnovers and chances for opposing defenses to score. Saban’s cool-headed decisions are 1 of the only factors keeping the O/U under (75) for Monday night’s climactic battle.
Scroll ahead for WagerBop’s recommendations – including a “pass” or 2 – on betting 6 of FanDuel’s main markets and prop lines on the CFP Final.
CFP Final Moneyline: Ohio State (+235)
Oh yeah. Think of the credit the Crimson Tide would be getting if Alabama had pasted Clemson 49-21 in the College Football Playoff, if it was Jones who’d thrown 6 TD passes, or Alabama RB Najee Harris who’d rushed for 193 yards, instead of Ohio State QB Justin Fields or tailback Trey Sermon. And that’s not even the best reason to pick OSU.
For all the talk about the Buckeye defense being “soft on the edges,” Trevor Lawrence – the consensus best QB in the FBS – couldn’t engineer more than 3 meaningful scoring drives on OSU. Clemson RB Travis Etienne finished with negligible yardage.
Each offense will gain lots of yards on Monday. But the Alabama defense isn’t half of what it was a few years ago, and the OSU defense is a little better than its reputation. In fact, the likelihood of a high-scoring game could work in Ohio State’s favor too, since Jones will be under pressure to match Fields’ dual-threat on drive after drive.
Verdict: 2-3 Units on Ohio State ML
CFP Final Point Spread: OSU (+8.5)
If Clemson was a fraud this season (it’s hard to tell, since the Tigers have been a “fraud” through 10+ seasons and 2 national championships now) and Ohio State simply found less resistance than Alabama over New Year’s, all the proof will be forthcoming by the 2nd quarter of the final game. The 2 likeliest outcomes are probably ‘Bama by 14+ or OSU winning by 7+, giving the underdog spread slightly-less value than the ML.
Reports are that Ohio State will be using a backup PK on Monday night due to a COVID-scenario, which also diminishes OSU’s chance to cover. 4-down offense is great when you’re prevailing at the LOS, so Alabama’s scoring offense may turn out to be slightly less feast-or-famine in a hair-trigger ATS scenario late in the game.
Verdict: 1-2 Units on Ohio State ATS
CFP Final Over/Under (74.5)
This outcome is coming down to luck, turnovers, and 50/50 balls in the Red Zone. Don’t drive yourself crazy gambling on it.
Verdict: No Bet
Justin Fields Passing Yards (290.5)
It’s a gimme! Even if Alabama controls the game late as pundits expect, that just means the Buckeyes will pass downfield more often in the 2nd half, opening the door for a “backdoor cover” ATS in addition to 3 bills from Fields.
Alabama WR DeVonta Smith to Score 2+ Touchdowns (+105)
FanDuel is coaxing gamblers with this line on the Heisman Trophy winner, since OSU doesn’t want to lose the game in the most-obvious way possible, letting Mr. Smith rack up enough mileage to go all the way to Washington. Or Vancouver.
Verdict: No Bet
Ohio State RB Trey Sermon to Score 2+ Touchdowns (+195)
A much-better payoff offer on an equally-effective if not quite-as-ballyhooed athlete. Ohio State may need to run the pigskin in the Red Zone more than anticipated, including in 4th-and-goal situations, to pull off the upset victory.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.