APTOPIX Rose Bowl Football (copy)

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) catches a pass in the end zone for a touchdown as Notre Dame cornerback Nick McCloud, right, defends in the second half of the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game in Arlington, Texas, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021.

College Football National Championship Game

Alabama -8.5; O/U 75.5

We made it. As unlikely as it may have seemed at the summer send-off, college football managed to persevere through a season mired by a pandemic, opt outs, outbreaks and partial conference schedules to arrive at a national championship game that represents the very best the sport has to offer.

Ohio State

Fresh off a convincing 49-28 upset of the second-ranked Clemson Tigers in the semifinals, the Ohio State Buckeyes face the most formidable force in the sport: the undefeated, undisputed No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide. Having already canceled multiple games early in the season due to COVID-19 outbreaks, the Buckeyes again find themselves dealing with positive tests and without a handful of unnamed players heading into the championship game. “We’re on track to play,” coach Ryan Day told reporters Thursday. “We’ll have plenty of players,” he said with no indication of how many players had tested positive or which position groups were affected. Further complicating things for Day’s squad is the health of elite signal caller, Justin Fields, who took a helmet in the side in the semifinal vs. Clemson and had to leave the game for treatment. All indications are that Fields is a go and will not be limited by the injury, but it might be a good live betting angle to look for if he comes in and does not appear to be himself.

Alabama

The Crimson Tide have made short work of the opposition this season with an average final score of 48-19 including convincing victories over six ranked opponents. Despite the loss of its four best offensive players in the first 15 picks of the 2020 NFL draft, Alabama’s offense has improved this season over last with Davey O’Brien Award-winning QB Mac Jones and Heisman-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith leading the way. Despite playing in a crowded receiver room with Jaylen Waddle, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, Smith has been the player the Tide lean on in big games and key moments, and I wouldn’t look for that to change here. Waddle has missed the last two months due to injury but is questionable for this game; if he plays and is close to 100% it could take some of the pressure off Jones, Smith and RB Najee Harris and benefit the Tide overall. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who has guided the Tide’s offense for two seasons, has agreed to become the new coach at Texas. Regarded as the best play caller in college football, his presence would surely have been missed, but he told reporters on a conference call this week that he has agreed to stay on through the national championship game to make sure Alabama finishes the job.

The matchup

These teams boast the Nos. 1 and 2 offenses in the country by most meaningful metrics, which explains why the total sits at a staggering 75.5 points. But there are a few paths to stay under that number that intrigue me in this handicap. When facing top-10 defenses this season vs. Iowa State and Northwestern, Ohio State’s offense struggled mightily, and Fields turned the ball over six times. This Alabama defense is every bit as stout as those two, and a much tougher test than the Clemson Tigers from last week; if Alabama can force two turnovers from Fields, I think they have a realistic shot to hold Ohio State under 30 points. When the offense struggled, the Buckeyes have leaned on the running game with Trey Sermon, but it’s hard to establish the run game when you are facing an offense that scores on over 60% of its drives. On the other side, Ohio State will have to rely on pressure up front to affect Alabama’s passing game, as the Buckeyes are missing their top cornerback and have very poor depth at the position. Smith matches up very well across the board vs. the Buckeyes' secondary and his prop number is a great way to attack this game.

Plays:

Under 75.5 at -105

Devonta Smith Over 134.5 Receiving Yards at -114

Ohio State Team Total Under 33.5 at -112

Alabama Money line at -300

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