How They Got Here
Clemson covered as double-digit favorites in a 30-3 beatdown of Notre Dame in the national semifinals. The game stayed well “under” the posted eight-touchdown total. Notre Dame could never get anything going offensively. The hope was that the Irish could run well against a defensive line that was unexpectedly missing its top interior defender, Dexter Lawrence. But Notre Dame’s top running back, Dexter Williams, averaged only 3.4 yards per carry on 16 rush attempts. Quarterback Ian Book had by far his worst game of the season in terms of yards, completion rate, and passer rating. His top receivers are physical 220-pounders, so they matched up poorly with Clemson’s cornerbacks, who are well-sized for their position and could handle their physicality.
On offense, Clemson enjoyed mismatches in the passing game, especially when Notre Dame superstar cornerback Julian Love exited the game due to injury. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence exploited those mismatches whenever Notre Dame didn’t apply pressure. Running back Travis Etienne had one 62-yard run, but was otherwise bottled up by Notre Dame’s front seven.
In its 45-34 victory against Oklahoma in the other semifinal, Alabama failed to cover as double-digit favorites. Granted, Bama would have presumably covered if they had a bit more time because they entered victory formation deep in Oklahoma territory. The total went “over” by about 10 points. Oklahoma was never able to limit Alabama’s offense. The Tide raced to a 28-0 lead. Its group of running backs were too physical and too elusive. Although the leading rusher on the season Damien Harris enjoyed some punishing runs and accrued two touchdowns, Josh Jacobs had the best evening with 98 yards on 6.5 YPC.
Alabama was most prolific in its passing attack. Tua Tagovailoa went 24-for-27 with 318 yards and four touchdowns against Oklahoma’s bottom-ranked pass defense. Tua was precise and his ankle looked completely healthy. Oklahoma also often made things easy, allowing him repeatedly to hit slant routes across the middle of the field. Conversely, Alabama’s offense made things difficult for itself, by committing penalties and otherwise looking shockingly undisciplined for a team coached by Nick Saban. Oklahoma QB and Heisman winner Kyler Murray was shut down early, but generated a lot of chunk plays after Alabama entered cruise control early on.
Clemson-Alabama Odds And Early Movement
During the semifinal between Oklahoma and Alabama, BetOnline opened Alabama as a nine-point favorite against Clemson. By the end of the game, the number was bet down to between six and seven. The total opened at 59.5.
When Clemson and Alabama squared off for the 2016 natty, Alabama was similarly favored by six points and the total was 51. Led by Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson, Clemson enjoyed a huge edge at quarterback. With Alabama unable to sustain drives, Clemson wore out Alabama’s defense and came from behind to win at the end on a controversial, possible pick play in the end zone, 35-31. When Alabama and Clemson met in 2015 for the national championship, the spread was also 6.5 points and the total was set at 50. Clemson covered thanks to a garbage-time touchdown. So, whenever Bama and Clemson have met in the national title game, the dog and “over” have cashed.
When Alabama and Clemson met in last year’s semifinal, Bama, while still led by quarterback Jalen Hurts, easily covered as 3.5-point favorites and the total stayed well “under” the total of 47. Alabama won 24-6 against a Clemson team led by quarterback Kelly Bryant.