Alabama is intent on getting to and winning the National Championship and this handicapper considers Ohio State as simply a speed bump in their way.
#4 Ohio State vs. #1 Alabama: (Alabama -9½, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook), Thursday, January 1, [Friday 01:45] (CBS, 8:45 p.m. ET/5:45 p.m. PT): The second semifinal on New Year’s Day appropriately comes from New Orleans and the Superdome with the Sugar Bowl between #1 (CPS) Alabama (12-1 SU, 5-8 ATS) and #4 Ohio State (12-1 SU, 8-5 ATS) with the Crimson Tide and the Buckeyes both vying to make it to the first-ever College Football Playoff national championship game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on January 12. The Promised Land.
Oddsmakers opened up Alabama sizable 9½-point Favorites (Skybet) with the Total Points set at 57½ (bet365) with the Crimson Tide priced at -380 in the Money Line (Winner) odds with the Underdog Buckeyes at +290 (William Hill) less than 24 hours after the odds were released. The Alabama Total Team Points in this game has opened at 33½ (Ladbrokes) with the Ohio State Total Team Points set at 24.
The opening odds from the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook to win the CFP National Championship in about a month: Alabama 10/11, Oregon 7/4, Ohio State 7/1, Florida State 8/1 so the linemakers make the Crimson Tide decent Favorites to win two straight and capture the crown.
Ohio State Buckeyes
The storyline here is that Ohio State is playing with a third-string QB (Cardale Jones) who many say is pretty good and had a shot to beat out now-injured JT Barrett in spring ball in Columbus—two-time Big Ten Player of the year Braxton Miller was sidelined during the preseason—but the reality here is that he’s a sophomore with just 22 completions for 375 yards and 5 TDs who had a great game last weekend against a poor-performing Wisconsin side in the Big Ten championship game where the Buckeyes embarrassed the Badgers, 59-0. And now Jones will be going up one of the best defenses year-in and year-out in all of college football from the best division (Western) in the best conference (SEC) and one playing in a game that’s their ticket to the national title game. It may not be fun for Jones about 22 minutes in, but head coach Urban Meyer (20-17-1 ATS) and the Buckeyes (50th passing, 11th Rushing) have proven they can score points (45.2 ppg) but Ohio State’s milktoast schedule is a big part of the reason why they average so many points (see Best Betting Approaches and Trends below). And that lone loss in Week 2 at Home to an average Virginia Tech team speaks volumes. The Big Ten may be even worse than we all thought before we thought they sort of regressed—something to remember when the ever-expanding Bowl Season rolls around in like 11 minutes compadre.
Ezekiel Elliott (217 rushes, 1,402 yards, 12 TDs) is the Buckeyes main RB but he’ll have trouble getting long gains against the Crimson Tide in The Big Easy on January 1 and ice and a hot epsom salt bath may well be his best friends on January 2. WRs Devin Smith (30 receptions, 799 yards, 11 TDs) and Michael Thomas (43 receptions, 680 yards, 8 TDs) should be able to get open and get some decent gainers from Jones and make some things happen against Alabama, but over 60 minutes this Ohio State team will feel like it has been wrestling an alligator on the UBU-Synthetic Turf of the Superdome and will end up thinking on the plane ride home how lucky they are to play in the Big Ten far away from those mean alligators.
Alabama Crimson Tide
The SEC has won 7 of the last 8 national championships in FBS and Alabama has won 3 of those (2009, 2011, 2012), so just getting to the coveted national championship game is almost an expectation in Dixieland and Ohio State is in the damn way and must be crushed like grape. The Buckeyes may even be lucky to be in this position and it’s my opinion that teams like the Big 12’s TCU, Baylor and Kansas State—as well as maybe Auburn and Georgia Tech may have all given the Crimson Tide a better game here than Ohio State potentially will. Anyway, Alabama is ranked #1 in all three polls (CFP, AP and Coaches) and rides the back of that aforementioned scary-strong defense which is #4 in the nation allowing just 16.4 ppg and, which outside of the 34 allowed to in-state rival Auburn, only no more than 23 points (West Virginia, Week 1). And if you throw out those two particular games, the Crimson Tide would be allowing only 14.5 ppg.
On offense, Alabama is led by QB Blake Sims (230 completions, 3,570 yards, 26 TDs, 7 INTs) and Sims loves getting the ball to star WR Amari Cooper (115 receptions, 1,656 yards, 14 TDs, 14.4 ypc), who was again used intensely last weekend against Missouri in the SEC championship game just like the junior was the week before against the then #15 Tigers in Tuscaloosa (13 receptions, 224 yards, 3 TDs). The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Cooper will again be the big go-to guy here for the Crimson Tide and Ohio State will need to really try to key on him to not let him get all of those key receptions like he has of late. Alabama also has dependable DeAndrew White (37 receptions, 439 yards, 4 TDs) to throw it to, among others, and the Crimson Tide has a really Dynamic Duo of RBs in RBs TJ Yeldon (184 rushes, 932 yards, 10 TDs) and Derrick Henry (159 rushes, 895 yards, 10 TDs). And that wonderful balance on offense (37.1 ppg, 17th) complemented by this team’s killer D—Alabama allowed the least number of TDs last season (14) and is #3 this season—and with legendary head coach Nick Saban (56-44-1 ATS) calling the shots and probably letting his boys know this game is just a stepping stone or something to where they really want to be should be more than enough for Bama to roll over the Buckeyes by like a 40-something to 20-something score. This could get ugly in the second half and may end up be boring. Crimson Tide LB Denzel Devall (foot) is listed as Questionable for this game.
Best Betting Approaches and Trends
This seems like it will come down to a battle of Alabama’s 4th-ranked Scoring Defense (16.4 ppg) against Ohio State’s 4th-ranked Scoring Offense (45.2 ppg). So the question will be, can the Crimson Tide hold the Buckeyes down and prevent them from scoring like half of their season average? And the answers is absolutely yes. When you play teams like Ohio State has like Navy (OSU scored 24 points), Kent State (66), Cincinnati (50), Maryland (56) and Rutgers (56) all out of conference and then Illinois (55), Indiana (42) and Michigan (42) in conference and also pop a 59 into Wisconsin’s ear in the Big Ten championship game, you can’t help but average a bunch of points. And Alabama had to play Auburn, Mississippi State, Mississippi, LSU, Texas A&M and Arkansas all in its own division to simply survive just to get to this crucial point. So the Crimson Tide have a Black belt and Ohio State has only earned like a Blue or Purple belt this season, Grasshopper. Wax on. And if I would have told you before the season that a healthy and hungry Alabama team with a chance to make the CFP championship would be playing Ohio State with a third-string QB and laying 10 points, you would have probably jumped on it. Wax off.
As far as the Total, Ohio State has played an amazing 11 Overs and just 2 Unders (84.6%) and being the potential last game of the season for the loser, desperation and passing will be plenty and the Underdog Buckeyes—especially if they’re down big early—have proven they can score points and even if Ohio State gets half their season average (23 points of 46 average), this one could still go Over the 57½ (bet365). But just taking the focused Favorite Alabama from the supreme conference against a potentially scared opponent—one maybe even lucky to be playing here—from the inferior conference and laying the points is the prescription here. And this may be one to bet early too as the line on Alabama has already hit 10 offshore at Pinnacle, a sports book used by many big players and one which often signals future line movement. Something to chew on. And if you are thinking of backing Ohio State here in the Sugar Bowl, use that concept to your theoretical benefit and wait and see if you can squeeze out maybe a +11 or +12. There’s an awful lot of time between now and New Year’s Day and the College Football odds will definitely move some.
Free College Football Pick: Alabama -9 (Pinnacle)