The most bizarre college football season in memory ends on Monday night, when Ohio State tries for an upset against Alabama in the Playoff National Championship.
I expect Bama to win, but I took Ohio State +8.5, because the Buckeyes have so much talent that I can’t in good conscience have them giving more than a touchdown against anyone. I’m also on the under at 75 points, betting that the huge talent on both defenses manages to slow down a couple of historically good skill players on the offenses.
Ahead of any championship game, it’s fun to put in a couple of small prop bets. If nothing else, they make it more fun to watch the game and provide rooting interests if you have none. And if you’re smart about it and/or get lucky, you can make a nice profit, too.
One note before we get going: I’d stay away from betting on which team will lead after the first quarter. There’s a lot of possible variance in that short a period of game time, and there’s also no way to guess with any advantage which team will start with the ball. That’s because both Ohio State and Bama defer to the second half whenever they win the coin toss. Obviously, someone is likely to lead after the first 15 minutes, and you might get lucky and win a bet, but I don’t see value in either Ohio State +138 or Alabama -205.
All wagers are for one unit.
Mac Jones 26+ completions @ +102
Mac Jones 3+ passing TDs and Alabama to win @ -227
The Alabama quarterback should be busy in this game. Ohio State’s defense is solid overall, but the Buckeyes are considerably stronger in the box than in the secondary. The best player on the defense is tackle Haskell Garrett, who should make life harder than normal on the Tide’s running back and featured back Najee Harris. (Although Ohio State reportedly has COVID cases, and everything about the game is subject to change a bit because of the virus.)
On the other hand, Ohio State’s cornerbacks have looked vulnerable all year, and I expect Tide offensive coordinator (and forthcoming Texas coach) Steve Sarkisian to throw a lot, especially early, in an effort to soften up the middle of the Buckeye defense. He certainly has options, even if the Buckeyes focus ultra-heavily on Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith.
26 completions would be Jones’s second-most of the year behind the 33 he had in the SEC Championship against Florida. I think he gets there, but you might explore betting on him at a lower completion number if your sportsbook offers one. I also expect Alabama to win (not that I’m going out on much of a limb there) and Jones to throw a bunch of touchdowns, so it seemed wise to pair the completions with a passing TDs-based bet.
Justin Fields rushing yards: Under 57 @ -114
Fields took an ugly shot to the ribs in the semifinal against Clemson and seemed to be in significant pain afterward, even as he played a brilliant second half to lead Ohio State to a win. Ohio State treats its injury information with the same level of secrecy the U.S. government gives to the nuclear codes, but it seems reasonable that Fields would be something less than 100% healthy heading into this game. And if he gets knocked out of the championship game for any reason, Ohio State is screwed, with no real chance to win.
So it seems reasonable that Ryan Day would build an offense that does not lean heavily on Fields in the run game. There’s no reason to give Alabama’s band of four- and five-star linebackers a bunch of free shots at his torso. I expect Day to have Trey Sermon and Master Teague do almost all of the running and for Fields to be used almost wholly as a passer.
Alabama Under 41.5 @ -114
Clearly, I’m a believer in the Tide’s offense. But I would expect them to land somewhere in the 30s because of Ohio State’s stout run defense. If the Tide score winds up going over, I’ll take it as a good sign for both of my Mac Jones props, but I think they could hit along with the team under.
It’s worth bearing in mind that neither of these offenses moves at an especially fast pace. Both are squarely in the bottom half of FBS in opponent-adjusted pace, and I don’t expect a ton of possessions. Fewer possessions mean fewer chances for Tide points.
Time of first score: Over 5 minutes @ +105
This bet intrigues me enough with juice better than +100, because there’s a solid chance it only takes one stop for the game to get five minutes long without any scoring, and even in a game like this, I don’t expect there to be points on more than 50 percent of possessions (or so). If whoever gets the ball first picks up one or two first downs before punting, this bet starts to look really good, and it especially looks good if Ohio State (with Justin Fields coming off an in-game rib injury in the semifinals) happens to be first with the ball.
Obviously, one big throw to DeVonta Smith busts this bet in a matter of seconds. There’s no such thing as a surety in prop betting, but I’ll have fun tracking this one for the opening few minutes, and I think it’s good value, given the return on a winning bet.
DeVonta Smith receiving yards: Over 114.5 @ -115
Smith has gone over 130 yards in eight of his last 10 games. I suspect this number is so low because of the possibility his fellow star receiver Jaylen Waddle will return from injury for this game, but I don’t expect Waddle to be a huge part of Bama’s game plan even if he’s active. Smith is the best receiver in the country and will be force-fed the ball.
Najee Harris rushing yards: Over 88.5 @ -115
If Alabama winds up leading late in the game (a likely outcome), the Tide should heavily feature their senior running back. It wouldn’t be surprising if Harris were somewhere just below this total late in the fourth quarter and then punched past it while Saban and Sarkisian tried to keep the clock moving and ice the game in short-yardage situations.
First touchdown: Chris Olave +1150
Olave is Ohio State’s best receiver and someone the Buckeyes have loved to target in big moments, going back to his breakout in the 2018 Michigan game. Alabama’s defense has had occasional big-play problems, and I think these long odds represent good value. You could try the same thing with Ohio State’s other big-time wideout, Garrett Wilson, at the same odds.