National championship by the odds: Vegas picks of Alabama vs. Ohio State


Michael Ainsworth / AP

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) gets past Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (6) and cornerback Clarence Lewis (26) on his way to the end zone for a touchdown in the first half of the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game in Arlington, Texas, in this Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, file photo.

Mon, Jan 11, 2021 (2 a.m.)

A rotten regular season has given way to a brilliant bowl season for betting purposes.

That’s leaving with me a familiar yet strange feeling heading into the 5 p.m. kickoff of tonight’s College Football Playoff national championship game between Alabama and Ohio State in Miami Gardens, Fla. — disappointment. I’m disappointed the college football season is ending, an emotion that wouldn’t be out of the ordinary any other year but this season was trying.

When college football was mired in the throes of playing through the coronavirus a couple months ago, I couldn’t wait for it to end. Unexpected player absences and game cancelations were as frustrating as any bad beat.

It all seemed to be managed slightly better with more transparency and notice during the postseason, at least in the biggest games. Or maybe I just broke out of my handicapping slump.

I’ve gone 16-9 against the spread picking every bowl game in this column including 5-1 on plays to get the top category profitable for the year.

My overall record picking (almost) every game is 230-247-5 (46-43-2 on plays, 62-63 on leans and 122-141-3 on guesses) with one to go. Read the final selection below.

College Football Playoff national championship game: Ohio State +8 vs. Alabama The Crimson Tide are breaking college football. They’re the greatest team ever tracked by ESPN’s Football Power Index, which dates back 2005. Oddsmakers and gamblers tell a similar tale — the Crimson Tide are historically dominant  by the power ratings they rely upon. It’s just been obscured lately as Alabama has failed to cover two straight, against Florida and Notre Dame. They dominated the Irish in a 31-14 win as 18.5-point favorites, however, with a postgame win expectancy of 100 percent. They were also never really in trouble against the Gators in the SEC Championship either despite the 52-46 final score as 16-point favorites. Play this game immediately after that weekend, when Ohio State unimpressively slipped past Northwestern 22-10 as 16-point favorites, and this number is at least -10.

But it's hard to scream “recency bias” with the adjustment considering Ohio State might be coming off the single best performance of the year with its 49-28 win over Clemson as 7-point underdogs. This number is completely fair if weighting that game significantly, and given the uniqueness of this season, that game has to be weighted consistently. It’s one of only seven data points with which to judge the Buckeyes as their short regular season was infamously cited by Clemson coach Dabo Swinney for why he voted them No. 11 gong into the semifinal. If Ohio State plays as well as it did in the semifinal, it might not need the points. It might beat Alabama outright.

It seems like a stretch to expect them to, though. At best, quarterback Justin Fields’ injury — likely broken ribs though Ohio State hasn’t specified — limits the Buckeyes’ offense as he stopped running after he was hurt against the Tigers. At worst, he could miss the game. That seems highly unlikely, but other teammates will surely be out with COVID-19 based on persistent rumors and reports that the Buckeyes even inquired about postponing the game. Ohio State can get past anyone else in the nation at less than full strength, but not Alabama.

If this spread happens to creep up to 10, or especially if it climbs higher than 10, then Ohio State would be the pick. If it drops back to 7, then Alabama is certainly worth a play. Right now, it’s just about right. And a number that’s just about right isn’t going to tempt me to pick against one of the best college football teams ever.

Look for Heisman winner DeVonta Smith to have a big game (over 137.5 receiving yards at BetMGM) and tight end Jahleel Billingsley to score a touchdown (+155 at Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) in a 44-35 Crimson Tide victory. Lean: Alabama -8.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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