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Rose Bowl: Alabama vs. Notre Dame odds, preview, and pick

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December 28th, 2020

No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Notre Dame will square off in the first College Football Playoff semifinal game on Friday, Jan. 1 at 4:00 p.m. ET.

The Crimson Tide enter with an 11-0 record, most recently defeating Florida by a 52-46 margin in the SEC Championship. Nick Saban, who is in his 14th season, has won five national championships, and Alabama averages 49.7 points per game.

The Fighting Irish went 10-1, becoming the first team to defeat Clemson in the regular season since 2017, but they will try to rebound from a 34-10 setback to the Tigers in the ACC Championship. Brian Kelly, who has won 102 games in 11 years at Notre Dame, is on pace to surpass Knute Rockne (105) as the all-time winningest coach next fall.

Fri, January 1 2021, 10:00 PM

Alabama Crimson Tide






O 65.5

Notre Dame Fighting Irish






U 65.5

Notre Dame holds a 5-2 series edge, but Alabama thrashed the Fighting Irish in their last meeting, winning the 2012 BCS National Championship by a 42-14 margin.

Alabama opened as a 17.5-point favorite, but the number quickly jumped to 19.5 points. It’s the biggest point spread in CFP semifinal history.

Alabama's offense is formidable

Despite losing Jaylen Waddle to a knee injury in midseason, Alabama featured its greatest offense ever. Mac Jones led the FBS with a passer rating of 202.35, better than 2019 Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow (202.0).

Receiver DeVonta Smith and running back Najee Harris were arguably the best players at their position in the FBS, and dynamic WR John Metchie also stretches the field. Alabama wasn’t held under 38 points this season, scoring 50 or more six times.

And the Tide didn’t have multiple non-conference cupcakes to build their statistics, playing 10 SEC regular season opponents. Their offense is always attacking.

Alabama's defense can be exposed

Most wins were lopsided, but opponents did expose the defense at times. Notre Dame will need a high-scoring performance to be competitive.

The Tide surrendered 647 yards to Mississippi in a 63-48 victory. Georgia put up 24 first-half points before falling apart over the final two quarters. Florida rallied back into contention in the SEC Championship, scoring 29 points in the second half, and Kyle Trask recorded 408 passing yards and three touchdowns.

It isn’t a stellar defensive unit. In 2020, Alabama has relied more upon their offense than any team in the Saban era.

Notre Dame won't get pushed around like they did in 2012

After being dominated in 2012, Notre Dame has more size and depth this time around. The Irish placed three offensive linemen – left guard Aaron Banks, left tackle Liam Eichenberg (who led offensive line voting) and right guard Tommy Kraemer – to the first-team All-ACC team, and they averaged 35.2 points per game.

The defense is solid. Five starters were selected for All-ACC honors, including linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who won the Butkus Award, and safety Kyle Hamilton, who was named to the first-team, but they face an offensive juggernaut in Alabama. And Notre Dame has totalled only two interceptions.

Notre Dame will lean heavily on Book

They may slow Alabama occasionally, but Notre Dame’s chances rest upon Ian Book, whose elusiveness will be tested in the semifinal.

The athletic quarterback proved effective in 2020 when scrambling from the pocket in key regular season wins over Boston Clemson, Clemson and North Carolina. Notre Dame scored a combined 123 points against those opponents.

They have quality wide receivers in Avery Davis and Ben Skowronek, and an outstanding tight end in Michael Mayer. When Book plays well, it creates opportunities for Kyren Williams, who averaged 122.1 rushing yards per game.

However, Clemson kept Book off balance in the ACC Championship, recording six sacks. As a result, they limited the Irish to 44 rushing yards.

Notre Dame needs a different game plan for Alabama.

Alabama rewarded bettors in 2020

Alabama covered seven consecutive games before the SEC Championship, and they finished with an 8-3 record against the spread (ATS). Notre Dame was less consistent for bettors, posting a 5-6 ATS mark.

Kelly's conservative tactics cost Notre Dame in the 2018 CFP semifinals, as the Irish were held to 248 total yards in a 30-3 loss to Clemson.

Notre Dame has the firepower to employ an aerial strategy against Alabama, but conservative play-calling has been a staple for Kelly.

Will Alabama cover the spread against Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl?

Bama will pull away in the second half

I expect Notre Dame to bring a ball-control mentality, one based upon execution rather than risky new tactics. Well-coached Alabama still has better athletes, and they will be prepared to stop what worked for Notre Dame during the regular season.

Look for Alabama to get off to a fast start, and Notre Dame won’t be able to recover. They’re not built to come back from a sizeable deficit. The rout will be on in the second half.

The high-scoring Tide will cover against Notre Dame!

NCAAF pick: Alabama -19.5