Ohio State vs. Alabama: CFP national championship odds and preview

Profile Picture: James Scully

January 6th, 2021

A pair of high-powered offenses will meet on Monday, Jan. 11 when No. 1 Alabama (12-0) and No. 3 Ohio State (7-0) square off in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

Tue, January 12 2021, 1:00 AM

Alabama Crimson Tide






O 72.5

Ohio State Buckeyes






U 72.5

Alabama averaged 48.2 points per game in 2020, and posted a staggering 29.2-point margin of victory this season. Ohio State, meanwhile, is fresh off a 49-point outburst against Clemson, in which the Buckeyes scored five touchdowns in a dominant first half performance.

Offensive weapons are abundant, but both teams had defensive shortcomings this season.

In the six-year history of the College Football Playoff, three national championship games have been decided by less than a touchdown. The other three proved less competitive, and were won by 17 points or more.

Alabama's offense is nearly unstoppable

When clicking, Alabama’s offense is unstoppable. The Tide scored at least 52 points in four of their final five SEC games.

Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith had a brilliant performance in the Rose Bowl, catching seven passes for 130 yards and three touchdowns. Mac Jones, Najee Harris and John Metchie are also star performers, and Alabama may get back WR Jaylen Waddle, whose speed would create further problems for Ohio State.

Can Bama slow down Justin Fields?

Offense is a given. Alabama’s ability to slow down Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is the biggest question. The potential exists for a rout if Alabama consistently gets stops on defense.

Alabama, which had the third-best run defense in the SEC, can be tough to run against. The Tide played against a lot of mediocre quarterbacks this season, but passing offenses were able to exploit their secondary.

Kyle Trask put up 408 passing yards in the SEC Championship game, rallying Florida back into contention with 29 second-half points. Matt Corral (366 passing yards) and Kellen Mond (318) also performed well.

Notre Dame played into Alabama’s hands during the first half of the Rose Bowl, relying on a run-based attack, but they mixed it up and controlled clock with long drives in the second half, outgaining Alabama by a 220-158 yard margin over the final two quarters.

Alabama was seldom tested in 2020. The Tide held big halftime leads in their last two games, but they beat Florida by only six points and had a lackluster second-half performance against Notre Dame.

COVID and inconsistency plagued Ohio State early on

Ranked just behind Clemson in the AP Preseason Top 25 poll, Ohio State entered 2020 with an edge following a bitter loss in last season’s CFP semifinal. The Buckeyes were projected to be better offensively, and while the secondary sustained losses, the Buckeyes were counting on a formidable front seven to be the heart of a terrific defensive unit.

They clearly went off-rhythm during the regular season. Ohio State didn’t play well in the second-half of their fourth game, nearly blowing a 28-7 halftime advantage over Indiana by allowing the opposing quarterback to throw for 491 yards. And then COVID-19 issues threatened to derail the season.

Three games were canceled, and the virus raged through the team and coaching staff. Ohio State had at least 20 players out for their final two Big Ten games, and the Buckeyes appeared extremely vulnerable when posting an ugly win over Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game.

Buckeyes found their rhythm in the Sugar Bowl

The Buckeyes had 16 players out for the Sugar Bowl due to the virus, including key contributors on the offensive and defensive line, but wide receiver Chris Olave and linebacker Baron Browning returned. And Ohio State rediscovered their rhythm, blitzing heavily-favored Clemson by a 49-28 margin.

Fields returned to form, throwing for 385 yards and six touchdowns. Olave and Garrett Wilson provide an exceptional wide receiver duo, and Ohio State has outstanding tight ends in Luke Farrell and Jeremy Ruckert.

Trey Sermon has emerged as a beast. After rushing for 331 yards in the Big Ten Championship Game, Sermon ran roughshod over Clemson, logging 193 rushing yards and 61 receiving yards. He can be a game changer.

Ohio State will receive a boost if defensive linemen Tyler Friday and Zach Harrison return, and starting offensive guard Harry Miller comes back. With exception of cornerback Shaun Wade, the secondary has been a liability, but Ohio State was able to keep Trevor Lawrence off balance with pressure.

Will Alabama cover the spread against Ohio State?

Expect a huge performance from Fields

After being banged up in the semifinal, Fields is expected to be ready. Ohio State has not experienced any significant attrition at press time, and my prediction is based upon that assumption.

Look for Ohio State to carry their offensive momentum forward against Alabama.

Over the last six quarters, Alabama has outscored the opposition by a 48-43 margin. They have not displayed the same intensity from earlier in the season, and that’s always a concern in a championship setting.

Alabama remains eligible to shrug off recent doldrums with an offensive explosion. However, Ohio State is playing its best football right now. Alabama must worry about Sermon, and Fields will deliver another big performance.

I’m taking Ohio State and the points in an expected close game.

NCAAF pick: Ohio State +9.5