OSU faces a tough task

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The stage is set for the national championship game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Alabama Crimson Tide in Miami which will wrap up the most complicated and unique college football season in history.

Alabama stormed out of the gate strong in its semifinal win last week against Notre Dame and didn’t look back. Alabama raced out to a 14-0 lead after the opening quarter and coasted from that point on to a 31-14 win. However, a late TD punched in by the Fighting Irish in the final minute gave Notre Dame the money as a 19.5-point underdog.

Alabama’s offense was the juggernaut it has been all season and they were once again an extremely balanced attack between the pass and the run. QB Mac Jones completed 25 of 30 passes for 295 yards with four touchdown passes and no INT’s while RB Najee Harris ran for 125 yards on 15 carries, including a highlight reel hurdle over a Notre Dame defender in the opening quarter.

On the other side of the ball, Alabama’s defense, which got better as the season went on after a shaky start, held QB Ian Book and the Notre Dame offense in check.

Meanwhile, Ohio State stunned Clemson as 7.5-point underdogs, not only winning the game outright but dominating the Tigers as the Buckeyes rolled to a convincing 49-28 win. QB Justin Fields had his best game of the season by far at the right time and was unstoppable. Fields tossed six TD passes and throwing for 385 yards while RB Trey Sermon picked up where he left off in the Big Ten title game against Northwestern as he gashed the Clemson defense for 193 yards on the ground, averaging 6.2 yards per carry.

Ohio State clearly took it personal that Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney considered them the 11th ranked team in the country and that the decreased of number of games played by Ohio State should have kept them out of the playoff. The Buckeyes made a loud and very clear statement they belonged with their dominance against the Tigers.

Following that performance up against this mighty Alabama squad is the challenge for Ryan Day’s squad.

Looking ahead to this game, everyone knows what these teams are all about and the point spread in this game is indicative of that. It’s important to look for subtle matchup and intangible edges in a game of this magnitude to try and cash a winning bet.

The one matchup that stands out to me here is Alabama’s offensive line against Ohio State’s defensive front. The Alabama offensive line has been surgical in keeping a clean pocket for Jones all season and also opening up big holes for Harris running the football. The Ohio State defensive line got better as the season went on and certainly had their best game last week against Clemson. But facing Alabama’s very strong offensive line, which played great against Notre Dame in spite of the absence of their All-American center Landon Dickerson, is going to be a very tough challenge.

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If Ohio State can’t get same pressure on Jones that they did against Trevor Lawrence and I think that could be the case, I don’t believe Ohio State’s secondary can hold up against the Alabama receivers especially DeVonta Smith. The Buckeyes were No. 92 in the nation in opponent QB completion percentage and No. 119 in the country in passing yards per game allowed.

Those very poor numbers for the Ohio State pass defense came against a slate of very weak passing games and QB’s aside from the Clemson game compared to what Alabama is going to bring to the table here. The Ohio State secondary was hidden against Clemson because they got to Lawrence and the defensive line blew up the line of scrimmage throughout that game. I don’t see a repeat performance from Ohio State’s defensive front against a superior Alabama offensive line that has been outstanding.

Ohio State has a couple offensive linemen banged up heading into this game with right guard Wyatt Davis playing through a knee injury and left guard Harry Miller is questionable for this game as well and that is a concern against an Alabama defense which has seen their percentage of QB pressures and sacks rise significantly in the last few games of the season and that is imperative to containing a dual threat QB like Fields.

Only one other time has Alabama been a single-digit favorite this season like they are here in the national title game against Ohio State. That was back on Oct. 17 against Georgia when Alabama was -6 in that game and they won decisively, 41-24.

I give Ohio State credit for knocking off Clemson but I don’t think lightning will strike twice for the Buckeyes here. I like Alabama -7.5 for the full game and the stronger bet in this game for me is the first half spread on Alabama at -5. The Crimson Tide have consistently been a fast starter as they have averaged around 30 points per game in the first half of their games his season and allowed just 57 points in the first half in their last eight games and Alabama first half wagers have cashed at a perfect 8-0 clip in those last eight games, including in last week’s Rose Bowl win against Notre Dame.

There should be lots of points in this game but the total is extremely high in the mid 70’s and we did see Alabama take the air out of the football with a lead against Notre Dame last week which gives me pause to bet the over with a total that high. ALABAMA and ALABAMA FIRST HALF

Last week: 3-4

Season: 23-40-1

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