The two best programs in America meet in the College Football Playoff for a fourth straight season, this time in the national championship game Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, Calif. Alabama and Clemson dominate national statistics in much the same way they’ve dominated opponents. The Crimson Tide ranks in the top 10 in 23 major categories, the Tigers in 25.
In some cases, they’re neck-in-neck — Alabama and Clemson stand second and fourth in scoring, fifth and fourth in total offense, fourth and second in opponent scoring average, second and third in yards per play.
It goes on and on and on. How do college football betting fans find separation between two teams showing that unmatched level of superiority?
Bookmakers such as 888Sport certainly try, establishing Alabama as a 5.5-point favorite, with an over/under in the game of 59 points. Parsing this level of greatness in the final college bowl betting event of the season comes down to dissecting the small details, searching for relevant historical trends, and a gut feeling.
The Tide failed to cover the 14-point line against Oklahoma, taking the victory formation inside the Sooners’ 10 with an 11-point lead.
That’s three ATS losses in four games now for Alabama, although the first two have some mitigating circumstances: a 53-point line against The Citadel, and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa going out with a sprained ankle in the SEC championship against Georgia.
Would Alabama have covered against Oklahoma without a penalty for a player removing his helmet on the Sooners’ final scoring drive? Maybe. But the final result was maddening for bettors who took the Tide and the points.
The 5.5-point line against Clemson is Alabama’s smallest this season, surpassing their previous lowest line of 12 against Georgia.
Clemson had no trouble with outclassed Notre Dame. The 27-point margin against a 12.5-point spread marked the Tigers’ seventh cover in nine games with a healthy Trevor Lawrence at quarterback.
The two exceptions: a 29-point win over Duke (at -30, ouch) and a 21-point win over South Carolina (at -26). Even in their ATS losses, the Tigers still win by wide margins, something they’ve done in every game since Lawrence returned from a head injury that knocked him out of a close victory over Syracuse on Sept. 26.
The biggest question for Clemson in the semifinal game was the absence of star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, who tested positive for a performance-enhancer and is likely to miss the national championship as well.
The Tigers didn’t miss him against an Irish offensive line that was manhandled by the likes of Clelin Ferrell and Albert Huggins. Alabama will be a much tougher task with the All-American on the sideline.
Clemson’s defense is allowing opponents so few points, the Tigers have fallen under the total in four of their last five. Similarly, Alabama has gone over just twice in its last six, two of those being shutouts and another a push (against Georgia).
Clemson has gone over a total greater than 59 (the number for the title game) just twice this season, in routs of Wake Forest and Louisville. Alabama has matched or exceeded that total four times, though not against a Power 5 opponent since beating Texas A&M on Sept. 22.
While their ACC schedule isn’t the most difficult, it’s impossible to ignore how dynamic the Clemson offense has been since Lawrence took over behind center. Notre Dame presented the 10th-best defense in the nation, and the Tigers shredded it.
Alabama is a step up in class, to be sure, but Oklahoma exposed some vulnerabilities in space that Clemson has the athletes to take advantage of.
The Tigers again face replacing Dexter Lawrence, but each time their other defensive line players have needed to step up, they’ve done just that. If they can prevent Tagovailoa from buying too much time in the pocket, it’s hard to imagine anything other than another nail-biter between these teams for the national title.
All that we just mentioned about how regularly these teams fall under the total? It doesn’t jibe with their previous two title game showdowns, a 45-40 Alabama victory and a 35-31 Clemson triumph.
The Tide won 24-6 in the semis last season, but the Tigers then had Kelly Bryant at quarterback, and their passing game was far more limited. With Trevor Lawrence behind center, Clemson’s offense more closely resembles that of Deshaun Watson, who helmed the Tigers in those previous two title game appearances.
With Tagovailoa stepping in for Jalen Hurts on the Alabama side, both teams have upgraded at quarterback since last year, and the potential for offensive fireworks abounds. Jump on the over with Betfair.
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