Not unlike other sports and leagues, the 2020 college football season has been one of the most unusual seasons in fans’ memories. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused multiple game cancellations, which carried national title implications. The conferences had to decide for themselves when it was safe for them to begin play, and this led to some conferences and national title favourites playing considerably more (or fewer) games than other contending teams. 

One such team was Ohio State, who had the misfortune of seeing three of their tilts (Maryland, Illinois, Michigan) cancelled in 2020, leaving the Buckeyes with only six completed games, including the Big 10 championship game. Regardless, the selection committee deemed the Buckeyes worthy of the third seed in the College Football Playoff odds, joining Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame. 

Alabama Crimson Tide vs Notre Dame Fighting Irish Betting Preview

The first semi-final will kick off at the Rose Bowl in Dallas (moved from the usual Pasadena site due to COVID) at 4 PM ET on January 1 and will feature top-ranked Alabama taking on the No. 4 seed, Notre Dame. The College Football Playoff odds have the Tide pegged as massive 20-point favourites over the Fighting Irish, with the moneyline offering —1300 odds for Nick Saban’s squad and +725 for Brian Kelly and company. The over/under is set at 66 points for this contest. 

Alabama has enjoyed a strangely quiet season despite dominating other squads throughout 2020. Boasting a nation-leading 30.3 average margin of victory and an 8-3 record against the spread, the perennial-contending Crimson Tide blew even the experts’ expectations out of the water thanks to a deadly aerial attack. Quarterback Mac Jones has been nothing short of spectacular and is a big reason why Alabama ranks fifth in the nation in yards per game at 543.9. Somehow, +200 odds, he’s not even the top favourite for the Heisman trophy on his own team. That honour goes to wide receiver DeVonta Smith at —200. Smith destroyed his national competition at the wide receiver position this season, totalling 1,511 yards, which was over 300 yards more than the second player on the list (Elijah Moore from Ole Miss). 

Notre Dame will have their hands full trying to stop Alabama’s juggernaut offense, and their bowl game odds reflect the Herculean task set before them. If there’s a comparatively weaker spot the Irish can attempt to exploit, it’s the Tide’s defense. Nick Saban typically fields one of the best defenses in the nation year in and year out, but this year is different, with the Tide ranking just 32nd in the nation, giving up 351.2 yards per game. Notre Dame has been stingier on that side of the ball at just 335.1 yards, while balancing it out with a respectable offense. Skipper Brian Kelly will be hoping for some Alabama to make some key mistakes on New Year’s Day – mistakes the Irish will have to capitalize upon. While this may look like a lopsided affair, if the Irish can get off to a quick start, this tilt could become more competitive than anticipated. 

Clemson Tigers vs Ohio State Buckeyes Betting Preview

There’s simply no denying that Clemson going up against Ohio State in the second semi-final at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans (8 PM ET on January 1) is the juicier matchup of the two playoff games. Favoured by just 7.5 points over the Buckeyes, the 10-1 Tigers will be looking to reach the national championship game for the fifth time in the College Playoff era. The moneyline odds are —300 for Clemson and +250 for Ohio State, with the over/under set at 66.5 points, which is very similar to the first semi-final. Clemson’s national championship odds are second to Alabama at +210, while Ohio State is a longer shot for the title at +650. 

Despite being “just” third on the Heisman trophy winner odds board this season at +500 odds, Tigers’ quarterback Trevor Lawrence is widely regarded as one of the best NFL prospects to come out of college in quite a few years. Not since the days of Andrew Luck have NFL teams been salivating at the idea of adding an arm talent like Lawrence to their franchise. Clemson, who’s won the national championship in two out of the last four seasons, is bringing a balanced team (top ten in the country on both sides of the ball) to this postseason. Coach Dabo Swinney has been here before and knows how to motivate his squad to perform at their best when the pressure is on, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see a highly-focused team executing a clear game plan on New Year’s Day.  

Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields didn’t look like himself in their win over Northwestern in the Big 10 championship game, and that will need to change if they’re to stand a chance against Clemson in New Orleans. Not quite as highly touted as Lawrence, Fields is nonetheless also expected to be one of the top picks in the 2021 NFL draft. 

Having only played six games this season, coach Ryan Day’s team is a bit of a challenge to evaluate. Their strength on offense is running the football, which was evidenced by running back Trey Sermon’s explosion for 331 rushing yards against Northwestern on December 19; that broke the Buckeyes’ single game record in the category. They’ll need more of that against Clemson, coupled with a steady performance by Fields to keep the Tigers’ defense guessing because Clemson’s Brent Venables is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country. Expect a highly entertaining contest at the Sugar Bowl, with these two elite squads battling it out for a coveted invitation to the national championship game on January 11.