Look-ahead lines favor Alabama over College Football Playoff contenders

BetOnline released look-ahead lines for potential College Football Playoff matchups on Saturday.

It’s possible to wager money on those lines, but they’ll be graded as no contest (and your money returned) if they don’t ever take place.

The College Football Playoff committee slotted Alabama at No. 1 in its initial rankings prior to the Iron Bowl, which the Tide won 42-13. Alabama also is the consensus No. 1 in the AP Top 25.

So it isn’t surprising that BetOnline installed Alabama as a favorite against the other three programs that rank in the top four in the College Football Playoff rankings:

  • Alabama -4 vs. Ohio State
  • Alabama -6.5 vs. Clemson
  • Alabama -10.5 vs. Notre Dame

BetOnline posted odds for three other potential College Football Playoff title games:

  • Ohio State -1.5 vs. Clemson
  • Ohio State -6 vs. Notre Dame
  • Clemson -5 vs. Notre Dame

As of Sunday evening, Alabama (-28 at LSU), Notre Dame (-33 vs. Syracuse), Clemson (-21.5 at Virginia Tech) and Ohio State (-22.5 at Michigan State) were all heavy favorites this week.

The presumptive SEC and ACC championship games should have a big impact on the final College Football Playoff selection. It seems like No. 1 Alabama will play No. 6 Florida and No. 3 Clemson will get a rematch with No. 2 Notre Dame.

But the drama unfolding in Columbus, Ohio, may be just as significant.

Undefeated Ohio State keeps losing opportunities

According to the BetOnline oddsmakers, Ohio State is the second-best team in college football, 1.5 points better than Clemson.

Quarterback Justin Fields has completed 79.6 percent of his passes, leading an offense that averages 45.3 points per game against Big Ten competition.

However, Ohio State didn’t play its first game until Oct. 24, the opening weekend for the Big Ten due to COVID-related decisions by the conference.

Compounding the issue, COVID-19 canceled Ohio State’s games at Maryland (Nov. 14) and at Illinois (Nov. 28). Ohio State’s game at Michigan State presumably is in jeopardy this week as the Buckeyes continue to deal with a COVID outbreak.

According to Big Ten rules, a team must play at least six games in order to qualify for the conference title game.

There are loopholes that involve a number of canceled games by other teams in the conference. But Ohio State may need to play Michigan State and Michigan in the next two weeks in order to have a chance at a conference championship win.

If the Buckeyes are unable to play the Spartans, they could be sitting at 5-0 in two weeks.

It’s hard to predict what will happen from there. Perhaps that would still be a strong enough resume to justify keeping Ohio State in the four-team field ahead of a one-loss Texas A&M or an unbeaten Cincinnati.

In any event, another Ohio State cancelation will make it more likely that the Buckeyes get the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff.

Alabama almost certainly will get the No. 1 overall seed if the Tide win out. If you believe the oddsmakers, it’s possible that Alabama’s reward could be to play the second-best team in the country in the College Football Playoff semifinals.

The potential upside of the No. 1 overall seed

The reality is that Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State are the three best teams in the country.

Perhaps the committee would slot Notre Dame as the No. 4 seed, should the Fighting Irish lose to Clemson in a rematch. Clemson lost the first game in double overtime on the road playing without quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Barring major personnel issues due to injury or COVID, Clemson will be favored over Notre Dame in a potential ACC championship game rematch.

It seems highly unlikely the College Football Playoff committee would force Clemson and Notre Dame to play for a third consecutive time in a semifinal game.

Alabama opened as a 10-point favorite in a theoretical national title game against Notre Dame at BetOnline, moving to -10.5 rather quickly.

Alabama has not lost as a double-digit favorite since 2013, falling at Auburn in the Kick Six game and then again to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. So the Tide would feel good about their chances against the Fighting Irish.

Another scenario would involve Notre Dame beating Clemson again, which would knock the Tigers out of College Football Playoff contention and invite a lesser team into the field of four.

If Alabama were to somehow get a rematch against Texas A&M, or if chaos ensues and Cincinnati makes the field, the Tide would be an even larger favorite than it is against Notre Dame.

Christopher Smith is a professional handicapper who specializes in college football and basketball. He’s the founder of Sports Locksmith.

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