Alabama historic favorite – can Notre Dame put up a fight?

The biggest favorite in College Football Playoff history is understandably being backed by the vast majority of bettors, but can Notre Dame put up a fight against No. 1 Alabama in Friday’s first semifinal?

That’s where bettors are more split ahead of the New Year’s Day clash.

The Crimson Tide are nearly three-touchdown favorites over the Fighting Irish at most sportsbooks, easily breaking the previous record held by Alabama as a 14.5-point favorite over Oklahoma in 2018-19.

Notre Dame getting some spread line support

While the Crimson Tide are being backed by 80 percent off the moneyline bets at DraftKings (-1115), the Fighting Irish have been backed by 56 percent of the spread bets. Of the total money bet, 64 percent has been on Alabama on the spread line and 56 percent on the spread.

The line had moved to 20 points at FanDuel, where 79 percent of the moneyline bets (Alabama -1000) and 65 percent of the spread line bets have backed the Crimson Tide.

DeVonta Smith
Alabama WR DeVonta Smith. (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

The Rose Bowl, moved from Pasadena to the Dallas area due to California’s COVID-19 protocols, is a huge mismatch on paper.

The Over/Under has been set at 65.5 points, with the action backing the Over at more than 80 percent at both sportsbooks.

The Crimson Tide have topped 50 points in each of their past three games. The Fighting Irish (10-1) don’t want to get into a shootout, but they did top 40 points six times this season.

Notre Dame, which ranks 14th in scoring defense (18.6 points per game), was superb early in the season by limiting five of the first six opponents to 13 or fewer points. But it sprung many leaks down the stretch by allowing more than 30 in three of the past five games, including a 34-10 whipping at the hands of Clemson in the ACC title game.

“We’ve been humbled about the way we play,” said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, “and this team has always come back with a resilience and an edge about them, and they will against Alabama.”

The Crimson Tide (11-0) topped 50 six times and averaged 49.7 points — second-best nationally — while being led by a trio of big-time performers.

Alabama has playmakers … everywhere

DeVonta Smith has the opportunity to be first receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991. He has 98 receptions for 1,511 yards and 17 touchdowns. During the 52-46 win over Florida in the SEC title game, Smith (3,620 yards) passed Amari Cooper (3,463 from 2012-14) as Alabama’s all-time leader in receiving yardage.

DeVonta Smith
Alabama’s DeVonta Smith could be the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy in 29 years. (Gary Cosby Jr/The Tuscaloosa News via USA TODAY Sports)

Quarterback Mac Jones also is in the Heisman mix and has thrown for 3,739 yards and 32 touchdowns against four interceptions. Najee Harris has rushed for 1,262 yards and 24 touchdowns and also has three receiving scores.

“We’ve certainly been very productive on offense,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. “This has been an unusual year for a lot of teams but I think our players have stayed focus on the right things amid a lot of abnormal things.”

The offensive fireworks aren’t just limited to the current season. Alabama has scored 35 or more points in a major-college record 24 consecutive games since losing to Clemson 44-16 in the CFP title game to end the 2018 season.

Can Fighting Irish put up a fight?

The Crimson Tide are 22-2 during the stretch but Saban isn’t interested in hearing about how the semifinal matchup with Notre Dame is going to be some type of easy stroll in the park.

“I know they have a really good team,” Saban said on ESPN. “I know they have a really good quarterback. They have a tough defense. They have some skill guys who can make plays.

“You don’t win 10 games in a season without having really good players.”

Ian Book
Notre Dame QB Ian Book. (Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)

Quarterback Ian Book has a 30-4 record as a starter for the Irish. He has passed for 2,601 yards and 15 touchdowns with only two interceptions in 314 attempts.

The winner of this game will face either No. 2 Clemson or No. 3 Ohio State in the national championship game.

–Field Level Media (@FieldLevelMedia)