Alabama has won five of the last nine national championships. This may be Nick Saban’s best team, and it is certainly his best offense.
The Crimson Tide are 9-0 and just beat the best team on the regular-season schedule 29-0 on the road. Alabama will be a heavy favorite in its final three regular-season games.
It sure feels inevitable that Alabama will win the College Football Playoff. But just how likely is Alabama to repeat? And what teams are the greatest threats?
BetOnline released look-ahead lines on three potential national championship matchups on Sunday. It installed Alabama as a significant favorite against Clemson (-8.5), Michigan (-14) and Notre Dame (-20.5). Those teams are No. 2, No. 3 and No. 5 in my power rankings, so I assume Oklahoma (my No. 4) would be somewhere between a 14.5 and 17-point underdog.
Here’s a look at the top contenders and their odds to win this season’s national championship, according to Bovada.
Clemson (+500): The Tigers became a different team with an established, healthy Trevor Lawrence at quarterback. Since then, the Tigers won ACC games by scores of 63-3, 41-7, 59-10 and 77-16. If Clemson merely beats Boston College on Saturday, it could be set to play a team like Pitt in the ACC Championship Game. According to oddsmakers and analytics, this is the only team in the country with a realistic shot of beating Alabama without a monumental Tide meltdown. And it’s still unlikely.
Notre Dame (+550): If you’re Alabama, you probably hope that the Irish beat Florida State, Syracuse and USC, setting up a potential semifinal game. If you’re Oklahoma, you are very much hoping that the Irish stumble, most likely against Syracuse on Nov. 17. An unbeaten Notre Dame has a 91 percent chance to make the College Football Playoff, according to FiveThirtyEight. And it already beat Michigan, even before installing Ian Book as starting quarterback.
Michigan (+650): The Wolverines feature the best defense of any of these teams, as well as Ole Miss transfer quarterback Shea Patterson. It looked bleak after a season-opening loss at Notre Dame, but Michigan has an excellent chance to make the College Football Playoff. Barring a catastrophe against Indiana or the Big Ten West champion, the Wolverines just need to beat Ohio State to get into the field.
Georgia (+2000): The loss at LSU really hurt Georgia’s chances of making the College Football Playoff as the SEC’s second team. UGA needs to win out, including against Alabama on Dec. 1, and then potentially pull off two upsets in the College Football Playoff. Heralded backup quarterback Justin Fields is not yet mimicking Lawrence and Tua Tagovailoa. Jake Fromm and quarterback play represents the biggest difference in Georgia and the nation’s top two teams.
Ohio State (+2000): The Buckeyes are home underdogs to Michigan on the final Saturday in November. The defense is flailing, leading to a loss to Purdue and an uncomfortable win against Nebraska. Even if Ohio State pulls it together against Michigan, it seems unlikely that it can win three more games on top of that for a national championship.
Oklahoma (+2200): The Sooners feature the nation’s best offense, and probably have as much of a shot as any non-Clemson team to beat Alabama. The problem will be getting the opportunity. Oklahoma still must beat Oklahoma State, West Virginia and then win the Big 12 Championship Game. Even that may not be enough if Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and the Michigan-Ohio State winner don’t lose.
So what about Alabama?
According to FiveThirtyEight’s College Football Playoff predictor, Alabama has a 76 percent chance to make the four-team field. That would escalate to 79 percent with a win over Mississippi State, and 100 percent if it wins its final three regular-season games plus the SEC Championship Game against Georgia.
Consider the BetOnline look-ahead lines again. For reference, implied odds for a 14-point favorite are about 85 percent. So, the best non-Clemson team in the country has about a 15 percent chance of beating Alabama on a neutral field, according to current offshore odds.
Let’s assume Alabama is able to stay unbeaten through the SEC title game, and not just because the LSU team that Alabama beat on Saturday also defeated Mississippi State, Auburn and Georgia.
The worst possible College Football Playoff path looks like a game against Michigan or Oklahoma in the semifinals and Clemson in the championship. According to the BetOnline odds and their implied probabilities, Alabama would have about a 64 percent chance of winning both games. And that’s the worst-case scenario.
The most challenging games may not materialize. Alabama could play Notre Dame in the semifinals, for example. Or Georgia could exact revenge in the SEC Championship Game and potentially force the committee into a more difficult decision, though a one-loss Bama still is likely to make the College Football Playoff.
Bovada’s current odds of Bama -260 to win the national championship imply a 72.2 percent likelihood.
So, from a betting standpoint, there isn’t any expected value in a Tide futures bet. But another championship seems exceedingly likely after the win in Baton Rouge.
Oklahoma is an interesting long shot at 22/1.
But if you want to bet on another team, or looking to hedge your bet, you’re probably banking on Clemson to waltz into the College Football Playoff field with an easy schedule, then pull off what still would be a significant upset against Alabama.