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Odds and Ends

National Championship player prop guide

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: January 11, 2021, 4:53 pm ET

To handicap props, you need to have a firm handle on in-game matchups. I have you handled with my national title game betting preview, title game betting preview with Drew Dinsick, my title game NFL Draft prospect breakdown with Derrik Klassen, and my title game player prop picks with Eric Froton

When Eric and I recorded our prop video on Friday, the odds on PointsBet were drastically different than they are today.

I have three notes on this: 1) Often, in betting, there is more value in player props than there is on the side or total, 2) As with side and total betting, but with wider margins, betting earlier in the week often provides more value, 3) We bet numbers, not players or teams. The idea is to find value.

CFP National Championship | Hard Rock Stadium | Miami, Florida

Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Ohio State

PointsBet line: Alabama -9

PointsBet total: 75

ATL: Bama -5.6

8:00p EST | ESPN


Justin Fields290.5296.5
Mac Jones365.5365.5
Trey Sermon79.5105.5
Najee Harris88.5113.5
Chris Olave85.598.5
Devonta Smith114.5141.5


The table above illustrates the differences in PointsBet player prop yardage totals between early Friday afternoon, when Eric Froton and I shot our title game prop preview, and late Monday afternoon when this column was published. 

Of the picks I made on Friday, four-of-five lines have since moved in my favor (the Jones line didn't change). Below, I'll list my picks from Friday, my picks on the updated lines, my notes, and my thoughts on all six players.

Justin Fields | Jan. 8 o/u passing yards: 290.5 | Thor's pick: OVER

Updated line: 296.5

Thor's thoughts: Over

Fields went over 300 passing yards in four of seven games this year. And if you want to extend it into last season, he's gone over this number in seven-of-10, including both playoff games against Brent Venables' Clemson Tigers.

One of the three unders in that sample, one was against Northwestern in the Big 10 title game with a throwing thumb injury and without WR1 Chris Olave playing a top-3 pass defense. Another had to do with game-script in a run-heavy 52-12 blowout win over Sparty.

The midsection and thumb injuries didn't seem to bother him in torching Clemson for 385 passing yards last week. Alabama ranks No. 92 in defensive passing explosion. Clemson had a similar weakness and Fields made them pay.

Mac Jones | Jan. 8 o/u passing yards: 365.5 | Thor's pick: UNDER

Updated line: 365.5

Thor's thoughts: Pass

Mac went over this number in three of his first four games, but only two of his last seven. He did go over in three of five games against ranked teams (over vs Florida, A&M and UGA; under vs ND and Auburn). 

Ohio State's shoddy secondary does give pause. It held five of seven opponents under 285 passing yards, but gave up 400 or more to two, Indiana and Clemson.

I believe the Buckeyes will have a little more success running the ball and a little more success getting after Mac Jones (Rimington winner Dickerson is out) than is commonly believed heading into the game, factors that could keep Jones under a lofty number like 365.5.

But really, this is more of a pass. Fair total. Not surprised it's the one of the six from Friday that didn't move. 

Trey Sermon | Jan. 8 o/u rushing yards: 79.5 | Thor's pick: OVER

Updated line: 105.5

Thor's thoughts: Pass

Sermon at 79.5 was a slam-dunk over. At 105.5, this is probably a pass. If I had to make a pick, I'd lean over.

Sermon has exploded for 212.0 rushing YPG in his last three games, dropping 333 on Northwestern and 193 on Clemson. He averaged 8.7 YPC in those two games. The Buckeyes' nasty offensive line ranks No. 4 in Football Outsiders' Line Yards.

Kyren Williams had a little success running against Alabama in the first half before Notre Dame abandoned the run, finishing with 64 yds on 4.0 YPC. The Tide only gave up two 100-yard games this year. But as Ole Miss showed, you can run on them when you stick with it: Both Snoop Connor and Jerrion Ealy went over the century mark in that game.

Najee Harris | Jan. 8 o/u rushing yards: 88.5 | Thor's pick: UNDER

Updated line: 113.5

Thor's thoughts: Under

I was admittedly a little out on a limb with my under at the 88.5 number, and it was the one of five that ended up moving against me in the intervening three days. I'm even more confident in the under now at this number!

Harris has gone over this total in three of his last four. But on the season, in just six of 12. And this is probably his hardest assignment of the campaign.

Ohio State didn't allow a 100-yd runner in 2020. The Buckeyes haven't surrendered a 100-yard rusher since Jonathan Taylor in last year's Big 10 title game.

The Buckeyes held Clemson stud RB Travis Etienne to 68 combined rushing yards in two playoff games against Clemson. The Buckeyes rank No. 9 in run success rate against but No. 109 in rushing explosion against.

The Tide rank No. 4 in rushing success rate, but No. 80 in rushing marginal explosiveness due to Harris' lack of long speed. Harris may not be able to exploit OSU's run-defense weakness.

Chris Olave | Jan. 8 o/u receiving yards: 85.5 | Thor's pick: OVER

Updated line: 98.5

Thor's thoughts: Over

Not quite as enthusiastic on the over at this number, but I can still tentatively endorse a play. Olave went over 100 yards receiving in five of six games this season.

Of course, Olave is taking on the toughest corner he's seen all year, Alabama CB Patrick Surtain (89.7 PFF grade). That said, Surtain's a press-man maven, and Olave releases off the line efficiently, and runs good routes.

Justin Fields is methodical in the pocket, and should have time to throw. And the Tide, which rank No. 92 in defensive passing marginal explosiveness, have suffered from poor safety play and egregious breakdowns in the back-half all year.

It's a given that Ohio State is going to hit multiple home runs through the air against Alabama on Monday night. And Olave is by far and away Fields' favorite target.

Recently, in the SEC title game, Alabama gave up two 129-plus yard receiving games against Florida, and a third receiver had 78 yards. The Buckeyes should have aerial usage to go around on Monday.

DeVonta Smith | Jan. 8 o/u receiving yards: 114.5 | Thor's pick: OVER

Updated line: 141.5

Thor's thoughts: Pass (if Waddle doesn't play) / Under (if Waddle plays)

The original line that PointsBet dropped, 114.5, was a mistake -- I was all over the over. Now that it's been adjusted almost 30 yards north, it's a different story.

Smith has gone over 140 yards in seven of 12 games this year, including five of the last seven. But he went under in two of four games when Waddle was healthy.

I expect Smith, the Heisman winner, to shred overhyped first-round prospect Shaun Wade if they’re matched up across from one another. But 141.5 is a big number to cover. And if Waddle is on the field, Alabama may have too many mouths to feed. Too many variables for me.

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Thor Nystrom

Thor Nystrom is NBC Sports Edge’s lead CFB writer. The 2018 FSWA College Sports Writer of the Year, Nystrom’s writing has also been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to him on Twitter @thorku!