See Who SBD’s Experts Are Picking in the 2021 College Football Playoff

College Football Playoff trophy

In this Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, file photo, the trophy is displayed before a news conference for the NCAA College Football Playoff national championship game, in New Orleans. The more people who get angry with the College Football Playoff, the more likely it is to change. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

  • See who SBD’s staff are betting in the College Football Playoff Semifinal games on New Year’s Day
  • Alabama faces Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl (from JerryWorld) while Clemson and Ohio State duke it out in the Sugar Bowl
  • See our picks for each game and our best prop bets within the story below

It’s New Year’s Day. It’s the College Football Playoff. Alabama vs Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl, and Clemson vs Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.

You know the storylines and all that’s at stake. Let’s get to the picks.

SBD Staff College Football Playoff Semifinal Picks

SBD Staff Member Alabama vs Notre Dame Clemson vs Ohio State Prop Bet
Matt McEwan Alabama -19.5 (-110) Clemson -7.5 (-105) DeVonta Smith to Score 2+ TDs (+115)
Ryan Sura Over 65.5 (-110) Ohio State +7.5 (-115) Najee Harris to Score First Touchdown (+210)
Sascha Paruk Alabama -19.5 (-110) Ohio State +7.5 (-115) Ian Book Over 248.5 Passing Yards (-113)
Ryan Metivier Alabama -19.5 (-110) Clemson -7.5 (-105) Clemson-Ohio State Over 66.5 (-112)
Pete Apostolopoulos Notre Dame +19.5 (-108) Over 66.5 (-112) Ian Book Anytime TD (+150)
Mitch Robson Notre Dame +19.5 (-108) Ohio State ML (+220) Chris Olave Anytime TD (+120)

Matt McEwan

I’m going ultra chalky with my CFP picks. Notre Dame simply cannot hang with top competition. They’re here because they beat up on a weak ACC and just squeaked out a win over the Trevor Lawrence-less Tigers in November.

The Irish are coming off a 34-10 loss in the ACC Championship, and this one is only going to get worse for them. I’ll happily lay the 20 points with Bama.

DeVonta Smith has scored 2+ touchdowns in five of his last six games, totaling 13 in that span. At +115 to score at least two, there’s no better value on the board. I’m even happier to lay 7 points with Clemson, though. I feel this line should be much closer to 10.

Ohio State is not going to slow Trevor Lawrence, and I don’t believe Justin Fields, who is coming off the worst start of his Buckeyes career, is going to keep up.

Ryan Sura

The last time these two teams met was on January 7th, 2013, for the BCS National Championship. Alabama cruised to victory by a score of 42-14. Both of these teams looked very different as the Crimson Tide were led by AJ McCarron, Eddie Lacy, and Amari Cooper – while Notre Dame’s offense was led by Everett Golson, Theo Riddick, and Tyler Eifert.

In 2020, both of these teams have been offensive juggernauts. Alabama has scored over 50 points in four of their last five games. They are averaging over 540 yards of offense per game this season. Other than their last loss to Clemson, the Fighting Irish’s offense has been very solid as well, scoring 35.2 points per game this season.

Alabama’s last four CFP Semifinal games have gone under, however, this offense cannot be stopped. Mac Jones and Najee Harris have been a PROBLEM for defenses this season. I expect big numbers from both teams as both Nick Saban and Brian Kelly will have some tricks up their sleeve on offense.

Although I absolutely hate betting against Trevor Lawrence, this is too many points to lay against Justin Fields and the Buckeyes. Between 65-70 percent of the bets have come in on Clemson at -7 or -7.5, and the line has really not moved much. This leads me to believe oddsmakers are scared to push OSU to +8 range with how unpredictable Ohio State has been in their six games this year.

The Buckeyes are 5-2 ATS in their last seven neutral site games as an underdog. Moreover, they lost by only six points to Clemson last year in CFP Semifinal 29-23 with a few botched calls. I see a similar situation here with the amount of time Ryan Day and Justin Fields have to prepare. Take the points with Buckeyes.

Sascha Paruk

October 20th, 2018 – that’s the last time the Ohio State Buckeyes lost a game by more than six points.

Yes, they will be missing some important personnel, but they have the depth to make up for it. The Buckeyes were second in the recruiting rankings in both 2017 and 2018. The coaching staff is also intimately familiar with Clemson after last year’s Fiesta Bowl. I expect the Sugar Bowl to be a one-score game.


I’m not expecting anything unexpected in the Rose Bowl. Bama is going to roll, but that also means Notre Dame will be playing catch-up for the better part of 60 minutes. Book has passed for at least 263 yards in all five games in which he’s attempted 30-plus passes.

Only four opponents attempted fewer than 29 passes against the Tide this year: Tennessee (25), Kentucky (25), and Arkansas (17). They lost by a combined 140 points. You need to pass to have any hope of keeping pace.

Ryan Metivier

Alabama hadn’t allowed more than 17 points in the six games prior to the SEC Championship game where Florida put up 46. It still wasn’t enough as the Crimson Tide offense, which averages nearly 50 points per game, did even better and scored 52. Florida has an elite passing attack though, something which Notre Dame does not. They rank just 57th in passing. Which does give them an edge over Alabama’s 76th ranked passing defense.

The Fighting Irish could find more success on the ground, where they rank 21st, but will still be in tough going up against Bama’s 12th ranked run defense. But, it was just in their last game during the ACC Championship Game where Trevor Lawrence and Clemson kept the Irish in check handing them a 34-10 loss.

If Bama jumps ahead early, something they often do and are expected to do again, this one could get away from Notre Dame. Nearly three touchdowns is still a lot though and Nick Saban, with an eye towards the championship, could ease up leaving the backdoor open. Bama is also only 3-6 ATS in playoff games.

Still, let’s say Notre Dame scores 20, does Alabama score less than 40? Probably not. Meaning I’ll lean to the side of the chalk. There are still some -19.5s out there, despite some shops having moved to -20.

Fiesta Bowl Rematch

It’s a rematch of last year’s Fiesta Bowl won by Clemson 29-23. These teams each played to the OVER this year with Ohio State at 3-2-1 and Clemson at 6-5 and there’s reason to think we could see plenty of points come Friday.

Each average over 40 points per game (OSU 42.5 and CLEM 44.9). On defense, the strengths of both also come from defending the run. Ohio State ranks seventh, while Clemson is ninth. Conversely, their passing defenses rank 103rd and 27th respectively. So it’s likely Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence will both be leaned on heavily in this one, which could add up to plenty of points.

While the Buckeyes will be motivated for revenge, they’ve already struggled against other ranked teams in Indiana and Northwestern. Clemson is a step up and the Tigers are 3-0 ATS since Trevor Lawrence returned.

I’ll bet Clemson pulls away in this one, but the Buckeyes will still do their part on the scoreboard to give us a high-scoring game Friday night. This so long as Fields’ thumb injury doesn’t become an issue. If you have access to multiple books though, be sure to look for a -7 as it’s still available in some spots.

Pete Apostolopoulos

In a rematch of last season’s 29-23 Clemson playoff win, I like the over 66.5.

OSU is giving up almost 100 more yards of offense from this season to last, with Clemson’s averaging a whopping 44.9 PPG. The Buckeyes also hold the #6 offense in the country, racking-up 38+ points in 5/6 games this year. A weak OSU defense plus a motivated Clemson team, equals big trouble for Ryan Day, and under bettors.

In the Rose Bowl, the Irish enter this game as one of the biggest CFB playoff dogs we’ve seen since 2015, but that may be an advantage ATS. In the eight combined title & playoff games Bama has played, just one win was by 20+ points. ND has a veteran QB who can make plays, facing a Bama defense who was gashed for 46pts in the SEC title game. Bama also has three key pieces all projected OUT in OL Landon Dickerson, WR Jaylen Waddle & DE LaBryan Ray.

I don’t see ND rolling over here, and I think Ian Book scores enough to keep it close.

Book has eight rushing TDs this season, and he’ll likely need to make plays on his own to keep ND in the game. I think Book’s TD prop can hold some value, especially if ND finds themselves in the red zone a handful of times.

Mitch Robson

The rhetoric we’ve heard across the CFB world since the Playoff field was announced from fans, writers and pundits alike is that this setup is going to lead to two blowout semifinal games.

Obviously, that means we’re likely to see two absolute thrillers on New Year’s Day. I’m fading the public in both my opinions on the games and the picks we’re taking to the books.

The overreaction to Notre Dame’s loss to Clemson in the ACC title game – and their blowout loss to Alabama in the 2013 BCS title game – has inflated this line that should be closer to two touchdowns than three.

This Alabama front four has no NFL locks on it for the first time in what seems like a decade, and that should play into Notre Dame’s desire to pound Kyren Williams and run the ball to control clock. The Crimson Tide offense is undeniably explosive and historically good, but they did much of their damage in what was a down year across the SEC. Facing Clark Lea’s defense should present some challenges to Mac Jones, and if Kyle Hamilton and the Irish secondary play up to their potential they should at least slow the Tide enough to keep this game within 20 points.

I’m calling my shot in the Sugar Bowl and taking Ohio State on the moneyline. Yes, they were unimpressive in the Big Ten title game (unless of course you saw the emergence of grad transfer Trey Sermon running for 300+ yards). Yes, they’ve played a super disjointed schedule consisting of only six games.

But a majority of their draft eligible players returned specifically for another shot at Clemson after last year’s heartbreaker in the Fiesta Bowl.

That game ended when Chris Olave slipped in the end zone on the Buckeyes final drive leading to a game sealing interception by Justin Fields.

With Olave out of COVID-19 protocols and expected to play – along with the rest of the Buckeyes top O-linemen returning – he should have a monster game against Clemson’s inconsistent secondary. I’ve got him as a lock for a touchdown at some point.

If Ryan Day commits to 15+ carries for Trey Sermon, it should open up the intermediate passing game where the Buckeyes crop of NFL-caliber receiver talent can feast – and Fields can show out in his biggest showcase this season.