In an annual Alabama tradition right up there with the Iron Bowl and competing for a national title, the Crimson Tide have had several key players this week opt to forgo their senior seasons to enter the NFL draft.
But the loss of players such as wide receiver Calvin Ridley and defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick didn’t affect Alabama’s odds to repeat as college football national champions next season.
The Crimson Tide — fresh off Monday’s 26-23 overtime comeback win over Georgia for their fifth national title in nine years — are the 8-5 favorite to win the 2019 College Football Playoff national championship game.
Clemson is the 6-1 second choice at the Westgate sports book, Georgia is 7-1 and Ohio State 8-1. Every other team has double-digit odds, paced by Penn State and Michigan at 12-1.
Westgate sports book manager Ed Salmons opened Alabama at 5-2 odds Monday night but moved them to 8-5 on Tuesday after taking a closer look at the Tide’s 2018 schedule.
“Alabama has the easiest schedule I’ve ever seen,” he said. “If you could pick four teams for next year’s (CFP), everybody would start out with Alabama and Clemson.”
The Crimson Tide open next season against Louisville on Sept. 1 in a neutral-site game in Orlando, Florida. They have a bye week before their toughest road game at Louisiana State on Nov. 3, and they host Auburn in the regular-season ending Iron Bowl on Nov. 24.
“Alabama is going to have to go through Georgia in the (Southeastern Conference) championship game, unless it loses to Auburn to go 10-1 and gets in that way,” Salmons said. “If it had beaten Auburn this season, it would’ve had to play Georgia twice. If (Alabama and Georgia) are both undefeated next year, is the loser going to go to the final four?”
Salmons doesn’t expect there to be a quarterback controversy at Alabama after freshman Tua Tagovailoa replaced two-year starter Jalen Hurts at halftime of the national title game and rallied it from deficits of 13-0 and 23-20 in overtime. He expects Tagovailoa to be the starter.
Clemson might have a quarterback competition between returning starter Kelly Bryant and incoming freshman Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1-rated recruit in the country.
With quarterback J.T. Barrett gone from the Buckeyes, Bishop Gorman product Tate Martell is expected to compete for the starting job with Dwayne Haskins.
Salmons said the Pac-12 doesn’t have any teams capable of making it into the CFP and that the Big Ten schedule will knock out a team such as Wisconsin, which next season has road games against Michigan and Penn State.
“It’s probably (Michigan coach Jim) Harbaugh’s best team next year, but they play Penn State at home and have to finish at Ohio State,” he said. “Ohio State this year plays at Penn State. So much of this (CFP) stuff is based on schedule.”
Salmons’ sleeper pick is West Virginia (40-1).
“West Virginia has a chance to have a really big year,” he said. “That team should be loaded next year.”
The Mountaineers return quarterback Will Grier, a Heisman Trophy candidate, and several other senior starters and have a favorable schedule.