A lot can happen between now and Jan. 6, but after Week 3 of the 2013 college football season, it would be hard to argue against the prospect of No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Oregon in the BCS National Championship Game.
The game is such a favorite—both logically and in the court of public desire—that Sportsbook.com has released an early theoretical line: Alabama (-6.5).
Those who are inclined can actually go bet on the game right now, and unless the two teams actually meet in the BCS National Championship, the wager would be ruled No Action and the money would be returned.
But how would one hypothetically wager on this theoretical matchup?
The Pick: Oregon (+6.5) OVER Alabama
This wasn't an easy call, per se, since you should always think twice before spotting less than a touchdown to Alabama. But it wasn't a particularly hard one either.
As posited by Ty Hlldenbrandt of the Solid Verbal, one of the most basic rules of college football handicapping is "Always Take the Points in a Shootout." And after watching both Oregon and Alabama play last weekend, the likelihood that this would be a shootout is immense.
Even if it wasn't, though, the Ducks have proven their place as a truly elite team. They've lost less than five games since 2010, going 36-4 in that span. And of those four losses, only one—the 2011 season-opener against LSU—came by more than 6.5 points.
The others all came by a field goal, including the 2011 BCS National Championship against Auburn. Ipso facto, including 2013, they would have covered this spread in 42 of their last 43 games.
On the flip side, over that same stretch, Alabama would have failed to cover 6.5 points in eight different games, including three last season. The Tide have been (and still are) dominant, but quality teams—even when they don't win straight up—can play a good game and hang with them.
This game might look a lot like last year's SEC Championship, when Georgia lost by four and would have covered the proposed spread.
Alabama's defense also showed some a lot of cracks against Texas A&M last week, when Johnny Football torched them for 562 yards of total offense. He and Marcus Mariota are different players, but they play similar styles, and the latter can wreak similar (if not quite as extreme) havoc on a defense.
And unlike Manziel, Mariota has the help of a rushing game that could open things up for him on the back end. De'Anthony Thomas has been worked in as a full-time running back this season, in part as a means for preparing to face the Tide, and he's just the tip of the iceberg.
Together with Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and Mariota himself (who's averaging 17.5 yards on 15 carries this year), that stable of play-makers could get into space and tire out 'Bama's defense. There's a reason Nick Saban wants to slow down the pace of play.
On the other side of the ball, Oregon has a much, much, much stronger defense than what Alabama saw in College Station. The Tide would still be able to move the ball in chunks, but the Ducks, unlike the Aggies, would put up a fight.
They finished No. 4 in Football Outsiders' F/+ Defense Rankings last season, a number that comes as a surprise to many people (but shouldn't). The modern Ducks are thought of as an offensive juggernaut—which is not incorrect—but in recent years, they have added a very good defense to the mix.
And with much of last year's unit returned, including All-American candidate Ifo Ekpre-Olomu at cornerback, they would match up well with Alabama and make them fight to keep Oregon's offense off the field.
It's hard to say if the Ducks would win this game straight up. After seeing what Alabama did to Notre Dame last season, it would be hard to bet against Saban, on a neutral field, against a rookie head coach, with a full month to prepare.
But Oregon shouldn't be laying 6.5 points to anybody in college football—not even the two-time defending national champs.
Always take the points in a shootout.