Suspended/injured players or not, 1 scenario could prevent Alabama from covering a massive spread vs. Duke
I know, I know, I know.
Saying “I know” just once didn’t feel like enough. You don’t have to tell me about how dominant Nick Saban has been in season-opening games.
It’s absurd. I’m under the impression that if you gave Saban 8 months to discover a new planet, he’d find a way.
In case you needed a reminder just how dominant Saban has been in openers at Alabama, check it out:
- 2007: Win 52-6 vs. Western Carolina
- 2008: Win 34-10 vs. No. 9 Clemson*
- 2009: Win 34-24 vs. No. 7 Virginia Tech*
- 2010: Win 48-3 vs. San Jose State
- 2011: Win 48-7 vs. Kent State
- 2012: Win 41-14 vs. No. 8 Michigan*
- 2013: Win 35-10 vs. Virginia Tech*
- 2014: Win 33-23 vs. West Virginia*
- 2015: Win 35-17 vs. No. 20 Wisconsin*
- 2016: Win 52-6 vs. No. 20 USC*
- 2017: Win 24-7 vs. No. 3 Florida State*
- 2018: Win 51-14 vs. Louisville*
- 2019: ?
That’s 12 wins by an average of 28.8 points. Half of those games were against ranked opponents. All of them were by double digits.
So not surprisingly, Alabama’s opener against Duke in Atlanta on Saturday has a massive spread. Like, a cupcake week-type spread. A line that opened at Alabama -30.5 is now up to -34 (according to WestGate as of roughly Thursday morning). In other words, a whole lot of people believe the Crimson Tide will beat Duke by at least 5 touchdowns.
For most of the offseason, I would have been in that crowd. I would have pointed to the aforementioned Saban dominance in openers, the revenge tour and the fact that Duke will be playing football and signed off on Alabama winning by 35 without much thought.
But there’s a scenario that crept into my mind last week that gave me pause. And no, it wasn’t prompted by news that Najee Harris, Brian Robinson, Terrell Lewis and DeVonta Smith are reportedly suspended for at least some of Saturday’s action, nor did it have anything to do with the devastating news that Dylan Moses would miss all of 2019 with a torn ACL.
I could envision a world in which the Alabama offense doesn’t look like it’s in midseason form. Why? Don’t worry. I’m not about to rant about Tua Tagovailoa being due for regression or something like that. I am, however, a bit cautious about how quickly Steve Sarkisian gels with this offense. And if there’s any bit of a slow start at all, covering a 34-point spread would be a tall task.
I know what you might be thinking.
“What does Sarkisian have to figure out? Let Tagovailoa get the ball into the hands of Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle, Henry Ruggs, or anybody wearing an Alabama jersey and everything will be fine.”
I get that. What I also get is that it can sometimes be a bit of a juggling act for a team with a new offensive coordinator when there are a lot of mouths to feed. That’s absolutely the case at Alabama. And it’s different from last year when none of those receivers came in as bonafide stars.
For what it’s worth, this isn’t my way of saying I think Sarkisian will fail as the Alabama offensive coordinator. I realize that if Alabama doesn’t have 21 points by the end of the 1st quarter, fans will be saying “I can’t believe we hired this guy again.” Chill on that fire take. If Alabama can’t break 30 against Duke and New Mexico State, then let’s talk. But if I’m a Crimson Tide fan, I’m bracing myself for a potentially slow start.
By “potentially slow start,” I’m referring to what constitutes a slow start from the Alabama offense. Like, maybe by the time the National Anthem is over, Alabama won’t be up 14-0 after a pair of 75-yard touchdown passes.
And for what it’s worth, Duke has plenty of experience and returning production on defense. The Blue Devils’ top 4 safeties are back from a defense that finished No. 36 against the pass last year. In other words, they might not be as susceptible as others to that Tagovailoa-to-Jeudy bomb that’s seemingly open every time.
Now don’t get it twisted. I fear that Alabama fans will read the previous section and think I’m predicting the worst for the Crimson Tide not only in the opener but in 2019. I’m not. I still would predict Alabama’s revenge tour to start with a convincing win to kick off a 12-0 regular season.
I just think that those assuming we’ll see a repeat of last year’s showing against Louisville need to take the aforementioned Sarkisian factor into account before assuming it’ll be a 35-point margin of victory. Even at Alabama, there can be a bit of a feeling out process with these things. Predicting a 5-touchdown victory suggests there won’t be. Last year’s historically dominant Alabama team only beat 3 Power 5 teams by 35-plus.
So how would I bet this game? Would I take Duke +34.5? Probably, though the thought of betting against Saban in an opener still seems like I’m just setting money on fire. The smarter play, in my opinion, is the “under” at 57.
But I’ll take the “over” on the “fire Sarkisian” takes we’ll see on Twitter come Saturday afternoon.