Betting Stuff: Has the Tide turned in Georgia-Bama rivalry?
Betting Stuff is a regular sports gambling column here at Saturday Down South with a focus on college football wagering (though don’t be surprised to see some non-college football insights from time to time). Betting Stuff is brought to you by MyBookie. If you’re looking for a place to make a deposit and start getting in on the action, look no further than MyBookie.
Under Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide have had only a few defensive lowlights. For the most part, if an opponent didn’t have a Heisman-caliber dual-threat quarterback, Alabama was the most reliable defensive bet in college football. From 2009 through 2018, only 1 team managed to score 31+ points on the Crimson Tide without the benefit of a dual-threat triggerman running some variation of the spread. That 30-point outburst came against South Carolina back in 2010. Stephen Garcia had a career day, and the Gamecocks did have the benefit of an All-American wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) and the NCAA Freshman of the Year, Marcus Lattimore.
Since 2010, two critical things have changed within the Crimson Tide program and in the greater world of college football. The first is the revolving door of talent and coaching in Tuscaloosa. Alabama has witnessed 18 underclassmen declare for the NFL Draft in just the past 3 seasons. Half of that group came from the defense. Additionally, Alabama has relied on 4 different defensive coordinators (or co-DCs) since 2015. This roster and coaching turnover has not engendered the kind of continuity usually associated with elite defenses.
The second element that has trended against Alabama has been college football’s full embrace of the spread. When Saban took the big job in T-Town in 2007, only one team (Florida) ran a pure form of the spread. Today, more than half the SEC teams run a variation of the spread, which reflects the national trend.
Last Saturday night’s track meet in Oxford appears to signal that the spread, as a talent equalizer, is ahead of even the great Nick Saban. The Rebels racked up 647 total yards, 31 first downs and 48 points. It was so bad that Saban even wondered aloud if Ole Miss was stealing signals. “I don’t know if they had our signals or what. That’s not anything unusual. It seemed like every time we called something, they had the best play that they could have against it,” Saban told the media. It’s possible that Ole Miss caught Alabama tipping their hand, but it’s more likely that the Rebels’ use of RPOs and audibles put them in favorable spots all night.
Regardless of how Ole Miss pulled off its offensive performance, what’s more telling is that this explosion wasn’t out of the blue. In 3 of Bama’s last 6 SEC games, dating to November 2019, the Tide has surrendered north of 40 points. One outburst can be written off as the by-product of facing the otherworldly LSU offense, but to give up so many yards and points to Bo Nix and Matt Corral is alarming. (Admittedly, Auburn scored 14 of its 48 points off a pair of pick-6s.)
And now the Tide is facing off against a program that looks more like Alabama than, well … Alabama. Georgia is 2nd in total defense; Alabama checks in at 66th. Georgia has surrendered just 1 play of 40+ yards thus far while Alabama has surrendered 6. But most decisive could be their play against opposing quarterbacks. The Bulldogs are 1 of just 3 teams keeping opposing quarterbacks under a QB rating of 100. Alabama is allowing a QB Rating of 148.3, which is worse than UTEP and Vanderbilt.
Yet here we are, 2 days before the Tide’s showdown with the Bulldogs, and the gambling market has firmed up in favor of Alabama. The Crimson Tide opened as a 5-point favorite and that number bubbled up to 6, before dropping to 4 due to Saban’s COVID-19 news. Narratives are being pushed that Saban remains impervious to his former assistants, an assertion solidified by his perfect 21-0 record against former lieutenants. As of Thursday morning, 73% of the handle on this game has been placed in favor of Alabama.
Prior to the news that Saban had contracted COVID-19, I had this game pegged in the 4 to 4.5-point range. If you can find a number in the 6- to 7-point window, there is value in backing Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs in this spot. I will also opt to buy a point or two to catch the key number of seven with Georgia.
In the end, I believe there’s something fundamentally broken with this Alabama defense. Combined with the lack of home-field advantage, I think there will be too much pressure on the Alabama offense to play a perfect game. In the end, I see this as a one-possession game, either way, so to catch close to a touchdown is a gift.
Last Week: 4-2 (66%, +2.2 Units)
Overall: 20-14-1 (58.8%, +4.6 Units)
My top play for Week 7
BYU-5.5 at Houston (62.5)
When I’m fading a team with a lousy defense, I really care about 3 things: Can they create havoc (TFLs, FFs, INTs), do they return enough starters (7+) to employ complex schemes, and do they have a defensive coordinator with a successful track record. The Houston Cougars check 1 of those 3 boxes, but not the one that concerns me.
Last season, UH generated just 14 turnovers all season (107th), registered just 67 TFLs (92nd) and finished 124th against the pass. In other words, BYU won’t have to worry about a disruptive defense. In terms of returning production, UH does rank 3rd nationally on the defensive side but will be breaking in a slew of JUCO and FBS transfers within their 2-deep, particularly in their secondary.
Keep in mind, this was a defense that only got worse as the season progressed in 2019, completely bottoming out in their final 5 games (38.6 ppg allowed during that stretch). Defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen’s attacking style just doesn’t seem to fit his personnel and he failed to adapt last season. But giving him the benefit of the doubt in Year 2, even if he helps this defense achieve every ounce of its potential, you’re only looking at a jump from FBS-worst to a middling Group of 5 unit.
One game into their 2020 season, UH has already logged one of the strangest box scores I’ve ever seen. The Cougars surrendered just 211 total yards to Tulane, yet they allowed 31 points. UH turned the ball over 5 times, setting up Tulane with short fields and a pair of defensive touchdowns (pick-6, scoop-n-score). This game was a complete statistical anomaly, so I’m sticking with the data from 2019 and tossing out their opener entirely.
On the BYU side, the boys from Provo finally came back down to earth Saturday against the feisty UTSA Roadrunners. They won, but their dynamic and seemingly unstoppable offense was stymied for much of the afternoon. Zach Wilson looked human for the first time this season, but it’s worth noting that during an “off” game, the Cougars still piled up 470 total yards and 27 points, while only turning the ball over once.
I think we’ll see BYU find its groove again on offense and for all of the negatives I listed above about the UH defense, its offense has a chance to be really special. Look for a few touchdowns from Marquez Stevenson and a wild shootout in H-Town.
Pick: Over 62.5
At this point, if you’re not tailing my NCAA ’14 hybrid picks, you’re just leaving money on the table. Through 3 weeks, when I’ve paired my top picks with matching simulation data, my record is 7-2 overall. We nearly posted our second perfect week, but Notre Dame was stopped at the goal line in the closing minutes against Florida State.
In this week’s simulations, Temple rebounded nicely from its 2-point loss against Navy, dismantling USF 38-21. The Bulls are in the midst of a complete rebuild and fell behind 28-0 before staging a semi-rally in the second half.
The Liberty-Syracuse spread jumps off the page because you rarely see a small program laying points on the road to a Power 5 opponent. The Flames, now 4-0 on the season, have an ESPN+ All-American at quarterback. You may not see Malik Willis on national TV this year, but the Auburn transfer is arguably the best small-school dual-threat quarterback outside of Dillon Gabriel.
And finally, we got a slobber knocker of a game between Cincy and Tulsa. These defenses put the clamps on for the entire game, with Cincy escaping 20-14 thanks to a pick-6 from Jim Thorpe Award watch list honoree Ahmad Gardner.
Due for a bounceback
Western Kentucky, Appalachian State and Kansas are the only teams to play at least 3 games without a single win against the spread. Last week, I noted that Clemson’s 0-3 start against the spread was baked into its 14-point spread against Miami. As it turned out, that was in fact an overcorrection by the market. Clemson cruised to a 25-point victory in a game that wasn’t even that close.
So is there value in jumping on the suddenly empty bandwagons of WKU, App State or Kansas? Absolutely, but not necessarily right away. For example, the Hilltoppers are 1-3 SU and 0-4 ATS, but that has come against 3 high-end opponents. Once WKU faces off against a middle of the road opponent, I’ll pounce on it. This week, unfortunately, they’re traveling to Birmingham to take on an excellent UAB squad. The following week WKU hosts Chattanooga in what amounts to a “neck crack” game. Unless they’re laying north of 31 points, I’ll be on the Hilltoppers in that spot.
Appalachian State is off again this week, which complicates things for potential Mountaineer backers. Long layoffs have been unkind to teams this season, and when they take the field next Thursday against Arkansas State it will be nearly a month between games. I’ll be rooting for a close game and another ATS loss for App State, with the hopes of loading up on the ‘Neers the following week as a sizable favorite against the country’s worst FBS team, UL Monroe.
With App State and WKU off the table this week, that leaves us with Kansas. Three games in, the Jayhawks haven’t come within 2 touchdowns of their opponents and their 66-year-old head coach now has COVID-19. Talk about buying low. Kansas is traveling to Morgantown this week to take on West Virginia and the spread has crossed over the 3 touchdown threshold (MyBookie: KU+22.5). Nearly 75% of the handle thus far is on the WVU side, which means that we could see this number hit 24 before kickoff.
It won’t feel good, but placing a bet on the winless Jayhawks is the right value play. My power rankings call for them to be a 19.5-point underdog, so anything north of 21 is a good value.
College football has never experienced a season with so many different starting points. The major conferences have all gone their own way, creating different windows for Heisman candidates to build momentum. It’s been fairly true in recent years that the candidate who breaks last has had a strategic advantage in the Heisman race.
In the early years, many voters filled out their ballot weeks ahead of time. Thanks to technology and good old fashioned shaming, nearly all voters wait until the completion of the season and championship weekend to make their selection. Whoever leaves that late and lasting impression has a great chance to sway the voters, and in this strange season, that also means that more candidates will be playing their way out of contention before the Big Ten and Pac-12 even suit up.
All odds listed below are courtesy of MyBookie. Two jump out to me.
The first is Justin Fields. In early June, Fields and Trevor Lawrence were universally listed as co-favorites in the 3:1 to 5:2 range. At 3:1, even a former Heisman finalist doesn’t offer much value. But at twice that number, I’m intrigued, to say the least. Nothing has really changed in terms of Fields’ ceiling (talent, draft stock, opportunity to win conference), so to be able to grab him at twice the going rate from the summer is a good deal.
Sam Howell is another player whose odds have gotten longer and I’m not exactly sure why. He did get off to a slow start, but UNC is firmly in the top 10 and he just torched a formidable Virginia Tech defense. I also love the fact that UNC’s schedule is back-loaded and could include an ACC title game showdown with Clemson. If he were to go 2-1 against Notre Dame, Miami and Clemson, I’d argue his odds should be 5:1 to win the Heisman. So really, it’s a bet on UNC’s upside.