Alabama Football Aims High Again
Alabama has won 11 games or more every year since 2010 under the leadership of Nick Saban. The only other time they were below 11 was in Saban’s first year, way back in 2007. Why is this important? Because Las Vegas has posted Alabama’s Over/Under for wins at 10.5, and charges just a modest (-120) price if you bet the Over.
It isn’t that the market is down on Alabama—to the contrary, they’re a 4-1 favorite to win the national championship in Atlanta this coming January. No other team has an Over/Under higher and Ohio State is the only other team to go as high as 10.5. This looks more like classic play-it-safe Las Vegas conservatism.
But whenever something can look too easy it often is, and when handicapping a perennial power like Alabama—in any sport—it’s important to start by looking for the weaknesses that may be unique to this particular group. Last year’s team had some vulnerabilities in pass defense. The offenses of the SEC West couldn’t exploit it, but DeShaun Watson could. Does this year’s Alabama team have any similar flaws?
Defensively, the secondary is likely to shift from weakness to strength, as young starters from 2016 grow into experienced and battle-tested upperclassmen. Let’s start with a pair of juniors at safety, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison. They’ll be the key to what will likely to be an improved unit in 2017.
Jalen Hurts solved Alabama’s quarterback question marks a year ago and the electric dual-threat sophomore should only improve his passing—which was already pretty good, at 63% completions, 7.3 yards-per-attempt and a 23/9 TD-INT ratio—with experience. Three starters return to the traditionally strong offensive line and both lead backs, Bo Scarborough and Damien Harris are back in the fold. The talented Calvin Ridley returns at wide receiver.
What we don’t know is how coaching changes are going to impact the Tide offense. The departure of Lane Kiffin during last year’s postseason was followed by Steve Sarkisian leaving for the Atlanta Falcons. Brian Daboll has a nice coaching pedigree—working on the New England Patriots staff. But the OC job in Tuscaloosa is his biggest assignment and we need to see how he handles that.
The other question mark is the defensive interior. Saban will be looking to plug in a juco transfer in end Isiah Buggs and may also turn to some true freshmen. It’s easier doing that at Alabama than anywhere else, where they always bring in the nation’s best recruiting classes. But at the same time, all problems are also relative, and it will be intriguing to see how ‘Bama handles the run.
Finding value on Alabama is always a challenge. The ATS mark over the last years is 23-21, indicating that the market usually finds equilibrium. The futures market is even tougher. The Over/Under win prop might not be the most glamorous bet on the market, but if you want to invest pro-Tide at this early stage, it’s the only way to go.