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Bettor's guide to Week 15: How Alabama got its swagger back

By Adam Kramer  (VSiN.com) 

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The invincibility that once blanketed Alabama football has returned.

It’s different now, of course, compared to what it once was. Before he hired Lane Kiffin to completely overhaul his archaic offensive philosophy, Nick Saban mastered the art of dominating football teams through defense, special teams and just enough offense, normally a running game, that was simply too overwhelming for teams to match.

This version of Alabama is not that. It’s essentially the opposite of that. This version of Alabama, now a -135 favorite to win the national championship at Circa, is almost unrecognizable from the boa constrictor type of football Saban built when he arrived in Tuscaloosa.

And yet, the expectations feel similar. The fear is back. That sense of inevitability is alive and well. And while we speculate over whether Ohio State is deserving of playoff consideration despite playing only five games, it feels like it’s more for show than anything else.

Alabama is 9-0. Despite being dealt an average spread of nearly 24 points, the Crimson Tide are 7-2 against the spread. They have the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense. And, despite a rocky start on that side of the ball, they have the No. 15 scoring defense.

A 29.5-point road favorite against LSU on Saturday, Alabama cruised 55-17 in Baton Rouge -- a place that doesn’t typically (or ever) -- see spreads of this magnitude. Saban’s team made the football demolition look easy, thanks largely to quarterback Mac Jones and wideout DeVonta Smith. (More on him in a minute.)

Back to the inevitability. While it feels different and it looks much different, it feels like we’re approaching the position we were in back in 2017, 2015, 2012, 2011 and 2009 championship seasons.

Alabama has its swagger back. Sure, there are plenty of reasons why it might not culminate with a national title. For starters, winning one is hard. The Crimson Tide still likely have to face Florida and then perhaps Clemson, Notre Dame or Ohio State. If all goes according to plan, they’ll likely play two of those teams.

But the current championship odds speak volumes. And if you watch the way this offense consistently overwhelms the opposition — without star wideout Jaylen Waddle, I might add — then -135, despite the randomness and the quality of the opponents still in play, doesn’t sound all that bad.

It’s different, for certain. And deep down Saban probably hates this brand of football. But it’s hard to deny where Alabama appears to be headed.

The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations

1. BYU-Coastal Carolina was football perfection. This was a football Picasso. Forget that the Chanticleers won outright as an 8.5-point underdog, although that certainly played a significant part. The fact that this game was born out of thin air and necessity in a matter of 48 hours, was greeted with overwhelming applause and then somehow actually met the hype is truly magnificent. What a win for Coastal Carolina. Bigger yet, what a season. I thought this team would be physically outmatched against BYU, and it countered that notion by dominating the time of possession. Also, kudos to the Cougars. It’s not easy to accept, prepare or travel cross-country on short notice. They should be commended for that. And that ending? Perfection. Game of the year.

2. Michigan-Ohio State isn’t happening. Major COVID-19 issues with the Wolverines derailed this game. While curiosity quickly turns to Ohio State and the College Football Playoff, I am far more intrigued to see what happens to Jim Harbaugh. (Also, I think the Buckeyes will find a way in.) Harbaugh, on the other hand, is in a fascinating scenario. There are rumors this week that he has been offered an extension at a lower salary. There also are rumors that he could return to the NFL. Not a bad spot to be in considering how bad it has been this year. If I’m Harbaugh, I leave Ann Arbor. It’s just not working. Maybe a new staff could help change that. Sure. But it’s hard to escape the hysteria that will follow his every game moving forward. Time for a fresh start.

3. For as long as I am writing this column and the award is not announced, I will continue beating the same drum. Give DeVonta Smith the Heisman. Don’t fall in love with the quarterbacks like we do every year. Give it to the best, most impactful player in college football this season. I realize that his quarterback, Mac Jones, is a fantastic football player having a fantastic season. His deep balls have been superb. But Smith is the best player in the sport right now. Last Saturday, he caught three touchdowns and went over 200 yards receiving against LSU … in the first half. He’s a cheat code. He’s the best wideout in Alabama history. He’s a player who should win the Heisman. He won’t, but he should. The voting for this award is broken, which is unfortunate. But to help unbreak it for the others to follow, please spread the word.

4. How many of you actually know who Karl Dorrell is? And for those who know of Dorrell, how much do you know about him? Be honest. Dorrell is the head coach at Colorado. His team is 4-0. When Dorrell was hired after the departure of Mel Tucker to Michigan State in late February, it felt like a bit of a reach. Dorrell was the Dolphins’ wide receivers coach before he was hired to lead Colorado in a pinch. The collective response was somewhere between “meh” and laughter. And while beating UCLA, Stanford, San Diego State and Arizona isn’t exactly the definitive path to coaching brilliance, kudos for a great start. Colorado is a nice story in a weird year.

5. Kansas covered a game against the spread. Call your family. Sounds the alarms. Life can return to normal. I feel obligated to keep you informed on all Kansas football matters because we’re in too deep at this point. Heading into their game against Texas Tech, the Jayhawks were winless against the spread. Although the Red Raiders were a 26.5-point favorite, Kansas ultimately lost 16-13. For those rooting for Kansas to go an entire season without covering a game, those dreams are over. And for Texas Tech fans, well, woof. 

The Buffet: The Five Best Games of the Weekend

I want to complain for a moment. Writing this section of this piece in 2020 is difficult. I can’t tell you how many words and games have been scrubbed because of cancelations and postponements. That said, we will continue to change out games when necessary. You deserve it. Rant over.

1. Miami (-3.5, 67.5) vs. North Carolina: Given the way the program has stumbled across many seasons over the last 15 years, it feels like 8-1 Miami should be a bigger deal. And if not for Clemson and Notre Dame — an adopted ACC program for 2020 — perhaps that would be the case. As is, the Hurricanes are coming off a 48-0 rout over Duke on Saturday, where they easily covered as a two-touchdown favorite. North Carolina, a week removed from getting upended by the Irish, easily cruised past Western Carolina. From a sheer watchability standpoint, this one has plenty to offer. Although Sam Howell and D'Eriq King have vastly different builds and playing styles, both quarterbacks are incredibly explosive. And of all the things to jump out heading into a game that has a chance to be one of the year’s most exciting, it’s the total. This scoreboard might get a workout.

2. Iowa (-1, 42) vs. Wisconsin: Iowa is a handful of plays from being unbeaten. The Hawkeyes began the season with losses to Purdue and Northwestern that both came in the final moments by a combined five points. As is, this team has rebounded. Iowa is 5-2 and 3-2-2 against the spread. The most recent efforts against Nebraska and Illinois were not wildly inspiring. And yet, the trajectory of these two are vastly different. Wisconsin opened with an emphatic win over Illinois, dealt with COVID issues and hasn’t been the same since. On Saturday, the Badgers lost outright to Indiana as a 12.5-point favorite. Wisconsin has lost two consecutive games and scored a total of 13 points in its last 120 minutes of football. While you won’t confuse Iowa with Alabama in terms of offensive explosiveness, this team has some quality players at running back and tight end. The line says otherwise. Although Wisconsin has struggled mightily of late, oddsmakers still think there’s something left.

3. USC (-3.5, 61.5) at UCLA: It seems odd to say that USC-UCLA is actually a delightfully sneaky football game given the history and the rivalry, but here we are. The reason we haven’t been able to say that much is because a) both teams have been largely disappointing for some time and b) UCLA looked to be cratering under Chip Kelly. This season, however, that is not the case. The Bruins are 3-2 and could easily be 5-0. They are 4-1 against the spread. USC is 4-0, coming off a dominating Sunday (yes, Sunday) victory over Washington State, and 2-2 ATS. Both teams are averaging exactly 33 points per game, which is pretty wild. And both defenses have been good enough. Given the record, USC likely will be a popular betting choice. But I like the underdog to make a game of it, which would be great for this rivalry. It could use some juice.

4. Georgia (-13, 52.5) at Missouri: With cancellations once again affecting the week’s slate of games, Georgia-Missouri should get plenty of screen time in the rotation. Amid the madness, Mizzou has actually been a nice story in 2020. The Tigers are 5-3 and 5-2-1 against the spread. They also have scored 91 points in the last two weeks and enter this game after a thrilling 50-48 win over Arkansas. At 6-2, Georgia is just 3-5 ATS. Since naming JT Daniels the starter at quarterback, the offense has played better. Those games, however, came against Mississippi State and South Carolina. This feels like a more reasonable measuring stick. Outside the blowout loss to Florida, Missouri has played well of late. Perhaps they’ll simply be overmatched athletically. That’s certainly a possibility. But I could also see this one being close deep into the second half.

5. Florida (-23.5, 67.5) vs. LSU: Is this truly one of the best games this week? Likely not, but it’s LSU-Florida. And while this game lacks its normal buzz, it still comes with plenty of intrigue. That intrigue is packaged plenty different for both teams. For Florida, a team that will make the College Football Playoff if it wins this week and then beats Alabama, it’s pretty obvious. The Gators are 8-1 and 5-4 ATS. They haven’t been completely dominant of late, although they have played good enough. LSU, well, is the opposite. The Tigers are 3-5 (4-4 ATS), and the Alabama game, as mentioned above, did not go well. The defense is broken. The offense isn’t much better. While we expected a drop-off given the departures in the offseason, we didn’t expect this. Can they still cover this spread? Absolutely. Do they need to figure out how they plan to cover Florida’s wide variety of offensive weapons first? Yes. Yes, they do.

Last Call: Parting Shots on Other Games of Note

BYU (-15.5, 49.5) vs. San Diego State: Will there be a hangover? That’s the question for BYU as it heads home to take on a good (but not great) San Diego State team. The loss against Coastal Carolina will sting for a while, but don’t let that sway you on this team. I still like the Cougars quite a bit.

Army (-6.5, 38) vs. Navy: You have to watch. It’s Army-Navy. No matter the year or the fans or the scene, this is always must-see. The point spread says the game should be competitive. And the total? Well, we don’t see many college football games in the 30s these days. In fact, we don’t see many football games go this low at all.

Colorado (-2, 49.5) vs. Utah: The Buffs are still unbeaten, although the oddsmakers still have questions about how legitimate this team is. Utah, even at 1-2, is a quality measuring stick. After dealing with a COVID outbreak to start the season, the Utes might be settling in. 

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