College football forecast: Bowl bids, rivalry hatred in the air

By Matt Youmans  (VSiN senior editor) 

November 25, 2017 06:34 AM
Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide roll into enemy territory Saturday. Alabama is laying 4½ points at Auburn in a high-stakes SEC rivalry.
© USA Today Sports Images

One of the great things about Nick Saban is his sense of humor. His act is hilarious and he knows it.

The Alabama coach pretends to be a grouch 24/7. He takes joy in nothing. He probably compared pumpkin pie to rat poison while complaining that Thanksgiving dinner distracted him from game planning and recruiting. Of course, some of the time, the Crimson Tide’s little tyrant is being a thespian. He knows his weekly rants at the media are comical. And we know he has a sense of humor because he hired Lane Kiffin so he could verbally abuse and fire him.

Saban is so great that all of us fear betting against him, especially in the biggest games.

The anti-Alabama crowd and Southeastern Conference critics will hate this statement: Win or lose in the Iron Bowl, Saban and the Tide should be in the four-team playoff bracket.

It was difficult to write that line. But the argument out of Las Vegas always has been about the oddsmakers being smarter than the committee, and the oddsmakers would favor the Tide over all other playoff teams on a neutral field, win or lose in the Iron Bowl on Saturday.

Alabama is laying 4½ points at Auburn, which two weeks ago routed the committee’s former No. 1 team, Georgia, on the same field. Clemson, Miami, Oklahoma and Ohio State all would be underdogs to a one-loss Tide team even if Saban did not reach the SEC title game.

This is not one of Saban’s greatest teams, but it’s good enough this year. Alabama ranks No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 10.2 points per game. Saban is the Bill Belichick of college football, but he’s got no Tom Brady and no Heisman Trophy candidate this season. Jalen Hurts protects the football and makes enough plays to win. Hurts has passed for 14 touchdowns with one interception, yet he’s more of a threat to run than throw.

This Tide team is all about defense and the running game. It’s not always pretty, and the schedule has been soft to this point, but Saban is taking care of business as usual despite some critical injuries on defense. There was evidence this team is not invincible two weeks ago, when Alabama trailed in the fourth quarter at Mississippi State. Hurts stepped up when it counted, and a similar scenario could surface against Auburn.

The Tigers are capable of pulling off the upset, and the evidence behind that statement was what they did to Georgia after falling behind 7-0. Auburn’s defense completely shut down Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, the Bulldogs’ stud running backs. Kerryon Johnson rushed for 167 yards, and Jarrett Stidham passed for 214 yards and three long touchdowns. Alabama beat Auburn 30-12 last year, when the Tigers’ quarterback play was hopeless, yet the gap has closed. Stidham gives Auburn legitimate hope this time.

This is the first time since the season opener that Alabama has been favored by fewer than two touchdowns. However, it’s not a simple decision to lay more than a field goal with a Tide team that struggled in its past two road games.

To paraphrase Brent Musburger this week, bet on Alabama, but don’t bet your house on it.

The same goes for betting on Auburn. A case can be made for taking the points, but betting against Saban is a dance with the devil. The call here is Alabama by a field goal.

Pittsburgh’s upset of Miami on Friday kicked off what is the craziest weekend of the college football season. Be thankful for rivalry hatred, bowl bids hanging in the balance and widespread coaching changes.

The Ohio State-Michigan storyline is all about Urban Meyer’s motivation to humiliate Jim Harbaugh. The Buckeyes need a blowout win.

There are other great rivalries that mean a lot nationally (Georgia-Georgia Tech, Clemson-South Carolina, Notre Dame-Stanford) and great rivalries that matter so much regionally (Indiana-Purdue, Wisconsin-Minnesota, Louisville-Kentucky, Texas A&M-Louisiana State, Florida State-Florida, UNLV-Nevada, Washington State-Washington, Arizona-Arizona State).

The stakes are high, with elite teams fighting for playoff spots and 5-6 teams desperate to reach minor bowls. There will be a few upsets and a few blowouts. It all presents a great challenge to handicappers.

Saturday’s plays: PURDUE (-2½) over Indiana; KANSAS STATE (-2½) over Iowa State; GEORGIA TECH (plus-11) over Georgia; Notre Dame (-2½) over STANFORD and (Under 56½); SOUTH CAROLINA (plus-13½) over Clemson; Arizona (-2) over ARIZONA STATE; AUBURN (plus-4½) over Alabama.

Last week: 2-3 against the spread

Season: 49-46-2


Subscribers to the Vegas Stats & Information Network’s digital magazine get access to our weekly college and pro handicapping contests. Here are the contest selections for this week, with lines posted as of the Tuesday deadline:

Todd Dewey, Las Vegas Review-Journal

Last week: 3-2

Season: 25-34-1

San Diego State -20.5

South Florida plus-10.5

Georgia Tech plus-11

Washington -9.5

Notre Dame -2.5

Paul Howard,

Last week: 2-2-1

Season: 31-27-2

Pittsburgh plus-14

South Florida plus-10.5

Nevada -2.5

Notre Dame-Stanford Under 57

West Virginia-Oklahoma Under 68.5

Brett Lawson,

Last week: 3-2

Season: 21-37-2

South Florida plus-10.5

Michigan plus-12

Washington State plus-9.5 

Auburn plus-4.5

Florida plus-5

Amal Shah,

Last week: 1-4

Season: 20-39-1

Missouri -10.5

Western Kentucky -2

Ohio State -12

North Carolina plus-16.5

Auburn plus-4.5

Matt Youmans,

Last week: 3-2

Season: 31-29

Pittsburgh plus-14

California plus-7

Purdue -2.5

Notre Dame-Stanford Under 57

Arizona -2

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