If Nick Saban has seven months to reload and prepare for a game, bet on him. Bet on Saban in every season opener, even if Alabama loses six players in the first round of the NFL draft and is breaking in a new quarterback.
The first full weekend of college football was highlighted by an underdog uprising and the customary dominance of the Crimson Tide, who undoubtedly deserve to be favored to roll to their second consecutive national championship.
While the opening week of each season provides fodder for knee jerking and overreactions, it’s probably the right reaction to say this season is already a matchup of Alabama against the field.
“I don’t think it’s an overreaction,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “Here we go again. Maybe somebody can bust out and upset Alabama.”
The Tide, laying 19.5 points on a neutral field in Atlanta, made it look easy in a 44-13 victory over Miami. Saban’s coaching record in Alabama season openers is 15-0. The betting public was wise to ride the wave after Las Vegas oddsmakers dropped the ball and opened the point spread way too low at -13.
“We did not do well on the Alabama game,” Avello said.
Bryce Young, the replacement for New England Patriots first-round pick Mac Jones, debuted as a starter by passing for 344 yards and four touchdowns. Young’s finest throw was a 94-yard scoring strike to Jameson Williams, a transfer from Ohio State.
VSiN’s Brent Musburger touted the Tide and Buckeyes in the preseason as his top-ranked teams and is ready to write one into the playoff bracket in ink.
“It’s always too early to say these are the four teams we think are going to make it, but clearly you can put Alabama in and I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Musburger said.
BetMGM lists Alabama as the 5-2 favorite to win the national title, and the + 250 price on the Tide is a bargain compared with what is being offered at Circa Sports (+ 160) and the Westgate SuperBook (+ 140).
“There is certainly a lot of college football to play, but Alabama’s performance in Week 1 was head and shoulders above everyone else,” Texas-based handicapper Paul Stone said. “Bryce Young looks like he’s a third-year starter. He’s poised and has a strong arm. It looks like there’s a gap between Alabama and whoever the second-best team is, and the race for second is wide open.
“It’s hard to identify the No. 2 team or the No. 3 and No. 4 team. Clemson had no offense. Oklahoma could have easily lost to Tulane. In college football, you give these offenses some time to jell, and things are going to look a lot different in a few weeks.”
Georgia, the strongest candidate for the No. 2 spot, did not score an offensive touchdown in a 10-3 victory over Clemson that was a minor upset. Bulldogs quarterback JT Daniels passed for only 135 yards with one interception.
Oklahoma, a 31.5-point favorite, was lucky to escape with a 40-35 win over the Green Wave. Sooners quarterback Spencer Rattler, the preseason Heisman Trophy favorite, threw two interceptions, and his team nearly squandered a 37-14 halftime lead. The game was relocated from New Orleans to Norman because of Hurricane Ida, so would the result have been different on Tulane’s home field?
The Big 12’s top contenders to Oklahoma turned in mixed results. Iowa State, favored by 28.5 points, narrowly escaped in a 16-10 win over Northern Iowa. Texas did not have to sweat its 38-18 victory over Louisiana in the debut of Steve Sarkisian, who took over the Longhorns after serving as Alabama’s offensive coordinator.
Ohio State is the Big Ten’s best hope to challenge the Tide down the road. The Buckeyes pack plenty of big-play firepower yet showed some defensive flaws in a 45-31 win at Minnesota, which pushed as a 14-point home dog.
Clemson seems likely to recover and should coast through a mostly weak ACC schedule that does not include North Carolina. The opener was a big step back for the Tar Heels, who were upset 17-10 at Virginia Tech as Heisman candidate Sam Howell threw three interceptions.
It was a good news-bad news scenario for the Pac-12. UCLA upset LSU 38-27 at the Rose Bowl, and the outcome was no fluke. The Bruins squared up with a respected SEC opponent and physically dominated on the offensive and defensive lines in the highest-profile win of coach Chip Kelly’s four years.
The negativity came from the Pac-12 North. Oregon was a shaky 20-point favorite while surviving an upset bid by Fresno State, and Washington went down as a 23-point favorite in a 13-7 loss to Montana.
A Big Ten-Pac-12 challenge headlines this week’s schedule. Ohio State is a 14-point home favorite over Oregon, and Michigan is a 6-point home favorite over Washington. Both lines are inflated based on Week 1 results, so beware of overreacting.
“This is an alert for bettors,” Musburger said. “That was one of those spots where Montana caught Washington peeking ahead to the Wolverines and took advantage of it.”
Are the Huskies that bad? No. Are the Buckeyes untouchable in the Big Ten? No. Look at some of the best and worst performances of Week 1 and realize the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.
Underdogs were barking and standing tall at 46-35-4 against the spread through Monday. The most dramatic game was staged Sunday night, when Florida State erased an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit and covered as a 7-point dog in a 41-38 overtime loss to Notre Dame.
The playoff picture might eventually include Cincinnati and Texas A&M, two favorites that took care of business yet still have a long way to go. The Bearcats, outsiders from the American Athletic Conference, face upcoming road games at Indiana and Notre Dame. The Aggies host Alabama on Oct. 9.
“If there’s enough attrition among the Power Five heavyweights, there could be a path for Cincinnati to make the playoff,” Stone said. “Maybe it’s a year Cincinnati could run the table.”
The College Football Playoff race is more wide open than previously thought, with one exception. Alabama is as good as it appears, so the other three playoff spots are up for grabs.