- Tua Tagovailoa has raised the Alabama offense to unprecedented levels of efficiency and explosiveness this season. Coming off a shocking win at Auburn, can Tennessee cover another large spread?
Alabama at Tennessee (+29)
Sat. 10/20, 3:30 p.m. ET
Three things to know before betting on Alabama-Tennessee:
1. Nick Saban's Alabama teams have a perfect 11-0 record against Tennessee since he became head coach in 2007. The Tide has rolled against the spread too, going 8-3 in those games. That success even extends to when the line approaches the four-touchdown vicinity. In 2011, Alabama won 37-6 as a 30-point favorite. In 2013, it covered a 27.5-point spread in a 45-10 victory. Even last year, when the Tide were an enormous 37-point favorite, Alabama covered in a 45-7 blowout.
This year's Alabama team has gotten used to being a big-time favorite. The Tide have been favored by at least 21 points in every game this season, and were favored by 28 points or more in four of their seven games. Alabama is 4-3 against the spread this year, but all three ATS losses have come via backdoor covers in games dominated by the Tide. On September 22, Texas A&M scored a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to secure a 22-point loss against a 23.5-point spread. On September 29, Louisiana-Lafayette scored two unanswered TDs in fourth-quarter garbage time to lose by 38 as a 48-point dog. A week later it happened a third time, when Arkansas got two touchdowns in the otherwise inconsequential final minutes to lose 65-31 as a 34.5-point underdog. Last week, Alabama got back to covering with a 39-10 home win as a 28-point favorite over Missouri. Overall, the Tide are +7.2 points per game against the spread this year, the 19th-best mark in the country.
Precedent dictates that a team as dominant as Alabama will cover in this situation. Over the last 10 seasons, favorites of 21.5 to 31 points that have won three straight games by 21 or more points are 43-14 against the spread.
2. Most betting this line will be looking purely at Alabama, and trying to determine the degree to which the Tide will dominate. That's fair, given that Tennessee is the SEC's second-worst team, trailing only Arkansas.
Up until last week, the Volunteers had been destroyed in games against quality competition, losing by 26 points against West Virginia, Florida and Georgia, two of which came at home. Last week's 30-24 win at Auburn (as 15.5-point underdogs) was an unexpected departure from Tennessee's losing ways. The Volunteers had a +3 turnover margin and their offense looked impressive against a tough Auburn D.
But don't expect the momentum to carryover into the game against Alabama. Tennessee's rushing attack is 98th in the nation in yards per carry (3.86) and quarterback Jarrett Guarantano has been sacked on 8.7% of dropbacks, which ranks 104th in FBS. On defense, Tennessee ranks 74th in allowing 2.29 points per drive.
3. Alabama has consistently fielded strong offenses under Saban, and this year is no different. The Tide are second in the country in yards per play (8.44) behind only Oklahoma. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has turned in a dominant half-season of football: He has thrown for 1,760 yards with a 71.6% completion rate. He has tossed 21 touchdowns and zero picks. Of his 123 pass attempts, only 22 have come in the second half because Saban takes him out of the game once it's out of reach, which usually happens very quickly.
There have been questions about Tagovailoa's health, as he aggravated an already sprained knee against Missouri last week. But he practiced fully on Monday, and said in an interview on Monday night that he was feeling better than he did last week. Even if backup Jalen Hurts were given the reins at quarterback, an Alabama blowout would likely still be in the cards. Given the backdoor covers that have thrice victimized Bama bettors this season, it's tough to pick the Tide against the spread with great confidence. But when in doubt, err on the side of the team that is going to blow out the other.
Pick: Alabama -29
Confidence Level: Moderate (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)