LAS VEGAS — If Nick Saban has seven months to recruit, reload and prepare for a game, bet on him. Bet on Saban in every season opener, even if Alabama loses six players to 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 overreactions, it’s probably accurate 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.
BetMGM lists Alabama as the 5/2 favorite to win the national title, and that +250 price on the Tide is a bargain compared to 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,” said Paul Stone, a Texas-based handicapper and VSiN analyst. “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 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 against Northern Iowa. Texas did not have to sweat its 38-18 victory over Louisiana in the coaching debut for 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 showed plenty of 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 division. 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.
Underdogs were barking and standing tall at 46-34-4 against the spread after the weekend, with Florida State covering as a 7-point dog in a 41-38 overtime loss to Notre Dame on Sunday.
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 of the American Athletic Conference face upcoming road games against 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 playoffs,” Stone said. “Maybe it’s a year Cincinnati could run the table.”