ALABAMA MUST WIN ITS THIRD BIG GAME IN THREE WEEKS TO MAINTAIN STANGLEHOLD ON BCS #1 RANKING
Current BCS rankings leader Alabama passed its first test with Mississippi State very easily. It was barely a test! But, last Saturday Night's thriller at LSU showed that the Crimson Tide may not be head and shoulders above the competition like many had believed. Now, "Johnny Football"and the Texas A&M Aggies come to Tuscaloosa with a chance to create some BCS Chaos in a game that sports fans and sports bettors will be watching very intently.
We just missed BCS Chaos last week.
#1 Alabama rallied in the final seconds to beat LSU in Baton Rouge, in a game that was full of shocks and surprises.
#3 Notre Dame had to rally in the final seconds to tie Pittsburgh, then survive a tough overtime battle even though the Irish were double digit favorites.
The nation was on the verge of looking at Oregon-Kansas State in the national championship game! That could still happen if Alabama can't take care of business at home Saturday afternoon. Let's run through our indicator data and see how A&M/Alabama might play out...
TEXAS A&M at ALABAMA (3:30 p.m. on CBS)
Las Vegas Spread: Alabama by 13.5, total of 56.5
Alabama is getting a lot of respect from the markets on their home field. This is a very good A&M team by all measures, yet the Tide opened as a two-touchdown favorite before early Wise Guy action trimmed a little bit off. The projected final score based on those numbers is Alabama 35, Texas A&M 21.5. Will the Tide shut down Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel ("Johnny Football") to such a degree that the Aggies can't even reach 20? Will the Tide offense that struggled last week be able to make a real run at 35 points? Handicappers can come at this game from a variety of directions as they try to find betting edges.
CURRENT BCS RANKINGS
Texas A&M: 15th
Alabama used to be first with no questions asked. Now, they're first with a question mark after last week's rally. Both of these teams played close games with LSU. Even if you account for the fact that the Aggies were at home and Alabama was on the road, does that justify this big a spread in the BCS rankings and the market numbers? Sure, Texas A&M has two losses...but those two losses came to LSU and Florida in a year where SEC powers are the best teams in the nation.
Texas A&M: Kevin Sumlin
Alabama: Nick Saban
This could be a great coaching matchup. Some were skeptical about Sumlin stepping up in class from his tenure at Houston. The SEC isn't Conference USA. And, gimmick offenses aren't known to work vs. power defenses. So far, Sumlin has pushed all the right buttons while leading an inexperienced quarterback through dangerous waters. The edge has to go to Saban just because he's arguably the best in the country at what he does. When you combine recruiting great athletes, teaching them how to play, and playing chess vs. opposing coaches...Saban is the man. What is normally a huge edge for Saban might not be so big this time...which matters if you're trying to pick against the spread.
Texas A&M: Johnny Manziel (Johnny Football!)
Alabama: A.J. McCarron
Manziel is the wildest of wildcards because he can make big plays at the drop of a hat, but he's always in danger of running himself into an injury. Normally, the LAST thing you want in the SEC is your quarterback constantly being exposed to big hits. Thus far, neither Florida nor LSU could knock him out, even if they did slow him down in second halves. Manziel could lead a game winning drive (he's much more dangerous than the LSU quarterback who almost beat Alabama last week). Manziel could be knocked out in the second quarter, virtually ending A&M's hopes. McCarron is a game manager who was a huge disappointment last week until that clutch game winning drive. If he tries to out-hero Johnny Football, that could lead to miscues that make things very interesting.
LAST WEEK'S BOXES
TEXAS A&M 38, MISSISSIPPI STATE 7
Total Yardage: Texas A&M 693, Mississippi State 310
Rushing Yards: Texas A&M 361, Mississippi State 98
Passing Stats: Texas A&M 32-39-0-332, Mississippi State 19-30-1-212
Turnovers: Texas A&M 1, Mississippi State 1
Third Downs: Texas A&M 56%, Mississippi State 20%
Vegas Line: Texas A&M by 5.5, total of 62
It's true that the Bulldogs didn't bring much fire the week after they were humbled by Alabama. And, you didn't get the sense that Miss. State was particularly awake at the early starting time. Still, that's almost 700 yards on the road against an SEC team! Well coached A&M was ready for the opening kickoff, and they didn't take their foot off the gas until the game was over. The only negative you could point to is the fact that A&M only scored 38 points with those stats! They should have scored at least 50! This matters, because you can't underachieve your yardage if you hope to spring an upset. Texas A&M couldn't beat Florida or LSU, and must exploit all scoring opportunities that come up vs. the Tide.
ALABAMA 21, LSU 17
Total Yardage: Alabama 331, LSU 435
Rushing Yards: Alabama 166, LSU 139
Passing Stats: Alabama 14-27-0-165, LSU 25-36-0-296
Turnovers: Alabama 2, LSU 0
Third Downs: Alabama 11%, LSU 50%
Vegas Line: Alabama by 8, total of 39
Breakdowns all over the field for Alabama, which is something that rarely happens to a Nick Saban coached team. The offense struggled badly on third downs and lost the turnover battle. The defense played soft against a quarterback who had struggled all season...allowing him to make a run at 300 passing yards. It's not surprising that LSU could hang tough with Alabama. But, gaining more than 400 yards is a STUNNER given what we saw with these teams last year and with LSU in earlier 2012 action. This is only one game...and it's a big outlier for the way Alabama usually plays. You can see how a replay could mean big trouble in Tuscaloosa. Alabama needs to move the chains to keep Johnny Football off the field. And, they can't play that passive defensively.
To this point, everything is pointing to a tight game that is way out of line with Vegas expectations. That's not fair. The LSU game is looming large over our memories right now...and we only focus on the most recent boscores in these abbreviated game previews. If you take Alabama's best games this year, and look over A&M's home losses to Florida and LSU, the Vegas spread is more justified. Clearly oddsmakers are expecting a bounce back performance from the Tide...and are allotting serious consideration to home field advantage.
JIM HURLEY has been studying this game hard for three weeks, because he was handicapping Alabama's three-game gauntlet as one big challenge. This was supposed to be a danger spot because of mental and physical fatigue. Now it's a danger spot because Alabama's defense may not be as great as everyone thought! He's been working closely with his sources to get a read on Alabama's confidence level. And, he's been closely studying the computer simulation printouts for nuances created by last week's surprising boxscore. If A&M/Alabama meets muster, it will show up as one of the big releases of the day. There's at least a good chance it will show up in a TV parlay.
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