Wisconsin - Alabama Preview

ALABAMA HOPES TO REGAIN SEC PRIDE VS. BIG 10 IN SATURDAY NIGHT SHOWDOWN WITH WISCONSIN

The SEC may have lost its stranglehold on the National Championship, with Ohio State and Florida State lifting recent trophies. The #3 Alabama Crimson Tide are certainly looking to do something about this season...and they get a chance to make a big statement Saturday night in a nationally televised meeting with #20 Wisconsin in a game that will be played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The way the schedule is shaping up...it could be REALLY tough for Alabama or whoever the eventual SEC champion is to reach the Final Four this season. The conference is once again loaded this season...which means several top notch teams have to play each other. Meanwhile:

*Ohio State has a much easier schedule in the soft Big 10
*The TCU/Baylor survivor has a much easier schedule in the Big 12
*There could be TWO teams from either of those conferences that finish 11-1 or better!

There are only four spots available and a two-loss SEC entrant may get left out in the cold. Alabama obviously can't afford to suffer a loss right out of the gate!

We hope you've been reading our conference previews this summer. Let's grab some key indicators stats from those for tonight's two teams...

2014 Won-Lost Records (Strength of Schedule)
Alabama: 12-2 (#2 schedule in USA Today)
Wisconsin: 11-3 (#54 schedule in USA Today)

Alabama got its chance last year, but lost to eventual champion Ohio State in the national semifinals. They were more competitive with the Buckeyes than Oregon was in the final. And, A LOT more competitive than Wisconsin was in the Big 10 championship game. Strength of schedule really matters when comparing these two leagues.

2014 Yards-Per-Play
Alabama: 6.7 on offense, 4.9 on defense
Wisconsin: 6.8 on offense, 4.9 on defense

Virtually identical numbers...but Alabama was doing that vs. an absolutely killer schedule, while Wisconsin had several more soft spots on the schedule. Hey, Wisconsin was a very nice team. But, they weren't a superpower all things considered. Alabama was.

2014 Turnover Differential
Alabama: -2
Wisconsin: -9

Surprising here...very surprising. Alabama's hard-hitting defense has lost its knack for forcing turnovers in recent seasons. They're supposed to shine in this category with a grinding offense and an attacking defense. Didn't happen. Wisconsin should NEVER let this happen! Part of that was a transition to a different coaching style on offense (and that coach left for Oregon State after the season). Really stunning that the Badgers could be so bad in the risk/reward area given their soft schedule.

2014 Market Performance
Alabama: 5-9 ATS
Wisconsin: 6-8 ATS

Alabama was priced like national champions all season...which made it tough to clear hurdles consistently. Those high prices plus the poor turnover differential kept them from being moneymakers. Wisconsin was a disappointment too. We have two grouchy alumni bases!

Returning Starters
Alabama: 2 on offense, 7 on defense
Wisconsin: 5 on offense, 7 on defense

Wow...a big rebuilding task for the Alabama offense given how hard graduation hit. This was definitely a season where they would have preferred starting with a Sun Belt cupcake to get their timing down. Will all the new starters be ready to play in the Cowboys Cathedral on national TV? (Note that those numbers are from the summer Athlon publication, and may have changed slightly because of August developments).

Quarterback
Alabama: Jake Coker (4 passing TDs, 0 Interceptions in limited '14 action)
Wisconsin: Joel Stave (9 passing TDs, 10 Interceptions last season)

For now...we're talking about weaknesses. Stave is inconsistent...and those are pretty awful numbers for a quarterback facing a soft schedule. Coker is an unknown quantity...though Alabama's done a good job keeping things manageable for whoever their quarterback happens to be in a given season. This game is likely to be won by somebody besides a quarterback given that data.

Current Line: Alabama by 12, total of 49

Alabama gets a lot of respect, particularly in games where Coach Nick Saban has a lot of time to prepare. But, this is far from a typical Alabama team...particularly in terms of how they may start the season. Are they ready to hit the ground running against a New Year's Bowl caliber team. Can they protect a big lead if they get one given how few turnovers their defense has been forcing lately?

JIM HURLEY is thinking through this game from every angle. He'll only release it to clients if there's a clear edge. You can purchase the final word for the first big Saturday of college action right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about extended service for college football, pro football, or even baseball, please call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

More college football Sunday here in the NOTEBOOK when we preview Monday Night's Ohio State/Virginia Tech game. Then, it will be a mix of college and pro action through the Fall. Looks like we'll be talking about Tom Brady next week (unless the league appeal's Brady's appeal of his earlier appeal!). Here's what's on tap...

*College Football TV Preview...#1 Ohio State at Virginia Tech
*NFL Thursday Night TV Preview...Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots
*College Football TV Preview...#7 Oregon at #5 Michigan State
*NFL Sunday Night TV Preview...NY Giants at Dallas Cowboys
*NFL Monday Night TV Preview...Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers

The college football season began Thursday night...but the BIGGEST GAMES are still ahead. Be sure you get those BIG, JUICY WINNERS from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

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