Alabama Crimson Tide’s 2014-15 College Football Betting Preview

Steve -

Friday, August 22, 2014 4:34 PM UTC

Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 4:34 PM UTC

Focusing on Nick Saban’s time in Tuscaloosa, this article discusses the betting conditions and tendencies facing the 2014-2015 Alabama Crimson Tide, while making the case for Alabama reaching its betting peak in 2011.

No matter what the polls say, there is a certain segment of the college football betting public that will always believe Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide is the best team in college football. Can you blame them? Certainly, Alabama’s three National Championships and top-rated recruiting class rankings lend support, but does being the “best” mean having the best against-the-spread (ATS) winning rates? Absolutely not. To the contrary, Alabama’s getting the best and being considered the best is adversely affecting the Tide’s ATS outcomes. 

Alabama’s Nick Saban Against-the-Spread
Nick Saban enters his eighth season as the head coach of the Crimson Tide. Overall, Saban has been profitable, winning 55.91% of his games ATS. He is exactly 50% ATS at Home, but he impresses when not playing in Tuscaloosa by beating the spread at a rate of 62.22%. Being profitable when the public believes your team to be the best in the land is extremely difficult (and unusual), but Saban’s ATS winning percentage should be looked at with extreme caution when considering predictive ATS outcomes (more on that below).

Expectations in College Football Betting
As an admitted oversimplification, betting lines are driven by expectations. Elevated expectations for teams are never good for ATS outcomes. In a previous article, we outlined five common betting mistakes that too many college football bettors make. This 2014-2015 Alabama team invites at least three of those mistakes:

1) Talent: Talent can be judged in many ways, and each way usually leads to losing money against-the-spread. Entering last season, four of the five “most talented” teams (according to ESPN “Insiders”) ended up finishing the season with a collective ATS winning rate of 42%. Some measure talent by recruiting class rankings. Alabama has had the #1-rated recruiting class for three consecutive seasons. Over the past eight seasons, no team with a #1-ranked recruiting class (of the same year) finished the season with an ATS record better than 7-6. In fact, the average ATS winning rate for the last eight #1-ranked teams is 49.04%.

2) Coaching: Bettors often think and talk of coaching superiority in their betting analysis, choosing to ignore the fact that coaching is already built into the betting line. Oddsmakers account for coaching when setting their college football odds, public bettors emphasize that same category another time, then bookmakers place a premium on (or “shade”) their offered betting lines accordingly. Consequently, those betting lines are, essentially, making bettors pay more for a legendary coach. Nick Saban is considered one of the greatest college football coaches of all-time. He is a coaching legend who now brings shaded points with his teams.

3) Conference Affiliation: Once again, the relative strength of a conference is a factor already utilized by oddsmakers long before the public starts their SEC chanting. Since the SEC is considered the best conference in college football, expect their lines to be shaded when playing outside of their conference. Last season, SEC teams played 56 regular season non-conference games. Those SEC teams beat the spread just 48.21% of the time in those games, despite getting a majority of the public betting on their side in 71.43% of those games. Since the public has crowned Alabama the King of the SEC, bookmakers will not ignore that perception when posting their betting lines.

It Was and Is All Downhill Since 2011
Alabama, under Nick Saban’s tutelage, reached its ATS peak in 2011. Since then, Alabama has been an average ATS team (and average loses money for bettors), but the underlying data suggests something even worse: We have quantitative reasons to believe that Alabama will continue its ATS downhill slide, at least for 2014-2015. Of the current FBS head coaches who have coached at least 100 lined games, Nick Saban ranks fourth with an ATS winning rate of 57.87%. That winning rate is tremendous, yet Saban is just 14-13 (51.85%) ATS since the 2011 season.

Two seasons of mediocre ATS results, ladies and gentlemen of the court, do not provide enough evidence to judge the Crimson Tide guilty of being overvalued, right? Perhaps the following evidence will help with the conviction:



Alabama From 2007-2011

Alabama Since 2011

Exhibit A

From Saban’s arrival in 2007 through 2011, he averaged beating the spread at a rate of 57.58%- a rate within three-tenths of a percent of his lifetime FBS coaching average.

Already cited, Saban’s winning rate since 2011 is 51.85%.

Exhibit B

Alabama’s per-game betting line average had them as a favorite of 13.83 points (less than two TD’s), and they beat the per-game average spread by 3.83 points (more than a field goal).

Alabama’s per-game betting line average had them as a favorite of 23.61 points (almost three TD’s and a field goal), yet they beat the per-game average spread by just 1.13 points. The most recent season, 2013-2014, saw Alabama favored by a (Saban-era high) per-game average spread of 25.35 points, and for the first time since Saban’s first year with the Tide, Alabama FAILED to cover the spread by an average of 1.42 points per game.

Exhibit C

Saban’s first two National Championships (2009 and 2011) combined for an ATS winning rate of 66.67%- a figure that is even slightly higher than the average per-season ATS winning rate for all non-Alabama National Champions over the past two decades (66.24%).

Alabama’s most recent National Championship, 2012, was a 50% ATS season for the Tide- giving them the third-worst National Championship ATS season in more than 20 years.

Exhibit D

In these five seasons, 71.43% of Saban’s time at Alabama, the Tide suffered 46.67% of their double-digit ATS losses (i.e. failing to cover the spread by at least 10 points).

In these two seasons, 28.57% of Saban’s time at Alabama, the Tide suffered 53.33% of their double-digit ATS losses, with one-third of those double-digit losses occurring last season.


Schedule Notes
Utilizing the NCAA’s method of determining strength of schedule, Alabama ranks a poor 95th. As everyone knows, however, they play in the SEC, and just winning this conference (even with a loss or two) all but guarantees the SEC Champion a place in the new College Football Playoff. Take a look at their 2014 schedule below:




NOTES (Alabama Under Nick Saban)


West Virginia

Atlanta, GA

(Georgia Dome)

UA is 6-1 ATS in season-openers. They are 11-4 ATS in neutral site games including Bowl games, and 5-2 ATS in regular-season neutral site games. In the two true neutral site losses, Bama failed to cover the spread by an average of just 2.75 points. In the five ATS victories at those neutral sites, UA beat the spread by an average of 14.6 points.


Florida Atlantic

Tuscaloosa, AL

(Bryant-Denny Stadium)

UA last played FAU in 2012 (again, at Home) and failed to cover the 49-point spread by 16 points. In fact, UA is just 34.46% ATS in games where the spread is at least 35 points. Bama is 2-5 ATS in Home-openers.


Southern Miss

Tuscaloosa, AL

(Bryant-Denny Stadium)

UA has not played USM since two seasons before Saban arrived. In “tune-up” games played immediately before SEC play, UA is 3-2 ATS. Bama is just 40% ATS in non-conference Home games.



Tuscaloosa, AL

(Bryant-Denny Stadium)

UA is 3-1 ATS vs. UF. In the Gators’ one ATS win, they covered the spread by one point. In Bama’s three ATS wins (the last three times these teams played), the Tide beat the spread by an AVERAGE of more than three TD’s!


Ole Miss

Oxford, MS

(Vaught-Hemingway Stadium)

UA is 3-4 ATS vs. Ole Miss, but they are 2-1 ATS in Oxford. Bama is 5-2 ATS in SEC road-openers. UA is 56.25% ATS in SEC Away games, but the Tide are just 4-5 after a bye week. In five of the seven contests, the Total went Under, but the two Overs were both in Oxford.



Fayetteville, AR

(D.W.R. Razorback Stadium)

UA is 5-2 ATS vs. Arkansas, including a 2-1 ATS record in Fayetteville. In four out of those seven matchups, Bama was a double-digit favorite; they won all four of those games ATS. The Total has gone Over in five of those seven games.


Texas A&M

Tuscaloosa, AL

(Bryant-Denny Stadium)

UA is 0-2 ATS vs. A&M. Although the Total is split (one Over and one Under), last year’s game in College Station went four TD’s Over the Total! UA is 57.14% ATS in SEC Home games.



Knoxville, TN

(Neyland Stadium)

UA is 6-1 ATS vs. UT, including going a 3-0 ATS in Knoxville. In those three games, Bama beat the spread by an AVERAGE of more than two TD’s. In the seven matchups, UA has had an AVERAGE of greater than 64% of the public betting on their side (so do not play “contrarian bettor” in this series).



Baton Rouge, LA

(Tiger Stadium)

UA is 4-4 ATS vs. LSU, including going 1-2 ATS in Death Valley. Of Bama’s five ATS losses after a bye week, three of those were to LSU. Even though the Totals are split (four Overs and four Unders), three of the four Overs were in games played in Tuscaloosa, not Death Valley. Aside from the BCS game played in 2012, neither team has covered the spread in this series by double digits. UA is 60% ATS in all Away games where the spread is a TD or less.


Mississippi State

Tuscaloosa, AL

(Bryant-Denny Stadium)

UA is 4-3 ATS vs. MSU, but the Home team is 6-1 ATS in this series. (Bama won all three of their Home games ATS.) The Total has gone Under in six of the seven games. The average number of total points scored by these two when playing in Starkville is 30.25, but that average jumps to 41.33 when playing in Alabama.


Western Carolina

Tuscaloosa, AL

(Bryant-Denny Stadium)

These two last met in 2012 when UA was a 56-point favorite. Bama is just 34.46% ATS in games where the spread is at least 35 points. UA is just 2-4 ATS vs. FCS schools. The Tide are 3-4 ATS in games immediately before the Iron Bowl.



Tuscaloosa, AL

(Bryant-Denny Stadium)

UA is 3-4 ATS vs. AU in the Iron Bowl. The Total is 3-3-1. Bama is 0-2 ATS when the spread is a TD or less. Only once in the seven-game series has the line moved (from the opening to the closing betting line) significantly (more than a single point), and in that 2009 game, the line direction suggested the correct side: Auburn went from being a 12.5-point underdog to a 10-point underdog, then lost the game (but beat the spread) by 5 points.


The Uncertain Futures
The 2015 College Football National Championship will be determined by playing-off four teams chosen by 13 people. For good or ill, this will be the most subjective method of determining the four best teams in college football since before the BCS. Given the extreme subjectivity of the selection process and the fact that we have no data on the results (since this is the first year of the process), we recommend the most conservative approach to National Championship futures betting. As this is being written, Alabama has the second-shortest odds at Pinnacle and THE shortest odds at Bovada. Since we look for value in futures bets- even more so than in previous seasons (because of the uncertainty surrounding the College Football Playoff Selection Committee’s practices), we recommend against wagering anything on those short odds for Alabama to win the National Championship.

Tidal Patterns (under Saban)

  • Alabama struggles with mobile QB’s. Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) had 92 rushing yards in 2012 and 98 rushing yards in 2013- both ATS losses for Alabama. Nick Marshall (Auburn) had 99 rushing yards against Alabama in 2013- another ATS loss for the Tide. Notably, Bama will face Nick Marshall and Dak Prescott (Mississippi State), and possibly Kyle Allen (Texas A&M) and Brandon Harris (LSU). Those four have game-changing QB speed. Even Jeff Driskel (Florida) and Bo Wallace (Ole Miss) can run, so the Tide could face some uncomfortable challenges (at least to the point spread) in 2014.

  • Alabama is 3-5 ATS over the past four seasons when allowing at least 150 rushing yards.

  • Alabama is 3-11 ATS after a straight-up loss.

  • Alabama is 15-6 ATS when given at least 12 days to prepare for a game.

  • Alabama is 15-5 ATS when the spread is between three and five TD’s (21 and 35 points).

  • The ATS results have been the same, whether betting the opening or the closing betting line for all but four games, and in those four, the closing result was better twice and worse twice. (In other words, you have not missed your opportunity to bet on or against Alabama even after the line has moved; the ATS outcome has been the same.)

  • Significant line movement (here defined as a move of at least 2.5 points from the opening to the closing betting line) indicated the correct side in 80% of all of Alabama’s games.

  • The Totals line movement has suggested the WRONG side in 57.89% of Alabama’s games.

Preseason Conclusions
We maintain that Nick Saban’s Alabama reached its ATS peak in 2011. While Nick Saban exceeded even lofty expectations through 2011, the spread has caught up to the Tide. Beware. Using the above noted ATS tendencies for the Crimson Tide might be the best college football betting course when following Alabama in 2014. Pay particular attention to significant line movement, and be wary of a morally dejected Crimson Tide- should they lose a game SU. Their short odds combined with the novelty of the College Football Playoff selection process are enough to keep us from recommending a futures bet on Alabama.



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