Alabama 2013-2014 College Football Odds & Review
When it comes to college football betting, the best team to bet on is seldom the best team in college football. As a general rule, a highly-ranked team is more likely to become a public favorite. Public favorites carry “inflated” NCAAF betting lines, and therefore, less value. In other words, it is probably best for your money if you do not wager on the teams with the highest expectations. For the 2013-2014 college football season, no team has higher expectations than the Alabama Crimson Tide. (High Tide: the first sign of danger.) Let this article be your guide to navigating the Tide through this season’s treacherous betting waters.
The Against-the-Spread (ATS) History of Preseason #1’s
After winning two out of the last three BCS National Championships, Alabama enters the 2013 season as the #1 team in both the Coaches’ Poll and the Preseason Associated Press (AP) Poll, receiving 58 first-place votes in each. CollegeFootballWinning.com tracked all of the Preseason AP Poll #1’s in the BCS era, and their ATS results. Had you wagered $110 (to win $100) on every game that every preseason #1 played, then you would have been $950 “lighter” today. Again, top teams are usually not the best bets.
Nick Saban Against-the-Spread
Looking at all of Nick Saban’s college football head coaching posts, he has won an amazing 58.13% of his games ATS. While with Alabama, Saban has won a still-impressive 56.25% of the Tide’s games. In games played in Tuscaloosa, he is just 46.34% ATS, but away from home he has beaten the spread at a sportsbook busting rate of 66.67%.
Sour Home, Alabama
Now you know that Alabama at Home has been unprofitable under Nick Saban. There are some spots, in particular, that have proven worthy of betting against the Tide in Tuscaloosa:
- Bama is 1-3 (25%) ATS versus FCS schools (and that one win was the first year that Georgia State played football games). It is here that you should note Alabama’s Tennessee-Chattanooga game scheduled for November 23, 2013- the week before the Iron Bowl.
- Bama is 1-5 (16.67%) ATS in games where the point spread is 40 or more. (See the Chattanooga notes above.) All of those elevated point spread games were played at Home.
- Surprisingly, Bama is 5-8 (38.36%) ATS when favored at Home by two touchdowns or less.
- Bama is 14-17 (45.16%) ATS at Home when getting the majority of the public betting. They are 5-8 (38.36%) ATS when getting more than 70% of the public betting at Home.
- *Although it is not so sour, for the record (literally), Alabama is 12-12 ATS versus the SEC in Tuscaloosa.
Too Hard to Turn Back the Tide
Already mentioned above, Alabama under Nick Saban is excellent ATS when playing away from home (including Bowl games). They get even better under the following circumstances:
- Bama is 12-2 (85.71%) ATS away from Tuscaloosa as double-digit favorites.
- Alabama is 8-1 (88.89%) ATS in Away games where at least 75% of the public betting is with them.
- Bama is 21-10 (67.74%) ATS away from Tuscaloosa (including Bowl games) when the majority of the public betting is with them.
Oddsmakers’ High and Low Tides
Using just Nick Saban’s tenure at Alabama, against SEC competition, the Tide went from (on average) being -0.25-point Home favorites (in 2007), to (on average) 25-point Home favorites (in 2012). That is a difference of 25.25 points. Alabama’s average Home margin of victory (MoV) against SEC teams over that same span of time, however, went from 4.25 (in 2007) to 23.5 (in 2012)- a difference of just 19.25 points. Oddsmakers have been increasing Alabama’s Home point spreads (against SEC teams) at a rate of 5.1 points per year. That definitely outpaces Alabama’s SEC Home MoV, which has been growing at an average rate of 3.85 points per year. This is an expected result of betting lines that are continually “shaded” by oddsmakers, when setting lines for very public teams with the highest of expectations- especially at Home. The chart below illustrates these Home phenomena:
Compare those Home results to the same criteria applied to Alabama in Away games against SEC competition: The Tide went from (on average) being 1.875-point Away favorites (in 2007), to (on average) 17.125-point Home favorites (in 2012). That is a difference of 15.25 points. Alabama’s average Away MoV against SEC teams over that same span of time went from 1.25 (in 2007) to 30.5 (in 2012)- a difference of 29.25 points. Oddsmakers have been increasing Alabama’s Away point spreads (against SEC teams) at a rate of 3.05 points per year. That does not approach Alabama’s SEC Away MoV, which has been growing at an average rate of 5.85 points per year. The chart below illustrates these Away phenomena:
When comparing the two charts, it should become evident that Alabama has gone from little to negative value in Home games against SEC competition, while continually and dramatically outperforming point spread expectations in Away games against the SEC.
ATS Tidal Patterns and Related College Football Picks
- Nick Saban’s Alabama team was first ranked #1 (intra-season) in 2008. They are 12-8 ATS in games when they are ranked #1 in the AP Poll- an even 6-4 ATS, both Home and Away. While going 6-4 ATS at Home as #1 might be surprising, it is noteworthy that the Tide were just 1-3 ATS at Home when ranked #1 in 2012.
- Outlined above, although generally great ATS in Away games, Bama is just 8-8 ATS in non-Bowl Away games when favored by two touchdowns or less.
- Reverse Line Movement (RLM): Usually an indicator of where the “sharp” money has gone when it opposes the majority of the public bets, the RLM side has been correct for Saban’s Alabama 56% of the time, which is just a fraction LESS than Bama’s overall ATS record. Therefore, RLM appears to be no particular indicator of the correct side in Alabama games. However, that RLM has been correct the last six times in a row, dating back to 2011.
- Line Volatility: Under Nick Saban, Alabama has been in 12 games that we consider to have extreme line volatility- defined here by a difference of more than two points from the opening to the closing betting line. Alabama won 10 out of those 12 games (83.33%).
2014 BCS National Championship Futures Betting
As this is being written, Bovada sportsbook has Alabama at 5-to-2 to win the 2014 BCS National Championship, giving them the shortest odds on the board. In a previous article we outlined our 60% Rule, where all BCS National Champions had at least three of the following five criteria before starting their championship seasons:
1) An Upperclassman Quarterback
Senior A.J. McCarron has already won two BCS titles. He had the highest QB rating in the country in 2012. Unlike some other elite teams, Alabama is dangerously inexperienced at QB behind McCarron. That could become a factor given that Alabama lost three of 2012’s starting offensive linemen to the NFL (two of whom were first-rounders). Needless to say, Alabama meets this first criterion of the 60% Rule.
2) A Top-20 Scoring Defense One Year Prior
The second criterion of the 60% Rule, which 12 out of 15 champions (80%) met, is having a top-20 scoring defense the previous season. Of the 15 BCS Champions, 13 (86.67%) had top-10 scoring defenses the year they won it all. The mighty Crimson Tide were ranked #1 in scoring defense in 2012 and 2011 (both BCS Championship years for Alabama), and they were ranked #2 in scoring defense when they won the BCS in 2009. Not only does Alabama meet this second criterion with a vengeance for 2013, they also return: three of their top four tacklers, their top six tackles-for-loss leaders, six out of their top seven sack leaders, and six out of the eight players to have interceptions in 2012.
3) A Preseason Top-10 Ranking
Stated above, Alabama is #1, by far, in the two most prominent preseason polls. Teams entering the season at the #1 position in the AP have only won the BCS National Championship twice. That fact notwithstanding, Alabama meets the third criterion.
4) Membership in the SEC
Alabama is one of the founding members of the SEC, meaning they obviously meet the fourth criterion.
5) A Head Coach Who Had Been at the School for Two to Four Years
Nick Saban is entering his 7th season as Alabama’s head coach, so strictly by the numbers, Alabama misses this fifth criterion. Looking into the numbers, however, reveals that Nick Saban won his BCS National Championship at LSU when he was in his fourth year coaching there, and he won his first BCS title at Alabama when he was in his third year with the Tide. Of course, everybody knows that Nick Saban can and does win National Championships.
While #1 teams usually do not make for good bets, Alabama should still be in some favorable spots this year. Look to bet them in Away games that meet our most advantageous descriptions above. Look to bet against the Tide when they are at Home, especially when those point spreads are ridiculously high. As for the 2014 BCS National Championship, Alabama meets four out of the five predictive criteria for the 60% Rule, qualifying them as definite threats to win that BCS crown again. Despite Alabama’s obvious candidacy for the 2014 BCS, we recommend against placing that futures bet on the Tide for the simple reason that 2½-to-1 odds offer no value. Why would you want to tie-up your money for four-and-a-half months for such short odds? Too many bizarre things can and do happen over the course of a college football season to risk anything when the payoff is so minimal. Save your Alabama BCS futures money for when Alabama is an Away favorite, getting more than 75% of the public betting action, in an RLM game where the line has changed more than two points from opening to closing ... and then thank us.