That Alabama is playing in Saturday's SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome is no surprise. That Missouri is back for the second straight year is. The Tide opened as 14.5-point favorites with a total of 48.5 on BetOnline's NCAA football odds.
College Football Playoff Awaits Tide
It's quite simple for Alabama, which is No. 1 in the newest polls and should remain at No. 1 in Tuesday's release of the College Football Playoff rankings: Beat Missouri, even if it's ugly, and the Crimson Tide will be in the first-ever playoff. They probably would stay at No. 1 and host the No. 4 team in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Think that would be a home-field advantage against someone like a Ohio State, TCU or Baylor? Should Alabama lose, it's quite possible that the mighty SEC will not have a playoff team, which was unthinkable even a couple of weeks ago. Late-season fades by Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State and Ole Miss have hurt the SEC.
The Tide (11-1, 7-1) were 9.5-point favorites in college football betting in last week's Iron Bowl against Auburn and won 55-44 in by far the highest-scoring game in the history of the rivalry. In fact, it led to the Tigers firing their defensive coordinator. Alabama receiver Amari Cooper was brilliant with 13 catches for 224 yards and three touchdowns. That likely stamped Cooper's ticket to New York as a Heisman finalist, although he's not going to win the award. It also likely was the junior's final home game as he's expected to run pro and be a high first-round pick.
Bama coach Nick Saban appears to have made a terrific hire in offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who may have repaired his image enough in just one season to earn another head-coaching gig somewhere. This is the best offense Alabama has had since Saban arrived and the Tide are playing fast under Kiffin in averaging 72.7 plays per game, nine more than a year ago; which is something to think about this when reviewing the college football picks. The Tide rank in the Top 40 nationally in rushing, passing and scoring offense. Kiffin has been named a finalist for the Broyles Award, which goes to the top assistant coach in the country.
There are two key Alabama injuries to monitor. Starting left tackle Cam Robinson suffered a sprained shoulder in the Iron Bowl. Robinson, a freshman who has started every game, left in the fourth quarter and didn’t return. Starting right tackle Austin Shepherd moved to Robinson’s spot, and sophomore Grant Hill came in at right tackle. Saban thinks Robinson will be able to play against Missouri. Sophomore linebacker Ryan Anderson also suffered a shoulder injury against Auburn, but it doesn't appear serious.
Alabama is 4-8 against the spread on college football odds this season and 5-6 'over/under.'
Playoff Not Likely for Tigers
What does it say about Missouri (10-2, 7-1) that the Tigers were beaten by Big Ten doormat Indiana this season and routed by Georgia, but that Mizzou is back in Atlanta? The Tigers have won six straight since getting pushed around by the Dawgs. The last three wins were all by eight points or fewer. Last Friday Missouri avoided an upset attempt by Arkansas, 21-14. The Hogs were driving for a potential tie late when Tigers linebacker Kentrell Brothers stripped running back Alex Collins and Missouri recovered with 2:13 to go at its own 35. The Tigers had taken the lead on a Marcus Murphy 12-yard run with 4:38 left.
The SEC East championship was Missouri's fifth division title in the past eight years, dating to its Big 12 days, but the Tigers haven't won a conference title in that span under Gary Pinkel. Missouri's last conference title was in the Big Eight in 1969. Pinkel, incidentally, earned at least $200,000 in bonuses when Missouri reached 10 wins and earned a berth in the SEC Championship Game. Missouri was picked to finish sixth in the seven-team East last year and fourth this season. Just nine starters returned from the '13 team.
Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel also is one of five finalists for the Frank Broyles Award. Missouri ranks 13th nationally in scoring defense (19.7 points per game), 25th in rush defense (126.4 yards a game) and 25th in passer rating against (114.55). In SEC play, the Tigers rank first in the conference in total defense (300.8 yards per game), yards per play (4.26), rush defense (115.0 yards a game), yards per rush (3.11) and yards per pass (5.5) and are No. 2 in pass defense (185.8 yards per game). Missouri is tied for sixth nationally with 40 sacks. End Shane Ray leads the SEC with 13.5 sacks. Ray and Markus Golden have combined for 36.5 tackles for loss this season, the most among any duo in the SEC. Missouri's past four opponents averaged 20.3 points fewer against the Tigers than they did the previous week.
A Missouri win probably won't be enough to jump the Tigers into the Top 4 of the College Football Playoff rankings, the last of which will be released Sunday afternoon. The Tigers and Tide last played in 2012 when top-ranked Alabama won 42-10 in Columbia.
The Tigers are 8-4 against the spread at sportsbooks and 4-7-1 'over/under.'
NCAAF Free Picks: Missouri +14.5 points and the 'under' 48.5 points at BetOnline. The Tide could be a bit emotionally spent after the big Iron Bowl win. The Tide are 0-4 ATS in their past four following an ATS win. Missouri has covered 13 of its past 16 on college football odds against teams with a winning record. The 'under' is 5-1 in Alabama's past six against teams with a winning record. The 'under' is 5-2 in Missouri's past seven after allowing less than 20 points in its previous game.