As Alabama and Wisconsin battle in the first week of the College Football season, we look to the point spread for the best value pick. Expect the Tide to play deep into January in another quest for a national championship.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Stars like RB T.J. Yeldon, WR Amari Cooper and S Landon Collins are gone to the pros and have left considerable voids to fill, especially Cooper. The All-American receiver was everything in the passing game and new QB Jake Coker must now rely on TE O.J. Howard (17 rec., 260 yards) WR ArDarius Stewart (12, 149) to step up.
The good news is they have a strong running game with Derrick Henry coming back to go along with a seasoned offensive line led by LT Cam Robinson and G Ross Pierschbacher. Moreover, the return of offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is a huge plus for a relatively inexperienced squad.
Kiffin made it work last year with QB Blake Sims, but clearly loves what he has in pocket passer Coker and his ability to sling it. Alabama will certainly be a run-first team with Henry in the backfield, but don’t be surprised if they surprise defenses with some third-down passing in clutch situations.
Defense will again be a highlight of this team, returning all three starting defensive lineman including All-American NT Ashawn Robinson (11 TFL, 49 total). Pair him with skilled linebackers like Reggie Regland (95 tackles, 10.5 TFL) and second-year starter Rueben Foster and the front seven should no problems.
The secondary, on the other hand, was attacked the most last season (226.0 YPG) and will continue to be attacked until they get things figured out. Landon Collins and Nick Perry are gone which could prove problematic early, but coach Saban is a preparation madman, if that’s even a phrase! Senior Geno Smith will more than likely have a starting job with junior Maurice Smith and sophomore Hootie Jones battling it out until the season opener.
Wisconsin returns some good talent, but the thought of having to replace all-everything running back Melvin Gordon (2,587 yards, 32 total TDs) is, well, a huge deal. The Badgers identity, for years, has been a stout run game and this year that may have to be altered.
Senior Corey Clement has shown signs of being able to carry the load, but will need to prove more consistency. That may be tougher than expected because only two offensive linemen (LT Tyler Marz and C Dan Voltz) are returning starters with a massive drop-off in experience behind them, putting more pressure on an abysmal passing game (148 YPG and 15 TDs).
There’s no question that QB Joel Stave has the experience, however, it’s more quality than quantity. Stave threw for only 1,350 yards last year with more picks (10) than TDs (9), a stat that could change under new coordinator Joe Rudolph. He must rely on unproven receivers George Rushing and Reggie Love who combined for 7 catches for 77 yards.
Defensively, the Badgers were stout most notably against the past where SS Michael Caputo returns to lead a unit that allowed 168.0 YPG (4th nationally). He will be flanked by corners Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary who have lockdown abilities with 11 total pass break ups.
Up front defensive coordinator Dave Aranda knows his work will be limitless with a lot of questions. DE Chikwe Obasih (1.5 sacks, 2.5 TFL) will anchor the line that has a ton of youth and therefore needs a fair amount of molding. That could correlate to a lot of experienced offensive lineman getting to the second level, which has a bit of experience, but still some youth.
OLBs Vince Biegel (56 tackles, 7.5 sacks) and Joe Schobert (3 sacks, 69 tackles) are the returning starters and will have to take on the majority of the work, while freshman T.J Edwards and Leon Jacobs (1.5 sacks, 28 tackles) get refreshed and otherwise caught up with the pace of college football.
Wisconsin vs. Alabama Matchup
Wisconsin is coming into the season with a decent lineup, but won’t be able to compete with Alabama, bottom line. The Tide returns an excellent running game and even without Amari Cooper, will find ways to get the ball downfield with Kiffin calling the show.
Prediction: Alabama is favored by 10.5 i the early College Football Odds and has the talent to cover the spread. Wisconsin’s hopes will lie in the hands of seldom-called-upon QB and very inexperienced receivers to try to pick on the “weakness” part of the Alabama defense, the secondary. Not enough.
Final Score Prediction: Alabama 28, Wisconsin 13
Free College Football Pick: Alabama -10.5 at Pinnacle