Alabama Crimson Tide (2-0 SU, 2-0 ATS) vs. Duke Blue Devils (1-1 SU, 1-1 ATS), 3:30 p.m. EST, College Football Week 3, Saturday, September 18, 2010, Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, North Carolina
By Scotty L of Predictem.com
Betting Odds: Bama -23/Duke+23
At first glance, this matchup appears almost comical-the defending National Champions against a perpetual punching bag. Upon closer examination, however, this is hardly the mismatch some might find it to be. Duke, once an utter laughingstock, has undergone one of the more thorough program turnarounds in all of college football. While they’re still hardly what you would call a good team, Duke deserves credit for going from pitiful to squarely mediocre.
Duke can be pretty tough at home, but will be up against it versus what appears to be a reloaded Alabama squad. In 2 games this year, Alabama has given up an anemic 6 points. Coming into this season, the Crimson Tide faced questions about their gutted defense, but after 2 games, the “D” appears to be quite robust. If Alabama managed to hold top-25 Penn State to 3 points, doesn’t that bode badly for the Blue Devils?
This is just a different Duke team under David Cutcliffe. With 97 points in two games, their offense appears to have picked up right where it left off. There was supposed to be a letdown this year after the departure of Thaddeus Lewis, but new starter Sean Renfree has been explosive in his first two games. With a talented receiving crew, led by Connor Vernon, Donovan Varner, and Austin Kelly, Duke should be able to score a lot this year. With RB Desmond Scott improved, the offense should feature a bit more versatility this season. The front five is probably the best ever seen in Durham and should give Renfree time to operate.
But that Blue Devils defense figures to betray them, as it already has this season-in giving up 54 points in last week’s loss to lowly Wake Forest. This inexperienced group, featuring an undersized line, is just not very dynamic. This “D” figures to struggle mightily in the ACC, so one can only imagine how bad it will be against the best team in the country. Maybe playing at home will give them a much-needed boost.
Succeeding against the Crimson Tide defense is a little more difficult than putting up points against Division I-AA Elon and ACC punching bag Wake Forest. This offense has been cruising the past 2 weeks, but that figures to stop on Saturday. At the same time, is it just a matter of time before the inexperience of the Bama “D” rears its head? Or should we just assume Nick Saban has been able to reload seamlessly with his great recruiting? It’s hard to believe, though, that the Crimson Tide defense won’t take a hit this year. Whether Duke can bring that to light is problematic at best.
Alabama running back and Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram has been out with a knee injury. But when you have Trent Richardson, you hardly lose a step. The sophomore, coming off a great freshman campaign, has been excellent and figures to have another big game on Saturday. QB Greg McElroy’s success is hard to ignore, as he is undefeated as a starting quarterback in high school and college. The coaching staff has appeared to turn him loose a bit this year, letting him take advantage of a more experienced and improved receiving crew. Expect them to get some business done against Duke on Saturday.
The one drawback to Alabama in this game is their motivation level. It would be optimistic to picture a Crimson Tide squad at their absolute best. While one shouldn’t expect them to phone it in, it’s hard for top teams to get revved up for games like this. If a mentally dilapidated Bama team shows up, Duke could manage to be halfway competitive.
Scotty L’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: An under-motivated Crimson Tide “D” will give up some points against the potent Duke offense. Not a lot, but even if the Blue Devils manage somewhere in the neighborhood of 17-21 points, it will put a lot of pressure on Alabama to cover the 23-point spread. If Duke can manage to not be an utter train-wreck on defense, Alabama might not be running up and down the field.
Alabama will eat up copious amounts of clock with their running game. By the 3rd quarter, this offense will have the game in hand and not be playing with urgency. This will open the door for a backdoor cover. Duke will not win this game, but will come up with a few second-half scores to keep the margin under 23. Take Duke and the 23 points.