CFB Week 8: Tennessee at Alabama Pick
Tennessee Volunteers (2-4) at Alabama Crimson Tide (6-0)
When: Friday, October 18, 9 p.m EDT
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Point Spread: BAMA -35 (BetOnline)
Total: O/U 62
Outlook For Week 8
It’s the Third Saturday in October, and for Tennessee fans, that’s been a weekend to forget for quite a while. The Volunteers haven’t been competitive with Alabama for more than a decade and have never beaten Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban. Saban took over Alabama in 2007, and that year started a 12-game winning streak that has seen the Tide outscore the Volunteers 454-147. Tennessee hasn’t broken 21 points in this series since 2003’s memorable quintuple-overtime contest, and the 21 that the Volunteers put up last year in Knoxville paled in comparison to the 58 from Alabama.
The Volunteers did finally get their first SEC to win in what has been another forgettable season in Knoxville, as Tennessee has only managed to beat Chattanooga and Mississippi State. Alabama, on the other hand, appears to be well on its way to a collision course with LSU for the SEC West title — a matchup that sits three weeks away.
How the Public is Betting the Tennessee/Alabama Game
The public wasn’t impressed by Tennessee beating Mississippi State and has backed Alabama in large numbers, pushing the line from 29.5 for the Tide to 34.5. The total hasn’t changed, sticking at 62 from the beginning.
Defensive back Trevon Flowers is out for the season with a broken ankle, while quarterback Brian Maurer is questionable after leaving the Mississippi State game with concussion-like symptoms. Defensive back Warren Burrell is questionable with an ankle injury, while offensive lineman Riley Locklear is also questionable with concussion-like symptoms.
Wide receiver Devonta Smith is suspended for the first half of this game, while offensive lineman Chris Owens is questionable with a knee injury.
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When Tennessee Has the Ball
Maurer is taking reps in practice, and if he’s fully healthy, the Vols plan for him to be the starter against Alabama. Whether that helps for this game remains to be seen, as he’s a freshman and hasn’t looked great against the likes of Georgia and Mississippi State. Alabama’s defense isn’t as great as it’s been in years past, but the Tide still presents a formidable challenge to a player who’s making only his third collegiate start. If Maurer can’t go, Tennessee will go back to Jarrett Guarantano, who wasn’t exactly getting the job done under center before being replaced. What Tennessee needs to do is get Ty Chandler moving the football, as Alabama’s run defense is softer than it’s been in years past, and the Vols could keep the ball out of the Tide’s hands if Chandler can find some running lanes.
When Alabama Has the Ball
When the defense isn’t as good as it’s been in recent years, it just means that the offense needs to step up and get the job done, and that is precisely what’s happened at Alabama. Tua Tagovailoa continues to show why he’s likely to be playing football on Sundays next year, as he lit Texas A&M up for four touchdowns and 293 yards last week in a 47-28 win. For the year, Tagovailoa has been about as good as it gets, throwing 27 touchdowns against a single interception. Granted, Alabama hasn’t played the most challenging schedule around, but those kinds of numbers are impressive no matter who you’re playing.
Najee Harris has provided a capable ground game for the Tide when necessary, but Alabama hasn’t had to turn to it much this season. That will come later when the likes of LSU and Auburn show up on the schedule, but for now, riding Tagovailoa has worked out beautifully for an offense that hasn’t been held under 40 points.
As stated above, this rivalry has not been close for a long time. Alabama has been in a position where it could lose twice under Saban: a 12-10 win in 2009 and a 19-14 win in 2015. Otherwise, this has been one-way traffic, with the Tide winning by at least 30 on seven occasions. In the past three seasons, it has only gotten worse, as Alabama has pushed past the 35-point mark in all three meetings, with the closest matchup being last year’s 37-point Tide victory.
Because it’s so lopsided in Bama’s favor, you’d be right if you expected the favorite to have a significant edge in this series. The favorite is 7-2 ATS in the past nine meetings in this series, and because they put up a lot of points, the over also tends to be the way to bet. It’s hit in six of the past seven meetings.
The one bit of danger with Alabama is that the Tide is such a popular team that the spread is often set a bit too high when they play against lousy opponents. In Alabama’s past five games against teams with a losing record, the Tide are 0-5 ATS. Tennessee, on the other hand, has been straight-up allergic to what little success it’s had: when the Vols win a game outright, they play lousy their next match and lose ATS, something they’ve done in seven of their past eight contests following a win.
Even during the fall, Alabama remains a pretty warm location, as temperatures will hit around 76 at kickoff.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread
Is this spread high? Yes. Is there a worry about a backdoor cover? Again, yes. Does Alabama struggle to hit its projected spreads? For a third time, yes. But even with all of that said, Tennessee is a straight-up disaster. They’ve managed to lose to the likes of Georgia State and BYU, neither of whom are going to be on par with the best of the SEC anytime soon. Other than Mississippi State, which looks like it could be on its way to a wreck of a season, Tennessee hasn’t looked like it’s even a Sun Belt-quality football team, let alone an SEC-caliber one.
If Alabama had a big game coming up next week, or this wasn’t a rivalry game where the Tide love to pile on points against their foe, I’d be looking hard at Tennessee. But with Arkansas up next, Alabama isn’t going to get caught looking ahead, and there’s little reason for Saban to back off given how much this rivalry means to his fan base. Thirty-five is a lot, but I think Alabama can swing it. Give me the Tide here.