One Way To Gauge Schedule Difficulty

Remember Dec. 5, 2009? Alabama had won the Southeastern Conference Western Division championship and was to face Tim Tebow and No. 1-ranked Florida in the SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Although the Gators were a 5-point favorite, Bama won the game and went on to win the national championship.

Obviously, Alabama winning the SEC Championship or the National Championship is not the question here. That has happened on numerous occasions, though not often to the extent that it gave the opposing coach a mysterious and career-threatening illness.

The interesting thing about that game is that it was the last time Alabama had been the underdog according to those who set the gambling lines in Las Vegas. The Crimson Tide has now been the favorite in a modern record 68 consecutive games under Coach Nick Saban.

Alabama won that last game as underdog, 32-13, and went on to complete a magical season – going undefeated 14-0, defeating nemesis Texas by 37-21 in the Rose Bowl where Bama’s extraordinary football heritage can be said to have begun, and having a Heisman Trophy winner in Mark Ingram.

To be sure, Alabama has not won all 68 of the games in which it has been favored since that game in Atlanta. Bama’s record of 59-9, though, is pretty good, and includes three national championships.

As almost everyone knows, Las Vegas doesn’t care who wins the game and doesn’t make a line that predicts the outcome. The eye-shaded sharpies of the desert are attempting to set a line that will draw the most gambled dollars. Those oddsmakers know a lot about the football teams and coaches, more than you about the injury situations, and they know which teams attract the most action. People bet on Alabama, so the line is usually unbalanced a bit. If the line should be Alabama a 6-point favorite, the Tide will probably come out a 7- or even 8-point favorite. The casinos (and your local bookie) are happiest if an equal amount of money is bet on each team, and they settle for the 10 per cent penalty paid by those on the losing side.

If is important to recognize this because the very early line has been issued by the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. Remember: The line is not a predictor of the outcome of a game. It is, however, frequently very close to the final outcome.

Three games on the Alabama schedule are not worth the time of a bookmaker to figure a line. If you live in Alabama, though, you’ll probably have an investment opportunity even on the cupcakes – Middle Tennessee, Louisiana-Monroe, and Charleston Southern.

As for the others, there is an early line. If one considers that line to be a predictor of the outcome – which we have pointed out, it is not – it would appear that Alabama’s Oct. 3 game at Georgia would be the toughest on the Tide schedule. The line opened even.

If that is the case the week of the game, it will end Alabama’s streak of being favored at 72 consecutive games. The line changes as bets are made. If more money comes in on Alabama, the line would move to make the Tide the favorite. More money on Georgia and the Bulldogs would be the favorite. (Odds are Bama will be favored by kickoff, particularly if Georgia decides to have a blackout game.)

Second toughest game would be the Nov. 28 game at Auburn to end regular season play. Bama is currently a 3 ½ point favorite. With all the things that can happen in a season, this is almost certainly going to be a line that moves before kickoff.

Third toughest game is at Texas A&M on Oct. 17, where Bama is a 7-point favorite. Like Auburn, the Aggies have the challenge of turning a terrible defense into a serviceable group. A&M added a truly good defensive coordinator in getting John Chavis from LSU.

Alabama hosts Arkansas on Oct. 10 and it looks like the fourth most difficult game as the Tide is a 7 ½-point favorite.

There is a tie for the fifth toughest game. Alabama is a 9-point favorite over both LSU in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 7 and at Mississippi State in Starkville the next week, Nov. 14.

Alabama is a 9 ½-point favorite in a home game against Ole Miss Sept. 19, making it the seventh most difficult.

Coming in tied for the least difficult (non-cupcake division) games for Alabama in 2015 are contests in which the Tide is a 10-point favorite – against Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas, Sept. 5, and at home against Tennessee on Oct. 24.

And here’s a tip. If you don’t gamble, you won’t lose a nickel.


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