This Saturday, the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide squares off against the #14 Miami Hurricanes in the 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. The Crimson Tide is favored by 18.5 points, and the total is set at 61. With just 12 returning starters, some are questioning if the reigning national champions are deserving of such lofty expectations - and spreads - to start the season. On the "ESPN College Football Podcast," Kirk Herbstreit, arguably the voice of college football, remarked that Alabama should win its season opener, but Miami should keep it close. Herbstreit cited the inexperience of Alabama's playmakers, stating, "New quarterback in Bryce Young, you got new running backs, a lot of new receivers. Bama is going to be relying early on old-school Bama - dominant defense and playing smart on offense [...] I don’t see a blowout [...] I think the Canes can compete." Matt Barrie, a cohost on the podcast, said the 18.5 point spread was "just laughable" for such a young Alabama team. Others have shared a similar sentiment. Joseph Goodman, a sports columnist for AL.com, suggested that Alabama, in its current form, is simply "overrated." In an August 13th article, Goodman wrote, "Without a doubt this Alabama team in its preseason form should be considered overrated. No.1 out of the gate? How? After what they lost off of last season’s team? Nah. Maybe at the end, sure, but not here at the beginning."
Pundits aren't wrong to question the Crimson Tide. The talent loss from last year's undefeated team is well-documented. Losing the Heisman Trophy/Fred Biletnikoff Award winner (Devonta Smith), the Davey O'Brien Award winner (Mac Jones), the Doak Walker Award winner (Najee Harris), and the Dave Rimington Award winner (Landon Dickerson) is tough. Losing WR Jaylen Waddle, CB Patrick Surtain II, and OT Alex Leatherwood (three NFL first round picks) hurts, too. There will be plenty of new faces on the field for the crimson-and-white, and many of them will be unproven in starting roles.
But, don't mistake inexperience for ineptitude. Players come to Tuscaloosa as prized recruits, usually perform well once given playing time, and then graduate to the NFL. Alabama is a football factory in which head coach Nick Saban molds some of the top high school prep talent into NFL-caliber players. Saban, arguably the greatest coach in college football history, coaches his team up like no other. As a whole, the coaching staff is as good as any anyone's. Tuscaloosa is NFL coaching rehab, for Christ’s sake. (At the start of last season, OL coach Doug Marrone was the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, and OC Bill O'Brien was the head coach of the Houston Texans). The coaching staff is legit, and the roster is littered with 5 star talent. QB Bryce Young is one of the highest ranked high school quarterbacks ever. OT Evan Neal will likely be the first offensive linemen taken in the 2021 NFL Draft. S Jordan Battle will be one of the first safeties selected. LB Christian Harris, CB Josh Jobe, and WR John Metchie are first-round talents. CB Malachi Moore and LB Will Anderson figure to be first-round talents once they are draft-eligible. The point is, Alabama, as a team, may be inexperienced in some places, but Nick Saban has shown us time and again that Alabama is a program that reloads, not rebuilds. The talent is there to warrant such a high ranking in the national polls, and the coaching staff has the credentials to extract as much ability out of the roster as possible.
For those wondering if such an inexperienced team can really blowout a top-15 team this early in the season, fear not. Saban-coached teams are downright lethal in season openers. Under Saban, Alabama is a spread-covering machine in Week 1. The Crimson Tide is a robust 14-0 SU and 12-2 ATS in season openers under Saban. Check out this stat sheet of Saban-coached Alabama teams in Week 1, courtesy of Saturday Down South.
2020: Alabama (-28) vs. Missouri – Result: W 38-19
2019: Alabama (-34) vs. Duke – Result: W 42-3
2018: Alabama (-24) vs. Louisville – Result: W 51-14
2017: Alabama (-7) vs. Florida State – Result: W 24-7
2016: Alabama (-12) vs. USC – Result: W 52-6
2015: Alabama (-12) vs. Wisconsin – Result: W 35-17
2014: Alabama (-25) vs. West Virginia – Result: W 33-23
2013: Alabama (-20) vs. Virginia Tech – Result: W 35-10
2012: Alabama (-13) vs. Michigan – Result: W 41-14
2011: Alabama (-38) vs. Kent State – Result: W 48-7
2010: Alabama (-37) vs. SJ State – Result: W 48-3
2009: Alabama (-6) vs. Virginia Tech – Result: W 34-24
2008: Alabama (+4) vs. Clemson – Result: W 34-10
2007: Alabama vs. W. Carolina – Result: W 52-6
*I could not find the spread for Alabama vs Western Carolina in 2009, but the Crimson Tide covered the spread, according to Saturday Down South.*
**Alabama hasn’t lost a season opener since losing to UCLA in 2001.
***Alabama hasn’t lost a neutral site season opener since losing to LSU in 1958.
So long as Nick Saban patrols the sidelines, Alabama will be a handful to deal with, particularly in season openers. The offense may struggle in September, and the Week 3 road trip to Gainesville looms large. But, don't let Alabama's relative lack of experience scare you from backing the Crimson Tide in Week 1. Expect Alabama to come out firing on all cylinders with Nick Saban at the helm. The Tide will roll in Atlanta. With that being said, I think the total presents more value than the spread. I like the u61 more than Alabama -18.5.
Best Bet: Under 61 (-110)
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