Wisconsin Badgers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (-10.5, 53 o/u)
Head coach Nick Saban has noticed a decline in respect for his Alabama program over the last couple years. Once the most terrifying team in the country, Saban said the rest of the nation is no longer afraid of the Tide – who failed to reach the title game for a second straight season last year. Alabama and their stable of five-star recruits will look to return to their dominant selves this season, starting with a neutral-site tilt with Big Ten power Wisconsin in Week 1 (8:00 PM Eastern on September 5 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington).
Two years ago, Auburn kept their arch-rivals out of the title game with a shocking kick return TD in the waning moments of the Iron Bowl, while, last season, Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott shredded the Bama D in the Sugar Bowl en route to a 42-35 upset.
If the Tide are going to return to the title game this year, they’re going to have to earn their spot. Facing seven teams ranked in the pre-season top-25, Alabama has one of the toughest schedules in the country (much like most of their SEC brethren). Making matters worse, questions linger at QB. Cooper Bateman, Jake Coker, and Alec Morris are are all in the hunt for the starting job, but none have much in the way of experience. The latest reports have Morris, a junior, favored to start against the Badgers.
“Alec has done a nice job all [preseason],” Saban said via AL.com. “I think he does a really good job of understanding the offense. He helps the other players play better. And I think that he has probably shown command at the position, which I think is important.” But Morris isn’t a finished product, by any means, with Saban adding, “We’ve just got to continue to work on touch, accuracy, efficiency.”
Whatever happens on offense for Alabama, Saban should be able to count on his defense to be strong once again. Led by junior defensive linemen A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen, the team is poised to have a fearsome front seven as good as any in the conference.
That could spell serious trouble for the Badgers, who lost a host of players from last year’s dynamic running game. Not only is RB Melvin Gordon (2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2014) now playing on Sundays, but three starters from the offensive line also departed. Wisconsin should still have a fairly solid ground game led by junior RB Corey Clement, but the inconsistency of senior QB Joel Stave (53.4-percent passing, nine TDs, and ten INTs in 2014) may allow the Tide to focus heavily on stuffing the run.
Looking at the betting trends, the Crimson Tide are 4-1 ATS in their last five against Big Ten opponents, and 9-4 ATS in their last 13 neutral site games. The Badgers, meanwhile, are 1-4 ATS in their last five neutral site games, and 1-3-1 ATS in their last five as an underdog of 10.5 or greater. All signs point to Bama.
Pick: Alabama -10.5.
(Photo credit: Phil Roeder (flickr) “Hawkeyes Lose to Badgers” [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode]. Photo may appear cropped.)
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