December 2, 2021

Alabama will lose at least once, betting markets suggest –

By its own standards, Alabama enters the 2021 college football season as a relatively unpredictable team.

The word relative is crucial there. Since his first season in Tuscaloosa in 2007, Nick Saban has guided the Tide to 13 consecutive finishes in the top 10 of the AP poll.

Uncertainty at Alabama under Saban means a ceiling of a national championship and a floor of two losses and a top-10 finish.

Entering Saturday’s kickoff vs. Miami, sportsbooks list Alabama’s season win total at 11.5. That number has held since the first market-shaping oddsmakers released win totals months ago.

However, the vig, or the “juice,” indicates that the betting market overwhelmingly expects this Alabama team to lose at least one game.

The vig for under 11.5 wins ranged from -130 to -175 at the sportsbooks I reviewed. Over 11.5 wins for Alabama ranged from +110 to +145.

Explaining the vig: Why sportsbooks hold a huge advantage

The vig is the financial magic that powers sportsbooks. It’s why people say “the house always wins.”

Let’s say you bet on Alabama -19 against Miami, and Alabama wins by 20 or more points. In this example, the Tide covered the spread. You won your bet.

But because the standard vig is -110, if you bet $100, you only won $90.91. If you lost, you would’ve lost the full $100.

That standard -110 vig is why you need to win 52.4 percent of your bets to turn a profit. At -115, the break-even percentage moves to 53.5 percent.

At -175, which is where one sportsbook listed Alabama under 11.5 regular-season wins as of Wednesday morning, you’d need to win 63.6 percent of your bets just to tread water.

With a few rare exceptions, most professional sports bettors aim to win 55 percent of their bets. That’s excellent. So a vig of -130 to -175 is a signal from sportsbooks: “If anyone wants to bet on Alabama under 11.5 wins at this point, we’re going to penalize you heavily. Stay away.”

Alabama’s tough 2021 schedule: Loss coming?

Considering Alabama is one of the most publicly bet teams in all of sports, it’s telling that oddsmakers are essentially begging people to bet on an undefeated regular season.

The betting market fully expects the Tide to lose at least once prior to the SEC Championship Game.

ESPN’s SP+, the highly respected predictive model of Bill Connelly, ranks Alabama No. 1 entering the 2021 season. But it gives the Tide just a 15 percent chance of finishing the regular season unscathed.

Part of the reason is the schedule. Alabama faces three opponents ranked in the SP+ preseason top 12, all away from Tuscaloosa. That’s not including games against SP+ No. 23 Auburn, No. 25 Ole Miss and No. 26 LSU.

The model suggests that Alabama should be a 10-point favorite vs. Miami (the current line is -19), a seven-point favorite at Texas A&M and an eight-point favorite at Florida.

Undefeated seasons are rare, even for Alabama

Even by Alabama’s own standards, the 2020 team was special.

It’s hard to go undefeated in college football. It’s even harder with an SEC-only schedule during the middle of a pandemic.

The University of Alabama started playing football in 1892. Since then, the Tide have finished undefeated 11 times, including just four times since 1966.

Alabama has finished the regular season unblemished five times in Saban’s 14 seasons, losing in the postseason in three of those instances.

College football season win totals are based on regular-season games only. So the average Saban team at Alabama has gone over 11.5 regular-season wins 35.7 percent of the time.

We’ll determine the outcome of the 2021 season soon. But Saban has coached four Alabama teams coming off an unbeaten regular season. Only one of those teams (2009) managed to go unbeaten in the regular season in back-to-back years.

Offense contends with wholesale changes

Back to the special 2020 team. Alabama landed three players in the top 5 of the Heisman Trophy voting. Only one other team has ever achieved that distinction: Army in 1944, ‘45 and ‘46.

On offense alone, Alabama lost nine first-round draft picks in the last two seasons. It probably would’ve reached 10 if Landon Dickerson, taken 37th overall, had not gotten injured near the end of last season.

Arguably, Mac Jones, Najee Harris and DeVonta Smith produced the best seasons ever for an Alabama quarterback, running back and receiver.

Four of the five offensive assistants left for other jobs, including offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and offensive line coach Kyle Flood.

It’s easy to throw out blanket statements like “Alabama always reloads under Saban.” It’s true in a broad sense. The 247Sports Team Talent Composite ranks Alabama’s roster No. 1 entering the season. And Alabama is equipped much better than LSU was in a similar situation after a magical 2019 Tigers team.

But this level of newness and the loss of so much NFL talent on one side of the ball is not par for the course, even in Tuscaloosa.

There are still seven five-star recruits on the roster on offense. Four of those seven are true freshmen. Two more – Bryce Young and Trey Sanders – have not played many meaningful snaps.

The talent is there for yet another undefeated season. It’s a testament to Saban that this team enters the year No. 1 and still has a season win total of 11.5, which is almost unheard of outside of Tuscaloosa.

But with this much change and such a tough schedule, it’s more likely than not that Alabama loses at least one game during the regular season.

Christopher Smith specializes in handicapping college football and basketball. He founded Sports Locksmith to share his analysis.