All eyes will be on Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge on Saturday night when LSU plays host to top-ranked Alabama as a home underdog. The Wynn in Las Vegas opened Nick Saban’s team as a seven-point favorite, but that number wasn’t available for long.
Within two hours as many other books posted the line, the Crimson Tide was up to 8 ½ or 9. By Monday afternoon, most books had ‘Bama favored by 9 ½ or 10. On Thursday when many Vegas shops had Alabama favored by nine, eight offshore books moved the number down to eight.
Sportsbook.ag didn’t go that far, settling at 8 ½. I talked to Sportsbook Senior Oddsmaker Mike Perry on Friday morning.
Perry told VegasInsider.com, “We got sharp action on LSU at plus 9 ½ late Thursday morning and moved the number to nine. We took another sharp bet at that number and then moved it to the current number of 8 ½. Seventy percent of the money for this game has come in on Alabama.”
As for the total, it opened at 42 ½ but was down to 41 or 40 ½ by late Friday afternoon.
Alabama (8-0 straight up, 5-3 against the spread) has coasted through its schedule without being challenged. The only contest that was even slightly competitive was a 33-14 non-covering win over Ole Miss as a 31-point home favorite.
Alabama has already played three SEC road games, rolling to easy wins at Arkansas (52-0), at Missouri (42-10) and at Tennessee (44-13). The Tide is coming off a 38-7 win over previously-undefeated Mississippi St. as a 22-point home ‘chalk.’
Junior quarterback A.J. McCarron completed 16-of-23 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. Freshman RB T.J. Yeldon rushed 10 times for 84 yards and one TD. Kenny Bell had a 57-yard TD grab and Eddie Lacy had four receptions for 51 yards and one score.
McCarron has connected on 68.9 percent of his throws for 1,684 yards with an incredible 18/0 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Amari Cooper has emerged as McCarron’s favorite target, hauling in 32 catches for 472 yards and five TDs.
Lacy and Yeldon have shared the lead duties for the ground attack. Yeldon has rushed for a team-high 649 yards and seven TDs while averaging 7.0 yards per carry. Lacy has 596 rushing yards and seven TDs, averaging 5.5 YPC.
Alabama has the nation’s top defense, giving up only 203.1 yards per game and 8.1 points per contest. The Tide hasn’t allowed more than the 14 points scored by both Ole Miss and Michigan.
LSU (7-1 SU, 3-5 ATS) has had to deal with adversity galore since August. First, All-American cornerback and special-teams ace Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed from the team. His propensity for making big plays has been sorely missed.
Next, offensive tackle Chris Faulk went down with a season-ending injury. Then the starting OT on the other side, Alex Hurst, who was a first-team All-SEC selection last year, left the team for personal reasons. Also, linebackers Tahj Jones and Kwon Alexander were lost to season-ending injuries.
Les Miles’s squad won its first five games before coming up on the wrong side of a 14-6 decision at Florida. Since then, LSU has posted back-to-back wins vs. South Carolina (23-21) and at Texas A&M (24-19).
Unlike Alabama, LSU had an open date after winning in College Station two weeks ago. Freshman RB Jeremy Hill erupted for 127 rushing yards and one touchdown on 18 carries against the Aggies. LSU’s defense intercepted Johnny Manziel three times.
Junior QB Zach Mettenberger, who was expected to be a major upgrade at the position, hasn’t met expectations. The transfer from Georgia has completed only 56.6 percent of his throws for 1,419 yards with a 7/4 TD-INT ratio.
LSU is ranked third in the nation in total defense. The Tigers’ stop unit is ranked ninth in scoring defense, surrendering 14.6 PPG.
LSU has been a home underdog just three times during Les Miles’s eight-year tenure. The Tigers are 1-2 both straight up and against the spread in those situations. However, we should note that the lone victory was in Alabama’s last trip to LSU in 2010 when the Tigers won by a 24-21 count.
The Tide owns a 16-7 spread record in 23 games as a road favorite on Saban’s watch.
The ‘over’ is 4-3-1 overall for Alabama, 3-0 in its road assignments. LSU has seen the ‘under’ go 4-3 overall, but the ‘over’ has hit at a 3-1 clip in its home games.
For those thinking upset, LSU is available for a generous 3/1 payout (risk $100 to win $300) if it wins outright.
Kickoff on CBS is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
--LSU’s Kenny Hilliard has rushed for a team-high 420 yards and six TDs, averaging 5.9 YPC. Nevertheless, look for LSU to ride the hot hand and give Hill more carries against ‘Bama. Hill has five rushing TDs and a 6.7 YPC average.
--Arkansas running back Knile Davis is ‘out’ Saturday vs. Tulsa with a hamstring injury. However, bettors shouldn’t put much stock in the injury because Dennis Johnson has been much more productive this year. The Razorbacks have lost four starters for the season and will also be without starting tight end Chris Gragg (knee) against the Golden Hurricane.
--Looking to go against the worst ATS team in America? Virginia (0-7-1 ATS) is back in action following an open date and plays at North Carolina St. as an 11-point underdog.
--The nation’s premier ATS team is Gary Andersen’s Utah St. Aggies, who are 8-0-1 versus the number after trouncing USTA 48-17 as 23 ½-point road favorites. Utah St. is a 26-point home favorite Saturday vs. Texas St.
--Ole Miss hasn’t beaten Georgia since 1996, losing nine straight head-to-head meetings. The Bulldogs have covered the number at a 6-3 ATS clip over that span. The Rebels are 14-point underdogs Saturday between the hedges.
--After losing its first game of the season 17-9 vs. Georgia, Florida returns to The Swamp to take on Missouri as a 17-point favorite. Will Muschamp’s team is 5-3 ATS as a home ‘chalk’ on his watch.
Brian Edwards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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