Iron Bowl Preview
November 24, 2017
By Brian Edwards
Editor's Note: Brian Edwards has gone 0-3 in the mid-week games, but is ready to bounce back with winners on Saturday. He still owns a 53-39 record (57.6%, +10.41 units) in college football this season. Don't miss out on any of his pay-if-they-win-only selections for Week 13, or just go ahead and get signed up for his bowl package!
The stakes couldn’t be higher for the 2017 version of the Iron Bowl. One of the greatest rivalries in all of sports will be renewed Saturday afternoon at Jordan-Hare Stadium, where Alabama and Auburn will collide at 3:30 p.m. Eastern on CBS.
The winner takes the SEC West and faces Georgia at the Mercedes-Benz Dome next Saturday. If Auburn loses, its head coach Gus Malzahn might bolt for the Arkansas job, it will miss out on winning the division, won’t get to play in Atlanta and won’t be considered a candidate to make the College Football Playoff.
If Alabama loses, it can still make the CFP but it won’t be a given, especially if UGA knocks off Auburn next week.
As of early Friday, most betting shops had Alabama (11-0 straight up, 5-6 against the spread) installed as a 4.5-point favorite with a total of 47.5. The Tigers were +170 on the money line (risk $100 to win $170).
Alabama has won all three of its road games, but it is only 1-2 ATS in those contests. Nick Saban’s team rolled to a 59-0 win at Vanderbilt, but it failed to cover in wins at Texas A&M (27-19) and at Mississippi State (31-24).
After slipping past MSU in Starkville two weeks ago, the Crimson Tide coasted to a 56-0 win over Mercer last week as a 49.5-point home ‘chalk.’ Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts completed all seven of his pass attempts for 180 yards and three TDs without an interception. Hurts rushed for 30 yards on two carries.
Saban kept veteran RBs Bo Scarbrough (five carries, 54 yards) and Damien Harris (6 rushes, 32 yards) out of harm’s way for the most part. Star WR Calvin Ridley had three receptions for 103 yards and one TD.
For the season, Hurts has completed 61.2 percent of his passes for 1,828 yards with a 14/1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Hurts has a 37/10 TD-INT ratio for his career. He has rushed for 686 yards and eight TDs this season, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Hurts now has 21 career rushing TDs. Ridley has 52 receptions for 858 yards and three TDs this year.
Harris is the Tide’s leading rusher, earning 855 yards on the ground. He has a team-best 11 rushing scores and averages 8.2 YPC. Scarbrough has run for 503 yards and seven TDs while averaging 4.9 YPC. Najee Harris, the true freshman RB who was the 5-star prize of Saban’s 2017 recruiting class, has rushed for 306 yards and three TDs with a 5.6 YPC average.
Alabama is ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense and points allowed (10.2 points per game). The Tide is second in the country at defending the run and third in pass defense.
However, the linebacker position is getting thin on depth due to injuries. Senior LB Shaun Dion Hamilton went down with a season-ending knee injury in a 24-10 home win over LSU on Nov. 4. Hamilton had registered 40 tackles, 2.5 sacks, three tackles for loss, one forced fumble, two QB hurries and a pair of passes broken up in nine games.
Reserve LBs Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis were lost for the year in a 24-7 Week 1 win over Florida State. Mack Wilson, a sophomore, is sidelined with a foot injury, but he’s expected to be recovered by mid-December and play in the postseason. In Alabama’s first nine games, Wilson had 21 tackles, three interceptions for 21 return yards, 0.5 TFL’s, three QB hurries and one pass broken up.
Alabama will be without starting junior left guard Ross Pierschbacher until mid-December. Pierschbacher sprained his ankle in the win at MSU.
Alabama has posted a 25-17 ATS record in 42 games as a road favorite during Saban’s 11-year reign.
Auburn (9-2 SU, 5-4-2 ATS) owns a 5-2 spread record in seven games as a home underdog during Gus Malzahn’s five-year tenure.
Auburn took its losses at Clemson (14-6) in Week 2 and at LSU (27-23) on Oct. 14. But like I said in my SEC preview back in August, the Tigers could lose both of those games and still control their destiny to win the SEC West, as long as Alabama was dominating the rest of the division (per its usual routine). That’s exactly how it has played out thanks to AU’s 40-17 clubbing of Georgia as a 2.5-point home underdog just two weeks ago.
With the exception of the second half at LSU when Auburn blew a double-digit lead, this team has been playing outstanding football dating back to a 51-14 win at Missouri on Sept. 23. The Tigers smashed Mississippi State by a 49-10 count, drilled Ole Miss 44-23, went to Fayetteville and won 52-20 and thumped Texas A&M, 42-27, in College Station.
I backed ULM as a 36.5-point underdog at AU last week. The line actually closed at 38, but I was all about the opinion on the Warhawks at any number north of 30. This was a vintage look-ahead spot (or sandwich situation, whichever you prefer) for AU, especially after it had destroyed UGA the previous week and had arch-rival Alabama on deck.
Just as I suspected, Auburn came out flat and the game was tied 7-7 until QB Jarrett Stidham found Darius Slayton on a 50-yard scoring strike with 1:27 left in the second quarter. Auburn would create some separation on Stidham’s 41-yard TD pass to Kam Martin for a 28-7 lead with 3:46 remaining in the third. A Nick Ruffin pick-six midway through the fourth quarter put the game on ice, and Auburn eventually won a 42-14 decision. Nevertheless, ULM easily covered the number.
AU is unbeaten in six home games with a 2-2-2 spread record.
Stidham has completed 67.8 percent of his passes for 2,445 yards with a 16/4 TD-INT ratio. Ryan Davis is his favorite target, hauling in 58 receptions for 564 yards and five TDs. Slayton has 19 catches for 533 yards and five TDs, averaging an eye-popping 28.1 YPR. Will Hastings has 19 grabs for 388 yards and three TDs.
With Kam Pettway sidelined for the last month, RB Kerryon Johnson has carried the load. He has rushed for 1,172 yards and 16 TDs with a 5.3 YPC average. Martin has run for 400 yards and two TDs while averaging 6.7 YPC.
Pettway, a first-team All-SEC selection last year, had rushed for 305 yards and six TDs but was only averaging 4.0 YPC. He has been bothered by multiple injuries for most of the year. We should also add that Johnson’s season numbers are even more impressive when considering he missed two games in September. Johnson also has 18 catches for 166 yards and two TDs.
The ‘over’ is 7-4 for Auburn, 3-3 in its home games. The ‘over’ had hit in seven straight games for the Tigers before last week’s 56 combined points fell ‘under’ the 68-point total. Their games have averaged combined scores of 54.3 PPG.
The ‘under’ is 6-5 overall for ‘Bama, but the ‘over’ is 2-1 in its three road assignments.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.
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