We’re less than two months out from the 2023 season, folks. And, you know what that means?
Gambling. Yes. That’s what it means.
We’re going to take an early look at the Alabama/MTSU line, and give you a few things to think about, what the data suggest etc. The Blue Raiders raised a lot of eyebrows last year, winning eight games and absolutely plastering Miami in Coral Gables. Alabama is undergoing almost unparalleled uncertainty at so many key positions and on the sidelines. Can Rick Stockstill’s high-flying offense keep it close in Tuscaloosa, for what is expected to be a Labor Day bloodbath? Could Little Middle even pull off the impossible?
Let’s find out:
Alabama -38 vs. Middle Tennessee State
Let’s not bury the lede.
Can Middle Tennessee beat Alabama? No.
At the end of the day, the game is still ultimately about talent. There’s not a single player on the MTSU roster that could crack the two-deep at UA, and that’s in a good year. The problem is, this likely will not be a good year for MTSU.
This ain’t Miami.
Can MTSU keep it within six scores? That’s a more interesting question; it’s also one where both historical gambling trends, the trendlines for both of these teams, and the advanced stats paint a more mixed portrait.
Alabama has been decent at covering against OOC teams, though not great — and primarily because the lines usually are so large. Over the past five years, the Tide is 9-7 against spreads in this range, However, they were 4-1 last season alone. And, omitting some of the odd larger lines with a poor defense in 2019, they’ve actually been very solid lately when you take a more granular approach. Alabama also has a perfect ATS record under the lights in BDS vs. OOC. The Tide shows up and demolishes people at home that they should when the sun goes down. Admittedly, that is just a 4-0 record over the last several years, but perfect is as perfect does.
Nationally, the trends aren’t as favorable. Last year, the cover rate of games at -38 was just 50%. At -38.5, the line this game opened at, it is far worse: Just 41.9%.
So, if -38/-38.5 seemed an iffy bet, it’s because it generally is right in that trouble area that helps buy new braces for the Bookie’s kid.
MTSU can be serious trouble in those 21+ sorts of games, subject to a major caveat: when the Raiders have an offense. Like Auburn teams, MTSU relies on upperclassmen to have one great season after two or three average ones of youth. But, when it’s staffed with upperclassmen on offense? They’re a great buy as a ‘dog. 14-8 over the past 10 years. When they’re young? Woof. It gets bad. Just a meager 9-16.
For ‘Bama fans, the good news here is that MTSU has lost their starting QB and all three of their starting WR off a very dangerous passing game. They do return three on the OL, but it wasn’t particularly effective unit to begin with, especially running the ball. Alabama’s defense should have their way in shutting down this team. And the defense was never a good one to begin with: especially against teams with a penchant for power running and PA passing — which is exactly what the Tide figures to look like this season.
In other words: This looks a lot closer to one of those 9-16 MTSU teams rather than an upstart 14-8 ATS team.
If there are intangibles, they also tilt to the Tide. This a team that lost 89.4% of its offensive production. There are five quarterbacks all looking to start; studs throughout the backfield jockeying for position; some young hungry wideouts looking for jobs. Rees isn’t going to want to shit the bed his first game. Nor will those players: this is going to be treated as a 60-minute, live-fire scrimmage and open competition among a dozen or so skills players.
The foot is not coming off the gas, in other words.
Defensively, there is a similar situation at play. There are seven outstanding DBs vying for 5 slots. And, with the exception of Kool-Aid, you can’t say that anyone is particularly secure in their job. The same holds true at ILB and all along the defensive line: This is a four-quarter tryout, an object lesson in execution and aggression. Like Rees, Old Man Steele ain’t taking his foot off the gas either.
This could be one of the nastiest, full sixty-minute beatdowns we’ve seen from an early season Saban team. Too much talent, too much hunger, too many guys looking for jobs.
The advanced stats are all in the Tide’s favor: grimly so.
- Alabama should enjoy a +8 yard field position advantage just in kickoffs, with MTSU gaining fewer than 3 yards per return beyond the 25. Tide’s starting FP is project at the 35.6 yard line
- UA’s special teams are 4th in efficiency vs. the Raiders, who are 110th.
- Defensively, MTSU is 92nd in per-play efficiency, 102nd overall, and a gruesome 104th in stopping the run. NBD! Just an SEC team on the road! They do force a fair number of negative plays at the LOS, but even so, it’s a young front seven, and Alabama’s depth is far better along the line this year. I’d expect MTSU to get a few plays here, though not enough for 60 full minutes
- Offensively, it’s a crap shoot. I had to plug in ND efficiency outputs from last season. The simple fact is we don’t know even what kind of O that Rees will run. The A-Day game was fairly aggressive: it wasn’t the three-yards-and-a-glorious punt that we expected from his ND work. Will Alabama be that aggressive again? Uncertain. But I do look the Notre Dame-Oklahoma State game as an example of what UA could look like — always pressing the advantage, treating every possession as a must-score. If that’s the Tommy Rees we get, then UA is in great shape.
Close, because of course it would be at -38. But, the data really simply do like ‘Bama here. Combined with the trends, history, MTSU’s roster situation, and intangibles, and you could do far worse for a big spread than this one. I’ll take it up through -38.5
Tide by -40.89
CI 99% win, 69.2% cover
Alabama 56 MTSU 14
Want some more of these? I crank the data for every single game, every single week over at my companion site: (Almost) Giving Away Money. Check it out, and prosper. Just five bucks a month.
Will Alabama cover -38 vs. MTSU?
This poll is closed
Yep. Gonna’ be a drubbing.
Nope. That offense is still going to be too ragged.