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College Football Championship Preview: Can Alabama Stop DeShaun Watson? 1

Posted on January 07, 2016 by Jim Hurley
The Alabama Crimson Tide will have to stop Heisman finalist DeShaun Watson if they hope to win another national title.

The Alabama Crimson Tide will have to stop Heisman finalist DeShaun Watson if they hope to win another national title.

We’re down to one more game in the college football season. On Monday night in Glendale, Alabama plays Clemson for the national championship. The Crimson Tide are a six-point favorite. What way do you play it?

Let’s begin by saying that the fluctuations of the pointspread mean that shopping for the right price and timing will be important. Some books in Las Vegas have the line as high as (-7). If you’re a Clemson backer you’d clearly like to get a clean touchdown. Just as clearly, Alabama bettors only want to give 6 or 6.5.

Both teams rolled through their semifinal games on New Year’s Eve and both did it by pulling away in the second half. Clemson trailed Oklahoma 17-16 at the half before ripping off twenty unanswered points to win 37-17. Alabama led Michigan State 10-0 at intermission before four unanswered touchdowns led to a 38-0 rout. The Tigers & Tide are clearly the best two teams in the country and playing like it right now.

Let’s begin with the keys for Clemson. It all starts with quarterback DeShaun Watson, a dual-threat quarterback who used his running to great effect against Oklahoma, rushing for 145 yards. Watson also ran well in his team’s biggest games this year, going for 93 against Notre Dame, 107 against Florida State and 131 in the win over North Carolina.

The performance against Florida State is most relevant here because the Seminoles were a top five defense this season. With their speed on the edge, Florida State is the only team that comes even close to providing a test case for what might happen against Alabama. The fact Watson was able to make hay on the ground against FSU provides reasonable hope he might be able to do on Monday night.

Running back Wayne Gallman was vital in the win over Oklahoma, gaining 150 yards and that was no fluke. He also went over 100 yards against Florida State and North Carolina and got close to that against Notre Dame in monsoon-like conditions. Gallman and Watson together make for a diversified running attack where a defense can’t just focus on one player.

The key is going to be throwing the football. Michigan State had opportunities in the first half to make plays in the passing game, but drops killed one drive and an ill-advised pass that was intercepted on the goal line killed another. If Sparty doesn’t make those mistakes, they might have been tied at the half and who knows how the second half unfolds.

Watson’s season-long passing numbers are impressive, but he was erratic against Oklahoma, completing 16/31 for 187 yards and missing some receivers that were clearly open. There won’t be nearly as many opportunities against Alabama, and Watson can’t leave plays on the field, especially early in the game the way Michigan State did. If Clemson is going to win, we need to see the Watson that went 28/42 for 297 yards against Florida State.

Defensively, the Tigers have playmakers, but the health of Shaq Lawson is going to be crucial. The talented defensive end left the Oklahoma game in the first half with a knee injury, but is expected to play. He needs to be able to pressure the quarterback for Clemson to win.

On the other side of the defense is another terrific playmaker in Kevin Dodd. At linebacker, Clemson is anchored by B.J. Goodson, who is both steady at making the sure tackle and capable of blowing up a play behind the line of scrimmage. The top corner, Cordea Tankersley, leads the team in interception with five picks and it’s likely Clemson will need to get some mistakes from Alabama quarterback Jake Coker if they’re going to win this game. Read the rest of this entry →

College Football Bowl Preview Part 2: Sizing Up the Big 6 Bowls 3

Posted on December 30, 2015 by Jim Hurley
The health of Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook could be a big factor in their Cotton Bowl game against Alabama.

The health of Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook could be a big factor in their Cotton Bowl game against Alabama.

The biggest college football games of the season are here! The six major bowl games will run on December 31-January 1, with the two biggest—the Playoff semifinals situated within the New Year’s Eve schedule. Whether you wager or simply want to watch, our job is to have you ready.

With that in mind, we’ve compiled the “Tale of The Tape”, a concise snapshot of all six games. It’s not comprehensive—if you actually plan to bet, this is a starting point not a finishing point. But it will provide the framework for an enjoyable (and profitable, if you’re so inclined) run of watching games.

Our tale of the tape includes…

*The basics of W-L record and most importantly, strength of schedule. The latter has to be a significant factor in how you weigh every other piece of data. Some of us rely on complex computer models to do it, others just keep it in the back of their mind. Just make sure you keep it in mind.

*Each team’s national ranking on offense and defense, as measured by points allowed.

*The basic stats of each team’s quarterback—their completion percentage, yards-per-attempt and TD/INT ratio.

*A notable player on the team besides the quarterback—usually an elite running back or defensive playmaker, and occasionally a wide receiver.

Now let’s dive into the games, in sequential order…

December 31: Peach Bowl—Florida State (-7) Houston (Noon ET, ESPN)
Houston: 12-1 (Schedule ranks 99th)
Offense: 10th
Defense: 23rd
QB: Greg Ward Jr: 68% 8.5 YPA, 16/5 and also ran for over 1,000 yards)
Notable: Linebackers Elandon Roberts & Steven Taylor combined for 33 tackles for loss

Florida State: 10-2 (56th)
Offense: 41st
Defense: 5th
QB: Sean Maguire: 62%, 7.8 YPA, 11/3
Notable: Running back Dalvin Cook rushed for 1,658 yards (7.9 yards per carry)

Comment: It will be Maguire at quarterback for Florida State, with Everett Golson not making the trip to Atlanta. The balance of Houston both offensively and defensively gives them a shot at an upset, but the concern is that the offense is so heavily reliant on Ward that the excellent FSU defense may be position to dominate the football game.

December 31: Orange Bowl—Oklahoma (-3) Clemson (4 PM ET, ESPN)
Clemson: 13-0 (39th)
Offense: 15th
Defense: 19th
QB: DeShaun Watson: 70%, 8.5 YPA, 30/11
Notable: Defensive ends Shaq Lawson & Kevin Dodd have combined for 37 tackles for loss and 18 sacks

Oklahoma: 11-1 (27th)
Offense: 1st
Defense: 24th
QB: Baker Mayfield: 69%, 9.6 YPA, 35/5
Notable: Samaje Perine rushed for 1,291 yards at 6.1 per carry

Comment: Those talented Clemson defensive ends need to win their battles or it will be long day for the Tiger secondary given how hot Mayfield is. The bigger area of concern for betting Oklahoma is the question of how much those dazzling offensive numbers are a product of playing in the wide-open Big 12 and the tendency of high-stakes bowl games to be a bit more conservative.

December 31: Cotton Bowl–Alabama (-8.5) Michigan State (8 PM ET, ESPN)
Alabama: 12-1 (17th)
Offense: 31st
Defense: 3rd
QB: Jake Coker: 66%, 7.4 YPA, 17/8
Notable: Heisman Trophy winning RB Derrick Henry ran for 1,986 yards

Michigan State: 12-1 (5th)
Offense: 45th
Defense: 22nd
QB: Connor Cook: 57%, 7.9 YPA, 24/5
Notable: Wide receiver Aaron Burbridge caught 79 passes for over 1,200 yards

Comment: The health of Cook’s shoulder is the overriding factor in this game. When healthy, he is by far the superior quarterback. When banged up, as he has been at the end of this season, he’s statistically inferior to Coker. Note that if you wager this game make sure to shop prices. The line of 8.5 can also go as high as 10 depending on the sportsbook. Read the rest of this entry →

Breaking Down the Odds: SEC and Big Ten Bowl Games 2

Posted on December 10, 2015 by Jim Hurley
Derrick Henry had a huge game earlier this season against Wisconsin. Can he have similar success against Michigan State?

Derrick Henry had a huge game earlier this season against Wisconsin. Can he have similar success against Michigan State?

The Big Ten and the SEC are about as close to rivals as two leagues can be. The bowl season always offers several high-profile matchups, mostly on New Year’s Day, where the conferences match up. They’re easily the leagues with the most television exposure, with the Big Ten Network being owned by Fox and the SEC Network owned by ESPN. But until last season, their rivalry was about as hard-fought as the battle between a hammer and the nail.

Over a four-year period, the SEC’s bowl record validated its reputation as the best conference in the country. The SEC has a 26-14 record while the Big Ten is at 14-21 in that same timeframe, due in large part to the consistent New Year’s Day beatdowns the SEC delivered.

But last season marked a change. The overall performances were close to even, with the SEC going 7-5 and the Big Ten clocking in at 6-5. In the head-to-head matchups, Wisconsin beat Auburn and most important was the high-profile victory of Ohio State over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl/College Football Playoff semi-final.

It wasn’t the whole story—Missouri also beat Minnesota and Tennessee coasted past Iowa. But the two biggest stories of last year’s college football postseason were Ohio State’s national title and the collapse of the SEC West. In addition to Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State all laid an egg in their bowl matchups. The defeats were a big blow to SEC prestige and an offseason where Michigan’s hire of Jim Harbaugh was the most significant development added to the positive buzz moving around the Big Ten.

The SEC reclaimed some mojo in non-conference play this season when Alabama handled Wisconsin, but the real test begins now. Each conference has put ten teams in bowl games and they’ll play head-to-head in five of those, including another Playoff matchup when Alabama meets Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.

I want to walk through some of the factors my staff and I at WinningEdge.com are looking at with each game, both the head-to-head conference matchups as well as ones they’ll play against other leagues. But before beginning, I want to remind everyone of an adage that many in football handicapping subscribe by—it’s that the pointspread matters less in the bowl season than any other time of year.

The reason is that underdogs often end up winning outright—disinterested favorites are common and Las Vegas can misfire in pricing teams from disparate parts of the country with few common opponents. I mostly agree with this line of thinking and believe the focus of football betting should be picking the outright winner. For those of you who are in bowl pools where you’re required to pick every game against the number, that’s a good thing to keep in mind.

But for those of you who wager these games individually, be careful not to oversimplify. The spread still matters, even if not as decisively as in the regular season and knowing how to pick your spots—how to narrow the card down to which games to bet and how many units to invest still have to be settled by the number. I’ll be constantly evaluating how these conferences and others match up throughout the bowl season before making final gameday decisions. Read the rest of this entry →

College Football Spotlight: Alabama-Wisconsin is Intriguing Opening Weekend Matchup 1

Posted on September 03, 2015 by Jim Hurley
Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide will be opening the 2015 season with a tough neutral site matchup.

Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide will be opening the 2015 season with a tough neutral site matchup.

Alabama begins its push for another berth in the College Football Playoff on Saturday night against Wisconsin in a neutral-site game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington (8 PM ET, ABC). The question those of us who handicap teams in Las Vegas have to ask ourselves is this—will the Tide offer better value than last season, when they were a money-burner?

To the average fan, it was business as usual in ‘Bama, as Nick Saban’s team went 11-1 in the regular season and then won the SEC Championship Game before ending up in the way of Urban Meyer’s freight train out of Columbus on New Year’s Night in New Orleans in the Playoff semi-final. But for those who wagered on the Tide, it was a different story—5-7-1 against the Vegas number.

That 5-7-1 ATS record (with one game against Western Carolina off the board) was actually better than it appeared. Tide backers got a big break in the road game at LSU. Alabama was a (-6.5) point favorite and only covered because the game went to overtime in a 20-13 final. Another cover, as (-10) favorite against Auburn came by a single point, 55-44. None of the ATS losses were as close.

What this boils down is that Alabama was overrated in 2014. Before Tide fans rise up in rebellion, remember that the term “overrated” is a criticism of the betting market (the collective wisdom of oddsmakers and the wagering public that ultimately creates the posted line) rather than the football team itself. When you look at those lines ‘Bama was facing—giving nearly a touchdown on the road at Baton Rouge at night, giving double digits to Auburn—you can make a pretty good argument that they simply weren’t reasonable.

But that’s what happens with highly successful dynastic programs. The public wants to bet them. Las Vegas keeps pushing the number higher. Eventually it becomes unsustainable. The question here is whether this was a one-time phenomena, or if Alabama is now a prime go-against team?

Expectations are modestly down this year, which Alabama “only” ranked third in the nation, behind Ohio State and TCU. The Crimson Tide are “only” a (-11) favorite against Wisconsin, as opposed to the (-22) they gave up to West Virginia in last year’s neutral site opener—a 33-23 non-cover win.

But there also personnel challenges, most notably a quarterback situation that remains completely up in the air. You can say the same is true at Ohio State, but we don’t yet know if Alabama’s uncertainty will be due to the same embarrassment of riches that exists in Columbus, or if there’s really going to be some problems at the game’s most important position. Read the rest of this entry →

Book Review: Rising Tide Provides Glimpse Into Alabama Football During Era Of Bryant and Namath 3

Posted on August 18, 2013 by Dennis Jezek
The new book looks at the sometimes dicey relationship between two Alabama legends Bear Bryant and Joe Namath.

The new book looks at the sometimes dicey relationship between two Alabama legends Bear Bryant and Joe Namath.

The new book by Randy Roberts and Ed Krzemienski, Rising Tide : Bear Bryant, Joe Namath and Dixie’s Last Quarter, is dedicated to, among others, “all of the … passionate fans of the Crimson Tide, the most successful college football team in history.” It was not, however, written by fans.

In interest of full disclosure, I was born in 1965, just a few months after the last events of this book, and have been a fan of the Crimson Tide since 1972. I graduated from the Capstone in 1991, just a year shy of being able to experience the joys of 1992 for myself. I worked in the sports information office with Coach Gene Stallings, knew Dude Hennessey, Charley Thornton and Clem Gryska among others cited in the book.

If you’ve ever wondered why, when discussing the pantheon of greats from Tide history, Joe Namath doesn’t seem to get mentioned quite as often as Harry Gilmer, Don Hutson, Vaughn Mancha, Dixie Howell, Pat Trammel, Lee Roy Jordan, Johnny Musso, Kenny Stabler, Bob Baumhauer, Woody Lowe Ozzie Newsome or any of the newer stars, despite the fact that Bryant often called him the “greatest athlete I ever coached,” this book might help you understand it. Ever the outsider, Namath starred for the University of Alabama, but he never really was “part” of it. To paraphrase Chris Peterson, he wasn’t O.K.P. (our kinda player).

If you really are a fan of the Tide and have even a little sense of the history (and I don’t think you get to call yourself a ‘fan’ if you don’t), then there really is not a ton of new material here from a program perspective. There is, however, a great deal of background information about Namath, culled from interviews with family, friends and the man himself. That material alone makes the book worth the effort. Read the rest of this entry →

College Classic Rewind: ‘Bama wins Iron Bowl on Last-Second FG 4

Posted on November 22, 2011 by A.J. Foss

The rivalry between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers is one of the most storied and intense rivalries in all of college football.

There have been many great games in the series known as the “Iron Bowl” such as Ken Stabler’s “Run in the Mud” in 1967 or Auburn returning two blocked punts for touchdowns in the 1972 “Punt, Bama, Punt”.

Another memorable chapter occurred in 1985 in a game that is simply known as “The Kick”, referring to Van Tiffin’s game-winning 52-yard field goal as time expired to give Alabama the victory.

The Crimson Tide entered the 1985 “Iron Bowl” with a 7-2-1 record but unranked in the AP Poll as they were led by third-year head coach Ray Perkins, the successor to Bear Bryant who retired following the 1982 season.

Perkins had not exactly endeared himself to the Tide faithful as he had gone a modest 20-12-1 during his tenure in Tuscaloosa which included the first losing season for Alabama in 27 years with a 5-6 season in 1984.

With Mike Shula, the nation’s second most efficient passer, and all-American linebacker Cornelius Bennett, ‘Bama fans hoped that brighter days were ahead and that the Tide would soon back as one of the country’s most elite programs.

The Tide were underdogs to the #7 ranked Auburn Tigers who entered the game with a 8-2 record after starting the season as the #1 team before a loss in September to Tennessee.

The Tigers were coached by Pat Dye, who took over in Auburn in 1981 and led the Tigers to a 23-22 victory over ‘Bama in the 1982 “Iron Bowl” to snap the Tigers’ nine-game losing streak to the Tide.

In that game, freshman running back Bo Jackson scored the winning touchdown as he went “over the top” to score the one-yard touchdown run that gave Auburn the victory.

Jackson ran for 256 yards in Auburn’s 1983 victory over Alabama, but missed a block on a 4th-and-1 from the one-yard line that cost the Tigers dearly in the 1984 “Iron Bowl” as they lost to the Tide 17-15.

Jackson was in the hunt for the Heisman Trophy in 1985 as he had rushed for 1,644 yards and scored 16 touchdowns in the Tigers’ first 10 games of the season, but broke two ribs in the game against Georgia two weeks earlier.

Despite the pain, Jackson would play and help contribute to one of the greatest “Iron Bowls” ever played. Read the rest of this entry →

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      September 3, 2017 | 6:54 pm
      Gino Cappelletti

      Gino Cappelletti

      In recognition of the start of football season, the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month is one of the original stars for the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots.

      In many ways, Gino Cappelletti epitomized the early years of the American Football League. While the NFL was becoming more specialized and tougher to break into, the AFL provided former college stars with a new place to play and its “wild west” mentality allowed players to contribute in a wide variety of ways.

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