Why Nick Saban’s refusal to name Alabama QB creates a drag on sports books

It’s finally here! Avid college football fans and bettors have been waiting weeks to see LSU battle Alabama in Tuscaloosa (Saturday, CBS, 2:30 p.m.). Upset losses (or near misses) suffered by other top national contenders helped make Tigers/Tide a No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle.

Betting markets don’t agree with the polls. The No. 1 Tigers are the underdog.

Second-ranked Alabama opened at either -7 or -6.5 depending on the sports book this past Sunday. Stores were keeping limits light pending the uncertain status of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Tide coach Nick Saban is not one to tip his hand. So, his QB’s status may stay uncertain until game time.

That’s a shame for sports books. This would have been one of the most heavily bet games of the season if Tagovailoa was at 100%. The public would likely have seen perennial superpower Alabama as an affordable favorite. Sharps (professional bettors) have been impressed with LSU quarterback Joe Burrow all season (as witnessed by odds movement on Heisman Trophy futures boards). They would happily have taken the Tigers +7 or more, possibly for large amounts.

As it is, some stores had already dropped to Alabama -6 within a day. Crimson Tide currency wants to wait to learn what it can about its QB. Many LSU backers figured +7 was the best they were going to get, and jumped in early.

Saturday’s winner will have the inside track to win the SEC West. Either West winner would likely be a favorite over Georgia in the SEC Championship game (LSU’s Power Rating would rise with a win at ‘Bama). It’s possible fans will see another Tigers/Tide tussle in college football’s Final Four. A one-loss Alabama or LSU would still have a very strong resume for inclusion.

This week’s global composite odds to win the national championship: Clemson 7/4, Alabama 5/2, Ohio State 3/1, LSU 8/1, Georgia 12/1, Oklahoma 20/1, Penn State 30/1, Oregon 40/1, Utah 100/1. Clemson gets the nod over SEC entries because of a softer remaining schedule. Come playoff time, it might not be head-to-head favorites over either Alabama or Ohio State.

Other Notes

Both Mississippi schools in the SEC got the money last week with inspired efforts for head coaches on the hot seat.

Joe Moorhead’s Mississippi State Bulldogs (-7) obliterated Arkansas 54-24, winning total yardage 640-285, yards-per-play 8.4 to 5.8, rushing yards 460-184, and third down conversions 62% to 17%. State is still just 3-6 against the spread heading into a bye week. The Bulldogs will next play at home against #2 Alabama Nov. 16 (ESPN, 11 a.m.). Potentially a great spot to catch the battle-weary Tide (who will have moved up or down in the polls by then).

Matt Luke’s Ole Miss Rebels (+17.5) hung tough in a 20-14 loss at respected Auburn. Though, game stats weren’t as close as the score suggested. Auburn won total yardage 507-266, yards-per-play 5.6 to 3.9, and third down conversions 57% to 20%. Ole Miss hung within range because Auburn was just two of five on field goal attempts. The Rebels will likely close near four-touchdown favorites vs. visiting New Mexico State this Saturday (SEC Network, 3 p.m.).

Southern Miss is back on the field this weekend after a bye. The Golden Eagles opened as a home favorite of -8 vs. CUSA rival Alabama-Birmingham (NFL Network, 2:30 p.m.). That line’s been bet down to -6…an important move because it blew through the critical number of seven. Sharps really like UAB at +7 or better.

Both teams are 3-1 in league play, trailing Louisiana Tech at 4-0 in the CUSA West. UAB has already clinched bowl eligibility with a 6-2 overall record. Southern Miss is a win away at 5-3.

In the NBA, the New Orleans Pelicans will be playing three games in four nights this weekend. The gauntlet starts with a back-to-back Friday and Saturday night (vs. Toronto, at Charlotte)…before a Monday home game against Houston in the Big Easy.

After losing 135-125 as 4-point underdogs this past Monday in Brooklyn, the Pellies are 1-6 straight up, 2-5 against the spread. Six of their seven games have gone Over the posted total. You can deduce that defense is a big problem when any team isn’t covering high scoring games. New Orleans ranked third worst in defensive efficiency (points allowed, adjusted for pace) after Monday’s loss.

Jeff Fogle writes the daily VSiN newsletter. Sign up at