Ah, the smell of fresh-cut grass. The sound of those huge Class-A motorhomes setting up shop in the parking lot. Thousands of crazed college football fans piling into town. Yup, college football is finally back.
When I was a player, this was one of my favorite weeks of the year. And to this day, not much has changed.
Alabama plays Louisville on Saturday night at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. While the game will provide plenty of intrigue from the quarterback position, Lamar “Heisman” Jackson will not be taking the field.
And Vegas oddsmakers have taken note. According to the latest lines from Bovada, Louisville sits as a 24.5-point underdog to the Tide. A big line? Yes. Can Alabama can cover it? Yes.
Nick Saban’s ‘Bama teams are certainly no stranger to neutral site games in Week 1. Dating back to my junior year in 2008, Bama has played in eight such games to start the season under Saban. Clemson, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, USC and Florida State have all faced off against the Tide to begin the season in the last decade.
While it has been extremely interesting to watch how these matchups have played out, most of the games have come and gone without much drama. After being billed as the “greatest opener of all time” a year ago, Bama vs. FSU failed to live up to the hype — especially with an injured Deondre Francois sitting on the sideline in the second half.
Overall, Nick Saban is 9-1 against-the-spread at Alabama in season openers.
While all eyes will be on the Alabama QB duo of Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa, the Tide’s defense will be facing off against Louisville’s new dual-threat option under center, Jawon Pass.
As you might expect given his nickname (“Puma Pass”), the 6-foot-4, 227-pound quarterback has already received his fair share of hype. Louisville fans have been seemingly salivating at the potential for a guy with his skill set in an offense lead by Bobby Petrino. Many of them are expecting Jackson 2.0.
So what kind of chance does Louisville really have? According to Petrino and some of the Cardinals’ players, a great one.
Petrino has surrounded Pass with a plethora of dynamic playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, led by All-ACC wideout Jaylen Smith. The offense returns seven starters from a unit that has finished third in the nation over the last two years.
Petrino’s pass-happy offensive philosophy mixed with a dynamic playmaker under center can make for a long day for opposing defenses — especially ones like Bama that return only a few defensive starters and have to replace their entire secondary.
Enter the Bama offense and that tricky QB situation. All anyone has been able to talk about since last January is, “What will Bama do at QB?” To be honest, either man seems like a good option.
While Jalen Hurts has led Bama to victory in these neutral-site openers the last two years, Tua’s recent history in neutral-site games is nothing to brush off, even if it was only 30 minutes of game time.
In my eyes, though, the most important players on Bama’s offense will be the guys lined up next to and behind Bama’s signal callers.
Damien Harris, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs will all get their chances to run behind an offensive line that features presumed new starters Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills alongside All-American candidates Jonah Williams and Ross Pierschbacher.
This is an offensive line that could potentially be one of Bama’s best in recent memory.
Turnover margin, time of possession and staying on schedule offensively have always been part of Saban’s blueprint, and Saturday will be no different. Assuredly, the new tandem of OC Michael Locksley and QB coach Dan Enos has been briefed.
While I am sure the Louisville offense will not be without a few surprises and wrinkles for Alabama’s defense, the Bama ground game is where this story will be told. Expect a huge dose of Harris early against a Louisville defense that returns only five starters from a unit that surrendered 27.5 points per game a year ago.
Will Puma Pass make some plays against a Bama defense breaking in a ton of new starters? Sure. But this lesson has been learned time and time again from watching Bama take the field in these types of games; always expect greatness from the men in crimson.
I’ll take the Tide to roll.
Pick: Alabama -24.5
Editor’s note: The opinion on this game is from the individual writer and is based on his research, analysis and perspective. It is independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.