Clemson, Alabama Join Elite List of Double-Digit Favorites in Every Regular Season Game

Clemson, Alabama Join Elite List of Double-Digit Favorites in Every Regular Season Game article feature image

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney

  • Alabama and Clemson were favored by at least 10 points in every regular season game this season.
  • The two programs are just the 10th and 11th teams since 1980 to achieve that feat.
  • Despite the high expectations, none of the previous eight won the national championship.

One of the biggest college football storylines in 2018 has been the growing gap between the sport’s elite and its middle class. While Alabama and Clemson seem to only be getting better, conference opponents that used to challenge them have dropped off for one reason or another.

That’s reflected in their betting odds, too. The Tide and Tigers are two of just 11 teams since 1980 to be a double-digit favorite in every regular season game.

Both teams are double-digit favorites in their conference title games — Alabama -13 vs. Georgia and Clemson -25 vs. Pitt — but because of the College Football Playoff format, they might have to play each other next month, which would end this streak.

The Action Network power ratings make Alabama at least -10 against anyone but Clemson and Georgia, while the Tigers would be single-digit favorites against a handful of teams.

Being a double-digit favorite in every regular season game doesn’t happen often. Using and our data at BetLabs, here is the exhaustive list since 1980.

*Not a double-digit favorite in bowl game

  • 1996 Nebraska
  • 1998 Kansas State
  • 1998 Ohio State
  • 2000 TCU*
  • 2001 Florida
  • 2005 USC*
  • 2008 USC*
  • 2013 Oregon
  • 2014 Marshall*
  • 2018 Alabama
  • 2018 Clemson

How Did These Teams Fare?

None of these teams won the national championship despite having such high expectations.

Just two of the previous eight went undefeated in the regular season — the legendary 2005 USC team that lost to Texas in the Rose Bowl and 1998 Kansas State, which lost the Big 12 Championship Game in overtime to Texas A&M, then fell to Drew Brees and Purdue in the Alamo Bowl.

Teams like 2013 Oregon, 2008 USC and 2001 Florida all lost outright as huge favorites at some point during the season.

Any Surprise Teams Left Off the List?

When putting this together, I expected to see at least one Boise State team come up. But the Broncos opened the 2010 and 2011 seasons against Virginia Tech, then Georgia, before being favored by at least 14 points in their remaining games.

I also thought at least one Miami team would grace this list, but Florida State was often the hurdle throughout the Hurricanes’ dynasty. That unbelievable Miami team from 2002 that lost the national championship to Ohio State was even an underdog at Florida that season (it won 41-16).

A lot of other teams came close. Nebraska came up one game short several times during its dominant late-1990s runs.

Why Clemson and Alabama This Year?

It’s easy to point to their collective advantages in talent and coaching, but I think it’s more about their opponents.

The ACC was so down this year, with teams like Florida State and Louisville turning in historically bad seasons for their programs.

The SEC still has plenty of good teams, but Alabama played its crossover games at home against Tennessee and Missouri. Auburn was down this season. LSU was good, but oddsmakers never like the Tigers. Not exactly murderers row.

As I mentioned above, there’s a growing gap between the sport’s elite and its middle class. Per Football Outsiders’ S&P+, this is Nick Saban’s second-best team at Alabama and Clemson’s best under Dabo Swinney (S&P+ goes back to 2005). Alabama’s rating this season is higher than 2013 Florida State, 2010 Auburn and 2005 USC, among many others.

I don’t know if this is Saban’s best team ever, but it’s certainly his best relative to any team outside the top 5.

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