Why to Start Betting Nick Saban & Zombie Alabama After Their Loss to Texas
Getty Images. Design by Matt Roembke/Action Network. Pictured (left to right): Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe and Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
I have two reminders in my house that Halloween isn’t far off. The first, thanks to my kids, are pumpkin-shaped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup wrappers all over my house. And the second is the emergence of Zombie Alabama.
If you’re not familiar with a team going "Zombie Mode," it’s pretty simple. The narrative is that they’re dead and gone. Their hopes of achieving their lofty preseason goals are now six feet under.
That is, until that cold hand emerges from the loose dirt and they reappear to terrorize the neighborhood. And this label now applies to the Crimson Tide. The Alabama dynasty is apparently dead, at least in the eyes of many sportswriters and analysts.
But here’s the thing — we’ve been here before with Nick Saban.
Dating back to his time at LSU, a Saban-coached team with a top-six ranking in the AP Poll has dropped a game before mid-October seven times.
In four of those seven seasons, Saban’s teams have rebounded with a fury. Two won national titles (2003 LSU, 2015 Alabama), one made the national title game (2021 Alabama) and another made the College Football Playoff (2014 Alabama). Only one of those four teams came equipped with a first-team All-SEC quarterback (2021 Bryce Young).
Since those early- to mid-season losses, Saban’s teams have gotten off the mat and cumulatively played 60 games. Fifty-three of those contests came against SEC or other Power Five competition. Saban’s record in those games? 53-7 straight up (SU) and 34-26 against the spread (ATS).
And if you think Saban and his teams are losing their edge, consider the last three times this has happened in Tuscaloosa: 2015, 2021 and 2022.
The Tide won the National Championship in 2015 and appeared in the CFP title game in 2021 after thoroughly whipping Georgia in the SEC Championship. In those three seasons, Alabama rebounded and posted a 25-2 SU record with a profitable 15-12 mark at the window.
As for Saturday night, it’s important to put the Texas’ triumph over Bama in its proper context. The Tide's 10-point loss to the Longhorns wasn’t a fluke. Texas entered Bryant-Denny Stadium with the seventh-highest blue-chip ratio in the country and one of the highest-rated quarterbacks of all time from a recruiting perspective.
Once the pads started popping, the Longhorns stopped the run (3.1 YPC allowed), protected the football (0 turnovers) and got off the field on third downs (Bama 5-for-14).
Yet, Alabama led in the fourth quarter and trailed by three with just over eight minutes remaining. All of this coming at the hands of the Big 12 favorite that's currently sitting in a tie for third to win the national title, according to the futures market.
This is all to say, is this any more “catastrophic” than losing in back-to-back seasons to Dr. Bo Wallace and Chad “Swag” Kelly? I don’t believe so.
To be clear, I’m not advocating for an Alabama national title future, even at the tempting price of 30-1. But I do believe that this year’s Alabama team will follow in the footsteps of previous Saban-coached teams at the window. He’s cashed at a 56.7% clip ATS in these scenarios, and we could see value baked into spreads in the coming weeks.
The Tide are relying on a quarterback who has just three career starts to his name. It’s possible that Jalen Milroe and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees can gel in the next three games, including road tilts at South Florida and Mississippi State with a home game against Ole Miss sandwiched in between.
The Bulls rank 128th in SP+ defense and afford Alabama an opportunity to not only build Milroe’s confidence but perhaps trot out Ty Simpson and Tyler Buchner for significant snaps.
Then comes a one-two punch from the Magnolia State, featuring the Landshark defense (20th) and the combination of the Bulldogs defense (28th) and a cacophony of cowbells.
Ole Miss will need to move the ball on the ground to defeat the Tide in T-Town, and lost in the shuffle of Saturday’s night loss was the fact that Alabama looked really good against the run. The Tide surrendered just one play over 10 yards on the ground to the Longhorns’ running backs while bottling up that unit all night long, allowing 3.1 yards per carry on 29 attempts.
As for the big picture, Alabama remains the prohibitive favorite to win the SEC West due to its schedule. The Tide’s three stiffest SEC tests come at home with Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU traveling to Tuscaloosa.
Excluding FCS Chattanooga and lowly USF, their remaining opponents average an SP+ ranking of 20.5, a Sagarin Rating of 24 and an Action Network Power Rating of 22.3. It’s arguably the perfect mix of competition to build the Crimson Tide’s résumé without exposing them to an elite opponent in the regular season.
Critically, they avoid Georgia, and if Texas keeps winning — and winning big — their loss will look more favorable to the College Football Playoff committee.
A return to the CFP will require 11 straight wins, including one over mighty Georgia in Atlanta, but there will be ample opportunities to play the Zombie Tide in the futures market — to win the West, for example — and on a game-by-game basis.
I’ll start on Saturday by playing Alabama-32 at USF, a team power-rated below Middle Tennessee, which Alabama just swiftly defeated, 56-7, two weeks ago.