The Alabama Crimson Tide start their quest to regain the National Title from the Clemson Tigers on Saturday at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium against the Duke Blue Devils. The Crimson Tide open up their home schedule next weekend against overmatched New Mexico State (3-9 LY) before they hit the road for a potentially tricky game against South Carolina at Columbia’s Williams-Brice Stadium. Prior to the SEC Championship game, the biggest test Alabama will face will likely be against LSU (10-3 LY) though the Tide have covered 5 of the L6 against the Bayou Bengals.
Duke certainly can’t match Alabama in terms of talent but they’re not a bad football program. If nothing else, they always start a very capable quarterback. Daniel Jones has performed well for the New York Giants in the preseason and it will be up to fifth year senior Quentin Harris to replace him. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe might not be BYU’s Lavell Edwards/Norm Chow back in the day in terms of cranking out quality quarterbacks but he’s now coached 11 QBs who have either earned all conference honors or won a bowl game.
This game opened Alabama -30 and was bet up as high as -35 before some Duke money started to show. It’s down as low as -31.5 at some books but -34 is still easy to find. One reason for the upward move is the traditional opening game domination by the Crimson Tide. Alabama has won 17 straight opening games and have covered 9 of their last 11 openers. They’ve won and covered their last four opening games in dominant fashion winning by a combined margin of 162-44. The more salient reason for the move is the simple fact that the ‘public’ loves to eat big chalk prices with marquee programs. Although there are situations where the ‘sharps’ are willing to lay a price more often than not you’ll find them on the other side.
Alabama definitely has the ability to drop whatever margin they want on Duke. The more salient question, however, is their motivation to do so–or lack thereof. Alabama coach Saban has a lot of respect for Duke’s Cutliffe. Cutliffe is a graduate of Alabama and native of Birmingham. There’s not much about the matchup that suggests he’ll want to ‘make an example’ of the Blue Devils. Saban also isn’t going to leave quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the game long enough to make the final score a massacre.
Cutcliffe’s Duke teams have been an excellent investment as an underdog and enter this game on a 25-12-1 ATS run when getting points and a 7-4 ATS run as a double digit dog. They’re also on a 23-6 ATS run in non-conference play. Cutcliffe has also won and covered 7 straight openers. Alabama is just 3-5 as a favorite of 31+ during the last three years and are on a 11-23 ATS run in that role. That brings us back to the original point we made about high priced chalk. Alabama is definitely a more talented team than Duke. At some point, however, when you lay a big price with the Crimson Tide and other elite teams you’re paying premium for the Alabama ‘brand name’. Without a good reason to expect Alabama to go out and try to win by 5 touchdowns we’ll take the boatload of points with the Blue Devils.