LSU TIGERS (7-2) at ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (8-0)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Alabama -12.5 & 55
Opening Line & Total: Crimson Tide -11 & 55
No. 10 LSU will get its shot to take down the two-time reigning national champions when it travels to No. 1 Alabama Saturday night for an SEC showdown.
Alabama has been unbelievably dominant lately, giving up a total of 26 points in its past six games. The Crimson Tide are now 5-3 ATS this season, covering the spread in their past three games and four of their past five contests. LSU is 1-1 SU and 0-2 ATS in its past two games, crushing Furman last week after a disappointing loss as a 9.5-point road favorite to Ole Miss. Since LSU’s 9-6 win in Tuscaloosa in 2011, Alabama won the national championship 21-0 in the rematch two months later, but needed a touchdown in the final minute of last year’s matchup in Baton Rouge to win 21-17 after the Tigers had missed a couple of field goals. LSU outgained Alabama in that game 435 to 331 and its offense may lead the Tigers to victory in this one, as road underdogs averaging more than 450 yards per game, after gaining more than 7.25 yards per play in their previous game, are 36-8 ATS (82%) over the past five seasons. But Alabama is 13-3 ATS (81%) after gaining 7.25+ yards per play in its previous game under Nick Saban. Overall, LSU is 4-4-1 ATS this season including 1-1-1 ATS on the road. Saban’s squad is 5-3 ATS overall and 3-2 ATS at home.
LSU QB Zach Mettenberger has been tremendous this year, completing 65.4% of his passes for 2,492 yards and 19 TD, getting picked off seven times. The team lives and dies on his arm, as he threw three interceptions and only one touchdown in the team’s loss to Ole Miss. He was great in last year’s narrow defeat to Alabama, completing 24-of-35 passes for 298 yards and 1 TD. He almost exclusively throws to two targets in WRs Odell Beckham (48 catches, 1,009 yards, 8 TD) and Jarvis Landry (58 catches, 882 yards, 8 TD), both of whom have big-play ability. Landry caught the lone touchdown against the Tide last year. On the ground, RB Jeremy Hill bears the brunt of the workload and is nearing the 1,000-yard mark with 128 carries for 922 yards and 12 touchdowns. Hill rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown in last year’s meeting with Alabama. Reserve RBs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard have also combined for 11 TD this year. The LSU defense has been stout against the run this season, yielding only 3.9 YPC. The Tigers have been decent, but not great, against the pass, holding opponents to a 57.9% completion rate.
Alabama’s defense has made its mark as one of the best in recent memory this year, only slipping up when it surrendered 42 points to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. Mettenberger will have his work cut out for him, going against a pass defense that has allowed opponents to complete only 49.6% of passes. The rush defense is giving up just 3.4 YPC. The offense hasn’t been too shabby either. Heisman candidate QB AJ McCarron, who is now 33-2 as a starter in his career, marshals the Alabama offense. He has also been ultra efficient with 16 TD and 3 INT this year, completing 69.4% of his passes for 1,862 yards. He distributes the ball well, as six players have at least two receiving touchdowns. WRs Kevin Norwood (23 catches, 348 yards, 3 TD) and DeAndrew White (22 catches, 329 yards, 3 TD) lead the way. McCarron wasn’t great against LSU last year, completing only 14-of-27 passes, but he orchestrated a game-winning drive late in the game that he capped off with a touchdown pass. RB T.J. Yeldon caught that pass for his lone reception of the game. He leads Alabama this year in rushing with 115 carries for 729 yards and 10 touchdowns. RB Kenyan Drake also has seven scores with his legs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS (4-4) at TEXAS A&M AGGIES (7-2)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Texas A&M -6.5 & 56
Opening Line & Total: Aggies -7 & 56
No. 11 Texas A&M will look to win its third straight game (SU and ATS) when it hosts heavy underdog Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon.
The Aggies are just 4-5 ATS this season but have won two in a row, beating Vanderbilt and UTEP in consecutive weeks by a combined margin of 113 to 31. Those two big wins followed a disappointing 45-41 home loss to Auburn in which they were 12.5-point favorites. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are 4-4 SU and 3-5 ATS this season, dropping their past four games ATS after a hot start. An upset appears unlikely for Mississippi State as the team is 0-13 SU and 3-10 ATS as an underdog over the past three years. Over the past two seasons, the Bulldogs are 0-7 ATS against teams with a winning percentage of more than 75%. That includes last year’s 38-13 home loss to the Aggies, when Texas A&M racked up 693 yards and moved the ball at will.
The Aggies offense is one of the best in the nation again this year, ranking fourth nationally in scoring (49.0 PPG) and sixth in passing yards (371.8 per game). That’s because QB Johnny Manziel is having another Heisman-caliber season, completing 200-of-276 of his passes (73%) for 2,867 yards with 26 touchdowns and only eight picks. He has also run for 564 yards and 8 TD on 96 carries, averaging 5.9 YPC. His top target through the air has been WR Mike Evans (52 catches, 1,147 yards, 12 TD), while 11 different Aggies have caught the ball in the end zone already this year. Supplementing Manziel’s production on the ground is RB Ben Malena, who has 89 carries for 456 yards (5.1 YPC) and eight touchdowns. Last year against the Bulldogs, Manziel completed an incredible 30-of-36 passes for 311 yards and ran for 129 more, scoring twice with his legs. Malena also had a big game, rushing for 112 yards on 17 carries. A&M’s defense has been its weakness this year, surrendering 5.1 YPC on the ground and 7.3 yards per attempt through the air.
Last year, the Bulldogs managed only 310 yards against the Aggies defense. But QB Dak Prescott is under center now. Prescott has completed 59.1% of his passes this year, throwing for five touchdowns and six interceptions. As those numbers suggest, he isn’t much of a threat through the air, but he can definitely make plays with his legs, racking up a team-high 568 yards on the ground on 6.0 YPC, while rushing for 10 scores. His top receiving target has been WR Jameon Lewis, who has four receiving touchdowns and 491 yards in 2013. The Mississippi State defense must limit Manziel more than it did last year. Their rush defense has been fine, giving up 4.4 YPC, while through the air they allow 6.8 yards per pass attempt, with opponents completing 60.8% of their passes.
TEXAS LONGHORNS (6-2) at WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS (4-5)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Texas
Opening Line & Total: Longhorns
Texas looks to stay unbeaten in the Big 12 when it travels to Morgantown Saturday night to take on West Virginia.
Last season, these two teams squared off in Austin in what turned out to be one of the most entertaining games of the Big 12 season, with the Mountaineers holding on for a 48-45 victory. However things are different this year, as both teams have new quarterbacks running the show. Texas is led by Case McCoy, who has taken over for last year’s starter David Ash, who remains out indefinitely with a concussion. While McCoy has not put up huge numbers, he has been solid and played smart football while relying on the Longhorns’ top-notch running game (203 YPG, 29th in FBS). The problem for Texas has been consistency, as it has a tendency to play beneath its talent in some weeks. Through their first eight games, the Longhorns are 4-4 ATS, including failing to cover during their victory over Kansas last season. While the Mountaineers have struggled this season, they have shown the ability to play well at home as an underdog, defeating Oklahoma State 30-21 despite being 21-point underdogs on Sept. 28. Life without Geno Smith has been difficult, as the offense under current QB Clint Trickett has really struggled to find consistency. This has really hurt the team as the defense has improved greatly from last year. But the WVU defense has faced a good chunk of passing teams like Oklahoma State and Baylor, but has a different challenge this weekend against the run-first Longhorns. Texas failed to cover the big spread versus Kansas last week, but the school is 52-40 ATS (57%) after an ATS loss under head coach Mack Brown. A big trend favoring the Mountaineers is that any average rushing team (3.5 to 4.3 YPC) facing a poor rushing defense (4.3 to 4.8 YPC) after 7+ games, after allowing 100 rushing yards or less in its last game is 33-8 ATS (81%) over the past five seasons.
While a lot of teams have one running back capable of having a big day, the Longhorns have three. Johnathan Gray (724 rush yards, 4 TD) leads the team this season, but Malcolm Brown was the guy that helped Texas defeat Kansas last weekend by rushing for 149 yards and four touchdowns. He has now rushed for 100 yards in two of the past three weeks. RB Joe Bergeron (5.6 YPC) has played sparingly during his team’s five-game win streak with a total of 12 carries, but he rushed for four short touchdowns against WVU last year. Texas has finally begun to establish an identity on offense, and it is using the running game to set up the passing game, where it does have playmakers on the outside. WR Mike Davis (30 rec., 386 yards, 5 TD) is a talented wide receiver that can be dominant when he is focused. Davis has great size at 6-foot-2, but can also run away from the secondary as well. West Virginia is going to be looking to try and stop the run of the Longhorns, which should set up some opportunities deep down the field for McCoy (1,188 pass yards, 7.0 YPA, 5 TD, 5 INT) to take his chances through the air. The defense is starting to turn the corner, allowing just 13.3 points per game in their past three contests. Linebacker Steve Edmond has played very well this season, totaling 47 tackles, two sacks and one interception. He is a big strong linebacker that also has the ability to run side-to-side. The defense must continue to play well, and force WVU QB Clint Trickett to have to get outside the pocket.
Trickett has thrown for 1,218 yards and five touchdowns this season, but has also thrown five interceptions as well. He is coming off one of his better performances of the year in leading his Mountaineers to a 30-27 victory over TCU last weekend, throwing for 267 yards and two touchdowns. Luckily for Trickett, he has one of the best running backs in the Big 12 in Charles Sims, who has rushed for 754 yards and five touchdowns on the season, and is also coming off a big game against TCU with 189 total yards and 2 TD. The Mountaineers are going to play very similar to the way the Longhorns will, as they will try to run the ball to help set up the passing game. With a defense that struggles to stop teams, they must win the time of possession battle and keep the Texas offense off the field. The WVU defense allows 30.0 PPG, which ranks 92nd in the country. In conference play, it has been even worst, at 35.5 PPG. One of the big problems on defense is the inability to make the tackle. The Mountaineers have decent speed and can run around well, but allow too many runners to get extra yards after contact. LB Nick Kwiatkoski has started to play well for the Mountaineers, averaging 7.9 tackles per game. He also had an interception last weekend, and must be proficient in shedding blockers to tackle the Longhorns running backs.