It’s the biggest game of the college football season — at least until a bigger one comes along later in the season. But the hyped rematch between Alabama and Johnny Football dominated talk during the offseason, and the showdown finally arrives Saturday.
No doubt, it will be exciting to watch the Crimson Tide storm into College Station, Texas, and try to avenge last year’s loss to Texas A&M. That was the stunning upset that launched Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel to Heisman Trophy-winner status as a freshman.
I’m no fan of Manziel and would like to bet against him. But unfortunately, from a wagering standpoint, I might be on the sideline. Betting is about key numbers, and Alabama as an 8-point favorite is a slightly inflated line.
Everyone knows Tide coach Nick Saban does not take losing lightly, and the theme of Saban seeking revenge has driven up the price on the favorite.
It’s also obvious Manziel’s stock has dipped slightly in recent months with the controversy surrounding the tiny star with the giant ego. I’m left wondering how he’ll perform under this pressure.
I have been accused several times of being a Johnny Football hater, but was I wrong? On more than one occasion, I questioned his character and spoke of his careless attitude that has now come into question by the national media and his coaching staff.
Sure, Manziel looked great against a team like Sam Houston State, but Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin routinely runs up the score — and covers — against subpar opponents.
Alabama, which did enough to put away Virginia Tech 35-10 in its season opener, had a bye week to get prepared for Manziel.
Kyle Field is worth five to six points for the Aggies. Alabama would be about a two-touchdown favorite on its home field, similar to last year.
The keys to the Tide winning and covering this game will be Saban’s defense and quarterback AJ McCarron avoiding interceptions.
Putting pressure on Manziel will be imperative. Only two teams — Florida and Louisiana State — have beaten Texas A&M at home since Manziel has been in the picture.
Against the Tigers, Manziel threw three interceptions. Hopefully, the Tide defense can force him to make costly mistakes.
Last year, I bet Alabama in the first half in every game except against Texas A&M and Georgia, and that might be my only play on this game.
I expect Alabama to come out strong and possibly go up two touchdowns by halftime, and I’m looking for a first-half line of minus-4 to 5.
Each week, I recommend three underdogs that have a real shot to win outright. I call it my “Hottie Threesome,” and I also parlay the teams on the money line (Home team in CAPS):
■ Bowling Green (+3) over INDIANA — The Hoosiers are who we thought they were again, losing outright to Navy a week ago. The Indiana defense gave up 515 yards of total offense to the Midshipmen and allowed Indiana State to score 35. On the other hand, Bowling Green is 2-0 with impressive victories over Tulsa and Kent State.
■ COLORADO (+9) over Fresno State — Mike McIntyre, the Buffaloes’ first-year coach, was an ATS machine at San Jose State. As we saw two weeks ago against Colorado State, this Colorado team isn’t the same Pac-12 punching bag. The Buffaloes are in a revenge spot after getting trounced by 55 points at Fresno last year.
n IOWA STATE (+2½) over Iowa — The home team has covered four of the past five in this rivalry. Iowa State got embarrassed by Northern Iowa two weeks ago. After a bye, look for a big effort from the Cyclones.
NFL BEST BETS
■ BALTIMORE (-6½) over Cleveland — The Ravens have owned the Browns, winning the past 10 meetings and covering seven of them. Baltimore is looking to bounce back after taking a second-half beat-down in Denver.
■ SEATTLE (-3) over San Francisco — The Seahawks have been a great bet at home, 9-1 ATS in their past 10. Colin Kaepernick showed promise in a victory over Green Bay, but his passing accuracy will be tested in a hostile atmosphere against a strong Seattle defense.
Kelly Stewart of kellyinvegas.com can be reached at Askkelly@reviewjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kellyinvegas.