Handicapper rides Tide as underdog

Only two years into his rebuilding project at Alabama, coach Nick Saban has the Crimson Tide on an impressive roll.

Exactly how much progress Saban has made will be evident Saturday, when No. 8 Alabama meets No. 3 Georgia in a Southeastern Conference slugfest between 4-0 teams.

The Bulldogs are 7-point home favorites, but Playbook.com handicapper Marc Lawrence said to bet the underdog.

"I'm a huge underdog lover, and when you are getting a touchdown with a team like Alabama, it's a side you have to consider," Lawrence said. "Alabama appears to be a young team on the rise under Saban, capable of matching up physically with Georgia's superb athletes."

The Bulldogs, off a 27-10 victory at Arizona State, show few weaknesses and are led by sophomore running back Knowshon Moreno and junior quarterback Matthew Stafford.

The Tide blew out Arkansas 49-14 on the road last week and, as Lawrence pointed out, Saban has history in his corner. Alabama is 10-0-1 against the spread as a conference 'dog with revenge and off a conference win when taking on an opponent off a straight-up win.

Georgia coach Mark Richt is 1-5 ATS at home after consecutive away games.

"I like to handicap coaches as much as teams. For all the good things Richt has done, this is one role his team has not fared well in," Lawrence said. "All the numbers are favorable to Alabama."

Lawrence breaks down three more plays for Saturday (Home team in CAPS):

Mississippi (+221/2) over FLORIDA: The Gators' point production is not matching their performance on the field. They are averaging 37 points per game while gaining only 332 yards per game, and that doesn't equate. They have done that largely because of a 10-1 edge in turnovers. Both teams are coming off inside-out performances. The Rebels lost to Vanderbilt last week despite outgaining the Commodores by 183 yards, and Florida lost the statistical battle in its victory over Tennessee.

Tennessee (+6) over AUBURN: Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer has shined in this role in the past. The Volunteers are 6-2-2 against the spread as SEC 'dogs of 10 points or fewer. When in conference games, and the Vols (1-2) own a losing record, Fulmer is 5-2 straight up and ATS with no losses by more than four points. He's also 16-2 straight up off a loss of more than seven points, and both of those losses were by three points.

It's a letdown game for Auburn. It will be difficult for Tigers coach Tommy Tuberville to get his team back up to a high emotional level after a home loss to Louisiana State.

MICHIGAN (+6) over Wisconsin: This is too many points in a series that Michigan has dominated. It's the classic case of a dominating 'dog. The Wolverines were favored in 20 games in a row against Wisconsin, going 16-4 straight up. The Badgers are 1-5 against the spread versus revenging conference opponents.

What I like about this game is Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez is taking all the heat because his new offense is not working, and he had an extra week to prepare. But his defense is playing well, allowing 284 yards per game. Rodriguez is 8-2 straight up and 9-1 ATS his past 10 times as a conference underdog. He needs this game badly.

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.