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Alabama may be No. 1, but not as double-digit favorite

After surviving a few scares along the way, Alabama is where it was predicted to be in the preseason. Nick Saban again is coaching the nation’s No. 1 team.

The Crimson Tide roll into today’s Southeastern Conference title game as 14½-point favorites over Missouri, a team all but written off two months ago.

Since getting smashed 34-0 by Georgia on Oct. 11, the Tigers have won six straight games and gone 5-1 against the spread. Missouri clinched the SEC East by rallying to beat Arkansas 21-14 as a 2-point home underdog last week.

The Tigers are 5-1 straight up and ATS as underdogs this season. Going back further, Missouri has won outright in eight of its past nine games as an underdog. This is the first time the Tigers have been double-digit underdogs since the 2012 regular-season finale at Texas A&M.

Alabama has been a double-digit favorite nine times this season, limping to a 3-6 spread record. The Crimson Tide beat Auburn 55-44 in last week’s Iron Bowl, but Saban’s team made mistakes galore in the first three quarters.

Senior quarterback Blake Sims threw three interceptions, and the defense had all sorts of problems.

On the other hand, Missouri’s defense is in outstanding form. The line puts lots of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Shane Ray and Markus Golden have recorded 13½ and 8½ sacks.

Since struggling mightily while battling through a shoulder injury in October, Tigers quarterback Maty Mauk has regained his confidence. In the past five games, he has an 8-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He has two outstanding running backs in Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough, who has rushed for 949 yards and nine touchdowns. Murphy has produced 1,680 all-purpose yards and eight scores.

With the line inflated out of respect for Alabama, I’ll jump on the double-digit ’dog.

Two more plays for today (home team in CAPS):

■ CINCINNATI (-7) over Houston — The Bearcats have won six in a row straight up and ATS, winning each game by eight points or more. They are getting good production from quarterback Gunner Kiel, who has 28 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.

A big difference is that Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville’s defense has improved in recent weeks, holding five of the past six opponents to 17 points or fewer, including a total of six points in the past two games.

■ Georgia Tech (+4) over Florida State — The underdog has a great shot of winning the Atlantic Coast Conference title game at Charlotte, N.C. The Yellow Jackets, who have won five in a row straight up and ATS, are 4-1 as ’dogs for coach Paul Johnson. Georgia Tech was getting points in its past two wins, at Georgia and against Clemson.

Johnson’s unique wishbone offense is tough to prepare for, and the Seminoles are nursing bumps and bruises from their most physical game of the season, a 24-19 win over Florida.

Last week: 3-2 against the spread

Season: 33-36-1

Brian Edwards of VegasInsider.com and BrianEdwardsSports.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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