Alabama’s Nick Saban has soft spot for Group of Five teams

Updated September 7, 2018 - 6:06 pm

If you talk smack before the game, or you cheat on the recruiting trail, Nick Saban will demoralize you.

See: 59-0 over Vanderbilt (2017), 66-3 over Mississippi (2017) and 51-14 over Louisville (2018).

But the Alabama coach is a gentle giant when it comes to Group of Five and FCS coaches. That’s resulted in great opportunities for bettors, as the Crimson Tide are 4-13-1 against the spread against non-Power Five teams since 2012.

Saban likes securing a comfortable win, playing his backups, preserving his starters — and, most of all, helping other coaches avoid embarrassment.

Whereas other coaches like to run up the score against inferior opponents, Alabama — a 36½-point favorite over Arkansas State — has little to prove.

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will start again. But expect to see a lot of Jalen Hurts and maybe Mac Jones.

Alabama’s secondary remains inexperienced. Arkansas State senior quarterback Justice Hansen threw for 3,967 yards and accounted for 44 touchdowns last season. The Red Wolves will not threaten the Tide, but Alabama should allow double digits.

The Tide have scored 40.8 points per game in their last 10 games against Group of Five teams, giving up double-digit points in four of their past five.

Hansen can get a score or two in garbage time against Alabama’s backups.

Four more plays (home team in CAPS):

Mississippi State (-7) over KANSAS STATE: I have Mississippi State at No. 13 and Kansas State at No. 47 in my power rankings. Give the Wildcats a 3-point advantage for playing at home and the Bulldogs, a much better version of Kansas State, still should be favored by 11½. Mississippi State’s defensive line is the best the Wildcats will face. Bulldogs QB Nick Fitzgerald (29 TDs last season) returns after suffering a gruesome ankle injury (Egg Bowl) and serving a one-game suspension. New coach Joe Moorhead wants to get the Bulldogs’ passing game in gear, but Mississippi State rushed for 3,272 yards last season and its ground game will continue to be a force.

Utah (-10½) over NORTHERN ILLINOIS: This is a huge mismatch in my power rankings (No. 29 vs. No. 83). Utah is 16-4 ATS in its last 20 nonconference games. Northern Illinois doesn’t have the offensive personnel to score repeatedly against the Utes. Utah was super impressive against FCS No. 8 Weber State last week, outgaining it 587-59 despite a minus-4 turnover margin.

Connecticut (+32) over BOISE STATE: According to The Action Network, ranked teams that started the season winning away from home are 24-47-1 ATS in home openers in the last decade. Boise State is 13-32 ATS as a home favorite since late 2010. Randy Edsall is 10-4 ATS as a road underdog in his last 14 games at Connecticut. The Huskies gained 486 yards against Central Florida, and the final score (56-17 UCF) would have been closer if not for a minus-3 turnover margin.

Alabama-Birmingham (-9½) over COASTAL CAROLINA: The Chanticleers allowed 6.9 yards per carry to a South Carolina team that ran for 3.9 ypc last season. The Blazers, 9-4-1 ATS since reviving their football program, topped 200 rushing yards six times last season and racked up 285 last week against Savannah State.

Last week: 2-3 against the spread

Season: 2-3

More betting: Follow all of our sports betting coverage online at reviewjournal.com/betting and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

Christopher Smith of AL.com, NOLA.com and MyBookie is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Follow @cfblocksmith on Twitter.

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