Some football coaches would feel insulted to be labeled a lunatic or a nutcase. Louisiana State’s Les Miles is different. Instead of trying to fit in with a conservative fraternity, he strives to stand out.
Miles is eager to gamble. But he’s the oddball who never wants to know the odds, and that can be dangerous.
Alabama and LSU are teams as similar as twins, yet the coaches are complete opposites, so that looks like as good a starting point as any when handicapping Saturday’s monster tilt in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban seems to be getting more relaxed as he gets older. That does not mean he’s slacking off, and it could mean he never has been a better boss. A younger Saban was mean as a snake, and his management practice was that the beatings will continue until morale improves.
“I think Saban is the better coach,” said Kenny White, a longtime Las Vegas Sports Consultants oddsmaker who is now an analyst for DonBest.com. “The talent is pretty much equal, but Saban puts Alabama over the top. He gets the most out of great talent.”
Saban is 71-49 against the spread during his tenures at Alabama and LSU, and he has won national championships at both stops. Miles, who followed Saban in Baton Rouge, La., is 37-44 ATS in seven years with the Tigers.
“Miles is underachieving,” White said. “Miles is getting so many props from the guys on ESPN, but I don’t think he’s a great coach. He makes so many mistakes in game management and time management.”
Miles’ gambling style is admirable in a way. We all like coaches who take risks, whether they are trick plays or fourth-down rolls of the dice. But he’s also a blackjack player who knows nothing about card counting, and no one can mismanage a clock quite like him.
White gives Saban the coaching edge, and he also gives Tide sophomore AJ McCarron the nod at quarterback. McCarron has completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,664 yards, and he went six games without throwing an interception.
LSU has two senior quarterbacks, Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson. Lee has 14 touchdown passes and only one interception in 155 attempts, and he managed the team well in high-profile wins.
The Southeastern Conference is not a showcase for big-time passers this season, and LSU-Alabama is a rare big game between teams with mediocre quarterbacks. But White sees more skills in McCarron, who has had two months to mature.
“McCarron is the real deal. I think he has all the intangibles to be a great quarterback,” White said. “He has the experience he needs now, and he’s ready for this game.”
The Tigers have more talented wide receivers, White said, but Tide running back Trent Richardson will be “the best player on the field.”
Saban is 25-1 in his past 26 home games, and the loss still is startling. Alabama blew a 24-0 lead in a 28-27 loss to Auburn last November, a comeback offering a clue that Tigers quarterback Cam Newton was NFL-ready.
White is siding with the Tide as a 4½- to 5-point favorite, though he thinks the line might drop a little with Las Vegas sports books getting about 70 percent of the action on the underdog. It figures to be a low-scoring defensive battle, but White said Alabama will win, and it won’t necessarily go to the wire.
“Alabama is at home with the better coach, better quarterback, better running back and better defense in all phases,” he said. “Alabama’s defense is better. It might have 10 guys who will be drafted in the NFL and probably six who can start next year.”
In The Associated Press poll, LSU ranks No. 1 and Alabama No. 2. But White puts the Tide at the top of his Don Best Linemakers Poll.
“It’s the only poll in America that Alabama has been No. 1 in every week since the beginning of the season,” he said.
White is featured on “The Linemakers,” a new TV show this fall on the Velocity channel. The show, hosted by Brian Blessing, airs at 8 p.m. Fridays on DirecTV (281) and Cox cable (1687). White teams with Richie Baccellieri, Lou D’Amico, Rick Herron, Vinny Magliulo and Jimmy Vaccaro to provide a Las Vegas bookmaker’s perspective.
Once an oddsmaker, White is firing at the lines. He has 27 college plays this weekend, including North Carolina as a 3½-point favorite at North Carolina State.
“If you want to compare sports betting to the stock market, the only way you can do that is to have a lot of value and spread your money out,” said White, a calculated risk-taker.
■ CLOSING NUMBERS — I’ll lay the 4½ with Alabama and look to end a streak of Saturday slumps. I went 2-2 last week and sit sub-.500 for the season at 21-25-2. Four more plays (home team in CAPS):
Northwestern (+18) over NEBRASKA; IOWA (+4) over Michigan; OKLAHOMA (-13½) over Texas A&M; HAWAII (-3½) over Utah State.
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts the “Las Vegas Sportsline” weeknights at midnight on KDWN-AM (720) and thelasvegassportsline.com.