There are a handful of bets I’m willing to lay some money on despite it being only June and two full months away from the season. Prior to kickoff, we will be previewing a handful of games to highlight the type of work we do in analysis for our NIL tier in the betting department. As always, all of my picks are in the Campus2Canton Discord, available to NIL members (one of the many perks of the NIL tier). Last season those picks (ATS/Totals) went 187-125-8, a 59.9% win rate, and based on recommended units, 42.76 units won. This is a quick glance at what is currently out there and provides some recommendations based on widely available lines/futures.
Texas @ Alabama (-7)
“There’s an old saying in Tennessee – I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee – that says, fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again” – President George W. Bush
Is Texas actually back? We’ll find out this season after being declared back, perhaps prematurely, in 2022 but… fool me, you can’t get fooled again. I’m back in on the Longhorns for 2023 and will be heavily leveraged on the Sarkisian-led Longhorns this year. Texas returns 78.5% of last year’s production, including Ewers at quarterback and 91.4% of WR/TE snaps. The core of this team essentially remains the same outside of Bijan Robinson headed to the NFL. They also upgrade the receiver position by adding AD Mitchell via the portal and getting back a healthy Isaiah Neyor, last year’s Wyoming transfer. The passing game with a fully healthy Ewers should be incredibly productive, and was well on his way to beating Alabama last season.
The offensive line should be among the nation’s best, with the group returning 97% of snaps, all five starters, and LT Kelvin Banks entering his second year. This group should be the backbone of this offense. Banks will likely be tasked with slowing down Dallas Turner, but the Bama defensive line lacks the same firepower from last season, with Jaheim Oatis being the key standout defender.
It’s easy to feel good about the defense entering the season as well. Despite returning only 62.6% of defensive production, the unit does get back All-Big 12 LB Jaylan Ford and adds a potential game-breaker at safety with Jalon Catalon. The unit ranked 47th in defensive EPA per play and 24th in defensive success rate. Expect the Tide to rush more in this matchup compared to last year’s. A healthy David Gbenda and Byron Murphy should help as Gbenda is one of the better run-defending linebackers, and Murphy is very consistent on the D-Line against the rush. They should be up to the task of slowing down Alabama.
While Texas is on the upswing, this could be a rebuilding year for the Tide. Despite a 10.5-win total on DraftKings, I project barely over ten and three games as favorites under a touchdown. The Tide rank 114th in returning production, with key contributors missing from last year’s team on both sides of the ball, including three first-round picks and five day two picks.
There’s no clear starting quarterback, and all three contenders have significant question marks. Over the last three seasons, Alabama has ranked as a top-five offense under the direction of Bryce Young and Mac Jones, but the quarterback play simply won’t be up to par this year. In limited time, Jalen Milroe and Tyler Buchner posted 0.1 and -0.06 EPA per pass last season. Over the last three years, Alabama has had a 9.3% pass rate above expectation, and with an offensive coordinator change, that number will assuredly go down based on Tommy Rees’ 1.5% percent over the same period, the national average being 1.3%.
The offense also has questions at wide receiver, with underwhelming production from both JaCorey Brooks and Jermaine Burton in 2022. There are a lot of bodies, but it seems nobody has really stood out quite yet, with potentially the best option coming from junior college transfer Malik Benson or second-year receiver Isaiah Bond. They also lose running back Jahmyr Gibbs to the NFL, with a committee of Jase McClellan, Roydell Williams, and Justice Haynes picking up his workload.
This Alabama team projects to be closer to the early 2010s team of the Nick Saban era. Smashmouth football with excellent defensive play. Despite losing Will Anderson Jr., the defense returns a ton of studs, including Dallas Turner, Kool-Aid McKinstry, and a potential freshman break-out player in Caleb Downs. The secondary will have their hands full with Texas receiving depth, but the real question is if the offense will be able to score enough to keep up.
Personally, I project this spread at 6.2 in favor of Alabama. The biggest takeaway is that I can’t find myself able to get to a touchdown for the Tide at the touchdown and prefer Texas. As it stands, the way Alabama wins this matchup profiles to be a low-scoring affair. Possession and strong defense on passing downs is essential. If Texas takes an early lead, the offense might struggle to pass the ball, especially downfield, where Milroe struggled, attempting only five deep passes with zero completions and three interceptions. He also struggled with intermediate passing, with an adjusted 37.5 completion percentage. Unless substantial strides were made this offseason, the quarterback play is going to hold this offense back.
There’s a possibility of a push with the full seven, but even at -115 (DraftKings), this is a good number. When the money line comes out for this, I’ll sprinkle some on the Longhorns. The market is currently overvaluing the Tide.