CFB betting cheat sheet: Big spread means big first half for Alabama

At first glance, No. 2 Alabama has a boring game Saturday against an opponent that will be fortunate to score a single touchdown. However, there's actually a successful betting angle that continues to baffle oddsmakers and leave them vulnerable.

"I take solace from the fact that sophisticated betting syndicates usually, but not always, tend to avoid these games," BetMGM vice president of trading Jason Scott told ESPN." So I am not sure the other side is confident they can accurately chart them either."

But I actually am confident. The hidden gem is Alabama's first-half point spread -- but only in specific situations. It's all about understanding what differentiates certain point spreads from others, thus uncovering the betting value.

The Crimson Tide are favored by 49.5 points at home against Louisiana Monroe. The first-half point spread is 32, instead of 24.5 (which is 50% of 49). The first-half spread is skewed higher because first halves are played at full strength, while the game line incorporates garbage time with backups and other unknowns. This is standard operating procedure for all games with large point spreads.

"It is extremely difficult to set a line for a team that can literally score touchdowns in a blink of an eye without overreacting to the game point spread," Caesars Sportsbook vice president of trading Craig Mucklow told ESPN.

When a line is difficult for oddsmakers to set, that means there is a potential advantage for the bettor -- and Alabama epitomizes this advantage. The Tide are typically considered the nation's best team, and Nick Saban has an unparalleled ability to ensure his team plays at full throttle early, regardless of the quality of opponent. Then, with a huge second-half lead, Saban plays reserves and is overt with his sportsmanship and vanilla playcalling. The drop-off between halves is more pronounced with Alabama than other top programs.

The phenomenon began in 2018 when Saban implemented a tempo spread offense with a top-notch quarterback (Tua Tagovailoa) for the first time in his coaching career. The Tide had an explosive offense to match their dominant defense. They could now overwhelm opponents from the start, as opposed to the usual game script of grinding them down throughout the entire game with a powerful rushing attack and suffocating defense.

Since then, Alabama has been favored by at least 35 points in 12 games, posting a 6-6 record against the spread (ATS). However, they are 10-2 ATS in those first halves, outscoring opponents 445-44. Clearly, the optimal approach is assessing which fourth quarters will draw Saban's gentlemanly touch. For me, it's a game spread of 35 or higher. That's when the first-half line is not skewed enough because oddsmakers set Alabama's odds the same as other top teams.

"The people who line these games just know that if X is the game price, then Y should be the first-half line," PlayUp USA head of wagering and oddsmaking veteran Rex Beyers told ESPN. "They are stubborn and don't want to give inflated numbers to wise guys and would rather pay the public [when Alabama covers]."

Dissecting a point spread and understanding its nuances are what separate value plays from generic ones. In my eyes, the betting edge truly shines in this special circumstance. The play is Bama -32 in the first half.

Ranked Matchups

No. 12 BYU Cougars at No. 25 Oregon Ducks (-3.5, 58)

Last week I joked about Pitt being my kryptonite, and BYU falls under that same category. I exorcised some demons with Tennessee's cover against the Panthers, so hopefully I can finally fade the Cougars successfully. BYU has just found ways to win, including last week against No. 17 Baylor. In short, the Cougars are still battling some key injuries and the Ducks defense is fairly stout. It won't be pretty, but I expect Oregon to grind out a cover at home.

Pick: Oregon -3.5

No. 13 Miami Hurricanes at No. 24 Texas A&M Aggies (-6, 44.5)

Sharp action arrived on the Aggies midweek, and I agree with it. In fact, I am surprised Max Johnson did not earn the starting QB gig entering the season. However, Jimbo Fisher made the switch to the LSU QB transfer and that overlapped with the smart money's arrival. Also, one oddsmaker shared that rain was in the forecast, but that subsided, so perhaps that also contributed to those wagers. Either way, I think the Aggies show up after losing to Appalachian State last week, and I will gladly back Fisher over Mario Cristobal.

Pick: Texas A&M -6

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Additional Plays

No. 20 Ole Miss Rebels at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (over 63)

Some really sharp guys are backing this play, and I certainly understand it. The days of Tech's ground-and-pound rushing attack are long gone and the defense is fairly weak. Lane Kiffin will have all sorts of fun carving it up. Plus, the Yellow Jackets should be able to muster enough offense to help this over.

Pick: Over 63

UConn Huskies at No. 4 Michigan Wolverines (-47.5)

The Wolverines are laying another big number, and I think the Huskies cover like Hawai'i did last week. It's just way too many points for a competent UConn team led by former NFL coach Jim Mora Jr. Michigan begins conference play next week, and Jim Harbaugh already has named his starting quarterback. I expect the second half to be fairly uneventful, which should benefit the Huskies.

Pick: UConn +47.5

Duquesne Dukes at Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors (-6.5)

Perhaps no team has looked weaker through the first few weeks than Hawai'i, thanks to three blowout losses. The Rainbow Warriors have been outscored 168-37. It's pretty dark right now on the islands. However, I have to back them against an FCS school that should not be able to compete in this situation. ESPN's FPI has UH by 19 points, and I do envision a double-digit victory. Remember, all tickets cash the same, and this seems like a rare good spot to back Hawai'i.

Pick: Hawai'i -6.5