The first two weeks of the FBS college football season are usually rife with “cupcake” games, where the top-ranked programs pay lesser teams (often from the FCS) to act as glorified sparring partners. But that’s not how the Alabama Crimson Tide roll. Nick Saban likes to put his teams to the test, and this Saturday, they’ll open the 2017 campaign by taking on the Florida State Seminoles at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. It’s the first time a No. 1-ranked team has ever played a No. 3 team to start the season. Kick-off is 8 PM ET on ABC.

This could be a preview of the National Championship Game, which will also take place at the new stadium. Alabama had a history of success at the Georgia Dome, winning 11 of 14 games – including last year’s 24-7 CFP semifinal win over the Washington Huskies (+12.5). Will the change of venue stem the Tide? Maybe not; at press time, Alabama is a 7.5-point favorite, up from –7 earlier this week.

Touchdown Magic

That half-point could be all the difference to bettors. Seven is a magic number when it comes to betting on football – it’s the second-most common winning margin. Three points is most common. It’s a game of touchdowns and field goals, so bumping Alabama up from –7 to –7.5 is a fairly big deal.

It’s not like Saturday’s game is expected to be a high-scoring affair. These might be the two best defensive teams in college football; the total is 49 points at press time, back where it was at the open after briefly flirting with 50. Alabama has its own total of 28.5 points on the NCAAF odds board, with Florida State checking in at 21. Bigger favorites like the Tide will naturally find it more difficult to cover in these situations.

Alabama also has a few holes to fill after losing several players from last year’s CFP finalists. But Saban and the Tide always manage to reload, thanks to his recruiting savvy and the strength of the program. The larger concern is with sophomore QB Jalen Hurts, who went through some growing pains despite being named SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2016. Hurts will probably be overshadowed by Florida State QB Deondre Francois, also a sophomore, and one of this year’s leading Heisman Trophy candidates. If the Seminoles’s defense does its part, the Tide might have to run the table just to make the playoffs – and they’ve got three more Top-25 teams (Tennessee, LSU and Auburn) to deal with this season.


*Odds as of September 1, 2017