This week, according to our NFL and College Football Power Rankings we, as fans, are privileged to see #1 play at #2 in both the NFL and college football. In this season's most hyped regular season game (so far), top-ranked Alabama will head to College Station to face Texas A&M, a team we believe is the second best in the country. And despite the fact that most polls have Texas A&M ranked worse than our analysis, that is not enough for us to feel comfortable picking the Aggies to win or cover the spread. Alabama is that good. The Crimson Tide has ranked #1 in our Power Rankings for 41 consecutive weeks now and would be at least a 4.5 point favorite against any other FBS team on the road. Because the tempo at which we expect this game to be played is so high, a touchdown victory by Alabama is the most likely scenario (and is essentially where the line is). Though we do not have an against-the-spread lean on this game that is playable, there is still is value to be found and an entertaining game to analyze. Not only does Alabama rank first in our Power Rankings, the Crimson Tide ranks in the top ten in offensive rush (#4) and pass (#2) efficiency (only Oregon otherwise is top ten in both offensive categories) and in the top ten in defensive pass (#7) and rush (#1) efficiency (only Michigan State, Florida State, Stanford and Florida can also say that).
Of the teams in the Nick Saban era in Alabama, which happen to be prohibitive favorites in our analysis to win a fourth national championship in five years and third straight title, this version has the best skill position players and quarterback. Senior quarterback A.J. McCarron has matured over his four year starting career into one of the best passers in the country and a player who should receive strong first round consideration the 2014 NFL Draft. Sophomore T.J. Yeldon may be the most complete running back the team has had -- over the likes of Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy. And the wide receiver tandem of Amari Cooper and Christion Jones is as explosive as any in the country. Layer in one of the three best offensive lines in the country (even after losing three starters to last year's NFL draft -- including two of the top 11 picks), and this offense is as well constructed and talented as any in the country.
Meanwhile, the defense, while still elite and probably the best overall in the country, does turn over seven new starters from 2012. Alabama is more of an offensive than defensive powerhouse right now.
Texas A&M is similar in that the Aggies are incredibly efficient running and throwing, have electric play makers on offense like sophomore quarterback Johnny Manziel, who won a Heisman Trophy last year largely due to leading his team to a 29-24 win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa, under-the-radar 1,000 yard rusher Ben Malena, sophomore wide receiver Mike Evans and star freshman wideout Ricky Seals-Jones, and an elite offensive line with multiple NFL prospects. Texas A&M also has a weaker defense than 2012 that loses all of its defensive standouts from last year.
Ultimately, despite the differences in the personalities and offseason stories of the quarterbacks and head coaches in this game, these are very similar teams in the matchups. Alabama is just a little better in every efficiency respect. That's good enough for a touchdown victory even on the road at Kyle Field. In fact, Texas A&M only ranked #61 in our recent home field advantage rankings. Alabama is #116 in the same rankings because they play about the same at home as they do on the road (as a fan, I'd rather be at the bottom of the home field advantage list than the top).
What playing at home can help is pace. Texas A&M will play fast and get help from its fans to do so. In Kevin Sumlin's brief 15 game career at Texas A&M, the Aggies have averaged 48.4 points at home, with home games totaling 71.4 points on average (the defense has given up 31 points to Rice and 28 points to Sam Houston State on the season thus far). Surprisingly to the average fan, Alabama has no problem playing in (and winning) shootouts. Not only is the Crimson Tide better offensively right now that defensively, the OVER was 5-2 in Alabama games away from home last season. The Tide scored 52 at Arkansas, 42 at Missouri, 44 at Tennessee, 32 against Georgia in the SEC Championship game and 42 against Notre Dame. Four of those are SEC teams and three of them finished the season ranked in the top 15 in our defensive efficiency rankings last season. If Alabama can match or exceed that in the high tempo game that will take place on Saturday, Texas A&M should score enough points to take this game OVER the current 61 (it's even 60 in some places) point total in Las Vegas right now (consider that Texas A&M games went over the total with lines of 62.5, 79.5 and 61 last season).
Both of these offenses are better than their defenses and tempo should be big part of the narrative of this game. While Alabama is still better across the board, expect an entertaining shootout. According to 50,000 games played by the Predictalator, Alabama wins outright 60 percent of the time and by an average score of 38.2-31.0. Texas A&M only covers the spread 50.4 percent of the time, which is not enough to be profitable over the long run (52.4+ percent is necessary), but the OVER has good value (and it's getting better). The total goes over 61 points 59.1 percent of the time, which would warrant a $71 play from a normal $50 player, who is comfortable wagering between 1-3 percent of his/her bankroll. Also of note here is the money-line for Texas A&M. The Aggies win 40 percent of the time straight-up and can get +260 (wager $100 to win $260 on top) as outright winners. That only needs 28 percent confidence to win, which means there is more value in Texas A&M as a straight-up winner than on either against-the-spread side.