Sept. 7 NCAA Football Picks and Preview — New Mexico State (0-1) at No. 2 Alabama (1-0)

(Jerry Jeudy photo courtesy Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.

When and Where: Saturday, Sept. 7, Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala., 4 p.m. EDT.

There is always something to work on for Nick Saban and Alabama.

Always.

The primary point of order Saturday against New Mexico State will be getting off to a quick start offensively, something the second-ranked Crimson Tide did not do in their season-opening romp past Duke.

Playing a virtual home game at Mercedes Benz-Stadium in Atlanta, Heisman hopeful Tua Tagovailoa and Alabama had a 3-and-out, turnover, and missed field goal in its first three possessions of 2019 before settling down and finding a rhythm in the second quarter.

The Tide then found their stride in the third, scoring three touchdowns en route to a 42-3 victory. Tagovailoa had three of his four scoring tosses in a 6:58 span of that third quarter and finished 26 of 31 for 336 yards without an interception.

Alabama’s defense conceded just 204 yards, with its stop of the Blue Devils on a 4th-and-1 at the Tide’s 7-yard line restoring the momentum in Alabama’s direction. The Crimson Tide limited Duke to 97 passing yards and recorded three takeaways.

For New Mexico State, this is the second straight week it will take a paycheck for a pounding after absorbing a 58-7 thrashing at No. 23 Washington State last Saturday. The Aggies allowed 51 unanswered points after tying the game at 7 midway through the first quarter, allowing 507 passing yards and 618 overall.

Josh Adkins completed 28 of 42 passes for 221 yards but was intercepted twice as New Mexico State lost its 24th straight game to AP Top 25 teams.

Aggies look for small steps of progress in killer opening to schedule

No one, perhaps not even Aggies coach Doug Martin himself, is expecting New Mexico State to pull off one of the all-time upsets in college football history. Yet there is a method to his madness in scheduling powerful SEC schools — something he could conceivably avoid as an independent since there are always opponents looking for games to round out a schedule.

“We have another opportunity against an even better football team this week to go play like a winning football team,” Martin told the Las Cruces Sun News. “I’m not so much concerned with the score as much as playing like a winning football team and not beating ourselves.”

This is the sixth SEC school Martin has scheduled in his seven seasons at New Mexico State, and he said the 2014 LSU squad comes closest in terms of the talent level Alabama has as an opponent.

Adkins directed one efficient scoring drive, marching the Aggies 75 yards on nine plays in the first quarter, but it was hit-and-miss after that. Cougars coach Mike Leach offered praise for the sophomore, stating in his weekly press conference that Adkins “could start at every Pac-12 school except three” without specifying which three.

The defense will try to recover from the beating administered by the Cougars, but it has the potential to be worse this weekend considering Tagovailoa is a returning starter and Heisman Trophy hopeful. Washington State starting quarterback Anthony Gordon had thrown five passes in his collegiate career heading into last weekend’s contest.

Defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani will have his work cut out for him. The fourth-year assistant employs a base 3-4 defense, led by redshirt senior linebacker Javahn Ferguson, who was the nation’s leading returning leading tackler.

“This is about as close as you get to playing an NFL team,” Martin said. “There are no weaknesses. They are ultra-talented and really well-coached.”

“I know I’m thinking in different terms than most people around here, but my goal is that when we go play these power-conference teams, that we can compete,” Martin continued on. “I came from East Carolina where, in 10 years, we beat Miami of Florida twice. We beat South Carolina. We beat Texas Tech in a bowl. We beat Stanford in a bowl. We were a group of five team. It can be done, but we’re not there yet. That’s where we’re trying to strive to get.”

Saban seeking improvement in small details from Tide

There is scant reason to believe Alabama’s FBS-record 83-game winning streak against unranked opponents will end with this contest considering the Crimson Tide are eight-touchdown favorites, and while Saban saw plenty of things he liked as his team pulled away from Duke, he saw just as much room for improvement.

“I think the thing we want to do with our team right now is be sure to point out all the things that we did well in the game so we build confidence in our players and show them doing things right’s going to help them be able to perform well,” he said at his Monday news conference, “And to point out the errors that we made, whether they’re fundamental or mental so that we can correct the mistakes that we made and hopefully have the best chance to improve.”

One area that can get better is the running game, which totaled 161 yards on 42 carries. Jerome Ford had a team-high 64 yards, but 37 of them came on his scoring run, while Najee Harris had 52 on 12 rushes and Brian Robinson was held to 11 on nine carries.

“There’s a certain way you’re supposed to run the ball on certain plays,” Saban noted. “You have to trust and have confidence in that. And that’s the thing we want to focus on with those guys to be able to do.

“If that takes rhythm to do that, then we need to improve their rhythm. If it takes more eye control and eye discipline to see what you’re supposed to see and respond that way, then that’s what we need to do.”

The passing game, however, was just fine as Jerry Jeudy picked up where he left off last season with a career-high 10 catches for 137 yards and a touchdown in recording his sixth 100-yard game. The effort also left him eight receptions shy of 100 for his career.

There was little to harp on about Tagovailoa’s performance considering there were only five incompletions and one sack, with Saban saying his quarterback played “really, really well overall” after registering his seventh 300-yard passing game and seventh contest with four or more TD passes.

The Crimson Tide have won 33 consecutive non-conference home games since a 21-14 loss to Louisiana-Monroe in Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa in 2007. Alabama has averaged 43.6 points and outscored opponents by 37 per game while holding opponents 6.6 points per contest.

Notable Trends

Alabama is:

  • 5-2 ATS in its last seven September games.
  • 6-2 ATS in its last eight games after accumulating 280 or more passing yards in its previous game.
  • 5-2 ATS in its last seven games after winning its previous game by 20 or more points.

New Mexico State is:

  • 3-13 ATS in its last 16 non-conference games.
  • 2-7-1 ATS in its last 10 games vs. SEC teams.
  • 5-15-1 ATS in its last 21 games after a straight up loss by 20 or more points.

*****5-Star Pick*****

Alabama -36 first half (-115)

This is where the Crimson Tide did a substantial amount of damage last year, leading by 40 or more points in both its non-conference home games versus FBS teams. The expectation is Alabama marches up and down the field early and often without giving the Aggies much room to maneuver offensively, let alone get a first down.

****4-Star Pick****

OVER 38.5 points first half (-105)

The expectation is for the Crimson Tide to have at least six possessions and score touchdowns on all of them. The Aggies allowed 35 first-half points to a Washington State team breaking in a new quarterback last week and are facing a Heisman Trophy candidate in this game. Tagovailoa offers confidence in this pick, even with the hook posing as a nuisance on a TD+FG point combination.

***3-Star Pick***

Alabama -55 (-110)

No one should ever be comfortable giving almost eight touchdowns, but if there is a team that can do it, it’s Alabama. The concern about the Crimson Tide covering is their big-play ability offensively.

New Mexico State allowed three touchdowns on plays of 41 yards or longer and a fourth of 20 yards. No one is saying Alabama does not have big-play capability — it clearly does — but if the running game fails to fire up quickly, it will be a chore for the Tide to cover this gigantic number.

UNDER 65 points (-110)

The Crimson Tide’s defense looked legit in limiting the Blue Devils to three points, which included a key defensive stand in their red zone early. Aside from New Mexico State’s first two possessions, there was not much in the way of sustained offense for the Aggies — who also had a red zone turnover.

Alabama has also recorded three shutouts in its last 11 non-conference home games and held three other opponents to six or fewer points. Even if the Tide do cover by scoring eight touchdowns, they may need to also score the other two possessions to carry this number, and that might be too big an ask.

**2-Star Pick**

The challenge with this pick is guessing when Saban puts in the third-stringers and walk-ons, and how many points the Tide have at that point. The feeling is they will be in there for the entire fourth quarter if not sooner, and the dropoff is just too steep to feel like Alabama will do anything but be vanilla offensively at that point.

There’s not enough confidence to like this pick all that much because it could prove to be a very frustrating watch.

 

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