SEC championship betting preview: Can Bama hang with the Bulldogs?

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Alabama has missed the College Football Playoff before, but even in those "lean years," bettors would dream of the day when the Crimson Tide were plus-money underdogs. If you exclude the one time that Bama was a one-point 'dog (at Georgia), it's been 165 games since you could bet on Nick Saban as a significant underdog.

We'll wake up Saturday morning with that dream being a reality, as Alabama is nearly a touchdown underdog against Georgia in Atlanta for the SEC Championship.

Alabama's offense vs. Georgia's defense

Alabama's offensive line has had problems protecting Bryce Young. It's allowed Florida, LSU, Arkansas, and Auburn to have the football in the fourth quarter with at least a chance to take a lead or, in the case of the Tigers, salt one away. Only Texas A&M was able to seal a victory over the Tide.

Meanwhile, injuries have taken their toll on Alabama's run game, which, when all else has failed in the past, has been something to rely on. This year, the Crimson Tide are 86th in the country in rushing yardage, and now they're supposed to run on Jordan Davis? Best of luck.

Meanwhile, what is there to say that hasn't been already been said about Georgia's defense? Atop the college ranks in any meaningful metric you can come up with, the Bulldogs have passed the eye test since suffocating Clemson in the season opener. If you traded their uniforms for those of an NFL team, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

The one question mark within Kirby Smart's group is the secondary simply because the opposing quarterbacks on the Bulldogs' schedule haven't had the ability to consistently test it. The list of quality quarterbacks in the SEC is not long: Matt Corral, Will Rogers, and Young. That's it. The Bulldogs didn't see any of those QBs this season - until now. Unlike the teams they've faced, Alabama has the depth to use options who won't be covered by Derion Kendrick.

Georgia's offense vs. Alabama's defense

Alabama's defense has been tricky to figure out. One week it's giving up points to Texas A&M, Tennessee, or Arkansas; the next week it's smothering Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Outside of Will Anderson (draft eligible in 2023), the Tide don't have any clear first-round talent on the defensive side of the ball.

The Crimson Tide used to break your back when you bet against them because they'd score on defense to help cover a spread. This season, they have just one defensive touchdown.

As you'd expect, Bama's run defense is top-five in the country, right behind the Bulldogs. It will come in handy against Zamir White and James Cook, weapons Georgia uses to smash opponents on the ground. Like teams before them, the Tide's plan against the Bulldogs is to make Stetson Bennett beat them. His pass-catchers aren't household names, as no one has more receptions than tight end Brock Bowers' 37.

The market

Early in the season, I'd tell anyone who would listen that I was looking forward to betting the Bulldogs in this game as an underdog. That's not the case now.

Midway through Alabama's near loss to Auburn, I bet on Georgia at the sportsbooks that left their lookahead lineup at -4. That's not the case anymore either.

In the days since then, the number has climbed up to -6.5. Dips back to -6 have shown there's some interest in Bama before it has hit a flat +7. Since I'm allergic to taking the worst of the number, I can't recommend a bet on Georgia at higher than -5.5. However, I won't back Alabama just because Nick Saban is an underdog.

There is an angle worth looking at in the in-play live betting markets, though. This is one of the rare instances where a team should pull out all the stops to merely cover the point spread.

It's widely assumed that a narrow loss will give Alabama the benefit of the doubt and a place in the College Football Playoff. So if the Crimson Tide are down by 10-plus points late, they will have urgency to make things close to appease the committee. Therefore, the backdoor in this game will be more wide-open for a team that has no problem throwing the ball, while the Bulldogs will be content on letting the Tide score as long as they do so as the clock nears 0:00.

How to bet the SEC Championship

Unlike many teams the Bulldogs have seen, the Crimson Tide can play from behind, so an in-game bet on the Tide at anything above +7 would be worth a look at halftime or beyond. Meanwhile, a late score might be enough to push this over the 49-point total at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a stadium that's recently trended to the over.

Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there's a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.

SEC championship betting preview: Can Bama hang with the Bulldogs?
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