Peach Bowl: Alabama Crimson Tide-Washington Huskies Picks Against the Spread

In the first game of the College Football Playoff double-header Saturday, prohibitive favorite Alabama takes on upstart Washington in the Peach Bowl. SportsLine college football analyst Josh Nagel gives an overview of the game and spread selection.

 

PEACH BOWL: WASHINGTON HUSKIES VS. ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (-14, O/U 54), Sat., 3 p.m. ET

The first game of Saturday's College Football Playoff double-header will either be the start of an epic underdog story or another step toward the coronation of the latest champion in what has become a dynastic stretch for one of the sport?s storied programs.

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EXCLUSIVE TO SPORTSLINE PRO MEMBERS
Sat 12/31 3:00 PM EST
Washington +400 O/U 51
vs. Alabama -500 -13
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Top-ranked and undefeated Alabama (13-0), behind a historically dominant defense and underappreciated offense, is a two-touchdown favorite against upstart Washington (12-1) in the Peach Bowl.

It's the largest spread in College Football Playoff history, and Alabama has a chance to make history by covering it. It's a regular David vs. Goliath match-up.

With a win, Alabama coach Nick Saban will position his program to compete for its fifth national title under his leadership, the fourth of this decade and second back-to-back campaign.

On the flip side, Washington coach Chris Petersen is out to prove his awe-shucks charm and small-town work ethic are capable of leading a program to the ultimate prize.

He is well-noted for his reputation as an erstwhile giant killer while at Boise State, with a memorable BCS Bowl victory against Oklahoma and an undefeated slate against top-10 opponents.

After regularly turning down higher-profile jobs, Petersen landed at Washington and took what was seen as perhaps a lengthy rebuilding project and turned the Huskies into a playoff-bound club in just his third season.

JOSH NAGEL'S TAKE

Alabama boasts by far the best defensive unit in the country, leading the FBS in scoring defense (11.8 ppg), yards allowed (248.2) and rushing yards (63.8).

But the offense quietly developed at a rapid pace, as emerging dual-threat Jalen Hurts and his variety of weapons led the Crimson Tide to 40.5 points (No. 13 nationally) and 471.3 yards per game (No. 26).

Alabama's biggest scare came against persistent nemesis Ole Miss, which stormed to a three-touchdown lead in the first half before self-destructing. Alabama dominated the rest of the way before holding on for a 48-43 win.

The Tide also were tested by LSU, which played strong enough defense to win but couldn't muster any semblance of offense. Hurts ran for a late touchdown to seal the 10-0 win.

It's fair to say Washington is the most complete opponent Alabama has face to date, as the Huskies have a combination of the firepower of Ole Miss and defensive strength of LSU and are led by one of the few coaches capable of matching wits with Saban.

The Huskies averaged 44.5 points per game (No. 4 nationally) and allowed just 17.2 (No. 7), while ranking in the top 20 in most categories on both sides of the ball.

Their Pac-12 wins came by an average of 27.6 points, and their lone defeat came Nov. 12 at the hands of a red-hot USC team in a 26-13 home upset.

LINE MOVEMENT

This line has been all over the place, as most shops opened on the high side of the key number of 14, with many opening as high as Alabama -15.5 in their first offering.

Many markets moved north and hit the next key number of 17, where it appeared destined to stay for a while. However, this presented the proverbial "buy back" number of Washington, as underdog supporters with thick wallets weighed in at this juncture.

The spread has settled all the way down to Alabama -14, which as of Thursday afternoon had been the consensus number for about a week.

Totals that opened in the 55.5-point range have been lowered to 54 at most outlets.

SPORTSLINE EXPERTS

SportsLine contributor Micah Roberts has a selection on this game. Get his and all other SportsLine expert picks by clicking here.

SELECTION

Although the value on the underdog already has been extracted, I'm still inclined to back the Huskies in this game.

They have a quarterback in Jake Browning who is capable of getting the ball out quickly against the Tide?s pass rush and keep ahead of the down and distance with short gains. They should also be able to provide some balance behind powerful rusher Myles Gaskin.

Defensively, Washington should be able to hold its own at the line of scrimmage, limit the big run plays of Hurts and force the freshman to throw the ball downfield.

Alabama is the deserved favorite in this game and to win the national title, but the two-touchdown cushion is too tempting to pass on behind a dangerous and well-coached opponent.