LAS VEGAS — It’s not easy being Gus Malzahn. The Auburn coach makes his living in the same state with Alabama’s Nick Saban, the king of college football for more than a decade, and Malzahn is expected to win his fair share of their head-to-head duels.
Malzahn has done a respectable job, leading the Tigers to a 3-4 record against the Crimson Tide. Saban will not be on the sideline Saturday, after testing positive for COVID-19 this week, but his absence has not impacted the point spread in the Iron Bowl. Top-ranked Alabama is a 25-point home favorite without Saban, who will watch from home while offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian runs the team. There’s no way to know exactly how much the Tide might miss Saban’s menacing presence and, more importantly, his in-game adjustments.
The Saban-to-Sarkisian drop-off might not be significant for one game, but it’s something to consider, and Auburn’s chances would seem to at least slightly improve. The Tigers have shown improvement over the past month, winning and covering three games in a row, including a 48-11 blowout of LSU. Sophomore quarterback Bo Nix has been more efficient after struggling early in the season. The Tigers could also be shorthanded, though, because leading rusher Tank Bigsby is questionable to play with a hip injury.
Auburn’s defense has the manpower to stand up to Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, who has completed 77 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns. It’s too much to ask Malzahn to win the game, but the Tigers will show up for this rivalry and can cover an inflated number.
The pick: Auburn +25.
Rutgers (+12) over PURDUE: The Boilermakers could be in a flat spot after back-to-back narrow losses to Minnesota and Northwestern spoiled their hopes of winning the Big Ten West. Purdue’s offense is explosive, with star wideouts David Bell and Rondale Moore, but its defense has been weak and is now without NFL prospect George Karlaftis, who tested positive for COVID-19. Karlaftis is the team’s top pass rusher.
Expect the Scarlet Knights, off a triple-overtime loss to Michigan, to continue to show fight in the underdog role for coach Greg Schiano.
Nevada (-7) over HAWAII: The late-night kickoff in Honolulu presents another irresistible betting opportunity this week. The road favorite has the better quarterback and much stronger defense in this Mountain West matchup. Sophomore quarterback Carson Strong has completed 70.2 percent of his passes for 1,805 yards and 14 touchdowns, with two interceptions, to help lift the Wolf Pack to 5-0.
The Warriors were blown out by San Diego State and Wyoming before falling behind 33-9 in a 40-32 loss to Boise State last week, when the final score was misleading. Nevada prevailed, 40-22, two years ago in Honolulu.
Last week: 3-0. Boise-Hawaii Over (W), Nevada (W), Northwestern (W)
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