Las Vegas oddsmakers are seeing more than just a customary No. 1 ranking and undefeated record for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Thanks to a dynamic quarterback and atypical offense, they see a historically good team that is forcing them to adapt their bookmaking approach.
Ed Salmons, head oddsmaker at the Westgate SuperBook, rates this year's Alabama team a full five points higher than last year's championship team -- which holds the highest mark in his 15 years of computing power ratings.
"There's really no way to stop these guys now," Salmons told ESPN.
The Crimson Time covered their first three games by a combined 58 points, the largest margin in the country. Consequently, the house has started charging a "Tide tax" on Alabama to offset the interest it draws at the betting window.
"Alabama's point spread is inflated every week by four or five points. It's not really the true number," Golden Nugget sportsbook director Tony Miller told ESPN. "That's why we're not getting any sharp action. It's all public accumulation (from straight wagers, teasers and parlays)."
"It just shows you how good their talent level must be ... You look at these [popular] NBA teams like the Warriors and Cavs, if you just blindly bet against them, you'll probably win money," Salmons said. "Alabama is somehow beating expectations, which is pretty tough, because you would think all the value is on the dog because the spreads are just so high."
Professional bettors did correctly fade Alabama last weekend, when it failed to cover for the first time this season. The inflated line made a difference, as Texas A&M scored the fourth quarter's only touchdown to lose by 22 points and cover as 25-point underdogs. It was the highest point spread involving ranked teams over the past five years and the largest line in Saban's career when facing a ranked team.
This weekend, Alabama is favored by 48.5 points over Louisiana-Lafayette, which will be the largest point spread between FBS schools over the past five years. "It's a little tricky because Saban is a gentleman and doesn't intentionally run up scores like certain other coaches," Salmons said. "If you tell them they need to score 130 points, they could do it."
The Tide flex their muscles when the game is undecided. They have covered the first-half point spread in every game, outscoring opponents 148-20, and lead the country in scoring for the first quarter and first half.
Clearly, the difference is Tua Tagovailoa, who Westgate has posted as a -150 betting favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. The true sophomore QB leads the country with a 230.5 passer rating and 12.9 yards per pass attempt, which is incredibly unusual for Saban. Alabama also leads the nation in offensive efficiency, which has never occurred in the Saban era.
"Obviously in years past, the blueprint was defense and [be] conservative on offense. Now, Saban is just letting the kid go," William Hill director of trading Nick Bogdanovich told ESPN. "They can score as many points as they want. He's that talented."
Since arriving in Tuscaloosa in 2007, Saban has produced two quarterbacks that were drafted in the NFL. In 2014, A.J. McCarron was selected in the fifth round and Greg McElroy was chosen in the seventh round in 2011. Last week, our own Mel Kiper Jr. wrote that Tagovailoa could very well be drafted with the top overall pick in 2020.
Even Alabama's weakness in year's past doesn't seem to be an issue this season.
"Playing uptempo teams was always their weakness. The big test was going to be Ole Miss," Salmons said. "The one thing Ole Miss does is score points. They scored on the first play of the game and never scored another point. And that, to me, is the most impressive thing I've seen this year."
Alabama beat the Rebels 62-7 on Sept. 15.
The Westgate has posted Alabama as a -225 favorite to win the national championship. By comparison, this time last year, Alabama was +175 to win the title. The Tide did win it all, but lost their regular-season finale at Auburn and caught some breaks to reach the postseason.
The Golden Nugget has already posted point spreads for potential matchups in the College Football Playoff. Alabama is favored by double-digits over Ohio State, Georgia, Clemson and Oklahoma.
"Take Alabama out of the equation and you have a competitive championship game with everyone," Miller told ESPN. "But you're at double digits with all these teams. They're just that freaking good."
If the Tide stay on this overwhelming path, sports pundits will start debating their place in history. In the meantime, bookmakers I asked believe this is Saban's best team, especially considering Tagovailoa has yet to even take a snap in the fourth quarter.
"Through the years, [Saban's] seen what's beaten them and they play more uptempo now and they're wearing these guys down," Salmons said. "The other teams just have no chance."
While opponents lack the answer, sportsbooks are using creative oddsmaking to level the playing field.