ATLANTA – Second-ranked Alabama begins pursuit of its fifth consecutive College Football Playoff championship appearance when it faces Duke on Saturday in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta. The Crimson Tide lost to Clemson in last season's title game after winning two of the previous three national crowns.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC. LINE: Alabama -34.5
Last season marked Alabama's fourth 14-win campaign during Nick Saban's tenure, but the coach saw some slippage that he is aiming to correct. "I think our team needs to get back to, I call it, the 'Bama Way,'" Saban said in an ESPN video. "We've always had a highly disciplined team, and our team was that way last year to a point for a while. And I don't think we always had the leadership that we needed. Some parts of our team, yes. Some parts of our team, not as much." Duke is a prohibitive underdog against the Crimson Tide, but coach David Cutcliffe said his program has earned the opportunity to play in a high-profile contest. "It is different than just having something laid on the table and how you approach it," Cutcliffe told reporters. "We have no way to control Alabama. We know that they are a national championship-type of program. You have to become the team to match strength with strength. That is how you get better from these types of challenges. There are no weaknesses to find in Alabama, they are too well-coached and they are really gifted."
ABOUT DUKE (2018: 8-5)
Senior Quentin Harris is the new quarterback and has big shoes to fill after Daniel Jones was selected sixth overall in the NFL draft by the New York Giants. "Quentin is playing like a fifth-year senior right now," Cutcliffe recently told reporters. "He's gotten better every day. The more he is the starter, the more reps he has taken, his consistency has gone way up. The thing that Quentin has done the best is physically thrown the ball this camp." The Blue Devils allowed an average of 27.4 points last season and suffered a recent blow when senior linebacker Koby Quansah, a team captain with 102 career tackles, suffered a fractured right thumb that will sideline him indefinitely.
ABOUT ALABAMA (2018: 14-1)
Junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was the Heisman Trophy runner-up last season after a spectacular campaign that included 3,966 yards and 43 touchdowns against just six interceptions. Jerry Jeudy is one of the nation's top wideouts after catching 68 passes for 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns, while fellow junior Najee Harris (783 yards in 2018) opens the campaign as the main ball carrier. Junior inside linebacker Dylan Moses (team-leading 86 tackles) and junior safety Xavier McKinney (73) are among the standouts returning to a defense that allowed 18.1 points per game last season.
1. Alabama has won three of the previous four meetings, the most recent being a 62-13 rout in 2010.
2. Blue Devils junior CB Mark Gilbert (dislocated hip) underwent a second surgery and remains sidelined indefinitely.
3. Crimson Tide junior G Deonte Brown will miss the first four games due to an NCAA violation.
PREDICTION: Alabama 58, Duke 20