In addition to spearheading SB Nation's college football recruiting coverage, I'm also the college football betting columnist. In this space, I'll discuss the big games of the week and offer some analysis on the hidden gems, too. And I'll track my record, win or lose.
It's extremely tough to come out in the black betting college football, a high-variance endeavor to begin with, without using a lot of techniques that don't make for a good column. From time to time, I might discuss an advanced technique or two, but you won't find them in the weekly column.
This week, I'll be discussing over/under win totals for the SEC. I have seven plays, and I'll also discuss why I am not playing on the seven remaining teams.
A quick note on season-long wagers: When placing these, the casino holds your money for the next five months. These should not be made unless, according to your numbers, you have a substantial theoretical edge on the house. Do not play marginal wagers that last the season on a whim.
Without further ado, here are seven wagers I like in the SEC.
Alabama OVER 10.5 Wins (+120), 5Dimes: Alabama has the best coach in college football. It has the most talent in college football. It doesn't play SEC East favorites Georgia, South Carolina or Florida. It's non-conference slate is incredibly manageable, featuring Western Carolina, Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic and Michigan, over which the Tide is currently a 12-point favorite.
Many have concerns about an inexperienced defense. While I agree that those concerns are valid, many of the defenders played in fourth quarter of blowouts, as Alabama won eight of its games by four touchdowns or more. Its quarterback returns, and three offensive lineman on recently released All-America teams have been from, you guessed it, Alabama.
The game at LSU is essentially a coin flip, perhaps weighted, but Alabama can drop that game and still cash this wager. The Tide will be favored by double-digits in 10 or 11 of its games, and I give this wager roughly a 75 percent chance of cashing, which makes it a play at +120 odds.
Arkansas UNDER 8.5 Wins (+110), 5Dimes: This won't make me popular with Razorback fans, particularly after their team started off ranked No. 10 in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll. But Arkansas has had a very rough offseason, with the abrupt firing of coach Bobby Petrino and the naming of interim coach John L. Smith.
The Razorbacks will be underdogs in two home games, of about a touchdown to Alabama, and of more than a field goal but less than a touchdown to LSU. But what is tricky about Arkansas' schedule is the other games, which you might be tempted to count as automatic wins because the Hogs will be favored. Don't. Being a slight favorite, as Arkansas will probably be against Texas A&M and Auburn, is anything but a guarantee of a win. The road trip to South Carolina is also a coin flip. And traveling to Starkville to face Mississippi State qualifies as a sandwich game, as it falls between the road trip to South Carolina and the home contest against LSU.
Tyler Wilson returning helps a lot, as does the return of Knile Davis at running back, but if things go wrong early, will this team play as a team and follow an interim coach who is probably not going to be around in 2013? My figures give Arkansas slightly more than a 65 percent chance of finishing 8-4 or worse, which makes this a play at more than even money (+110).
Florida OVER 7.5 Wins (-175), 5Dimes: I'm not one to frequently lay (-175) on a season-long wager. But I personally find this line to be about 40 cents too light. The Gators had a very good defense in 2011 that should improve even more in 2012 as some of its youth matures and becomes more comfortable in the second year of Will Muschamp's system. The offense should definitely improve after getting rid of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, whose abrasive personality did not mesh well with the young talent in Gainesville.
The Gators have a ton of winnable games, and quite a few losable contests as well. Florida will likely be favored by less than a touchdown at Texas A&M, at Tennessee and vs. South Carolina. They'll likely be underdogs of less than a touchdown against LSU, against Georgia and at Florida State. Games at Vanderbilt and hosting Missouri should see the Gators be favored by fewer than 10, but more than seven. The slate also features three non-conference cupcakes and a contest against what might be the worst SEC team, Kentucky.
If Florida can go 4-0 against the non-conference trio of patsies and Kentucky, all it needs to do is win four of the remaining eight listed above. That means winning the games in which it's favored, or dropping one and pulling an upset. I give Florida a 75 percent chance to win at least eight games, making this a play, even at (-175).
Kentucky UNDER 5.5 WIns (-350), 5Dimes: (-350) is an enormous number to lay. I understand that. But Kentucky has a serious lack of talent, a ton of inexperience (returning the fewest starters in the SEC) and a (bad) coach on the hot seat. This is a bet against Kentucky becoming bowl eligible.
The Wildcats are likely to be underdogs of at least two touchdowns in the following games: at Louisville, at Florida and at Arkansas. They'll probably be double-digit underdogs against South Carolina, Georgia, at Missouri and at Tennessee. They'll be underdogs, though less heavily so, against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. Heck, even games against Western Kentucky and Kent State are not guaranteed wins, though the matchup against Samford is.
If Kentucky beats Samford, Western Kentucky and Kent State, it would still need to pull three upsets, including a major upset, to cash this wager. I give Kentucky only a 10 percent chance to make a bowl, thus this is a play even at this steep price.
Missouri UNDER 7.5 Wins (-185), 5Dimes: Like Kentucky, Missouri also returns relatively few starters (11). Unlike Kentucky, the Tigers have a decent amount of talent. Unfortunately for Missouri, they play one of the 10 toughest schedules in the country. Oh, and their quarterback James Franklin, who didn't have a gun to begin with, is returning off shoulder surgery. Welcome to the SEC.
Missouri does get to play in the SEC East. That would be a break under ordinary circumstances, but the Tigers draw Alabama out of the West. Ouch. They'll also be underdogs hosting Georgia, at South Carolina, at Florida, at Tennessee and at Texas A&M. All of those contests are winnable, given that Missouri will likely be an underdog of less than a touchdown in most, but wins aren't as likely as losses. Additionally, non-conference games against Arizona State, Syracuse and especially at UCF in September are very much losable if Missouri doesn't take them seriously.
Again, when the juice is this steep on a season-long bet, it needs to be a very good bet. I believe it is, as I think Missouri is much more likely to be 6-6, or potentially even 5-7, than it is to win eight games.
Mississippi State UNDER 7.5 Wins (-105), 5Dimes: Ah, back in the sensible price range with the (-105).
Like Kentucky and Missouri, Mississippi State has an inexperienced roster and lacks an elite level of talent. That's not a good recipe for winning a lot of games in the SEC. The Bulldogs should again be pretty good on defense, but there's not a lot of reason to believe the offense will catch up.
The non-conference slate does feature four cupcakes in Jackson State, at Troy, South Alabama and Middle Tennessee. While fans might hate that, it does give the Bulldogs a likely four wins. Games at Kentucky and at Ole Miss are also probable wins in the conference.
But even assuming State doesn't slip up against those previous six foes, finding the other two wins to get to eight is not easy. The contest against Texas A&M, which should be better late in the season, is sandwiched between road trips to Alabama and LSU! The numbers for teams the week after they play Alabama are not in State's favor. And the contest against Arkansas is sandwiched between the trip to Baton Rogue and the trip to Ole Miss for the Egg Bowl. Hosting Tennessee is close to a coin flip.
I'm not confident that Mississippi State will take care of business in all six of the games it should win, beat Tennessee, and pull an upset in its remaining games. A few of those things might happen, but that closing stretch is brutal, and I don't believe the Bulldogs have the quality depth to finish strong.
South Carolina UNDER 8.5 Wins (+100), 5Dimes: Is the old Marcus Lattimore coming back? Can Connor Shaw effectively throw the ball against top defenses? Can a pair of first-year starting sophomores at offensive tackle protect Shaw? Can the Gamecocks replace Alshon Jeffery?
South Carolina has six games in which it will likely be favored by less than a touchdown, if it is favored at all: at Vanderbilt, vs. Georgia, vs. Missouri, vs. Tennessee, vs. Arkansas and at Clemson. It's easy to count all of those as wins, but the numbers say 4-2 or 3-3 is more likely than 6-0 or 5-1.
The Gamecocks will be underdogs at Florida of more than a field goal, and larger at the LSU Tigers.
The non-conference slate of East Carolina, UAB and Wofford offers three extremely winnable games.
Can South Carolina win nine or 10 games? Absolutely, if all the questions above are answered in the affirmative. I'm not confident they will be, though, so this is the play.
As for the remaining seven SEC teams, I did not find significant value in their numbers listed below.
- Auburn: 7.5 Wins (+150/-175)
- Georgia: 9.5 Wins (-160/+140)
- LSU: 10 Wins (-135/+115)
- Tennessee: 7 Wins (-130/+115)
- Texas A&M: 7 Wins (+100/-120)
- Vanderbilt: 6.5 Wins (+135/-165)
While we’re here, let’s watch some of the many fine college football videos from SB Nation’s YouTube channel: