2021 SEC Betting Preview: Predictions, Win Totals & Futures Odds for Alabama, Georgia, More
Chamberlain Smith/Collegiate Images/Getty Images. Pictured: The Georgia Bulldogs.
When the commercials started to air the slogan, “It just means more,” the SEC inherited a target from all other conferences.
South Carolina and Arkansas were added in 1992, while Missouri and Texas A&M started conference play in 2012. College football may be just as important in other conferences, but no one wins more than the Southeastern Conference.
Since the birth of the College Football Playoff, 28 slots have been handed out to teams to compete as the final four for a national title. Roughly 29% of those invitations and four of the seven national champions have come from the SEC.
Those numbers are expected to increase when Texas and Oklahoma join the conference in the near future.
The SEC is the standard for college football recruiting and TV ratings. After an all-time undefeated season in which Alabama won a record 10 conference games, the question remains whether or not any other team from the conference can ascend to the level of the Crimson Tide.
Note: All photos are via Getty Images.
Alabama Crimson Tide
The spoils of the 2020 season brought Nick Saban a seventh National Championship. The title marks his sixth won in Tuscaloosa, ties the legendary Bear Bryant.
Saban will go through a near complete rebuild if he has plans to become the all-time winningest coach in Alabama history.
Only one-quarter of the national champion offense returns with familiar names such as wide receiver John Metchie and running back Brian Robinson.
Freshman Bryce Young steps in to fill the quarterback role after a laundry list of former Tide quarterbacks now play in the NFL.
Bryce Young's first career TD at @AlabamaFTBL 🎯
He got next. pic.twitter.com/qwFuhGpiyz
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 21, 2020
The offense will fill a few holes on the offensive line but is expected to take a small step back from a rank of third in Havoc Allowed and second in Rushing Success Rate.
Tight end Jahleel Billingsley has returned to practice after a possible disciplinary issue. That’s important for new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, who ran the most two-tight end sets in the NFL in his time as head coach of the Houston Texans.
The great news for Saban is the return of a national champion-level defense, especially in the back seven.
Malachi Moore shut down slot receivers as a freshman. Josh Jobe is one of the best cornerbacks in the nation. Linebacker Will Anderson recorded seven sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss and an FBS-high 16 quarterback hits in 2020.
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) October 3, 2020
Under coordinator Pete Golding, the defense posted top-20 Havoc and Finishing Drives rankings. The bulk of those numbers returns this season and can pick up any slack while the offense looks for answers at multiple positions.
The expectations for Alabama are always national title or bust, but replicating the masterpiece of 2020 will be near impossible. Alabama ranked as the best offense in Success Rate and second in Finishing Drives. A rank in the top 25 for this season’s offense would be a major accomplishment considering the amount of inexperience.
Alabama is expected to be a double-digit favorite in every game except the road trip to College Station. Texas A&M may be the biggest threat on the schedule as touchdown underdogs, but the Crimson Tide receive a few lofted softballs in Mercer and Southern Miss before the SEC West is decided against Ole Miss and the Aggies.
There’s already a premium price on the Crimson Tide in the market, with Action Network projections making Miami +12.5 and not the current number of +18.
Oddsmakers are charging a premium price for an Alabama team that is no longer the premium grade of 2020. The Crimson Tide would need a perfect season to eclipse the season win total of 11.5. Our Action Network projection calls for 10.9 wins, giving value to Alabama under 11.5 season win total.
With the Crimson Tide never pulling off back-to-back perfect regular seasons during the Saban tenure, this is certainly a sell-high scenario on the Alabama stock.
The Bulldogs are entering another preseason with the same roster dynamics.
The offensive line is loaded with NFL talent to plow holes for next-level talent at the running back position. The defense loses talent to the NFL but has been replaced with blue-chip recruits or incoming portal transfers from other playoff teams.
Kirby Smart has another national title-contending team, but the implementation of the Todd Monken offense may get the Bulldogs to the College Football Playoff via quarterback JT Daniels.
JT Daniels made this connection look too easy 👀 pic.twitter.com/yc4rst5VKt
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 29, 2020
The Bulldogs have a national title contender because of the separation from standard downs rush rate. Whether it was injury or the Georgia program holding back, Daniels did not become a starter until the seventh game of the 2020 season against Mississippi State. The USC transfer would go on to post a 4-0 record and a 10:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
More impressive may have been the comeback against Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl. Despite four turnover-worthy plays early in the game, Daniels led three fourth-quarter drives, ending in 13 points.
The Georgia offense is loaded at every position, but the defense returns just 42% of production.
The transfer of Derion Kendrick from Clemson and Tykee Smith from West Virginia has fortified a secondary to playoff-caliber.
The front of the 3-4 defense will have new 300-pound tackles. Adam Anderson returns to the linebacker unit after recording 6.5 sacks in 2020.
This team can contend for a national title, but there are questions popping up through fall camp.
Transfer Arik Gilbert missed Georgia’s first scrimmage because of personal issues. The offense has been rotating players to find a new center through camp without any current clarification. Wide receivers Jermaine Burton and Kearis Jackson are currently injured with no timetable before kickoff against Clemson.
Those injuries should subside before the first SEC game against South Carolina. Georgia to win the SEC is the betting recommendation, up to the odds of +200.
Texas A&M Aggies
Has Father Time become the end of the pro-style Jimbo Fisher offense? The SEC is being won by teams that create mismatches with the RPO. Long gone are the days of the Malzahn wildcat RPO, as teams now make run-pass decisions on the run with every position on the field.
Texas A&M is still running a fullback and tight end-led pro-style that does not allow four wideouts. Fisher has one of the lowest fourth down and slowest tempo rates in the nation. An investor must ask whether or not this offense has the ability to win the SEC, much less reach the College Football Playoff.
The quarterback battle between Haynes King and Zach Calzada remains ongoing as the pair battles to be the replacement for Kellen Mond. King attempted just four passes in 2020, enough to log a turnover-worthy play.
New players are needed on an offensive line that loses four starters, but Fisher has recruited as well as any program in the nation.
The running back stable is loaded with 1,000-yard rusher Isaiah Spiller and freshman Devon Achane. Spiller generated 44 missed tackles and averaged 3.4 yards after contact, but it’s Achane who could provide the explosiveness.
Devon Achane doesn’t get tackled
— PFF College (@PFF_College) January 3, 2021
Achane averaged 5.23 yards after contact over 43 rushing attempts in 2020. With Ainias Smith back at wide receiver, this is the best rushing attack in college football.
As the offense scrambles to find solid play at quarterback through a September schedule of cupcakes, the defense should hit the ground running.
The Aggies return nine of their top 10 tacklers from 2020. Despite the loss of defensive tackle McKinnley Jackson, Texas A&M returns 78% of a top-20 Havoc and Sack Rate defense.
A&M boasted one of the best defenses in the nation, but it gave up plenty of points to offenses with explosive players. Circling back to the question surrounding Jimbo Fisher, can Texas A&M win in a shootout?
The season win total of 9.5 aligns with the Action Network projection of 9.1. The season will be defined by a visit from Alabama on Oct. 9, when the Crimson Tide are projected as a 7.5-point favorite.
With a quarterback battle of freshmen expected to last through Labor Day, no play is recommended on the Aggies.
In the age of the super senior, Dan Mullen will deal with a depleted offense devoid of Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney.
The Gators entered the Cotton Bowl with Trask throwing three interceptions and ending with sophomore Emory Jones scrambling in a 55-20 loss to Oklahoma.
Both Jones and Anthony Richardson will be looking for targets among the fresh faces at wide receiver and tight end.
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) August 14, 2021
Also looking for answers is the rush defense. Coordinator Todd Grantham fielded one of the worst rush defenses in his career, as the Gators finished 108th in Opponent Rushing Success Rate.
The tackling also fell outside of the top 100, as fundamentals and technique have been the focus of fall camp.
The transfer portal brings new defensive linemen in the form of Daquan Newkirk from Auburn and Antonio Shelton from Penn State.
There are plenty of question marks for Florida in a season in which the offensive efficiency is sure to drop off.
Generally, a look at the SEC East future is considered with Florida, but the Gators draw Alabama and LSU from the West. Even a victory as a touchdown underdog to Georgia may not be enough to win the division in a season of regression.
Ole Miss Rebels
There may be nothing more exciting than a Lane Kiffin offense in fifth gear, but a defense that finished near dead last in Success Rate may hold the Rebels back once again.
The first year of Kiffin brought plenty of excitement, including a boat race against Alabama and an Outback Bowl victory over Indiana.
The biggest questions now surround sustaining a top-20 offense and improvement to a defense that found the FBS floor.
Ole Miss’ Matt Corral has the launch codes 🚀
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 28, 2021
Quarterback Matt Corral returns for Lane Kiffin after a tremendous stat-stuffing 2020. Corral might have the best set of wheels under center in FBS, running for nearly 600 yards with 234 coming on designed calls. The sophomore generated 27 missed tackles on just 51 rushing attempts.
The passing was just as strong, as Corral tossed 29 touchdowns to just 13 interceptions. Take out a mistake-heavy game against Arkansas flashing a 3-3-5 scheme, and Corral had 24 big-time throws versus nine turnover-worthy plays. Those are Heisman numbers.
Corral is supported by a backfield of Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Connor, along with an offensive line that returns almost every player in the two-deep.
Losing wide receiver Elijah Moore opens the door for a number of other receivers to haul in explosive passes, as Ole Miss is not shy of blue-chip talent on the outside.
If there is a worry, it comes with the Rebels defense.
Leading tackler Jacquez Jones entered the transfer portal and ended up at Kentucky. The rest of the defense remains intact but ranked outside the top 90 in coverage, tackling, Havoc and Line Yards.
The weakness of a 3-4 scheme generally comes on a taxed defensive line, as sophomores KD Hill and Quentin Bivens look to generate some type of trench resistance.
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) October 24, 2020
The Action Network projection for the Rebels is 7.2 with a season win total market at 7.5. The name of the game for Kiffin may be another season of outscoring opponents.
Drawing Tennessee and Vanderbilt from the East while hosting Alabama makes this the most advantageous schedule in the SEC West.
The true odds on the Rebels to win the West division are +950, giving investors plenty of reason to take Ole Miss to win SEC West +1500. This is the number needed to make a reasonable hedge when the Crimson Tide host the Rebels off a bye week on Oct. 2.
The Gus Malzahn era came to an end with a $21.5 million buyout after years of inefficient offense, lackluster trench play and consistently failing expectations.
Auburn turns to Bryan Harsin, who follows in a long line of coaches who move through Arkansas State and Boise State before hitting the SEC.
The resume speaks for itself, as Harsin won a Sun Belt Championship in 2013 and went on to win three Mountain West titles with the Broncos. The top priority for the first-year coach is getting quarterback Bo Nix to the next level after losing a trio of top-tier receiving targets.
Harsin has a history of racking up efficient and explosive plays through the air, ranking top 35 every season at Boise State in passing plays exceeding 20 yards. In seven total seasons the Broncos finished +46 in big-time throws versus turnover-worthy plays.
Auburn fans should be excited, considering their new head coach was responsible for the Statue of Liberty play that beat Oklahoma in 2007.
Along with improving Nix, Harsin must figure an offensive game plan for one of the best running backs in college football.
Auburn’s Tank Bigsby is the best RB returning to College Football, per @PFF_Anthony
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 20, 2021
Tank Bigsby generated 47 missed tackles on just 138 rushing attempts, the sixth most amount in all of FBS. Boise State had a rush rate just below 50% over the past three seasons, a shade lower than past Auburn averages.
Journeyman offensive line coach Will Friend must maintain ranks inside the top 25 for Rushing Success Rate, Line Yards and Stuff Rate.
The strength of the defensive side of the ball comes in the back seven with cornerback Roger McCreary and safety Smoke Monday. Joined by transfer Dreshun Miller, the defense should improve coverage ranks of 56th and a Havoc rank of 88th.
The front seven of the defense is undergoing a schematic change with defensive coordinator Derek Mason, former head coach of Vanderbilt.
The Action Network projects Auburn at 7.4 with a market season win total juiced to over on 7. Although the hire of Harsin should see Nix improve, there are offseason stories that could impact a futures ticket.
Harsin acknowledged the Auburn roster was not close to the 80% vaccination rate recommended by commissioner Greg Sankey.
As a long-time futures investor who has lost over wagers because of canceled games from hurricanes, this is news that will keep me off Auburn futures and focused on what Nix can do against the Akron secondary.
Long gone are the days of quarterback Joe Burrow posting a picture-perfect Heisman campaign under the tutelage of passing game coordinator Joe Brady.
Head coach Ed Orgeron dealt with new coordinators, opt-outs and protests during a 5-5 season.
The transfer portal remains hot for the Tigers with tight end Arik Gilbert and quarterback TJ Finley moving on from the program. The addition of linebacker Mike Jones Jr. beefs up an already stellar pass defense.
ELI RICKS intercepts Kyle Trask for the pick-6😳
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 13, 2020
New defensive coordinator Daronte Jones inherits two of the best cornerbacks in college football in Eli Ricks and Derek Stingley.
Jones also ranked as the fourth-best linebacker from a pass coverage perspective while at Clemson last season. LSU will stick to a 4-3 scheme, a new look for Jones as Orgeron plans to be active in calling the defense.
While LSU continues to look for answers on defense, the offense is under new management and looking to stabilize the quarterback position. Jake Peetz takes over offensive coordinator duties and is already flipping tables in the quarterback room.
With Finley transferring and Myles Brennan suffering an injury, the quarterback duties fall upon Max Johnson.
LSU won two games Johnson started against Florida and Ole Miss. The freshman posted four big-time throws and five turnover-worthy plays on 150 pass attempts for the season.
Johnson’s primary goal will be timing with one of the best receivers in the nation, Kayshon Boutte.
— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) December 19, 2020
With one week of camp down, there are plenty of questions and not a ton of answers for the Tigers. Defensive tackle Glen Logan joins Brennan on the injury list, while both Stingley and Ricks missed the first scrimmage of fall camp. The struggles of Jones are puzzling after he found so much success at Clemson.
Meanwhile, depth at quarterback requires Garrett Nussmeier to get an extended look.
The Action Network projection for LSU is 7 with a market number of 8 wins for the season. Outside of Alabama, the Tigers are not expected to be underdogs greater than 4.5 points against any other opponent.
There are three projected wins against McNeese, Central Michigan and Louisiana-Monroe on the schedule with another eight coin flips. Those games must be broken down into who can establish the rush and who will fail in attempting to pass against the LSU secondary.
Auburn, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Kentucky all boast established backfields with rush rates over 50%. Both Florida and Mississippi State will force an air attack into the teeth of the Tigers’ back seven.
The wildcards on the schedule are Arkansas and UCLA, as KJ Jefferson and Dorian Thompson-Robinson have the ability to attack in multiple ways.
Because these coin flip opponents are mostly ground-based, the play is on the LSU season win total under 8.
The 2020 version of the Arkansas Razorbacks proved that statistics do not always equal against-the-spread winners.
After two dreadful seasons under Chad Morris in which the Hogs did not win a single conference game, Sam Pittman led the Razorbacks to three conference wins and a Texas Bowl invitation. The bowl would be canceled due to COVID-19 on the TCU roster, but Pittman finished 7-3 against the spread with a schedule completely populated by the SEC.
Arkansas finished outside the top 100 in Defensive Havoc, Offensive Rush Explosiveness and Sack Rate on both sides of the ball. Those statistics fail to point out the renewed hustle and focus of the program.
Most defensive downs failed to qualify as a successful play, but the ability to eliminate explosiveness and have 11 hats around the football was present. This is a new era in Razorback football, as Pittman retains Barry Odom as defensive coordinator and Kendal Briles as offensive coordinator.
— Collin Wilson (@_Collin1) December 5, 2020
The offense returns just 66% with the departure of Feleipe Franks at quarterback, but KJ Jefferson is hardly a drop-off after 218 snaps over the past two seasons.
The quarterback is joined by potential first-round NFL draft pick Treylon Burks. The stats for the two offensive weapons show explosiveness on the ground and through the air with more RPO expected in 2021.
Jefferson created eight missed tackles on 21 designed runs. For comparison, Franks created the same number of missed tackles with more than twice the number of attempts.
Burks, a hybrid of receiver and running back, tallied 5.9 yards after contact to rank top-10 in FBS for any offensive player with at least 15 carries. Burks finished the 2020 season ranked in the top 10 of all wide receiver grades.
With the good news comes the bad, as depth at the skill positions will be an issue for the Razorbacks.
Trelon Smith provided 19 runs greater than 10 yards but has minimal experience behind his 134 rushing attempts. The wide receiver unit loses the second-best target on the team with the transfer of Mike Woods to Oklahoma.
The offensive line does return every starter, but the pass protection in passing downs and Power Success Rate in standard downs were some of the worst grades in the nation. Without improvement, plenty of SEC defenses will control the trench against the Hogs.
— Collin Wilson (@_Collin1) October 17, 2020
The defense suffers the same issues as the offense in terms of depth. Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool both finished top 10 in the nation in tackles per game, but when injury struck, the Razorback defense fell apart.
More than 80% of Odom’s 4-2-5 defense returns after finishing 101st in Success Rate and Havoc. The Razorbacks thrived in stopping the explosive pass in victories over Mississippi State and Ole Miss, but when injury set in on the defense, opponents such as Missouri and Florida put 50 on the scoreboard.
This season looks to be more of the same for Pittman and the Razorbacks. Arkansas finished eighth in the nation in seconds per play, as the head coach has stated the tempo will continue despite the ranks in efficiency.
The offense will continue to thrive in highlight plays with Jefferson and Burks, as the defense continues to rely on hustle over talent.
The poor recruiting efforts from Bret Bielema and Chad Morris left an empty cupboard for Pittman. While the Razorbacks are on the rise, this is a roster without depth behind the biggest playmakers and a schedule that includes Texas, Georgia and Alabama.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
A 10-point victory over the defending national champion got the Mike Leach era off on the right foot.
After SEC defensive coordinators took note, Mississippi State did not cover over the next five games. The transition from a Joe Moorhead system to the Leach’s Air Raid had set in midseason, an effort that continued after the season with plenty of names entering the transfer portal.
Returning starter Will Rogers will have plenty of competition in fall camp after posting 11 big-time throws and 15 turnover-worthy plays. Chance Lovertich transfers from South Alabama, carrying 104 dropbacks from last season but just two big-time throws. The transfer to take note of is Southern Miss quarterback Jack Abraham.
Jack Abraham goes DEEP to Tim Jones!
— Conference USA (@ConferenceUSA) November 23, 2019
Middling between touchdowns and interceptions, Abraham put together a notable resume last season. The senior posted six big-time throws and just one turnover-worthy play.
Abraham’s highest-rated depth came on passes over 20 yards, going 7-for-15 on the season with four drops and no turnover-worthy plays.
Mississippi State ran the ball on just 26% of plays, making the quarterback position the most important for the Bulldogs. Abraham was sidelined for the first fall scrimmage, with Rogers and Lovertich leaving plenty to be desired from Leach.
The 3-3-5 defense loses top tackler Erroll Thompson but returns the next seven defenders from a unit that ranked top-35 in coverage and Finishing Drives. The Achilles’ heel for this offense was generating Havoc and a rank of 106th in tackling.
There’s inexperience with size on the defensive line, but the back seven returns production at every position.
The combination of linebackers Tyrus Wheat and Aaron Brule posted nine sacks for a defense that caused plenty of Havoc in the Armed Forces Bowl.
— Mississippi State Football (@HailStateFB) December 31, 2020
The projection for Mississippi State sits at 6.4, just above the market number of 6 wins.
With a defense that has minimal replacements on the defensive line and is improving in the Havoc department, the number solely relies on the ability to put points on the board.
The schedule begins with Louisiana Tech and NC State, two teams that will have above-average defensive backs for their respective conferences. Tennessee State serves as a clear win on the schedule, but Vanderbilt may have one of the more improved secondaries by midseason.
Although, any game with Jack Abraham under center could get a few Mississippi State underdog tickets to the window.
The Kentucky offense regressed as Lynn Bowden Jr. moved on from college football.
One of the all-time greats at quarterback in Wildcat history was complemented by a strong offensive line. That will be the goal once against for Mark Stoops, as both transfer quarterbacks Joey Gatewood and Will Levis can make first downs in designed runs or scramble attempts.
Right tackle Darian Kinnard anchors a line that ranked top-35 in Line Yards and Havoc Allowed.
Darian Kinnard is a hoss. If he's not first team preseason All-SEC we riot. pic.twitter.com/0i0pedAOru
— Adam Luckett (@AdamLuckettKSR) May 1, 2020
The Kentucky offense finished with a rush rate of 64% in 2020, one of the highest marks in the nation.
If the Wildcats can maintain their offensive schedule, the defense can continue to earn high ranks. Last season, Kentucky finished outside the top 100 in Havoc but top 15 against both Opponent Rush and Pass Expected Points.
Edge linebacker JJ Weaver and safety Yusuf Corker both made marks in Havoc categories last season, but this Kentucky defense must improve in getting into opponents’ backfields and taking the ball away.
With a win total projection of 7.5, Kentucky will be a quality team in the East Division. Winning the division will be especially hard with a three-game set of Florida, LSU and Georgia through October.
The game against the Bulldogs comes in Athens, but there are seven other games in which the Wildcats will be favored. Florida and Georgia represent the only games where Kentucky will be a double-digit underdog.
Taking Kentucky over 7 for the season win total is the recommendation considering the September and November schedule of defenses.
|QB Hendon Hooker|
There may not be more transactions in the transfer portal anywhere than Tennessee.
Linebacker Henry To’o To’o led the team in tackles but now plays for Alabama. Eric Gray was its most productive running back and transferred to Oklahoma. Quarterbacks JT Shrout and Jarrett Guarantano have elected to leave Knoxville for greener pastures.
With the firing of head coach Jeremy Pruitt and the hiring of Central Florida’s Josh Heupel, plenty of changes are hitting the field for the Volunteers.
The quarterback rotation evolves as of this writing, with Brandon Mauer leaving the team after a demotion to fourth string. The position battle has three remaining contenders in Michigan transfer Joe Milton, Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker and sophomore Harrison Bailey. Milton proved to be the biggest standout from the first scrimmage.
No matter who wins the position, throwing on the run will be a part of the job. Tennessee loses a number of offensive linemen from a group that ranked 111th in Sack Rate. Injuries have already started in fall camp.
The best quarterback under pressure is Milton. The sophomore posted better numbers than Hooker and Bailey in pressured dropbacks at Michigan, resulting in four big-time throws and two turnover-worthy plays.
None of the three quarterbacks may be ready for Heupel’s system, which ranked as the fastest in seconds per play of all FBS offenses.
The defense loses half of its production even with the adjustments from the incoming transfer portal. The 2020 version ranked 126th in Opponent Passing Success Rate and 91st in Havoc.
New defensive coordinator Tim Banks would not commit to a scheme, stating that the formation used will suit the talents of the players on the field. Banks has been on the Penn State and Illinois defensive staffs over the span of the last eight years with a primary focus on defensive backs. There is not much in terms of remaining talent, but the pass defense hit rock bottom in 2020.
The win total on the market is set at 6 with an Action Network projection at 6.3.
There is no play from a futures perspective on the Volunteers, but there is a takeaway for the season. Tennessee will once again rank as the fastest offense in the nation, and the new defense is not expected to correct a horrendous number in the red zone.
Individual game overs are the call, starting with Bowling Green at 57. Both the Falcons and Volunteers finished bottom-five in Opponent Passing Success Rate and 110th or worse in Defensive Finishing Drives.
Tennessee totals are sure to be on the move weekly with no changes to the defense and Heupel’s system on offense.
The transition continues for head coach Eli Drinkwitz, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Drinkwitz, a former offensive coordinator at NC State, initially hired Ryan Walters for the defensive coordinator job upon arrival in Columbia. The Tigers finished outside the top 100 in a number of categories with the worst being Finishing Drives. Opponents average 4.9 points after crossing Mizzou’s 40-yard line to rank the Tigers second-to-last in the nation.
Half of the defensive coaching staff has been replaced, but problems still exist for the Tigers. Drinkwitz indicated the first Missouri scrimmage was populated with a lack of pressure and too many big plays for the offense.
The pass defense was led by safety Martez Manuel and linebacker Devin Nicholson and finished top-50 in Opponent Passing Success Rate.
There are certainly more answers on the offensive side of the ball for Drinkwitz.
Quarterback Connor Bazelak returns to lead a passing unit that ranked 35th in Success Rate. The also offensive line held its own with a top-20 Sack Rate.
Bazelak recorded 14 big-time throws to just 12 turnover-worthy plays and ranked 21st among FBS quarterbacks in adjusted completion percentage with at least 200 attempts.
I’m all aboard the Connor Bazelak hype train. He looked so comfortable in the pocket in his first start and has perfect placement on deep throws.
29/34, 406 yards, 4 TDs against LSU. Can’t wait until he’s back on the field. pic.twitter.com/znC4Ii34ig
— Steve Helwick (@s_helwick) October 23, 2020
A win total projection of 6.3 is well shy of the market number of 7 wins.
Missouri will be short underdogs against Kentucky, Boston College and Arkansas — with all of the games coming on the road. The Tigers’ only projected road game projected as favorite comes at Vanderbilt in between Texas A&M and Georgia on the schedule.
Only three games serve as projected guaranteed wins — South Carolina, North Texas and Southeastern Missouri. With the Aggies, Bulldogs and Florida on the schedule, it’s tough to make the case this team can win eight games considering the defense on the field.
Take Missouri under 7 on the season win total market, as this team will continue to enter shootouts.
The Commodores are under new management in 2021 with the hire of Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea. The Derek Mason regime ended with a 10-46 record in conference play and two bowl losses over a span of seven years.
While Mason moves on to be the defensive coordinator at Auburn, Lea is expected to improve the defense with a 4-2-5 scheme that was successful in getting the Irish to two College Football Playoff games.
The cupboard isn’t bare for Lea with at least 72% returning on both sides of the ball. The expectation is that the defense should see quick returns after posting numbers that were bottom-10 in FBS play in Success Rate, coverage and Havoc.
New defensive coordinator Jesse Minter worked exclusively with the Baltimore Ravens secondary and served in the coordinator role at Georgia State less than a decade ago.
Middle linebacker Anfernee Orji returns as the leading tackler of a unit that finished 64th in pass breakups.
— Vanderbilt Football (@VandyFootball) December 13, 2020
The defense should stabilize in stopping explosive plays, but the offense is the focus on the season handicap for the Commodores.
David Raih takes over the play-calling duties fresh off a stint as the wide receivers coach for the Arizona Cardinals. A coaching stint as Texas Tech’s quarterbacks’ coach in 2013 is the last time Raih saw action at the college level.
Lea indicated the decision on a starter at quarterback may be delayed until game day, but it’s important to know what kind of offense will be deployed.
The Vanderbilt spring game served as the first look at Raih’s play-calling, which turned out to be a balance of rush and pass with Ken Seals and Mike Wright getting the bulk of the duties at quarterback.
Raih has been more concerned with technique and footwork at all positions more than a scheme, but there were plenty of explosive passes in the spring game.
Vanderbilt returns nearly 80% of its offensive production from last season. A big reason for that is the return of Chris Pierce.
Pierce became one of Ken Seals' favorite targets thanks to his big frame and consistent YAC. The senior broke out for 5 TDs and 14.8 YPC last season. pic.twitter.com/meFTYJPwWj
— Justin Hershey (@justinhershey26) August 9, 2021
There are signs of encouragement for Vanderbilt with the new coaching staff and the pieces that return on both sides of the ball.
Ken Seals continued playing solid snaps in the first scrimmage of fall practices.
The Commodores will be heavy favorites over East Tennessee State and UConn. Vanderbilt will be short underdogs to Colorado State, Stanford and South Carolina.
One statistic for the defense is its ability to stop explosive plays in the air, ranking 34th in Opponent Expected Points. The secondary should be the fastest unit to improve, and that bodes well in cross-division games against Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
The Action Network projected win total is 3.9 with the market at a juiced under 3.5.
The best bet on this Vanderbilt team is a season win total over 3.5 at plus money, although paying the juice on over 3 is the better bet.
South Carolina Gamecocks
The Gamecocks finished 28-30 through the Will Muschamp era before the administration moved to go in a different direction.
The timing came in mid-November, as interim coach Mike Bobo lost the three remaining games on the schedule. The list of names on South Carolina’s list was never-ending, ranging from from Hugh Freeze at Liberty to Billy Napier at Louisiana.
In the end, South Carolina brought in a fresh head coach with a legendary last name in Shane Beamer.
The coach brings in outstanding credentials, most recently as assistant head coach at Oklahoma and special teams coordinator at Georgia.
Beamer filled various roles over a four-year span at South Carolina starting in 2007, indicating there should be minimal learning curve about the culture and expectations of the program.
One of his first hires was special teams coordinator Pete Lembo, a former head coach at Ball State. Lembo has been the special teams coordinator at various programs, improving each roster from Memphis to Maryland to Rice.
This will be a Year 0 for Beamer because of the returning production and transfer portal numbers against one of the toughest schedules in the nation.
The offense returns just 53%, well below the national average of 76%.
Kevin Harris returns in the backfield after 185 carries in 2020. The sophomore created 37 missed tackles and average 3.3 yards after contact.
Kevin Harris meet Smoke Monday! Harris is a bulldozer once he has a head of steam! pic.twitter.com/duK7HZVbYK
— Damian Parson 🏈 (@DP_NFL) August 8, 2021
Both Harris and MarShawn Lloyd will lead the running game while quarterback Luke Doty may win the job by default. Collin Hill and Ryan Hilinski are no longer with the program, leaving Doty and his 94 dropbacks as the only experience on the depth chart. The freshman generated just two big-time throws and seven turnover-worthy plays in 2020.
Both of those key players have suffered injuries through the first week of scrimmage. Harris is scheduled to return for the opener against Eastern Illinois, but Doty suffered lower-body damage, making him questionable for kickoff.
The defense will return even less production at 41%, by far the lowest of any roster in the SEC. South Carolina will move to a 4-2-5 scheme.
While linebackers are important for the scheme, those positions will be determined through fall camp. The biggest returning Havoc player is edge rusher Kingsley Enagbare, who returns just 18 tackles but seven sacks.
South Carolina edge Kingsley Enagbare. pic.twitter.com/yBOvaoxDRu
— Jared Stanger (@JaredStanger) November 15, 2020
With the good comes the bad, as Enagbare was the best pass rusher on the team but a liability from a rush-defense perspective. The junior had a missed tackle rate of 23%, one of the highest on the team. The defense will look for answers through every unit after ranking outside the top 100 in Havoc, Line Yards and Opponent Passing Success Rate.
The win total for South Carolina is projected at 3.7 with a market number juiced to the under at 4 wins. While there’s no recommendation on the under, there may not be five win opportunities on the schedule.
Eastern Illinois and Vanderbilt are the only games in which South Carolina will be favored. The Gamecocks will be short underdogs to East Carolina, Troy and Kentucky. Missouri and Auburn are two teams that will be favored just shy of two touchdowns.
Beamer is in a true Year 0, breaking in new schemes with a fresh roster in the age of the super senior. While the pedigree of the coaching staff is there, it may take a few years to get South Carolina back to SEC talent levels.
A season win total under 4 is the only suggested play, but at low volume with so many unknowns.
SEC Win Total Bets
- Alabama under 11.5 wins
- LSU under 8 wins
- Arkansas over 5.5 wins
- Kentucky over 7 wins
- Missouri under 7 wins
- Vanderbilt over 3.5 wins
- South Carolina under 4 wins
SEC Futures Bets
- Georgia to win SEC +200
- Ole Miss to win SEC West +1500