2023 SEC Conference Preview, Odds, Picks: How to Bet Georgia, Alabama, LSU & More
Getty Images. Design by Matt Roembke/Action Network. Pictured (left to right): LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels, Georgia tight end Brock Bowers and Ole Miss running back Quinshon Judkins.
Plenty of events took place in 1936, from the Summer Olympics in Berlin to Franklin Roosevelt being elected for a second presidential term. While the international stage was being set for the biggest war in the history of the planet, college football would experience a three-time champion in Minnesota.
A 23-1 record over the span of three years helped the Gophers achieve national title awards through the Associated Press. Fast forward nearly a century later, the 2023 Georgia Bulldogs will attempt to do the unthinkable in being a three-time national champion.
The four-team College Football Playoff era will come to an end on Jan. 8 with Houston set to host the title game. The SEC has been dominant since the BCS was extinguished, winning six of the nine championships and filling 11 of the 36 playoff spots.
The SEC Championship game continues to serve as a quarterfinal to the national title game. Georgia has the SEC East on lockdown, losing a total of five conference games since the 2017 season. With peak portal and recruiting activity, the Bulldogs have a chance to catch the Minnesota's record from 1936.
The biggest question heading into the season is the top of the SEC West.
Alabama didn't participate in the 2022 conference title game after LSU pulled an unthinkable upset with a first-year coach. Meanwhile, Texas A&M continues to search for offensive answers to get into contention, hiring one of the best offensive minds in college football. A familiar face also fills Auburn's head coaching vacancy with a former SEC coach who owns a rare successful record against the Crimson Tide.
With Texas and Oklahoma set to enter the conference next season, this will be the last year with divisions. With three teams as national title contenders, this season promises to be wild.
To kick off our SEC preview, let's first have a look at my conference and overall win total projections.
With confetti and a heavy amount of drizzle coming down after Georgia’s annihilation of TCU in SoFi Stadium, only a single thought rolled through my mind: LSU is going to bring back more talent than anyone in the nation.
Soon after getting to my gate at LAX, I was peppering LSU national title futures.
When Brian Kelly arrived in Baton Rouge, he went to work in the transfer portal to overhaul the roster, adding an FBS-leading 15,129 snaps of experience before kickoff in 2022. LSU not only exceeded a win total of 6.0, but it also covered in eight games, including an outright victory over Alabama.
LSU returns positive marks on both sides of the ball, per TARP, is loaded with quarterback depth, and boasts a one-man demolition force in linebacker Harold Perkins.
Brian Kelly says Maason Smith being healthy will be huge for the #LSU defense because teams will have to essentially pick double-teaming him inside or Harold Perkins on the edge, leaving the other in a 1-on-1.
— Mik’d Up (@Mikdup_8) July 17, 2023
The Tigers project as favorites in 11 games, with a trip to Tuscaloosa being the pivotal game for making the SEC Championship.
There's no value on the national title number, but a chance to win the SEC West is certainly in play. The Tigers draw Missouri and Florida from the East, making the only actionable hedge on the schedule the Nov. 4 matchup against Alabama.
Take LSU +200 to win the SEC West, a number that will hold massive value if the Crimson Tide don't live up to expectations.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Speaking of Alabama, two underwhelming coordinator hires have left the Crimson Tide faithful skeptical about the upcoming season.
Both Ja’Corey Brooks and Jermaine Burton resolved the question surrounding explosive targets after each averaged more than two yards per route run.
The biggest mystery for the Tide comes at the quarterback position, as Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson failed to meet expectations during spring practice.
Once new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees was lured from Notre Dame, quarterback Tyler Buchner followed. The former Irish quarterback has more lifetime interceptions and turnover-worthy plays than touchdowns and big-time throws.
Alabama's Nick Saban calls new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees "one of the brightest young guys I've seen in a long time in this business"
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) July 19, 2023
The offensive line has been inefficient since the flawless pandemic season of 2020. While the run- and pass-block grading improved in 2022, the trench ranked 60th in Offensive Stuff Rate.
With only 50% of offensive line snaps returning, there are questions about protection for whichever quarterback wins the starting role. PFF upgraded Alabama's run blocking from sixth to fourth in the SEC last season, but that number might take a step back with a true freshman projected to start at left tackle.
As Rees implements a conservative run-first offense, Kevin Steele returns to the SEC after previous stops at Auburn and Tennessee. The one-time linebacker coach for the Crimson Tide must hold serve on top-25 ranks in coverage, pass rush and tackling.
With only 37% of tackles returning to the defense, Alabama may be vulnerable in conference play.
The steam in the market has been all under money, driving an opener of 11 wins to 10.5 with -175 juice. The only remaining actionable number is the conference win total mark of under 6.5 -125 via DraftKings, as Action Network projects 5.6 wins.
Ole Miss Rebels
Lane Kiffin will have plenty of quarterbacks in camp competing for starting duties. Graduate transfer Spencer Sanders comes to the Grove from Oklahoma State, while highly-touted freshman Walker Howard will also compete with 2022 starter Jaxson Dart.
Dart did nothing to put a stranglehold on the position, finishing with a 1:1 ratio of big-time throws to turnover-worthy plays while maintaining a 23% drop in adjusted completion percentage when pressured.
The good news for the Ole Miss offense is the return of one of the most elusive running backs in college football in Quinshon Judkins.
QUINSHON JUDKINS, HELLO!🔥
Ole Miss leads Kentucky 14-0!
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 1, 2022
The sophomore created 76 missed tackles while exploding for 27 runs of at least 15 yards. Armed with one of the highest numbers in returning offensive line snaps, Ole Miss is going to own the ground game against inferior defenses.
Despite the departure of offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, Kiffin still had the Rebels ranked as the fastest team in college football at 20.6 seconds per play.
Defensive coordinator Pete Golding slides over from Alabama, bringing a multiple front with cover 3 and a high 32% blitz rate. Ole Miss continued to struggle on defense, ranking outside the top 50 in Havoc with a mid-FBS number in Finishing Drives. Any improvement on a Standard Downs Success Rate of 91st will force a couple of more punts to get the ball in the hands of a potent offense.
The Rebels took home the second-best marks in TARP over the offseason, increasing the win projection to 8.1.
Take Ole Miss over 7.5 (-105) with key hedge games coming on the road against Tulane, Auburn and Mississippi State.
There's plenty of love for Auburn with a hefty pull in experience at the skill positions, one of the better secondaries in the conference and an upgrade at head coach with Hugh Freeze.
Freeze resigned his position at Ole Miss after SEC Media Days in 2017 but now returns to the conference after a successful stint at Liberty that included a win at Arkansas in 2022.
Auburn finished the portal activity window ranked fifth in FBS, per 247Sports, as coordinator Philip Montgomery looks to implement two different styles of play with quarterbacks Robby Ashford and Payton Throne.
The defensive staff features a mix of coaches who are familiar with the schemes used at Liberty. After leading Liberty in the Boca Raton Bowl as interim head coach, Josh Aldridge has accepted the position of linebacker coach with Auburn.
Freeze elected to hire Ron Roberts for the coordinator position with the Tigers. Roberts recently spent three seasons with Dave Aranda at Baylor, calling defenses with multiple fronts and several different coverage packages.
Auburn will be multiple with this staff, a positive for a team that has the third-highest defensive TARP ranking in the SEC.
A wager on the win total over 6.5 is still the suggestion even with juice at -140, as this line is playable to Auburn over 7 at -120 juice.
Texas A&M Aggies
The offensive ineptitude of Texas A&M last season was shocking for a team that continually finished top-10 nationally in recruiting. The Aggies scored 24 or less in nine of their 12 regular-season games last season, prompting head coach Jimbo Fisher to find an offensive coordinator.
Former Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino had just carried his box of personals into the UNLV offices as the new coordinator before taking a call from Fisher. One of the biggest innovators of offense is on his way to College Station, as mass improvement is expected for quarterbacks Conner Weigman and Max Johnson.
Jimbo Fisher asked who would make the offensive play calls after hiring OC Bobby Petrino:
“We’ll go through that as we go.”
“Plan on him making calls, plan on him calling plays. I have no problem with that at all.” pic.twitter.com/nMLMUfERhq
— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) March 20, 2023
Fisher continued to dodge questions about the offense at SEC Media Days. When I asked about Petrino's power spread versus the pro style at Texas A&M, Fisher indicated he would not talk about how the Aggies will line up.
Fisher said Petrino will "contribute" and make "suggestions," so the offensive plan and execution in College Station isn't quite clear.
Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher wouldn't answer if OC Bobby Petrino will call plays: "I'm not going to get into that. Bobby was hired for a reason. Tremendous guy. Tremendous football mind. Hopefully he'll call the game & have suggestions."
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) July 17, 2023
There's no expected dropoff for the 4-2-5 defense under DJ Durkin. Texas A&M returns more than 80% of pressures, tackles and pass breakups to a unit that finished top-10 in Finishing Drives.
A win total projection at 7.7 aligns with a market total of 8 juiced to the under. In the Game of the Year market, a spread over a touchdown exists for the Oct. 7 meeting with Alabama. Take Texas A&M +8.5 at home against Alabama, as Action Network projects the Crimson Tide as just a four-point favorite.
Still, keep an eye on the developing offensive situation for any futures bet.
Sam Pittman enters his fourth season as the head coach of Arkansas, collecting a 21-13-2 against-the-spread mark in his tenure.
Fayetteville was a tough scene in 2022, from various injuries to KJ Jefferson to the inefficient play of the defensive back seven. Jefferson returns with Raheim “Rocket” Sanders and preseason third-team All-American center Beaux Limmer.
Outside of those names, the entire Razorback roster lacks continuity. The passing game will flow through Jefferson to freshmen wide receiver and tight end options, while Sanders has minimal experience in front of him at the tackle positions in the run game.
The defense will have a new look as Barry Odom moves on to UNLV. Pittman reached into UCF for Travis Williams, a long-term member of Gus Malzahn’s staff for a decade.
Williams brings an aggressive nickel package, looking to create pressure with a four-man defensive front led by edge rushers Trajan Jeffcoat and Landon Jackson. Pittman indicated the Razorback defense will be more aggressive without running as many cover 0 sets as UCF did under Williams.
Arkansas will create plenty of pressure and tackles for loss against opponents, but the lack of blue-chip talent in the secondary will keep the Razorbacks prone to explosive plays.
With a projection of 7.2 on the Hogs, there's slight value in the plus-money options for Arkansas over 7 wins.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Mississippi State will play 2023 in the shadow of the late legendary head coach Mike Leach.
Defensive coordinator Zach Arnett was promoted to head coach after Leach's death and hired Kevin Barbay to run the offense.
Barbay takes the offensive coordinator position after a few seasons in the same role at Central Michigan and Appalachian State. Speaking at SEC Media Days, Arnett implied that Barbay had been in run-heavy offenses, but the goal will be to get the ball in the hands of the most explosive players.
An offense under Leach had a 32% rush rate, a number that's expected to balloon under Barbay's more balanced offense.
The early wagers have been on the under, as Arnett will work to recover losses in the biggest categories of tackles, pressures and pass breakups. The Bulldogs' projection from Action Network is spot-on with the market at 6.5, making Mississippi State a pass in the futures market.
However, look to play the under in the first few games of the season against Southeast Louisiana and Arizona with so many unproven pieces in the offensive run game.
In the final SEC season with divisions, there's no reason to believe Georgia won't dominate. The Bulldogs are projected nearly three wins higher than any other team in the East.
Offensive coordinator Todd Monken has gone back to the NFL after calling the offense for three seasons. Mike Bobo will take over play-calling, but Georgia will likely continue to be an inside zone and counter rushing attack team.
Quarterback Carson Beck is expected to get starting duties over Brock Vandagriff, and the Bulldogs return the most dangerous tight end in college football in Brock Bowers.
Although Georgia holds a mid-FBS rank in defensive TARP in 2023, there's no danger of dropping off in the statistical ranks. Georgia finished top-25 in nearly every defensive category except pass rush, a product of sending only three of its four rushers on known passing downs.
The Bulldogs are loaded at safety with Malaki Starks and Javon Bullard, while Mykel Williams has a chance to be the best edge rusher in the SEC.
Georgia to win the SEC at -115 is certainly the play. Having no LSU or Alabama on the schedule will put the Bulldogs in Atlanta for the conference championship.
TARP can swing a team's power rating north or south as much as 12 points in the offseason. Tennessee took the full negative value when it comes to experience on the offensive side of the football.
Joe Milton will take over at quarterback in the Volunteers' wide split spread offense that's based on timing and accuracy. If Milton has an adjusted completion percentage in the 60s, a tough season could be in store for Knoxville.
Tim Banks will call the defense for Tennessee, running a nickel secondary with three- and four-man fronts and a 33% blitz rate. The Volunteers finished last season outside the top 100 in coverage and pass rush, two areas that must improve to be competitive in the East Division.
With a win projection well below the market, take a look at the alternate market for Tennessee under 8.5 (+160).
Kentucky scored in the transfer portal by snagging quarterback Devin Leary from NC State.
With 82% of offensive line snaps back, new/old coordinator Liam Coen will have the pieces needed to run inside zone from 11 and 12 personnel. The Wildcats will continue to establish the run but have weapons in passing downs with seven of their top eight targets back for 2023.
While Stoops and Coen work to get the offense back to the efficiency it had in 2021, the defense returns less than 50% of passes defensed.
Kentucky was a top-20 team in tackling, coverage and Finishing Drives in 2022, so the challenge for coordinator Brad White is to maintain those levels after losing half of last year's production.
The Wildcats have a win total of 6.5 with plenty of juice to the over. Action Network projects Kentucky as an eight-win team, especially with one of the easiest September schedules in the Power 5.
Take Kentucky over 6.5 at -155, a number that might be decided before ending the season at Louisville.
Eli Drinkwitz has yet to produce a winning season in Columbia, and now oddsmakers have set Missouri at 6.5 wins.
There's reason for optimism with above-average returning production on both sides of the ball and depth at quarterback behind incumbent starter Brady Cook.
The portal brought in wide receiver Theo Wease from Oklahoma, a target who averaged more than two yards per route run. The loss of Dominic Lovett to Georgia allows Luther Burden to move into the slot, giving the Tigers a chance to be explosive.
New offensive coordinator Kirby Moore will look to run outside zone from the pistol formation through running back Cody Schrader, looking to replicate the Fresno State offenses of past years.
Drinkwitz acknowledges that the offense belongs to Moore, and the offensive line is a top priority. If new offensive line coach Brandon Jones can get stability from his unit and the Tigers can improve from a rank of 112th in Havoc Allowed, this Tigers team can show some consistency and flash.
The strength of the defense comes in the secondary via cornerback Kris Abrams-Draine and safety Jaylon Carlies. The Tigers ranked top-30 in coverage and Passing Downs Success Rate last year, and the 2023 defense is expected to limit explosives and continue a top-10 Havoc ranking.
Behind a great defense and potential on offense, look for Drinkwitz to produce his first winning season at Missouri with an over 6.5 (-105) ticket.
South Carolina Gamecocks
South Carolina rocked the College Football Playoff picture last year with victories over Tennessee and Clemson.
The Gamecocks were contrasting in several areas last season, ranking 128th in Havoc Allowed on offense but 14th in Finishing Drives.
Quarterback Spencer Rattler is back on an offense that ranked 10th nationally in passing EPA, and he returns top target Antwane Wells at receiver.
The Gamecocks may be boom-or-bust on offense with little experience at running back and an offensive line that returns only 53% of snaps from a season ago.
The defense will also have periods of struggle, as it returns four of the 11 top tacklers to a unit that ranked outside the top 100 against the rush, in coverage and in Finishing Drives. South Carolina finished 130th in Defensive Line Yards last season and now returns only a single starter to the front seven.
Action Network projects the Gamecocks at 6 wins, making a small play on South Carolina under 6.5 (-130) the full-season wager.
Florida & Vanderbilt
No futures will be played on either Florida or Vanderbilt, as each team's market win total aligns with Action Network's projections.
Oddsmakers don't expect Billy Napier to make a bowl game in his second season as head coach.
There's an expectation that the offense designed for Anthony Richardson may have to change for transfer quarterback Graham Mertz. The junior posted negative yards on designed runs for Wisconsin last season, leaving the Gators without an elite scrambler.
The Gators do bring over Austin Armstrong from Southern Miss to call the 3-3-5 defense. Armstrong must improve a Gators defense that ranked 129th in third downs last season.
Clark Lea is still looking to establish Vanderbilt as the best program in the country after winning five games last season. The Commodores beat Florida and Kentucky as two-touchdown underdogs in November, showing that the roster is playing hard for Lea through the end of the season.
The returning experience is below the national average, but AJ Swann returns at quarterback after creating a number of highlights last year. Swann will have four offensive line starters back in front of him, as well as his top three receivers.
Defensively, coordinator Nick Howell dialed up the pressure. Lea called defenses with less than a 20% blitz rate during his time at Notre Dame and in his first season at Vanderbilt. Last year, Howell amped up the blitz to 28% often with more than five rushers.
There's optimism for Vanderbilt, but the winnable games will be played on the road against UNLV, Wake Forest and Florida. It does help that a Week 0 game will produce two bye weeks later on in the season.
2023 SEC Futures & Win Totals
- LSU to Win SEC West (+200)
- Alabama Under 6.5 SEC Wins (-125)
- Ole Miss Over 7.5 (-105)
- Auburn Over 6.5 (-140)
- Game of the Year: Texas A&M +8.5 vs. Alabama
- Arkansas Over 7 (+125)
- Georgia to Win SEC (-115)
- Tennessee Under 8.5 (+160)
- Missouri Over 6.5 (-105)
- South Carolina Under 6.5 (-130)