Arkansas vs. Georgia Betting Odds & Pick: Don’t Count On A Four-Quarter Pig Roast (Saturday, Sept. 26)
Sean Gardner/Getty Images. Pictured: Kirby Smart.
- Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs open their season against Arkansas on Saturday afternoon.
- Although the Dawgs have a strong record as road favorites in the Smart era, there's value in fading them this time.
- Michael Calabrese outlines the case for the Razorbacks to cover this 28-point spread.
Arkansas vs. Georgia Odds
|Arkansas Odds||+28 [BET NOW]|
|Georgia Odds||-28 [BET NOW]|
|Moneyline||+1425/-3096 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||52.5 [BET NOW]|
|Time||Saturday, 4 p.m. ET|
This season has not been kind to first-year head coaches. As a group, the new kids on the block are a woeful 4-10 against the spread.
The narrative surrounding these poor performances has been that new hires have simply been unable to navigate a tricky and altogether unique offseason. From the loss of spring practices to opt-outs and everything in-between, continuity has reigned king through three weeks of the 2020 college football season. Since Week 1 in late August, the safest bets have largely been teams with known commodities under center and a veteran coaching staff.
Will that trend continue with the return of SEC football, or will the sample size prove to be too small to return any meaningful trends?
Enter Sam Pittman and his Arkansas Razorbacks, the proverbial pigs to the slaughter in this SEC opener. The first-time head coach has a new staff, a transfer quarterback, at least six new starters on a revamped defense and a conference losing streak that sits at 19 games.
Making matters worse is that Pittman and the Razorbacks will be facing off against the most profitable SEC team since 2016 in Georgia (33-23 record ATS). Under Kirby Smart, the Dawgs are a near surefire bet as road favorites, winning 13-of-15 outright while posting an 11-4 record ATS.
Is this play as simple as it sounds? Not for my money.
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Many college basketball programs looking to reinvent themselves have turned to the 3-point shot and high-pressure defensive strategies as quick shortcuts to success. Similarly, college football teams often hope to change their fortunes by hiring coordinators who can provide explosive offenses and disruptive defenses.
On offense, big homerun plays can mitigate talent gaps. It’s unlikely to string together multiple long touchdown drives when you’re outgunned in terms of personnel, but a few plays of 40 or more yards can help narrow the gap in an instant.
On defense, the days of measuring success by yards allowed are over. If you can create havoc through tackles for loss, sacks, forced fumbles, defended passes and interceptions, you can turn a game on just a few plays. Arkansas seems to understand that and may have the personnel to fit the coaching hires they made this offseason.
In December, Arkansas hired Barry Odom to repair its woeful defensive unit. The former Missouri head coach may have failed as a leading man, but his defenses were often a problem for SEC opponents. In his first season as defensive coordinator, the Tigers finished in the top 10 of nearly every meaningful metric, including havoc.
Five years later, during his final season in Columbia, the Tigers defense finished 17th in SP+ despite lacking any true edge rushers or disruptive players in their secondary. I mention this because it speaks to Odom’s flexibility — he can win with an aggressive style carried out by talented pass rushers as he did in 2015, or he can game-plan his way around talent gaps and still cultivate a stingy defense.
The Razorbacks ranked in the 100s nationally in tackles for loss, sacks, passes defended and interceptions last season. The bar for improvement is very low, but it is promising that they return six starters and a pair of defensive line transfers.
I expect Odom’s defense to put up some resistance in the first half against a UGA offense that is pairing an offensive coordinator/play-caller who has been out of the college game for five years with a new starting quarterback.
Additionally, UGA is replacing 50% of its offensive production (99th nationally). Despite the admitted talent gap, that lack of continuity doesn’t generate confidence that the Dawgs will come off the starting block firing on all cylinders.
When the Razorbacks do have the ball, there’s actually a lot to like.
Feleipe Franks, their fifth-year senior at quarterback, has shown flashes throughout his career. Interestingly, this collection of skill position players may be the best he’s ever worked with considering Rakeem Boyd’s NFL future and U of A’s receiving corps featuring highly-touted recruits. The offensive line returns three starters and 61 career starts, and allowed only 19 sacks all of last season (26th nationally).
But the real reason I’m bullish on Arkansas is Kendal Briles.
As I mentioned above, offensive explosiveness is at a premium in the modern game, and Briles can generate it. The former Broyles Award finalist has worked overnight magic nearly everywhere he’s coached.
In his first seasons as offensive coordinator and play-caller at Baylor, FAU, Houston and Florida State, his offenses had an average SP+ finish of 25th, with masterful reinventions at FAU and Houston to his credit. But his work at FSU may have been his best yet considering their dearth of talent along the offensive line. Despite that patchwork front, the Seminoles’ attack improved dramatically in terms of total offense (361.2 to 403.2 yards per game) and scoring (21.9 to 29.1 points per game).
Given that his skill position players are the most talented group he’s worked with since his Baylor days, it’s reasonable to expect some big plays from a play-caller who dialed up 44 plays of 30 or more yards just two seasons ago at Houston.
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I’ve been keeping a close eye on the local media in Athens, mainly to see who they anticipate will start on Saturday. A byproduct of that interest has been my exposure to Kirby Smart and his interactions with the local press.
It appears that Smart is interested in getting his reserves experience in the event they’re needed in larger roles in case COVID-19 or other injuries wreak havoc this season.
How to Play It
Given the roster turnover at Georgia and Smart hinting at extended opportunities for his two-deep, I’ll grab the key number of 28 and would play this at any number above +25.5.
Pick: Arkansas +28