Wilson’s 2019 SEC Betting Guide: Finding Alabama’s Flaws, Breakthrough Teams and More
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: J.R. Reed
The deepest conference in the country continues to build depth in the upper-middle class. No one exactly knows when Nick Saban will retire, but Texas A&M, Auburn, LSU and Florida have positioned their programs to become annual College Football Playoff contenders if Saban and the Tide ever tumble.
It would not be surprising to see two teams from the SEC make the playoff this year, much like Alabama and Georgia in 2017. Besides that upper tier I just mentioned, the middle class like Mississippi State, Missouri and Tennessee have the offensive talent to make some noise this season.
Below I project win totals for every SEC team and compare them to what books have posted, and also try to find any futures value still left on the board.
What’s New in the SEC West?
The offseason discussion around Nick Saban’s retirement was in parallel with his hip-replacement surgery. The Alabama head coach is tied with Bear Bryant in national titles, but the schedule will only get harder every year, starting in 2020, as he looks for his seventh title.
That recruiting depth will be needed in 2019, as Alabama loses a number of career starts at offensive line and linebacker. Quarterback depth is an issue after multiple years of Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts leading Alabama to the College Football Playoff. Sophomore Mac Jones and two true freshman, including Tagovailoa’s younger brother, will have the spotlight if Tua continues to have injury issues.
There is at least a 14-point separation between the Crimson Tide and their SEC West counterparts in the Action Network power ratings. LSU is the closest ranked team, and looks to make big strides with a new offensive philosophy.
The Tigers will take to the air with support of a tremendous defense. Efficient play from quarterback Joe Burrow backed by better play from a thin offensive line will make LSU a contender. As if the SEC schedule was not tough enough, the Tigers will travel to Texas on Sept. 7, which could be viewed as a playoff knockout game.
Rumors swirl of who the quarterback will be in Starkville, but it is expected transfer Tommy Stevens will lead Mississippi State against Louisiana-Lafayette in the opener. Stevens competed with Trace McSorley in 2016 for the right to run Joe Moorhead’s offense at Penn State, and narrowly missed being the quarterback to lead an eventual Rose Bowl team.
It is tough to gauge Moorhead in his first year with Nick Fitzgerald having a 8.2% sack rate on drop backs and a completion percentage just over 51%. The Bulldogs have the best situational spot against Alabama, hosting the game on bye week rest after the Crimson Tide play LSU.
Jimbo Fisher continues to pile on blue chip recruits for a financially-loaded Texas A&M program. That may have to wait until 2020 when Georgia and Clemson come off the schedule for Colorado and Vanderbilt. The Aggies rank 102nd in returning production, good enough for 13th in the SEC.
Kellen Mond returns for his junior season as quarterback after giving last year’s national champions the biggest scare of the season.
Kellen Mond throws a LASER to Kendrick Rogers for the @AggieFootball TD!
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 9, 2018
I’ll be betting on A&M on Sept. 7 against Clemson, and the Aggies also have home spots against Auburn and Alabama worth eyeing. While I think Texas A&M upsets a top 10 team this season, its a pass on the win total while we eye SEC futures in 2020.
There is never a quiet moment with Auburn football. The Tigers were rumored to buyout head coach Gus Malzahn and hire former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. An offer from Arkansas for a reported $7.1 million a year was seen as leverage for Malzahn, who ultimately ended up staying at Auburn. Malzahn went on to call the plays in a Music City Bowl blowout of Purdue.
The Tigers have the best defensive line in the country led by Derrick Brown and Nick Coe. True freshman Bo Nix will start the season as the quarterback, but expect plenty Joey Gatewood through the Oregon game.
The SEC schedule is all road games through October, while Auburn will play every game in November at home, including Alabama and Georgia.
Three head coaches lead an Ole Miss roster that is 116th in returning production. Head coach Matt Luke hired two recent Pac-12 head coaches as coordinators in Rich Rodriguez and Mike MacIntryre. Rodriguez guides Matt Corral as the new quarterback with a deluge of new targets. The real task is to keep a Rebels offense in the top 10 in success rate and IsoPPP.
MacIntryre may have the tougher task as Ole Miss has given up at least 34 points per game the past three seasons. Last season, the Rebels defense ranked 119th in sack rate and 129th in opponent passing downs explosiveness. The defensive front seven remains in tact, but any performance comparable to the last few years will keep Ole Miss out of a bowl game.
Year 2 of Chad Morris at Arkansas has been positive thus far. It was well known last season that a contingency of players were considered former coach Bret Bielema’s guys and didn’t share the same vision as the new head coach.
Arkansas went on to win just a single FBS game against Tulsa, while having one of the more embarrassing special teams play in college football history.
YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS PUNT RETURN 😱
— SB Nation (@SBNation) September 15, 2018
The Razorbacks look to implement two transfer quarterbacks in Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel within this transitioning roster. The wide receivers have been plagued with injury this preseason, while the offensive line overcomes the loss of 95 career starts.
The good news is three of the first four games come against Portland State, Colorado State and San Jose State teams that cannot expose a depleted secondary, inexperienced offensive line, or a thin wide receiver group.
But getting to six wins after just one win in FBS in 2018 would make Chad Morris a coach of the year candidate.
What’s New in the SEC East?
As outlined in our Georgia preview, there is plenty to love about the Bulldogs. This may be the best offensive line in the nation blocking for the best backfield.
New offensive coordinator James Coley has plenty of experience. As the offensive coordinator at Miami through 2015, Coley’s offense posted an IsoPPP rank of 2nd, 3rd and 24th in the nation. Expect the Georgia offense to continue as an offensive juggernaut in the SEC.
Good things were projected at Florida after the hire of Dan Mullen. An offensive turnaround to 15th in S&P+ highlights a successful 10-win season. Feleipe Franks is back at quarterback, but the loss of five offensive lineman totaling 152 career starts will be felt.
The defensive front seven loses enough to have an uncomfortable day against Georgia, as the Gators were just 49th in stuff rate last season. Another 10-win season would be impressive with Miami, Florida State, Auburn, Georgia and a road trip to LSU lined up.
As of this moment, Missouri is not eligible for a bowl game thanks to a self-reported NCAA violation. The Tigers will use that as fuel for a fire this season, along with not being voted into the first AP Top 25.
Although offensive coordinator Derek Dooley must change scheme from Drew Lock to Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant, the Tigers are loaded in the skill positions and will put up points. A stress-free non-conference schedule will help season a few new faces on defense and boost confidence in the offense.
Optimism is running through Knoxville as head coach Jeremy Pruitt enters Year 2 at Tennessee. The Volunteers are No. 2 overall in returning production, led by quarterback Jarrett Guarantano in his junior season. The Action Network team preview discussed issues on the offensive line and the protection of Guarantano, who was actually sneaky good last season.
Gary Danielson calling out Jarrett Guarantano for not seeing this blitz coming but the left guard completely whiffed on this one pic.twitter.com/AzaRp9MaiJ
— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) October 20, 2018
Rocky Top will need to improve in defensive success rate after a 2018 rank of 115th. Pruitt was stellar in limiting opponent big plays, but must improve an overall havoc rate that ranked 98th in the country.
Kentucky loses program-defining players on both sides of the ball. Running back Benny Snell Jr. and linebacker Josh Allen are just two of the losses for an overall returning production rank of 114th. The offense also loses plenty in the receiving department, as 139 targets among five players cycle out of Lexington.
Up next on the @ActionNetPod is the SEC East!!
— Collin Wilson (@_Collin1) August 16, 2019
The season begins with rebound games against Toledo and Eastern Michigan, but the Gators will come to Lexington looking for revenge on Sept. 14. Road games in Starkville and Athens will play a large factor in our bet on the win total, which I detail below.
The toughest schedule in the nation belongs to South Carolina. Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and Florida project as top 10 teams on the slate. While Charleston Southern on Sept. 7 shouldn’t be much trouble, the Appalachian State game on Nov. 9 is hardly a Group of Five bye week in the middle of SEC play.
Jake Bentley enters his senior season at quarterback without Deebo Samuel at wide receiver. Bentley has had issues with accuracy, posting plenty of interceptions and a low completion rate. Defensive minded head coach Will Muschamp must get more out of a Gamecocks defense that was 102nd overall in havoc.
After a number of pass-efficient offenses with quarterback Kyle Shurmur, those days are done at Vanderbilt.
Head coach Derek Mason has yet to announce the starter for the 2019 season, but Ball State transfer Riley Neal has the lead through camp. Neal had close to 2,000 yards with an 11-4 touchdown to interception ratio.
With the loss of 101 career starts on the offensive line, a rotation of players have filled every position through camp. The youth movement continues on defense, as Caleb Peart is the only returning senior with a tackle last season.
The defensive rank in returning production is 119th, and have a tall task in opening the season with Georgia.
Bets to Watch
- Alabama to Miss the Playoff +200: The best way to fade Alabama isn’t with a flat price on Under 11 wins, it’s betting that this team will be left out of the playoff. Alabama’s schedule ends with LSU, Mississippi State, Tin Horn Weekend, Auburn and potentially Georgia in the SEC title game. There are questions around the offensive line, the defense allowing big plays and a swinging door of coordinators.
- Georgia to Win the SEC +275: Kirby Smart feels that he has found the solution to the problems in 2018, lack of havoc and red zone scoring. A parlay of Georgia beating Florida and Alabama projects to +275, while any other team than the Crimson Tide would lower it, so lock in Georgia to win the SEC now.
- Mississippi State Over 8: The Action Network win total projects to 9.1, requiring an investment on a Joe Moorhead rebound. Tommy Stevens brings pedigree and knowledge of the playbook from Penn State, while the defense will continue to be havoc-minded.
- Arkansas Under 5: Shop around, as multiple outlets have 5.5. The difference between the 2018 roster and 2019 is that this group believes in the message. The talent level has not increased, the wide receivers enter the season beat up, there are questions all over the offensive line and quarterback play will be moderately improved at best. This Razorback team needed 5 turnovers to beat Eastern Illinois and shutout Tulsa for their only FBS win in 2018. A jump to 6 wins after last season would be one of the best coaching jobs in the nation.
- Missouri Over 7.5: The juice at this number is too high, but the play is still approved at 8, 8.5 and a plus-number on 9. Our projections have this at 9.5 for a Kelly Bryant-led offense that should score points in bunches. A cake non-conference schedule with Arkansas in cross division play ensures there will be plenty of noise out of Columbia.
- Kentucky Under 6.5: This plus-money future comes down to a couple of coin flips with Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas. The secondary has plenty of holes and opens with pass capable offenses in Toledo and Florida. If Tommy Stevens pans out at Mississippi State, the month of September may be a complete struggle for the Wildcats.