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December 19, 2014

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College football by the Vegas odds: Sports book preview of the SEC

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Gregory Bull / AP

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall is lifted by teammates after rushing for a touchdown during the first half of the NCAA BCS National Championship college football game against Florida State Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif.

Note: Talking Points will preview a college football conference every week leading up to the Aug. 28 kickoff of the season. Check out part one here. Scroll to the bottom of the page for already-released SEC game lines.

In the inaugural year of college football’s playoff, the SEC will attempt to extend its imposing national championship streak.

Auburn may have lost 34-31 to Florida State in the final BCS Championship Game last January to spoil the SEC’s seven-year reign, but it added to the conference’s run in another measure: a measure just as important in Las Vegas.

Odds to win the SEC

  • Alabama: 5-to-4
  • Georgia: 7-to-2
  • Auburn: 4-to-1
  • LSU: 7-to-1
  • South Carolina: 7-to-1
  • Ole Miss 12-to-1
  • Florida: 15-to-1
  • Missouri: 30-to-1
  • Mississippi State: 50-to-1
  • Texas A&M: 60-to-1
  • Tennessee: 100-to-1
  • Arkansas: 200-to-1
  • Kentucky: 200-to-1
  • Vanderbilt: 200-to-1
  • Numbers from the Westgate Superbook

SEC win totals

  • Alabama: 10.5 (over minus-150, under plus-130)
  • Georgia: 9.5 (over minus-120, under Even)
  • South Carolina: 9.5 (over minus-110, under minus-110)
  • Auburn: 9 (over minus-120, under Even)
  • LSU: 9 (over minus-120, under Even)
  • Ole Miss: 8.5 (over plus-160, under minus-180)
  • Missouri: 7.5 (over minus-110, under minus-110)
  • Florida: 7.5 (over plus-105, under minus-125)
  • Mississippi State: 7.5 (over plus-110, under minus-130)
  • Texas A&M: 7 (over minus-120, under Even)
  • Numbers from Westgate Superbook

The Tigers, a 10-point underdog against the Seminoles, managed to record an eighth straight cover by an SEC team in the national championship. That was worth remembering in the aftermath of a game that many hailed as the end of an era defined by SEC dominance.

In recent years, the public had treated the SEC like the archetypal television antihero. Some fans, mainly those in the Deep South, worshiped at the altar of the SEC’s continued carnage while the majority of people anticipated the inevitable collapse.

But last year’s defeat will likely fall under the fake death trope. Although the gap may have slightly closed, the SEC was still the nation’s best conference by most advanced statistical measures last season — including oddsmakers’ power ratings.

The league’s 14 teams combined to go 54-12 straight up and 38-36-2 against the spread — including 7-3 straight up and 6-3-1 against the spread in bowl games — in nonconference contests. That brought the SEC’s record versus outside opposition since 2006, when Florida won the first of seven straight championships for the conference, to 379-83 straight up and 227-216-7 against the spread.

The last time bettors weren’t cashing tickets on an SEC team in the final game of the season was when Vince Young and Texas miraculously stunned USC as a seven-point underdog in the 2006 Rose Bowl. The one instance of an SEC team not covering in a national championship during the BCS era came in 2012 when two conference rivals, Alabama and LSU, played each other.

If an SEC team escapes the first round of the first-ever four-team playoff at the end of the upcoming season, the conference will have a chance to make it nine national championship covers in a row Jan. 11 in Arlington, Texas. Based on the odds, it’s not a bad bet to assume the SEC will be represented.

The Westgate Superbook has 16 teams in the country listed at a price of 50-to-1 or lower to win the national championship. Seven of them call the SEC home: Alabama at 6-to-1, Auburn at 10-to-1, Georgia at 15-to-1, LSU at 20-to-1, South Carolina at 20-to-1, Ole Miss at 40-to-1 and Florida at 50-to-1.

The Crimson Tide’s preseason odds are their highest since 2009, when they started the season at 15-to-1. Notably, that wound up as coach Nick Saban’s lone undefeated season as Alabama walloped its way to a 14-0 straight-up, 9-5 against-the-spread campaign that concluded with a 37-21 victory over Texas as 4-point favorites in the national championship.

The perception, as evidenced by the SEC media’s relatively tight preseason-poll voting, is that it’s nice not to have Alabama as a prohibitive conference favorite for once. If the odds could talk, they would yell out “not so fast.”

The difference between Alabama’s odds to win the SEC this year and last year is negligible, as it’s currently plus-120 (risking $1 to win $1.20) as opposed to minus-120 (risking $1.20 to win $1) at this time in 2013.

Accounting for the house’s hold, the price translates to a 33 percent chance that Alabama wins the SEC Championship Game Dec. 6 in Atlanta. That’s more than double any other team’s probability in the SEC.

Nevada sports books can’t take wagers on the Heisman Trophy, but at popular offshore sports book bovada.lv, Alabama is the only team boasting two players at odds of 25-to-1 or less. And they’re both in the backfield, as returning senior starter T.J. Yeldon is 18-to-1 with his potentially more electric complement, sophomore running back Derrick Henry, at 25-to-1.

Click to enlarge photo

Alabama running back Derrick Henry (3) runs after a handoff during practice Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

That should illustrate enough about the offense before even getting to junior running back Kenyan Drake, who has the fastest 40-yard dash time of the three, or junior receiver Amari Cooper, the team’s most consistently explosive threat last season.

Casinos have favored the Crimson Tide in 54 straight games — in which Alabama has gone 47-7 straight up and 32-22 against the spread — and it appears the addition of 12 more will come by the end of the regular season.

The one to watch as a possible streak-buster is a Nov. 8 trip to LSU. The Golden Nugget currently lists Alabama at only minus-2.5, the team’s lowest spread in five years, in Tiger Stadium.

One slip-up, though the Crimson Tide currently project as at least a two-touchdown favorite in their first eight games, and the Tigers could be giving points in the contest.

Sports books aren’t sold, however, on LSU overall. The Superbook saddled the Tigers with an over/under win total of nine games despite coach Les Miles failing to eclipse that number only once in his nine-year tenure at the helm in Baton Rouge, La.

That success interestingly hasn’t extended to the betting window. LSU has posted losing records against the spread in seven of the past eight seasons.

Most of its hopes this year revolve around running back Leonard Fournette, who is the most likely player to follow Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston as the third straight freshman Heisman winner. Bovada has Fournette, whom Miles has compared to Michael Jordan, as the only freshman with odds. He is 65-to-1.

LSU isn’t Alabama’s biggest concern in the SEC West division, according to the odds. Unsurprisingly, it’s Auburn.

The betting market has stayed infatuated with last year’s national runners-up, as the Tigers opened at 25-to-1 to win the national title before trimming all the way to 10-to-1. Betting on Auburn served everyone well last year.

It covered in its final 11 games of the season by a jarring average of 12.5 points per game. One of the two foremost architects of the nation’s longest against-the-spread winning streak, quarterback Nick Marshall, returns along with an entire offensive line boasting starting experience and leading tackler Cassanova McKinzy.

The 4-to-1 line on Auburn winning the SEC equals about a 15 percent chance, a few decimals behind Georgia at 7-to-2. The Tigers are power-rated higher than the Bulldogs, as evidenced by being just a 1-point underdog in a trip to Sanford Stadium on Nov. 15, but Georgia has the benefit of playing in the weaker SEC East division.

Click to enlarge photo

Georgia running back Todd Gurley gets around Florida linebacker Lerentee McCray for yardage during the first half Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, in Jacksonville, Fla.

Georgia projects as improved on defense with Florida State coordinator Jeremy Pruitt coming over to work with eight returning starters, including the entire linebacking corps of Ramik Wilson, Amarlo Herrera, Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. Running back Todd Gurley is a top-five Heisman hopeful, based on the 12-to-1 odds.

Georgia’s biggest showdown will come in its second game, in which it takes on the SEC East’s other probable juggernaut in South Carolina. The Gamecocks are currently a 3-point favorite, marking the fifth straight year the rivalry has featured the home team giving a field goal or less.

South Carolina will almost surely enter the early-season clash with the country’s longest home winning streak, which currently stands at 18 games dating to mid-2011. The Gamecocks are 12-6 against the spread at Williams-Brice Stadium during the impressive tear.

They’re one of only three SEC teams, along with Alabama and Vanderbilt, bringing back more starters on offense than defense. Running back Mike Davis is the headliner, as his 5.8 yards per carry last season puts him right with Yeldon, Gurley and Henry at the top of the conference’s ball carrier pack.

Coach Steve Spurrier amazingly has only one losing season against the spread, 2008, since taking over the South Carolina job a decade ago.

Missouri emerged as the unsuspecting East division champions last year. If there’s a team that could follow the Tigers’ path and looks eerily similar in the preseason, it’s the Florida Gators.

Click to enlarge photo

Florida linebacker Ronald Powell watches the final minutes of the Gators' 21-16 loss to Miami on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Like Missouri in 2012, Florida finished fifth in the division last season. Its disastrous 4-8 straight-up, 3-8-1 against-the-spread record snapped a streak of 22 straight years with a bowl game.

Somewhat like Missouri, Florida was as much a victim to bad luck as poor play. The Gators were ravaged by injury and went an unsustainably meager 0-4 in games decided by less than a touchdown.

Sharp money has already driven down Florida’s prices in both game lines and future books.

Money has come in against Missouri, as it’s risen from 50- to 100-to-1 in odds to win the national championship. Returning a conference-low eight starters and needing to replace a quarterback, running back and top three receivers will stimulate such an effect.

Fellow Big 12 transplants Texas A&M have attracted a comparable glut of action calling for a regression. Football without Manziel could prove tough to adjust to with a defense that allowed an SEC-worst 6.2 yards per play last season.

After getting points in five games total through coach Kevin Sumlin’s first two seasons, the Aggies are currently underdogs in five games this season, including more than a touchdown against Alabama, Auburn and South Carolina.

As for teams that could fall on the opposite side and surprise, Mississippi State gets back a conference-high 16 starters, including quarterback and leading rusher Dak Prescott. Mississippi State quietly thrived at the end of last season, covering five straight and winning its last three.

The Bulldogs’ defense came together to give up only 54 combined points to Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Rice. National fans pass over Mississippi State’s Egg Bowl wins over Ole Miss in four of the past five years, which must eat at the Bulldogs.

The Rebels are getting more attention in Las Vegas again with a win total a full game higher than the Bulldogs, 8.5 to 7.5, and national championship odds more than twice as low, Ole Miss is 40-to-1 against Mississippi State’s 100-to-1.

At 200-to-1 to win the conference, Vanderbilt falls into the afterthought category this season. But the Commodores have been the most profitable bet in the past three years, going a wallet-fattening 25-14 against the spread.

They’ll have their work cut out to keep it up this year. The SEC is as tough as ever.

Las Vegas is resolute: The SEC lives on as the NCAA’s best football league.

Golden Nugget Games of the Year lines

Aug. 28: Texas A&M plus-9 at South Carolina

Aug. 28: Ole Miss minus-9 vs. Boise State in Atlanta

Aug. 30: Alabama minus-27.5 vs. West Virginia in Atlanta

Aug. 30: Georgia minus-9 vs. Clemson

Aug. 30: LSU minus-7 vs. Wisconsin in Houston

Aug. 30: Arkansas plus-24 at Auburn

Sept. 13: Georgia plus-3 at South Carolina

Sept. 13: Tennessee plus-19 at Oklahoma

Sept. 18: Auburn minus-13 at Kansas State

Sept. 20: Alabama minus-20 at Florida

Sept. 20: Mississippi State plus-12 at LSU

Sept. 27: Arkansas plus-11 vs. Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas

Sept. 27: Tennessee plus-17 at Georgia

Sept. 27: Missouri plus-11 at South Carolina

Oct. 4: Alabama minus-9 at Ole Miss

Oct. 4: LSU plus-6.5 at Auburn

Oct. 4: Texas A&M plus-3 at Mississippi State

Oct. 4: Vanderbilt plus-24 at Georgia

Oct. 4: Florida minus-4.5 at Tennessee

Oct. 11: Alabama minus-24 at Arkansas

Oct. 11: Georgia minus-7 at Missouri

Oct. 11: LSU minus-9 at Florida

Oct. 11: Auburn minus-9.5 at Mississippi State

Oct. 11: Ole Miss plus-1 at Texas A&M

Oct. 18: Texas A&M plus-16.5 at Alabama

Oct. 18: Tennessee plus-12 at Ole Miss

Oct. 18: Georgia minus-14.5 at Arkansas

Oct. 18: Missouri plus-3 at Florida

Oct. 25: Alabama minus-20 at Tennessee

Oct. 25: Ole Miss plus-7.5 at LSU

Oct. 25: South Carolina plus-7 at Auburn

Nov. 1: Florida plus-9 vs. Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla.

Nov. 1: Auburn minus-7 at Ole Miss

Nov. 1: Tennessee plus-18 at South Carolina

Nov. 8: Alabama minus-2.5 at LSU

Nov. 8: Texas A&M plus-14 at Auburn

Nov. 8: Florida minus-9 at Vanderbilt

Nov. 15: LSU minus-14 at Arkansas

Nov. 15: Auburn plus-1 at Georgia

Nov. 15: Missouri plus-6 at Texas A&M

Nov. 15: South Carolina minus-6 at Florida

Nov. 22: Ole Miss minus-5 at Arkansas

Nov. 22: Missouri minus-4 at Tennessee

Nov. 27: LSU minus-5 at Texas A&M

Nov. 29: Auburn plus-6 at Alabama

Nov. 29: Georgia minus-14 vs. Georgia Tech

Nov. 29: South Carolina minus-3 at Clemson

Nov. 29: Florida plus-17 at Florida State

Nov. 29: Arkansas plus-10 at Missouri

Nov. 29: Tennessee minus-3 at Vanderbilt

Nov. 29: Kentucky plus-15 at Louisville

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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