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December 16, 2018

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Countdown to college football: Picking every team’s win total in the SEC

Tua Tagovailoa

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa congratulates Henry Ruggs III (11) after his touchdown catch during the second half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Georgia, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Atlanta.

Alabama’s nearly unprecedented run has ended — in the SEC.

The Crimson Tide became the first team in 20 years to win three straight SEC championships from 2014 to 2016. The reign stopped last year, even though history may forget that part after Alabama went on to win the national championship anyway.

Georgia came through to win the conference crown despite 8-to-1 preseason odds, beating Auburn in the SEC championship game. Alabama has dominated the college football world since coach Nick Saban arrived, but its eminence hasn’t translated into surefire SEC championships.

The Crimson Tide have won the conference five times in Saban’s 11 years, giving the coach the same number of SEC titles as national championships. It’s an incredible success rate, but perhaps a little below what would be expected based on the idea that Alabama stands on a completely separate plane than any other program in the country.

Saban is favored to increase his conference-championship average to .500 with a sixth victory in 12 years this season, but Talking Points sees a few teams that could stand in the way.

Check below to read the blog’s picks on every SEC team’s win total with the countdown to college football’s seventh part.

Alabama

over/under: 11 (minus-115, minus-105)

Last Year: 13-1 straight-up, 6-8 against the spread

To win this bet, Alabama would need to have an undefeated regular season — something Nick Saban has only managed twice in his 11 years with the Crimson Tide. Yes, they remain the most talented team in the nation but that’s common knowledge. There’s no longer any value in betting it. The Crimson Tide had their worst against-the-spread record since Saban’s first season last year. There are more reasons for pause this year, including breaking in a pair of unproven coordinators and an almost entirely new starting defense.

Lean: Under 11 wins at minus-105

Arkansas

over/under: 6 (plus-105, minus-125)

Last Year: 4-8 straight-up, 4-7-1 against the spread

With arguably the conference’s most proven line and receiving corps, the offense should fly regardless of who wins a quarterback competition between Cole Kelley and Ty Storey. That might not make up for a defense that gave up 6.6 yards per play against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents last year, ranking in the nation’s bottom 10. The Razorbacks are also switching schemes on both sides of the ball, transitioning to a polar-opposite culture under new coach Chad Morris. There’s bound to be growing pains.

Lean: Under 6 wins at minus-125

Auburn

over/under: 9 (minus-115, minus-115)

Last Year: 10-4 straight-up, 6-6-2 against the spread

There’s a compelling argument that, apart from Auburn, the three best teams in the SEC are Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi State. The Tigers play all three on the road. Their season will come down to whether their immense offensive talent headed by junior quarterback Jarrett Stidham is enough to overcome a suffocating slate of games. There’s a reason this win total hasn’t seen the slightest movement since opening earlier this summer — it’s a perfect line.

Guess: Under 9 wins at minus-115

LSU

over/under: 7 (minus-105, minus-115)

Last Year: 9-4 straight-up, 7-5-1 against the spread

A program’s prior long-term performance has proven to matter when projecting an upcoming season, and LSU hasn’t won less than seven games since before some players on the team were born (1999). The Tigers also haven’t had a win total this low in at least 12 years. This feels like an opportunity to buy low on a team that has continued to recruit at a high level, including in the transfer ranks this season. LSU is a couple breakout transfer performances, namely from former Ohio State quarterback Joe Burrow and Texas Tech receiver Jonathan Giles, away from being a real threat.

Play: Over 7 wins at minus-105

Ole Miss

over/under: 6 (minus-125, minus-105)

Last Year: 6-6 straight-up, 4-7-1 against the spread

After a transfer exodus and scholarship reduction, the biggest concern with Ole Miss is depth. If the Rebels can stay healthy, they’ll be a tough out each week. Returning quarterback Jordan Ta’amu was more efficient than the higher-touted Shea Patterson, who’s since departed for Michigan, and has one of the best receivers in the nation at his disposal in junior A.J. Brown. Ole Miss currently projects as a favorite in seven games, and is only a double-digit underdog once — against Alabama.

Lean: Over 6 wins at minus-125

Mississippi State

over/under: 8.5 (plus-110, minus-130)

Last Year: 9-4 straight-up, 8-5 against the spread

Action has streamed in on the Bulldogs’ under, and there’s only one explanation that holds weight — the program’s reputation. If most of Mississippi State’s SEC rivals were returning the same level of talent, they’d be drawing significant over action in sports books. Senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, and he’ll be running behind an offensive line that returns four of five starters. The Bulldogs ranked in the nation’s top 20 in averaging 5.1 yards per rush against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents last year, and should improve with their top five rushers back.

Play: Over 8.5 wins at plus-110

Texas A&M

over/under: 7 (minus-175, plus-145)

Last Year: 7-6 straight-up, 8-4-1 against the spread

Jimbo Fisher will have ample opportunity to prove he’s worth the $75 million contract he signed at the end of last season. The Aggies’ first two real games are against Alabama and Clemson. The schedule doesn’t get much easier from there, as the Aggies also draw both Auburn and Mississippi State on the road. If Texas A&M wants to come out intact at the end of the year, it will need major improvement from a problematic pass defense and offensive line. It’s also worth noting that Fisher has brought relatively middling results the last couple years. Far too many question marks are present to call for more than 7 wins, let alone pay a high price on it happening.

Play: Under 7 wins at plus-145

Florida

over/under: 8 (minus-130, plus-110)

Last Year: 4-7 straight-up, 3-8 against the spread

The range of possibilities for Florida feels wider than any other team in the SEC this year. If Dan Mullen can revive an anemic-but-experienced offense in his first season, then it’s not far-fetched to see the Gators threatening for a surprise SEC East title. If it takes a year for Mullen to institute his system and get his own players in place, then Florida could find itself failing to become bowl eligible for an unthinkable second straight season. The Gators’ offense was so horrendous last year, averaging less than 5 yards per play, that it’s hard to lay a price on major improvement.

Lean: Under 8 wins at plus-110

Georgia

over/under: 10.5 (minus-120, Even)

Last Year: 13-2 straight-up, 11-4 against the spread

Georgia won’t be as great as last season, and yet still might equal or top its 11-1 regular-season record. The Bulldogs are favored in every game, and it would take something truly unexpected for that to change as the season progresses. Youth could be the only factor to derail the Bulldogs. Georgia is 95th in the nation in returning production, per Football Outsiders’ metric, but seemingly has the talent to overcome the losses with three straight top-rated recruiting classes from coach Kirby Smart.

Guess: Over 10.5 wins at minus-120

Kentucky

over/under: 5.5 (minus-105, minus-115)

Last Year: 7-6 straight-up, 4-9 against the spread

Look to bet under on Kentucky — in game-by-game totals. The Wildcats have a chance to field a surprisingly stingy defense, with standout edge rusher Josh Allen and secondary ballhawk Mike Edwards both returning for their senior seasons. The offense might be more of a work in progress with sophomore quarterback Terry Wilson taking over. Kentucky has won either five or seven games in each of the last four years, and looks solidified in the same range this season.

Guess: Over 5.5 wins at minus-105

Missouri

over/under: 7 (minus-115, minus-105)

Last Year: 7-6 straight-up, 7-6 against the spread

Missouri’s offense was positively electrifying last year, gaining 6.7 yards per play to rank in the nation’s top 10. With primary catalyst senior quarterback Drew Lock returning, the expectation is that it will produce at the same clip. That will truly hinge on how the Tigers take to new coordinator Derek Dooley’s pro-style offense, however, after the more freewheeling Josh Heupel left to take the Central Florida coaching job. Defensively, there’s no where to go but up, and it’s hard not to see Missouri improving following the late-season breakout of linebackers Cale Garrett and Terez Hall.

Lean: Over 7 wins at minus-115

South Carolina

over/under: 7.5 (minus-110, minus-120)

Last Year: 9-4 straight-up, 9-4 against the spread

Everything screams regression for the Gamecocks this year. South Carolina rode an unsustainable formula to an earlier-than-expected breakout in coach Will Muschamp’s second year. The Gamecocks went 5-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less, recovered nearly 62 percent of fumbles and relied on a senior-laden defense. They could lean on a promising offense — led by junior quarterback Jake Bentley — and a weak SEC East to overachieve again in 2018, but history says last year’s characteristics usually backfire sooner rather than later.

Play: Under 7.5 wins at minus-120

Tennessee

over/under: 5.5 (minus-125, plus-105)

Last Year: 4-8 straight-up, 3-9 against the spread

On paper, there’s not much to like about Tennessee this season. The Volunteers bottomed out with a winless conference campaign last year, and don’t even have the typical depth chart of experienced players who battled through it to show for the misadventure. A slight hope could come from former coach Butch Jones consistently recruiting at a high level, and therefore leaving replacement Jeremy Pruitt with a chance to harness some untapped potential on the roster. Jones’ biggest issue was stumbling through gameday, an area where an optimist could also argue Pruitt will be an upgrade.

Guess: Over 5.5 wins at minus-125

Vanderbilt

over/under: 4.5 (minus-110, minus-120)

Last Year: 5-7 straight-up, 4-7-1 against the spread

Winning at Vanderbilt is always a difficult proposition. Let alone in what looks like a rebuilding year with a returning production level that ranks near the bottom of the SEC. Let alone with a schedule that in addition to an always-challenging conference slate includes a road trip to Notre Dame. Senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur showed immense improvement last year, but there’s not enough around him to merit any excitement this season.

Guess: Under 4.5 wins at minus-120

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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