David Goldman / AP
Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Not since the 1990s has the preseason SEC championship picture been confined to such a two-team race. Not according to the betting market, anyway.
Future odds paint college football’s most decorated league as primarily a competition between Alabama and Georgia. A gulf then exists between the other 11 championship-eligible teams.
The Crimson Tide and Bulldogs have a combined, implied probability of roughly 78 percent to win the SEC, according to the most recent odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook. Alabama is minus-140 (risking $1.40 to win $1) to win the conference with Georgia trailing at plus-275 (risking $1 to win $2.75). Every other team is at least 10-to-1.
It’s not a surprise considering no other team has won the SEC in the last five years or ever reached the College Football Playoff. The Crimson Tide and Bulldogs already have a pair of memorable battles with the 2017-18 National Championship Game and last year’s SEC Championship Game, where the former came back to beat the latter on both occasions.
If the lines bear out, a trilogy match in this year’s SEC Championship Game should be on tap.
Read below to see if Talking Points gives any other team a chance at crashing the party with the latest entry into the blog’s countdown to college football series picking every team’s win total. Check out the first five parts here.
Total: 11.5 (plus-140, minus-160)
Last Season: 14-1 straight-up, 8-7 against the spread
Despite Nick Saban’s incredible run with the Crimson Tide — a run that probably deserves to be considered the greatest of all-time considering the era — he’s only managed three undefeated regular seasons in 12 years. And this year’s schedule looks like one of his toughest. The West division is as treacherous as ever and Alabama catches the most dangerous teams — Mississippi State, Auburn and Texas A&M — on the road. Alabama is the best team in the nation coming into the season by any respectable set of power rankings but paying for it to be perfect is not a worthwhile investment.
Lean: Under 11.5 wins at minus-160
Total: 5 (plus-110, minus-130)
Last Season: 2-10 straight-up, 5-6-1 against the spread
Action on the under has pushed this total down a half game, but there are positive indicators pointing in the Razorbacks' favor. They endured bad luck last year in both close games, going 0-4 in contests decided by less than a touchdown, and turnovers, posting a minus-10 margin. That could easily flip. A Week 2 contest at Ole Miss looms large, as it’s a must-win if Arkansas wants to get bowl eligible, and therefore go over, in coach Chad Morris’ second season.
Guess: Over 5 wins at plus-110
Total: 7.5 (minus-130, plus-110)
Last Season: 8-5 straight-up, 6-7 against the spread
Another team whose win total has gone down a half game, this one might be easier to understand. By all metrics, Auburn has one of the five most difficult schedules in the nation, throwing a Week 1 neutral-site matchup with Oregon into its always-brutal SEC slate. The Tigers are also thin on returning skill players, but they’re stacked and experienced in the trenches on both sides of the ball, which shouldn’t be overlooked. Five-star, dual-threat true freshman quarterback Bo Nix also fits the perfect prototype for coach Gus Malzahn, who will take over play-calling duties.
Lean: Over 7.5 wins at minus-130
Total: 9 (minus-130, plus-110)
Last Season: 10-3 straight-up, 7-6 against the spread
The betting market pegged LSU to bottom out last season — at least relative to its lofty standards — and instead got a resilient effort including a regular season where two of its three losses came by a total of 10 points. The surprise highly successful season has now thrown expectations out of whack for this year. The Tigers still have significant offensive issues considering they gained only 5.3 yards per play last season, and they lost two first-round draft picks off of a defense that led the team. Someone in the SEC West must take a step back this year, and LSU looks like the best candidate.
Play: Under 9 wins at plus-110
Total: 5 (plus-110, minus-130)
Last Season: 5-7 straight-up, 3-9 against the spread
The NCAA sanctions that dogged the Rebels the last two years are expired, but even though they’re now postseason eligible, lingering reverberations will still be felt from the scholarship restrictions imposed. Especially with the early departures of the three players that paced the offense last season — quarterback Jordan Ta’amu and wide receivers A.J. Brown and Jordan Metcalf. A run-heavy offense highlighting senior Scottie Phillips under new coordinator Rich Rodriguez will likely emerge, but it’s efficiency will be questionable against a daunting set of defensive front-sevens on the schedule.
Lean: Under 5 wins at minus-130
Total: 7.5 (minus-140, plus-120)
Last Season: 8-5 straight-up, 8-5 against the spread
Growing pains limited the Bulldogs’ offense in coach Joe Moorhead’s first season — and yet they still won eight games. The troubles should be minimized this year with Moorhead’s former Penn State pupil, Tommy Stevens, expected to start at quarterback after transferring in and joining an otherwise experienced unit. The defense has nowhere to go but down after ranking first in the nation by the S&P+ ratings last season, but the offensive gains should outweigh a slight decline. The Bulldogs also have the most manageable schedule of the five perceived strongest SEC West teams.
Play: Over 7.5 wins at minus-140
Total: 7.5 (minus-120, Even)
Last Season: 9-4 straight-up, 9-4 against the spread
From the easiest schedule in the division to the toughest schedule in the nation, the Aggies’ slate is conspiring against them. Having to play both Clemson and Alabama in the first half of the year is cruel enough before glancing down and realizing Texas A&M closes with back-to-back road games at Georgia and LSU. And it’s really too bad because a strong case can be made that the Aggies are the second-best team in the West behind the Crimson Tide. There was no learning curve under new coach Jimbo Fisher last year, as returning quarterback Kellen Mond immediately ascended to one of the best in the conference. The Aggies also have an embarrassment of riches in highly touted defensive recruits, but it might be hard for all the youngsters to hold up against what’s ahead of them.
Guess: Under 7.5 wins at Even money
Total: 9 (plus-140, minus-160)
Last Season: 10-3 straight-up, 9-4 against the spread
Be wary of teams that made drastic single-season leaps; be wary of teams drawing hype from a hot finish in the prior season; be wary of teams that benefited from positive turnover luck. Yes, there are a lot of red flags pertaining to the Gators this season from an overarching perspective. Things look a little better when diving into the subtleties. Florida returns the majority of its most important players — quarterback Feleipe Franks, running back Lamical Perine and edge-rusher Jabri Zuniga — and have at-worst the second-best coach in the SEC East in Dan Mullen. But it’s also decimated with departures along the offensive line, yet another significant hurdle.
Guess: Under 9 wins at minus-160
Total: 11 (plus-120, minus-140)
Last Season: 11-3 straight-up, 8-6 against the spread
To apply the Alabama rationale once again, it doesn’t pay to bank on teams going undefeated. Not even the best teams. There are too many landmines on every schedule, even one like Georgia’s where the Bulldogs are projected to be favorites in every game. That being said, Georgia should be nearly unstoppable for the third straight season. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa is the only quarterback in the country clearly more valuable than Georgia’s Jake Fromm. D’Andre Swift may climb to the top of the national running back ranks if he receives an increased workload as expected. The Bulldogs are replacing both coordinators — James Coley steps in on offense and Dan Lanning on defense — which is typically a cause for concern. And any concern is enough to stray from calling for a team to go unscathed.
Guess: Under 11 wins at minus-140
Total: 6.5 (minus-140, plus-120)
Last Season: 10-3 straight-up, 6-7 against the spread
Kentucky leaned heavily on two things to put together one of the best seasons in school history — its defense and running back Benny Snell. Both are gone now. The Wildcats are in the nation’s bottom five teams in returning defensive production, per S&P+, and its offense was hit-or-miss even with Snell racking up nearly 300 carries. Last season was a special campaign that the Wildcats had worked towards ever since Mark Stoops took over as coach in 2013. Those are always tough to follow.
Guess: Under 6.5 wins at plus-120
Total: 8.5 (plus-120, minus-140)
Last Season: 8-5 straight-up, 7-6 against the spread
A one-year postseason ban couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Tigers. They’re poised to be a real factor this season. Actually, they were a real factor last season though their final record somewhat obscured that fact. They arguably outplayed their opponent in three defeats —single-score setbacks to Kentucky, South Carolina and Oklahoma State — and the other two losses were to Alabama and Georgia. Few teams in the country are set up to field better rushing attacks, as Missouri can pair run-first Clemson transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant with last season’s breakout back Larry Rountree and a rugged offensive line. Someone will emerge to test the perceived Georgia-Florida power duo in the East, and Missouri is the most complete candidate.
Play: Over 8.5 wins at plus-120
Total: 5.5 (minus-120, Even)
Last Season: 7-6 straight-up, 7-6 against the spread
South Carolina will be a strong team this year, much stronger than its final record will indicate. The Gamecocks will just be artificially weakened by an insane schedule where it will only projects as a double-digit favorite once, in week 2 against FCS opponent Charleston Southern. In addition to the misfortune of drawing Alabama and Texas A&M out of the West, South Carolina has defending national champion Clemson and top Group of Five conference team Appalachian State in the non-conference. That’s not to mention a week 1 showdown with a potentially adequate North Carolina team. In the hands of a more proven coach, it might be easier to call for the Gamecocks to overperform, but if anything, Will Muschamp’s teams have under-performed in six of eight seasons where he’s been a head coach.
Lean: Under 5.5 wins at Even money
Total: 6.5 (minus-130, plus-110)
Last Season: 5-7 straight-up, 5-7 against the spread
With 12 seasons having passed since their last SEC Championship Game appearance, the Volunteers are relegated to second-tier status at best in the minds of college football fans. But Tennessee might now be a sleeping giant as a program. This might be the year it shows signs of waking up. No power conference team has more returning production than Tennessee. Surprisingly few have more heralded rosters from a recruiting standpoint as the Volunteers have continued to land blue-chip prospects despite recent struggles. If second-year coach Jeremy Pruitt is the long-term answer for Tennessee, he’ll need to show signs this year. Pruitt has more than enough at his disposal.
Lean: Over 6.5 wins at minus-130
Total: 4.5 (minus-130, plus-110)
Last Season: 6-7 straight-up, 8-5 against the spread
Vanderbilt is perennially undervalued and has escaped its reputation as a glorified bye-week for conference opponents. Consider that the Volunteers posted a winning against the spread record in the SEC for the sixth time in seven seasons last year. Returning running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn was a revelation in rushing for just short of 8 yards per carry. The Commodores brought in a number of transfers to try to stem graduation losses, most notably former Ball State quarterback Riley Neal. They have no chance of challenging for an SEC title, or even finishing in the upper half of the East division, but as usual, they should be stingier than the betting market believes.
Lean: Over 4.5 wins at minus-130