Another Las Vegas sports book has weighed in on the upcoming season in the SEC and it’s left many fans scratching their heads in confusion. However, upon closer examination, some of the viewpoints expressed by the gambling experts aren’t quite as outrageous as they initially seem.
First, an explanation: Casinos set Over/Under totals for football teams. This is a suggested number of wins for regular season games — postseason play doesn’t count. Bettors can wager that a team will win more (OVER) or or less (UNDER) than its posted total.
These kind of bets can be a fun way to enjoy college football as long as one simple idea is remembered: Anytime a side looks like “free money,” it’s probably too good to be true.
With that in mind here are three Over/Under lines that are legitimately surprising and three more that are actually more sensible than they first appear:
Not-So-Surprising: Alabama O/U – 10
The first thought most fans would have about this total is who would possibly bet the “under?” Is there anyone out there that actually thinks Alabama will lose at least three regular season games? At first glance that seems to be a reasonable question. The Crimson Tide hasn’t lost three games in a season since 2010, and has lost three or more games only twice in a season since Nick Saban came to Alabama in 2007.
Yet those facts don’t tell the full story.
Working against the Crimson Tide this year is the fact that it’s won the SEC in back-to-back years. While at first that might seem like a great thing, the truth is that it probably suggests that parity is overdue to make a comeback in the league. No team has won this conference for three consecutive seasons since Florida won it four times in a row from 1993-96. In other words, a bet on Alabama this season is a bet against history — especially considering the Crimson Tide will have to face both Tennessee and LSU on the road.
Surprising: Florida O/U – 7.5
In his first year at Florida, Jim McElwain was named SEC Coach of the Year. He dealt with the loss of quarterback Will Grier to a PED suspension and still managed to lead the Gators to the SEC East title. Florida fans are presumably preparing to see their team take the next step this season, but Las Vegas isn’t buying it.
The Gators have just the third-highest win total in their division behind UGA (a team Florida has beaten 20 times in their last 26 meetings) and Tennessee (a team Florida has beaten 11 times in a row). Gators fans should be forgiven if they’re confused by this.
Further adding to the mystery is that Florida will only play five teams in 2016 that played in a bowl game last season — giving the Gators one of the easiest schedules in the country by that metric.
Conventional wisdom suggests Florida should be a program on the rise, but the folks in Las Vegas apparently know something the rest of us don’t.
Not-So-Surprising: UGA O/U – 8.5
A first-year coach possibly forced to start a true freshman at quarterback has all the makings of a potential disaster.
That could be the case for UGA this year — except this isn’t a typical scenario for a first-year coach, and Jacob Eason might not be a typical freshman quarterback either. Most new coaches are ushered in to rebuild after the failure of their predecessor, but as Kirby Smart begins his career with the Bulldogs he’s got no such failure from which to rebuild. Smart inherits a team that won 10 games last season, and Eason was a five-star recruit and Gatorade National Player of the Year.
UGA’s relatively high Over/Under total rightly reflects that even with the transition at head coach, there’s little reason to assume the Bulldogs will descend into anything close to a losing season.
Surprising: LSU O/U -10
Few teams are more talented than LSU, but that’s true every season. Unfortunately for the Tigers, that talent hasn’t mattered much lately. LSU has lost at least three conference games in each of the last three seasons and has a total of 12 losses in SEC play over the last four years.
The unifying characteristic of most of those defeats was spotty quarterback play, and setting this year’s season win total at 10 suggests an assumption that LSU will be improved at that position. That’s an opinion sure to draw plenty of skepticism.
Not-So-Surprising: Tennessee O/U – 10
If the only thing you know about Tennessee is that it had a series of late-game collapses last season then you don’t know enough about the Vols.
The thing to remember about Tennessee is that while it lost a few games that it probably should’ve won, it was competitive every single game — including a down-to-the-wire nail-biter on the road at eventual national champion, Alabama.
Keeping each game close might not sound like much of an accomplishment, but it’s more than could be said for the Vols’ main rivals in the SEC East. Florida lost three straight to finish the season last year by an average of 24 points (which come to think of it might explain why Las Vegas is sour on the Gators this year) and UGA was blown out twice last season as well.
Based on that comparison it seems reasonable to make Tennessee an overwhelming favorite in the division and assume at least 10 regular season wins as a scenario very much in play for the Vols — especially considering Tennessee finished 11th last season in Football Outsider’s efficiency rankings despite its four losses.
Surprising: Auburn O/U – 6.5
Surely an Auburn team that’s a fixture in the top 10 of the national recruiting rankings is due for a bounce-back season after a total of 11 losses over the last two years. A meager win total of 6.5 suggests Las Vegas doesn’t think so.This is a shockingly modest prediction considering some of these same bookmakers had Auburn listed among the SEC’s best this time last year.
All of this could spell trouble for embattled Tigers coach Gus Malzahn, who can’t afford to produce another five or six loss season. He should desperately hope Las Vegas is wrong about his team, but unfortunately for him, they didn’t build those giant casinos by being wrong very often.