SEC Country offers a whimsical look at some SEC Futures betting odds for the coming season, a three-tiered piece which covers 1) victory over/under for select SEC teams, 2) early Week 1 betting lines and 3) individual category titles (passing, rushing, receiving, sacks).
SEASONAL OVER/UNDER (source: Golden Nugget)
TENNESSEE (10 WINS)
SKINNY: The Volunteers have a workable road map to 10 victories during the regular season — potentially going 4-0 in non-conference action, splitting the tough four-game stretch to open SEC play (vs. Florida, @ UGA, @ Texas A&M, vs. Alabama) and then dispatching weaker clubs in final five games (post-bye).
But that would put Tennessee only in the ‘push’ category; and even if the Volunteers claimed the East crown, they wouldn’t be favorites against the West champion in the SEC championship (most likely LSU, Alabama, Texas A&M or Ole Miss).
As such, it’s best to play the percentages here. It’s also fun to declare the following fake bet with the sporting public: If Tennessee should ambitiously sweep its two-game set against Texas A&M (road) and Alabama (home), covering back-to-back Saturdays, then I’ll walk from Atlanta to Tuscaloosa.
LSU (9.5 WINS)
SKINNY: This one scares me a bit.
Of the previous three seasons, LSU owns a shoddy 2-7 record against the SEC West triumvirate of Alabama, Ole Miss and Arkansas, with each rivalry clash taking place in the latter half of the schedule.
Any repeat of this shakiness in 2016 would cripple the Tigers’ chances of reaching the 10-win threshold — let alone competing for the West division title.
That said, LSU remains my favorite for the SEC crown (beating the East champ) and the four-team College Football Playoff. The Tigers have experience and talent at quarterback (Brandon Harris), a Heisman Trophy-contending tailback (Leonard Fournette), a strong offensive line and a stacked defense full of NFL-caliber prospects for 2017.
Translation: The stars have aligned for LSU coach Les Miles to experience perhaps his best season in Baton Rouge.
UGA (8.5 WINS)
SKINNY: The Bulldogs’ schedule is so favorable — how favorable is it? (cue Johnny Carson reset) — the program could absorb a surprise road defeat to Kentucky (Nov. 5) and still comfortably hit the threshold of nine victories.
Yes, for 2016, UGA won’t see Alabama, LSU or Texas A&M, and for good measure, the Dawgs will not visit the home stadiums for Florida, Tennessee or Vanderbilt (a respectable up-and-comer).
Heck, even North Carolina, despite its strength along the offensive line, will be breaking in a new quarterback for the opener at the Georgia Dome.
Speaking of the QB slot … we’re presuming Jacob Eason (5-star recruit from Washington state) to garner playing time in every game this season — either as the starter or priority reserve (scripted cameos). We’re also expecting Eason to be productive as a freshman … setting the stage for a superb sophomore season (a la Matthew Stafford a decade ago).
In other words, first-year leader Kirby Smart (longtime Alabama defensive coordinator) picked the perfect year for his honeymoon campaign — that precious window of time when Dawgs alums, across the board, are thrilled with their head coach.
OLE MISS (7.5 WINS)
SKINNY: This is why we should heed the advice of Tony Soprano‘s father and never gamble.
Ole Miss (led by All-SEC QB Chad Kelly) has enough talent to reach a “New Year’s Six” bowl — even with the NFL-related defections of Laquon Treadwell, Laremy Tunsil and Robert Nkemdiche — but the schedule is too rough to make any bold proclamations of double-digit wins.
For the opener, Florida State (top-3 preseason club) in nearby Orlando?
Alabama and UGA on consecutive September Saturdays?
Two sets of back-to-back trips (Arkansas/LSU … then Texas A&M/Vanderbilt) to cover the Rebels’ four SEC road games?
No one deserves a cruel schedule like that. Hence, the ultra-conservative betting play.
OTHER NOTABLE OVER/UNDER (source: Golden Nugget)
Alabama (9.5 — my pick: over)
Florida (8 — my pick: push-plus)
Auburn (7 — my pick: push-plus)
WEEK 1 – OPENING LINES (source: OddsShark.com)
VANDERBILT (-4) over South Carolina
In the Derek Mason era (2014-15), Vanderbilt has averaged only 9.5 points in its openers (two defeats), a deflating figure for those expecting the Commodores offense to make a substantial leap forward in 2016.
And for what it’s worth, during Will Muschamp‘s four-year stint with Florida (2011-14), the Gators enjoyed an average victory margin of 33.3 points in openers.
Can anything be extrapolated from the above stats? Hard to say. In a short matter of time, the situations for both coaches have been reversed.
For starters, Vanderbilt finally has some talented, veteran-laden pieces on offense (QB Kyle Shurmur, RB Ralph Webb, WR Trent Sherfield) … and Muschamp’s respective Gators squads were far more stacked than his inherited Gamecocks, who could be starting a true freshman at quarterback (Brandon McIlwain), a redshirt freshman at receiver (Javon Charleston) and playing without the services of tackling machine Skai Moore (sitting out the season, due to injury rehab).
Simply put, Muschamp has a long way to go with the South Carolina program … but only a short time to get there (in the eyes of fans/alums).
Bottom line: This prime-time game (Thursday, Sept. 1) serves as a great opportunity for Mason to finally start the season at 1-0.
PREDICTION: Vanderbilt to cover
TENNESSEE (-30) over Appalachian State
Appalachian State’s 2007 shocker over No. 5 Michigan might have put the program on the national map, but there was also a desultory effect to likely the greatest upset in college football history.
Since 2010, the Mountaineers have played five Power 5 schools; and of those five upset opportunities, the opposing team posted an average victory margin of 40 points.
Translation: No FBS powerhouse will ever take App State lightly again.
In that vein, 30 points seems like a good launching point for the Volunteers (and those placing legal bets). Of Tennessee’s last three season openers, the team notched victory margins of 29, 31 and 45 points.
PREDICTION: Tennessee to cover
SEC PASSING TITLE ODDS (source: SEC Country)
Chad Kelly, Ole Miss (5/2)
Trevor Knight, Texas A&M (12/1)
Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee (14/1)
Cooper Bateman, Alabama (25/1)
Drew Barker, Kentucky (27/1)
Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt (30/1)
Jacob Eason, UGA (40/1)
Luke Del Rio, Florida (42/1)
Blake Barnett, Alabama (44/1)
Brandon Harris, LSU (45/1)
The senior Kelly (eight 300-yard outings in 2015) is vying to become the first quarterback in SEC history to pass for 4,000 yards in consecutive full seasons. Frankly, it’d be a great shock if Kelly lost out on the passing crown if he remains healthy for the full season.
In the 2014 Sugar Bowl, Knight — then a freshman at Oklahoma — shredded Alabama’s vaunted secondary for 348 yards and four scores in the Sooners’ landmark upset; and among SEC returning quarterbacks (citing 2015 stats), Dobbs trailed only Kelly in passing yards (2,291), completions (205) and passing TDs (15).
How shallow is this list? Bateman isn’t even a lock to start for Alabama. In fact, the three-way QB competition with David Cornwell and Barnett could spill over into the Sept. 3 opener against Southern California (neutral site).
SEC RUSHING TITLE ODDS
Leonard Fournette, LSU (2/1)
Nick Chubb, UGA (6/1)
Jalen Hurd, Tennessee (7/1)
Stanley “Boom” Williams, Kentucky (10/1)
Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt (15/1)
Damien Harris, Alabama (16/1)
Sony Michel, UGA (18/1)
Jovon Robinson, Auburn (20/1)
We addressed this matter two weeks ago: If LSU can get to a 15th game this season — the result of an SEC West title, conference championship and advancing to the College Football Playoff final — Fournette has a decent chance at breaking Barry Sanders‘ single-season NCAA record for rushing yards (2,628).
As such, he’s also the most viable candidate for the SEC rushing crown, even though Fournette (four 200-yard outings last year; seven straight 150-yard efforts) has not reached the hallowed 2,000-yard mark in a season. (The LSU-McNeese State game from 2015 was ultimately canceled, due to inclement weather.)
SEC RECEIVING-YARDAGE TITLE ODDS
Calvin Ridley, Alabama (5/2)
Christian Kirk, Texas A&M (7/2)
Fred Ross, Mississippi State (8/1)
Malachi Dupre, LSU (10/1)
Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M (12/1)
Garrett Johnson, Kentucky (14/1)
Trent Sherfield, Vanderbilt (15/1)
Dominique Reed, Arkansas (18/1)
Quincy Adeboyejo, Ole Miss (23/1)
ArDarius Stewart, Alabama (25/1)
Antonio Callaway, Florida (25/1)
Terry Godwin, UGA (30/1)
Travin Dural, LSU (32/1)
This should be the most enjoyable battle of the four main categories. In fact, perhaps we should devote more editorial time to this group in the coming weeks.
When healthy, Dupre (43 catches, 698 yards, 6 TDs in 2015) has an athletic-gifts package that’s reminiscent of former Tigers star Odell Beckham Jr. … and he ranks just fourth on this chart.
Sherfield (Vandy’s record-holder for single-game receiving yards) could develop into a Jordan Matthews clone over the next 28 months; Godwin should be a slot-receiving dynamo for UGA and Callaway — assuming his suspension gets lifted soon — could be a top-3 NFL prospect among this group.
Year of the Receiver? Hmm. That ultimately could become this year’s overriding theme for the SEC.
SEC SACK TITLE ODDS
DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M (3/2)
DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama (5/2)
DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee (6/1)
LB Tim Williams, Alabama (7/1)
DE Charles Harris, Missouri (10/1)
DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss (12/1)
LB Richie Brown, Mississippi State (20/1)
DE Arden Key, LSU (25/1)
The top eight names all have the potential for double-digit sacks, and that should frighten every O-line coach in the SEC.
Plus, Key could be the SEC’s most dominant defensive weapon heading into the 2017 campaign.
Put it all together, and perhaps we’ll regret installing Garrett (12.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss last season — and Allen (12 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss) as the primary leaders in this ultra-competitive category.
Barnett (career: 20 sacks, 33 tackles for loss) closed his sophomore season with a flurry, netting at least one sack in seven of his final eight outings. And the explosive Williams, with a little help from his Crimson Tide teammates and coaches, could wind up a top-five pick in next year’s draft.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and Fox Sports.