It almost seems absurd that an 11-1 football team (Alabama) could be favored by 17 ½ points over a 10-2 team (Florida) in a Power Five conference championship game.
“When you look at it from the outside, everyone is kind of shocked the number is so high,” said Jay Rood, the VP for Race and Sports for MGM Resorts International. “If you just landed here from Mars and looked at the records, you’re going, ‘It should be close.’ It doesn’t look like Florida is a Single-A ball (minor league) club going against the Yankees.”
Just wait. If you think 17 ½ is off the rails, that line could still grow by Saturday at 1 p.m. Las Vegas time, kickoff for the SEC Championship game in the Georgia Dome between the Crimson Tide and Gators.
The money and tickets are showing for Alabama, said Jimmy Vaccaro, the oddsmaker for South Point Hotel and Casino and he expects more tickets to pour in for the Tide. He has been an oddsmaker for 40 years; he knows every corner of the racket. He has seen the emotional throngs in college football overpower the sharp bettors, the pros, and drive a line.
“I’ll lay you a dollar to a doughnut it will go up,” Vaccaro said. “These popular, major marquee teams, you just know they are going to get an extra abundance of tickets.
“You can’t stop it. The number might go up just before the game, but it might be only the wise guys that will get out of line (at the window). The fan will stay in line.”
The record point spread for an SEC Championship game is 24 in 1995 when Florida played Arkansas. The Gators won, 34-3.
Rood said initial conversations in Vegas among co-workers last week were that the line for the SEC Championship game would be 14. Then the Gators went out Saturday night and scored a measly two points against Florida State in a 27-2 loss while Alabama overpowered Auburn, 29-13.
The spread for the SEC title game grew to 17 ½ points because Florida’s offense has looked so bereft of big-play capability during the second half of the season.
“If we put up 14, I would get nothing but Alabama money,” Rood said. “I’m going to probably struggle to get Florida money even at 17 ½. We’re definitely going to need Florida (money).”
The oddsmakers, of course, know more than you do. It was guys like Rood who saw USC, 3-3 at the time, as a favorite over No. 3 Utah (6-0) on Oct. 25. Rood, in fact, saw it from 270 miles away, Vegas to Los Angeles, and look what happened. The Trojans beat the Utes, 42-24.
So what is the nugget you need to know as you fidget with a parlay sheet for championship weekend?
Rood said the statistics he pays attention to are time of possession, rushing defense, rushing offense, and turnover margin.
Florida excels in time of possession (3rd in the SEC), rush defense (2nd), and turnover margin (1st). The Gators are 13th in the SEC in run offense.
Rood is not simply cherry-picking stats that the Gators excel in just to get some balance in the bets and sucker people into betting Florida. When he made the pick of USC over Utah, he also told the Los Angeles Times he favored time of possession, turnover ratio, and rushing offense, and rushing defense statistics.
Here is the other nugget: You never know when the light might come on for Florida quarterback Treon Harris, who has struggled. In the offensive debacle against Florida State last Saturday night, Harris’ attention downfield to receivers was distracted with just the simplest threat from a pass rusher. Harris missed open receivers because he could not set his feet.
Can he get some of that figured out in practice this week?
“They have talent, it can all come together, they have struggled to score, but something can click,” Rood said.
Here is the other cool thing to look for:
“They (Florida) are going to pull out all the stops,” Rood said. “I think you will see things in this game that Florida hasn’t tried. Realistically, what do they have to lose? They are going to be in a bowl game. They might go for it on fourth down in a non-traditional situation.
“I could see fake punts and all that. I hope it’s not just a straight boat job by Alabama, and they just run ‘em out. It could be. I would love Florida to show up and do the wishbone. If they did that for (the) first quarter and kind of put ‘Bama back on its heels and then switched back to traditional, anything like that would be fun.”
Florida could shorten the game, like it did against Florida State, and give itself a better chance to win. The Seminoles ran just 40 offensive plays in the first three quarters because the Gators’ running back Kelvin Taylor had 95 yards rushing at that point. Of course, Alabama’s run defense is the best in the country so Florida might not get a chance to hold the ball and limit the touches of Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry.
Still, Vaccaro said it would be “idiocy” to think Florida has no chance at all.
“It’s not like Alabama is way out in front of Florida in terms of quarterback,” Vaccaro said. “If we found out that the Alabama quarterback was not playing we wouldn’t adjust it that much because the (Jacob) Coker kid is controlling the game. If Henry doesn’t play it’s a big deal.
“If this game were at Alabama, you’re talking a 21 or 22,” Vaccaro said. “If they played the game at Florida it would be just a point or two difference.”
Vaccaro said he is looking forward to the excitement of Saturday morning and early afternoon in Vegas. Alabama fans, he said, will raise their Corona beer bottles and chant “Roll Tide” for three hours. They will not only raise their bottles, they will raise the point spread. Bet on it.