Welcome to the Gridiron Gambling Guide, otherwise known as “The Triple G” at SEC Country.
Your experts this season are Christopher Smith (@csmithSEC), a man known for his sterling career record against the spread, and Alex Martin Smith (@asmiff), a much younger and handsomer Smith who doesn’t tell his family about these columns because they think he’s at a seminary and they never see the big picture, anyway.
Here are your winning numbers for this weekend’s games:
No. 7 Texas A&M (-13.5) at Mississippi State
Alex: Maybe there is a “Bama Effect.” Maybe there’s not. But Texas A&M’s second-half meltdown in Tuscaloosa came at a pretty good time (before a laugher against New Mexico State), and — oddly enough — didn’t prevent the Aggies from rising to No. 4 in this season’s initial College Football Playoff rankings.
Essentially, A&M’s stock didn’t take a hit at all, and there’s no hole the Aggies need to climb out of. They just need to win this final road game before taking three straight against Ole Miss, Texas-San Antonio and LSU in College Station; then they’ll be strong candidates for one of the four playoff spots.
Kevin Sumlin’s team has looked far superior to Dan Mullen’s up to this point, and the -13.5 line is thin enough to absorb a few touchdown drives by the Bulldogs’ sometimes-electric offense.
Texas A&M 38, Mississippi State 21
Christopher: Mississippi State’s defense allowed 627 yards and 41 points to Samford last week, in addition to 35 points to UMass in September. Texas A&M is 16th nationally in total offense and 21st in scoring offense. Without A.J. Jefferson (elbow surgery), I expect the Aggies to put up plenty of points.
But it is November, and Nick Fitzgerald appears to be improving quickly. The back door could be wide open in this one in front of the Starkville home crowd.
Texas A&M 42, Mississippi State 31
Vanderbilt at No. 11 Auburn (-25.5)
Alex: Vanderbilt’s defense has built a decent reputation under Derek Mason, but the Commodores are surprisingly iffy against the run this year (157.6 yards allowed per game, No. 60 in the country), and Auburn’s suddenly unstoppable ground attack is expected to take full advantage.
Oddsmakers no doubt looked back at Vandy’s 38-7 loss against Georgia Tech in September, when the Yellow Jacks racked up 289 yards on the ground. Vanderbilt also has a tendency to fade late under Mason; the ‘Dores lost games by 34, 25 and 25 in the final month last season, and by 51 and 24 the season before that.
Those signs point toward an Auburn rout. But you should consider Vanderbilt’s ability to turn an uneven playing field into an ugly slosh that keeps scoring low. The Commodores have stayed within a touchdown of all four SEC opponents this season — including a 1-point win at Georgia two weeks ago — and there have not been more than 33 points scored in any of those games.
Auburn looks like a great team, and it deserves to be the heavy favorite, but this line seems a little too wide for comfort.
Auburn 27, Vanderbilt 13
Christopher: Auburn is what Vanderbilt aspires to be. A powerful running game, an efficient quarterback who can beat cheating defenses and a big, powerful defensive front full of NFL talent. I know Vanderbilt’s defense hasn’t performed as well this year against the run. I see Vandy coming into this game with confidence and playing well on that side of the ball.
But Auburn should be considered an elite SEC defense in 2016. The Tigers are 26th in the country in yards per play allowed, and 27th nationally in rushing yards allowed per game. Kyle Shurmur isn’t going to beat this team downfield, and I don’t expect an efficient day from Ralph Webb. Kamryn Pettway said after beating Ole Miss that nobody wants to tackle him. By the end of this one, he’ll be leaning on Vandy’s defense.
Auburn 35, Vanderbilt 7
Georgia Southern at Ole Miss (-27.5)
Alex: One of those, “Wait … they’re in the FBS?” teams, Georgia Southern has worked its way to a .500 record while staying competitive with Georgia Tech and MAC juggernaut Western Michigan.
Meanwhile, Ole Miss is at a crossroads. The Rebels are out of the SEC West race, and have gone from potential College Football Playoff invitees to being in danger of missing a bowl game. There’s still a ton of talent in Oxford, though, and the team did not quit in a close game against Auburn last weekend.
If the spread were north of 30, this would be a tougher decision. But Chad Kelly and the Rebels offense have had easy time putting up points this season. You can count on them to be at least four touchdowns better than their Georgia Southern counterparts.
Ole Miss 42, Georgia Southern 10
Christopher: I’d prefer if this got to 28 (or even 28.5). But I love the matchup here for Georgia Southern. While the Eagles are not nearly as good as they were in 2015 (when the team took Georgia to overtime late in the year), this remains the best rushing team in the Sun Belt. Ole Miss can thank Missouri, because that’s the only SEC program preventing the Rebels from the distinction of worst rushing defense in the SEC.
Furthermore, this quick-strike Ole Miss offense leads to a lot of three-and-outs or big-play scores. The Rebels are 126th out of 128 in time of possession, one of the reasons its already-poor run defense gives way in the fourth quarter of games this year. Georgia Southern can sustain long drives with its triple option, shorten the game and keep this one competitive.
The only doubt I have in the underdog cover is whether Chad Kelly can muster up enough explosive scoring plays to stretch the margin.
Ole Miss 38, Georgia Southern 17
No. 10 Florida (-5.5) at Arkansas
Alex: Florida’s passing offense has been in the dumps, but this matchup could be the antidote for Luke Del Rio and his receiving corps. Arkansas has allowed 428 total yards per game, 87th in the country. The Razorbacks have been helpless against the run and mediocre against the pass, a combination the Gators should be able to exploit.
On the other side of the ball, Florida has been elite, ranking No. 2 country with 239.9 yards allowed per game. But Jim McElwain’s team has also faced plenty of horrible offensive teams, and Arkansas was still able to move the ball at a decent clip against Alabama (No. 4 overall).
If there’s one thing we can count on this season, it’s turmoil in the SEC East. I’m going with the home team here.
Arkansas 28, Florida 27
Christopher: Whereas Auburn was a terrible matchup for Arkansas’ defense, Florida is a terrible matchup for Arkansas’ offense. It’s shocking, but Bret Bielema’s offensive line pushes about like I did on the bench press as a scrawny 9th grader. We’re talking worst in the power conferences bad.
Brandon Austin Allen’s relative success speaks to his toughness. He’s gotten clobbered. The Razorbacks also have a good group of pass-catchers. But Florida will counter with a defense sure to make them one-dimensional and a secondary that’s as good as Allen has faced — yes, probably even better than Alabama.
The SEC East remains in danger of matching last year’s 2-13 effort against the SEC West. Florida (at Arkansas, at LSU) represents the best chance to avoid that fate. I think Jim McElwain’s team is a legitimate top 25 program, while people finally are recognizing Arkansas for what it is right now: A decidedly average SEC program.
Florida 31, Arkansas 20
Missouri at South Carolina (-7)
Alex: This one opened with South Carolina favored by 1.5, and then the events of this past weekend — another embarrassing loss for Mizzou coupled with a huge upset for Will Muschamp and USC — made the matchup much less square in Vegas’ eyes.
Here’s why you should put your money on the Gamecocks: Missouri has been awful against strong defenses this season. Drew Lock and the Tigers averaged just 10.67 points in road games at against West Virginia, LSU and Florida, and put up just 3 total first-half points in those games.
South Carolina is trending up. Missouri is trending down. And that latter statement is concerning, given that the Tigers may have already hit rock bottom.
South Carolina 27, Missouri 10
Christopher: Missouri (3-5 against the spread) and South Carolina (4-4) are not fun teams to back with your hard-earned dollars. But Will Muschamp still can put together a great defensive game plan. And against a sputtering program like Missouri and quarterback Drew Lock, that could be enough.
I hope the South Carolina coaching staff allows Jake Bentley to throw downfield more often, because it makes the Gamecocks offense much more dynamic. Now that the young receivers have shed hamstring injuries, this team is capable of some big-play strikes. If that progress continues, expect South Carolina to get within a win against Western Carolina of bowl eligibility.
South Carolina 24, Missouri 16
Tennessee Tech at Tennessee (-41.5)
Alex: Neither of these teams has been easy to predict this season. Tennessee is a wild card for obvious reasons, and Tech (3-5) is a losing team that’s been competitive in almost every game.
The Volunteers are in rough shape, though. Their loss at South Carolina turned up the heat on Butch Jones, a coach who was considered untouchable after the Vols hung a big win on Florida in late September. Star running back Jalen Hurd is leaving the program. Atlanta looks like a pipe dream at this point.
Considering all that, I don’t feel good about picking UT to win by six touchdowns. Tech may not be an impressive team, but it’s scored at least 20 points in each of its past seven games. The Golden Eagles are the safer play here.
Tennessee 38, Tennessee Tech 10
Christopher: How will Tennessee approach this game? This team has looked lethargic for most of the season, especially in the first half. Add to that a checkerboard wagon full of injuries, a stunning loss to South Carolina and the drama surrounding Jalen Hurd quitting the team, and it’s fair to wonder how the Vols will approach this game.
That said, I’m skeptical that a mediocre Ohio Valley Conference team can stop the running combination of Joshua Dobbs and John Kelly. I’m going to throw a dart at this one and say that Tennessee also dominates on defense and special teams, covering the big line.
Tennessee 49, Tennessee Tech 6
Georgia (-2.5) at Kentucky
Alex: You might be wondering why Georgia, a team that’s completely fallen apart since “The Heave Between the Hedges,” is favored by nearly a field goal over Kentucky, which has won five of six to become a dark horse in the SEC East race.
It probably has something to do with the Wildcats’ one-dimensional rushing offense going up against the Bulldogs’ stellar front, which has been one of the lone bright spots for UGA during these dark times. Georgia is ranked No. 13 in rush defense, allowing 109.8 yards per game. Boom Williams and Benny Snell won’t find the holes they found last week against Missouri.
That means Stephen Johnson will probably need to complete a few important passes, and Wildcats fans know that will be a toss-up (probably literally) for a young quarterback that tends to leave the ball high. We should get a close contest in Lexington, and I think Kirby Smart’s team will pull out a much-needed victory.
Georgia 21, Kentucky 17
Christopher: Kentucky’s results have improved, I think, more than the team’s skills deserve. That’s partially due to a weak schedule. The “best” wins? A road game against Missouri (2-6) and home games against Vanderbilt (4-4), Mississippi State (3-5) and pre-Jake Bentley South Carolina (4-4).
The fans (and Mark Stoops) will take it, and gladly. It almost guarantees UK will get a bowl invite for the first time since the 2010 season. The running game to which Alex alluded gives the team a true identity. And it may not have blossomed without an injury to Drew Barker. The offensive line, especially, has been mashing opposing defenses.
Meanwhile, UGA fans would’ve laughed you off after a season-opening victory against North Carolina if you said “careful, you may have to fight to make a bowl game.” But the team is 1-4 since it edged Missouri on the road.
UK isn’t going to bully UGA in the same way it handled Tennessee, I don’t suspect. But the Bulldogs need Nick Chubb to look like his old self, or for the offense to be willing to take some more chances with Jacob Eason downfield. Kentucky’s stock is way up, Georgia’s stock is way down and it’s time for a correction.
Georgia 28, Kentucky 21
No. 1 Alabama (-7.5) at No. 15 LSU
Alex: Do I believe LSU is a few spots better than its No. 15 ranking? Yes. Do I believe the Tigers are good enough to stay within one score of Alabama? No. That’s not an indictment of the players or coaches in Baton Rouge. It’s simply an acknowledgment of the Crimson Tide’s dominance.
‘Bama has only been in one close game (at Ole Miss), and that game included a stretch in which the Tide outscored the Rebels, 45-6. This may be Nick Saban’s best offensive team ever, and the defense is probably better than last season’s unit. Outside of Jalen Hurts’ occasional poor throw and Eddie Jackson’s absence, Alabama is pretty much bulletproof.
Alabama 34, LSU 17
Christopher: Jalen Hurts never gets flustered. LSU’s secondary and pass rush could create problems if Alabama has to throw deep downfield. But I see the Tide feasting on RPOs (run-pass options) and screens to its athletic receivers. Hurts is excellent as long as he can play within a limited scope.
This is not a good matchup for LSU, and hasn’t been since Alabama evolved. Despite the Tide moving toward a more finesse offense and a smaller, faster defense, this team is perhaps even more equipped to beat traditional teams (power running game, good defense) than it was during its back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012. If you don’t believe me, watch how Alabama performed against teams like LSU and Michigan State in recent years as opposed to Ole Miss and Clemson.
Danny Etling has averaged 15.7 more passing yards per SEC game than Brandon Harris managed last year, while playing more efficient football. Still, if this Alabama front seven converges on Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice like it did last season, there’s no path to an LSU win. Fournette put on a scary show at Ole Miss, but the Rebels are 116th in FBS in yards per carry allowed. Alabama (at 2.2) is on pace for the best rushing defense by any team in college football since TCU in 2008.
LSU better hope for a turnover (or two, or three) and perhaps a special teams advantage.
Alabama 28, LSU 17
- Christopher: 59-17, 38-38 ATS
- Alex: 52-24, 34-42 ATS