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:
Mississippi State at No. 1 Alabama (-29)
Alex: Without doing the hours of research necessary to make this claim, I think we can assume this is the biggest spread of all-time against a team that defeated a Top-5 team the week prior. Has to be, right?
Mississippi State is coming off a convincing victory against Texas A&M. The Bulldogs started fast —building a 28-7 lead — and faded late, but came away with a huge “W.” All of the good, bad and ugly from MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was on display (he’s good for a couple rushing touchdowns a game … but also a couple turnovers), and there’s actually a chance his freewheeling style could bring success against a Crimson Tide defense that bent ever-so-slightly against dual-threat Trevor Knight a few weeks ago.
Now, there’s no question Alabama is winning this game. But by more than four touchdowns? Mississippi State is such a week-in, week-out mystery that the line is justified, but ‘Bama has only overcome that +29 number once vs. MSU since Nick Saban arrived in 2007. That trend should continue this weekend.
Alabama 42, Mississippi State 21
Christopher: Mississippi State’s defensive performance against Texas A&M equates to an aberration. In addition to the Trevor Knight injury, the Bulldogs’ 365 rushing yards helped the team play keep-away from the Aggies. (Mississippi State nearly finished the game with a 15-minute advantage in time of possession. That’s an entire quarter.)
Granted, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound running quarterback on track to rush for 1,000 yards is a different challenge for this Alabama defense. But the Crimson Tide just bludgeoned Leonard Fournette into irrelevance for a second consecutive year. And the newfound speed of the Bama defense up front combined with Mississippi State’s lack of explosion in the passing game could help the Tide extend its scoreless streak for at least another few quarters.
This is a “letdown spot” for coach Nick Saban’s team. But offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts need to get back to moving the football at will before the Iron Bowl in two weeks. And this Mississippi State defense has languished against dink and dunk offenses. This is a horrible, horrible matchup for the Bulldogs defense, as I expect Hurts’ running game and short passes to athletic Tide pass-catchers to shred coach Dan Mullen’s group.
Alabama 49, Mississippi State 10
South Carolina at Florida (-11.5)
Alex: These teams have completely flip flopped at the quarterback position over the past month. Somehow, it’s South Carolina that has a red-hot passer and Florida that has been unable to move the ball through the air.
Gamecocks freshman Jake Bentley has been a revelation since Will Muschamp burned the kid’s redshirt. He’s completed 73 percent of his passes (!), thrown 6 touchdowns and given away no interceptions through three starts (all victories). That’s ridiculous in the SEC.
Florida’s Luke Del Rio is out with a shoulder injury, but that’s no real loss for the Gators. He’d been playing at a subpar level since returning from a knee injury. Austin Appleby — he who slayed Tennessee for two quarters — will get the start. There’s not a lot of room for optimism, given USC’s stingy pass defense.
Can Muschamp get his revenge at The Swamp? I think Florida’s defense will prevent such a thing, but I love Carolina’s chances to beat that double-digit spread.
Florida 24, South Carolina 21
Christopher: Can Jake Bentley and his speedy young wideouts dent Florida’s lockdown secondary? I doubt it.
Can Austin Appleby be anything other than stupendously average against a defense fueled by an emotional Will Muschamp? I doubt it.
Florida has slightly better talent overall. But I’ll keep this one short. I don’t expect either offense to look great. Therefore, the 11.5-point number is too stiff for my taste.
Florida 27, South Carolina 20
Kentucky at Tennessee (-13.5)
Alex: It’s tough to tell after a game against FCS Tennessee Tech, but the Volunteers looked like themselves again in Week 10. Their 55-0 win was likely a boost of confidence for Butch Jones’ team, and losses by Florida and Kentucky no doubt have Rocky Top believing once again that Atlanta is within reach.
Saturday was supposed to be Kentucky’s moment. Defeat Georgia, and the Wildcats would be on top of the SEC East and in control of their championship destiny. A game-winning Bulldogs field goal changed that, and now UK needs to win out while hoping Florida goes down in both of its remaining conference games.
The current has reversed course, and the battered Vols will be looking to flash a little of the potential everyone saw a couple months ago. Look out, Big Blue Nation.
Tennessee 38, Kentucky 17
Christopher: I’ve backed Tennessee more than most people this year. And I’ve resisted Kentucky. But Tennessee has beaten one FBS team by two touchdowns this year: Virginia Tech. Teams like Appalachian State and Ohio (who turned out to be pretty good, by the way) kept things interesting with the Vols. South Carolina beat Tennessee, and Georgia probably should have.
This Tennessee roster isn’t what it was at the start of the season, thanks to a slew of major injuries and defections. Kentucky should be able to run the football and shorten the game. Last week’s results (55-0 Tennessee win; 27-24 Kentucky loss) benefit the UK side of the market here. There isn’t an SEC East team that’s good enough to back as a two-touchdown favorite against another SEC side.
Tennessee 31, Kentucky 20
No. 9 Auburn (-10) at Georgia
Alex: The results of this past weekend — a slim win by Auburn, a momentum-shifting victory for UGA — have narrowed the line in Athens.
Georgia proved it could combat a strong rushing attack by outgunning it with its own running backs. Sony Michel and Nick Chubb were every bit the match for Boom Williams and Benny Snell Jr., putting up 212 yards against the Wildcats’ 191. Jacob Eason avoided interceptions while moving the ball in crucial situations.
Beating Auburn will be a much tougher task, however. The Tigers are better on “D” than the Wildcats, and their running game is probably a cut above. The key in this game could be Sean White, Auburn’s usual starter who missed a full half against Vanderbilt with a shoulder ailment.
If he’s near 100 percent, the Tigers will be competent enough through the air to eventually dismantle the Georgia defense. If not, UGA could be headed for a second straight upset. I’ll lean toward the former.
Auburn 34, Georgia 20
Christopher: Georgia’s run defense is pretty good, while Auburn’s total defense appears poised to fade out of the national top 25. This matchup isn’t all that lopsided.
Yes, coach Gus Malzahn’s offense managed to demolish Arkansas, 56-3. But a Mississippi sweep and a win against Vanderbilt don’t do much for me. And people forget fast, but LSU nearly celebrated a last-second win against this team in September.
Jacob Eason, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel haven’t met overblown expectations in 2016. But that group is good enough to shorten the game and keep its defense from getting hammered for four quarters. Expect a competitive game deep into the second half.
Auburn 28, Georgia 20
Vanderbilt at Missouri (-3.5)
Alex: Missouri has been awful since the beginning of October. The Tigers are 0-5 in that time, and have failed to stay within a touchdown of any SEC opponent. Quarterback Drew Lock is not making the simple plays he needs to make early in games, and the once-strong Mizzou defense is now the worst in the conference.
Vanderbilt, meanwhile, has shown improvement throughout the year. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur was inaccurate and ineffective for much of the season, but displayed a lot of promise in a close loss to Auburn this past weekend. Going up against a weak Missouri unit should be an opportunity to keep making positive strides. Running back Ralph Webb should flirt with the century mark by halftime.
There are some small reasons for hope in Columbia (the Tigers are favored by more than a field goal, after all), but Vanderbilt has been much more competitive this season. I think Derek Mason will record his second career SEC road victory on Saturday.
Vanderbilt 20, Missouri 17
Christopher: There are indications that this line is encouraging a classic squares vs. sharps type split. Missouri opened as a 1-point favorite at the Wynn in Las Vegas — and since has risen as high as minus-4. That’s despite 83 percent of the public money landing on Vanderbilt as of Wednesday night. Without talking to any bookmakers, I imagine Mizzou represents a sharp play.
Why might this be? Missouri has lost 11 consecutive SEC games. The Tigers just lost by double digits to Kentucky and South Carolina in successive weeks. Linebackers Michael Scherer (ACL) and Donavin Newsom (thigh contusion) have weakened an already-leaky talent pool on defense. Vanderbilt caught some attention for upsetting Kirby Smart’s first Georgia team in Athens and hanging with Florida and Auburn.
But Vandy hasn’t eclipsed 20 points in an SEC game. In fact, the Commodores average 12.4 points per game against SEC competition this year. There isn’t much to suggest that this team will break out on the road well into November.
Missouri must view this as an opportunity to snap that ugly streak. And the Tigers offense produces 487.3 yards per game — 175 more than the ‘Dores. Follow the smart money.
Missouri 24, Vanderbilt 20
No. 24 LSU (-7) at No. 25 Arkansas
Alex: The magic “Hey, we might do this!” feeling is gone in Baton Rouge after a loss to Alabama, but this team knows it can compete against anyone in the country. The same can’t be said for Arkansas, which picked up a nice win against Florida but has been shelled in its three biggest games (ugly losses to Alabama, Texas A&M and Auburn).
Having said that … these teams are trending in similar directions, and Arkansas has been able to put up points in nearly every game this season. Louisiana State should have a slight edge when the Arkansas “O” is on the field, but I don’t expect the Tigers to hold the Hogs at bay all night.
The key area is LSU’s run game. The Tigers boast one of the country’s strongest backfields, while the Razorbacks are 90th in rushing defense, allowing 198.4 ground yards per game. That’s where Arkansas will be hurting late, and LSU’s disappearing passing game should be able to make a resurgence while Arky is preoccupied with trying to bring down Leonard Fournette.
LSU 31, Arkansas 20
Christopher: You say LSU hasn’t beaten Arkansas by this margin since 2004. You say the Razorbacks are 8-2 against the spread after October the last two years. You say there’s a hangover teams experience after playing Alabama.
I say Kamryn Pettway, Eli Stove, Kam Martin and Stanton Truitt ran for 444 yards against this Arkansas defense just weeks ago. What will an angry Leonard Fournette do in one of his final chances to impress NFL scouts and finalize his legacy at LSU? Fournette (7.1 yards per carry) and Derrius Guice (7.9) arguably are the best duo in the SEC when healthy and playing a defense other than Alabama.
The Tide give up less than 2.1 yards per carry, first in the country. The Razorbacks give up more than 6.1 yards per carry, last in the country. Ed Orgeron is fighting to remove the interim tag and keep his LSU gig into 2017. I like the road team here.
LSU 38, Arkansas 21
Ole Miss at No. 8 Texas A&M (-10)
Alex: It’s fitting that we get a matchup of these teams a week after both lost their quarterbacks for the season. Chad Kelly vs. Trevor Knight promised to be a fireworks show. Now, defense will likely carry the day.
That’s a horrible sign for Ole Miss, which has allowed 460.7 yards per game as the nation’s 110th-best unit. Even with Kelly healthy, the offense couldn’t keep up; Mississippi has been outscored by 21 combined points in its past four games.
Before last week’s loss at Mississippi State, the Aggies had been fairly stout on “D,” especially up front. Star defensive end Myles Garrett is dealing with a leg injury, but he’s at least available to rush the passer on third down, and Daeshon Hall has made several plays in the backfield this season.
Logic says the Aggies should be down and out after a second loss in three games, but the College Football Playoff committee gave them new life by ranking them No. 8 on Tuesday. I think the Texas A&M defense will have a renewed energy in front of its home crowd; enough to swarm an iffy Ole Miss attack and put this game out of reach by the end of the third quarter.
Texas A&M 28, Ole Miss 7
Christopher: It’s past time we stop making excuses for this Ole Miss team. In hindsight, the star-studded group that left after the 2015 season underperformed. The Rebels beat Bama in back-to-back seasons and never really threatened to win the SEC West. Last year’s team even lost to Memphis.
Make excuses about the leaky defense, painstaking schedule and the injury to Chad Kelly. I think we’re seeing a different story: The Hugh Freeze bubble has burst. Ole Miss (4-5) is in danger of missing a bowl game. Texas A&M (7-2) still has an opportunity to finish the season in the top 5 if it wins out. And the Aggies are motivated to prove the “collapse in November” narrative is over despite a loss to Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs ran over the Aggies last week, led by agile quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. The Rebels are not equipped to do the same.
Texas A&M 35, Ole Miss 20
- Christopher: 65-19, 44-40 ATS
- Alex: 59-25, 39-45 ATS
- Week 10: Christopher (6-2, 6-2), Alex (7-1, 5-3)