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:
UTSA at No. 25 Texas A&M (-27.5)
Alex: All of the air in College Station has been let out over the past month. The Aggies have gone from potential College Football Playoff team to bums since blowing a second-half lead in Tuscaloosa, with the latest example being a second-half collapse against an unranked Ole Miss team that started a true freshman with no prior NCAA experience.
Relief is supposed to come this weekend against Texas-San Antonio, but there is no guarantee the Aggies will manage a “W,” let alone win this game by four touchdowns. UTSA has won four of its past six games while scoring points in bunches; last weekend’s 63-35 loss at Louisiana Tech is the program’s lone black mark in 2016.
Texas A&M is in “prove-it” mode, and all the pressure rests on the Aggies’ shoulders. Count on the Roadrunners to give their ranked counterparts a heckuva scare.
Texas A&M 31, UTSA 28
Christopher: According to one of the most prominent college football analytics tools, UTSA is about as good as South Carolina and Kentucky. (Texas A&M won, 24-13, at South Carolina earlier this season.) At 5-5, the Roadrunners rank 100th in total offense and 72nd in total defense. They don’t have a quarterback with 2,000 passing yards, a running back with 750 rushing yards or a pass catcher with 600 receiving yards.
In other words, UTSA is a decidedly average Group of 5 team.
With Trevor Knight and Myles Garrett healthy, this line would be larger. Texas A&M, seventh in the nation at 5.8 yards per carry, still could run over the Roadrunners. Kevin Sumlin needs to look impressive in a November win, even against a C-USA opponent. The Aggies, though, still have a tremendous collection of receivers. UTSA should struggle in coverage.
Expect Texas A&M to play hard through the fourth quarter in this one and come up with some explosive plays.
Texas A&M 49, UTSA 21
UL-Lafayette at Georgia (-23)
Alex: Few teams are riding higher than Georgia, which has pulled off consecutive close wins and appears to be coming into its own on the defensive side of the ball.
Louisiana-Lafeyette is not particularly good at running or passing the football; the Ragin’ Cajuns are a bottom-third FBS team in both areas. But the underdogs are not helpless. They’ve stayed competitive while going 4-5 — albeit against one of the country’s weakest schedules — and have been surprisingly staunch against the run (seventh in the country, allowing just 3.06 yards per carry).
That number will not hold up against Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, especially if Jacob Eason uses this matchup to improve his efficiency through the air. The true freshman has not thrown multiple touchdowns in a game since Oct. 1 vs. Tennessee, and has not hit 70 percent of his passes in a single game this year.
I think he’ll make both those marks this weekend, and the Dawgs will roll.
Georgia 37, UL-Lafayette 10
Christopher: Remember Anthony Jennings? At one time the starting quarterback at LSU? He’s the starter for Louisiana-Lafayette. And he’s having a fair season.
With the way Georgia stuffed Auburn’s running game, I’d be surprised if Elijah McGuire and the Ragin’ Cajuns got traction by carrying the ball.
Georgia’s offense, which entered the season with huge hopes, is just OK by SEC standards. The offensive line has regressed, the best receivers seemingly are 5-foot-6, the running backs haven’t looked as explosive and Jacob Eason still is developing at quarterback. This is a tough emotional spot for the Bulldogs between a huge win against Auburn and rivalry week.
So, can Jennings do enough against the UGA secondary to keep this respectable? I think yes.
Georgia 35, Louisiana-Lafayette 13
No. 23 Florida at No. 16 LSU (-13.5)
Alex: Back in October, I picked Florida to win this game at the Swamp. Then, Hurricane Matthew hit, and college football fans were subjected to an odd rescheduling beef between Joe Alleva and Jeremy Foley.
Two primary things that have changed since then: 1) Leonard Fournette is back, and he’s scoring touchdowns again, and 2) these teams are now playing in Baton Rouge.
Per SEC Country’s Alex Hickey, LSU could be in line for a Sugar Bowl bid if it wins out. Florida has its sights set on a big prize, too: a shot at the SEC championship. Both these teams are motivated. Both defenses are strong. Both passing games are iffy.
LSU’s running backs should put it over the top, but I don’t think the Tigers will reach that two-touchdown spread.
LSU 24, Florida 14
Christopher: Good times have flourished in Baton Rouge since Les Miles departed. The entertaining, lovable
Cookie Monster Cajun interim coach Ed Orgeron rallied the players. They’re competing. HARD.
And we get glimpses at some of the most amazing motivational speeches in the SEC this decade. I think Coach O is saying, in between other things I can’t understand, “Take care of dat football! Start fast and finish strong! The Tigers are stepping up! Go to war!”
I can’t get over the far-away look in his eyes. Apparently there’s one Cajun player who understands everything he says and translates it to the rest of the team. Either that, or this is the deliverance they were promised and they’re all speaking in tongues.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 17, 2016
Alas, happy times are coming to a halt. Tension, welcome back. Joe Alleva remains obsessed with Jimbo Fisher, it seems. Orgeron may win this game — win out, even — and not earn the job. Leonard Fournette’s college carries likely are numbered. Eventually, this fan base will turn toward fretting over another 8-win season with an offense that remains stuck in 2011 and a Purdue transfer looking like the most viable quarterback again in 2017. There’s leftover vitriol from the hurricane postponement.
Can LSU stay loose with all that stress?
Florida needs this one to win the SEC East. LSU needs this one to keep Orgeron in play as the permanent coach. Both defenses are tremendous. I’d be surprised if either team builds a two-touchdown lead.
LSU 20, Florida 17
Missouri at No. 19 Tennessee (-16)
Alex: A poor finish notwithstanding, Tennessee looked back to “normal” against Kentucky last Saturday. Josh Dobbs filled up the stat sheet while a heavily-bandaged defense kept the Wildcats’ excellent running game from making the contest close.
Missouri’s solid performance was decidedly abnormal. The Tigers’ decisive home win over Vanderbilt was likely a big relief for coach Barry Odom, but Mizzou has fallen on its face several times this year when it picks up the slightest amount of momentum.
These two teams have perhaps been the SEC’s most untrustworthy for bettors this season, but a revitalized Tennessee looks much scarier than a revitalized Missouri.
Tennessee 41, Missouri 14
Christopher: Missouri remains an undervalued commodity in the gambling markets. Tennessee is receiving a whopping 85 percent of the public money in this game as of Thursday.
The Vols are rooting for a Florida Gators loss, which would vault them back to the top of the SEC East. But UT needs to be careful here, having already lost to South Carolina. That hobbled Vols defense should present some opportunities for Damarea Crockett and J’Mon Moore.
Expect Joshua Dobbs and Tennessee’s offense to score more or less at will. But a bad Tennessee turnover or a successful Mizzou ball-control strategy could make this one nerve-wracking.
Tennessee 38, Missouri 27
Western Carolina at South Carolina (-30.5)
Alex: Using yards allowed per pass attempt as a measuring stick, Western Carolina is the eighth-worst pass defense in the FCS subdivision, and WCU is slightly (in the strictest sense of the word) better against the run, coming in at ninth-worst.
The Catamounts’ offense doesn’t work, either. They’re in the bottom half of the FCS in offensive touchdowns (28 in 10 games) and have turned the ball over 20 times this season.
South Carolina should have no problem holding WCU’s “O” in check, and freshman quarterback Jake Bentley should be able to find his rhythm again after Florida stalled his impressive career-opening run. A head-to-head upset seems completely out of the question on Saturday.
South Carolina 42, Western Carolina 10
Christopher: I have little to add to the analysis Alex has given. South Carolina rolls, Jake Bentley solidifies himself as the quarterback of the future and the Gamecocks secure bowl eligibility. That has to be considered a success for Will Muschamp in his first season guiding this program.
South Carolina 38, Western Carolina 6
Austin Peay at Kentucky (-41.5)
Alex: The FCS Governors are getting destroyed this year. Austin Peay is 0-10, and only one of those results have been one-score games. I’m surprised the line against Kentucky — a solid SEC team that uses its running game to score points — is not higher that six touchdowns.
Mark Stoops’ team should be able to sleepwalk to a “W,” and get near the spread by halftime.
Kentucky 59, Austin Peay 6
Christopher: This is the coronation for Kentucky. The Wildcats will reach 6 wins and become bowl eligible for the first time since 2010. Oh, and UK is pretty good at Commonwealth Stadium, where the team should improve to 5-2 this year.
Austin Peay’s rushing defense ranks 118th out of 122 — at the FCS level. Kentucky should be able to bully the Governors on both sides of the football. Expect Mark Stoops and the team to finish with a flurry, even deep into the second half. This one should be cathartic for UK football fans.
Enjoy it while it lasts, because Louisville (and Heisman favorite Lamar Jackson) awaits.
Kentucky 56, Austin Peay 10
Chattanooga at No. 1 Alabama (-49.5)
Alex: The first two times Alabama played a vastly inferior opponent this season, we pointed to Nick Saban’s tendency to avoid ugly blowout wins against teams that are clearly there for a paycheck.
A 28-point victory over Western Kentucky proved us right; as did a 48-point win over Kent State. Problem is, ‘Bama covered a 43.5-point spread with that second “W,” and is faced with a roughly similar challenge against Chattanooga on Saturday.
The game will be in hand before halftime. The Crimson Tide will be up five or six scores by the third quarter. Will the Mocs stumble over themselves enough to get the Tide past that 50-point margin? Alabama hit that mark — exactly — against Charleston Southern at this time last year, but only triumphed by 49 against ‘Nooga in 2013.
The offshore books appear to have referenced those games when setting the line. Stick with the underdog, and pray that Saban has some mercy on them as Alabama gears up for Auburn.
Alabama 45, Chattanooga 7
Christopher: I agree with Alex here. Expect a Nick Saban mercy game. At this point, outside of Jalen Hurts getting loose for long scrambles, this Alabama offense is best suited for ball control and slow, methodical drives. And Chattanooga ranks just outside the top 10 in the FCS polls.
Just pray for the Chattanooga quarterback, if you do that sort of thing.
Alabama 48, Chattanooga 3
Arkansas at Mississippi State (-1.5)
Alex: A week changes a lot. Both Arkansas and Mississippi State scored their respective seasons’ most impressive victories in Week 9; the Razorbacks a 21-point win over Florida, and the Bulldogs a 7-pointer against Texas A&M.
Then, the fall. Neither squad bothered to show up in Week 10, and now we’re supposed to decipher which time is in a better frame of mind entering their contest this Saturday (the matchup opened as a pick ’em). The defenses aren’t particularly strong; Mississippi State should find room to run, and Arkansas should find success through the air.
If you must put money on this one, pick the over (60) and the better passer: Arkansas’ Austin Allen.
Arkansas 38, Mississippi State 28
Christopher: Is Mississippi State positioned to exploit Arkansas’ two biggest weaknesses? Possibly. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (854 rushing yards) could get loose against the Razorbacks run defense. Jonathan Calvin has 5 sacks.
I think the Bulldogs need to leverage both weak points to win. But I don’t anticipate Austin Allen will face as much pressure as usual. And I don’t think Mississippi State will enjoy a 15-minute time of possession advantage like it did against Texas A&M.
Arkansas 34, Mississippi State 31
Alabama A&M at No. 15 Auburn (-51.5)
Alex: Alabama A&M is a bad football team, but it’s not an awful football team. Most weeks, fans aren’t sure whether the Bulldogs will play a competitive game (41.5 points per game in two October wins) or get mopped off the field (five losses by 20 points or more).
Meanwhile, Auburn — coming off a rough loss and undoubtedly looking ahead to next week’s Iron Bowl — finds itself in a classic “trap” situation. Some uncertainty at quarterback also makes this a tough call, but even if John Franklin plays the entire game, Auburn should run roughshod over the ‘Dawgs. The Tigers are much too talented and efficient in the running game to be slowed by an FCS weakling.
Auburn 63, Alabama A&M 3
Christopher: Alabama A&M allows 6.1 yards per carry. That’s not a good formula against this particular iteration of Auburn football. Expect an angry Tigers team to run roughshod over the Bulldogs.
Auburn 52, Alabama A&M 0
Ole Miss (-10) at Vanderbilt
Alex: Oh, this is perfect. Shea Patterson played the hero last week, and it’s time for the true freshman to come back to Earth. Vanderbilt’s defense is a shadow of its 2015 version, but a 10-point spread for a road team that failed to score more than 6 points through three quarters the week prior is too much.
The Commodores have not allowed more than 25 points in any of their last eight home games, and Vandy’s passing offense is beginning to pick up a little bit; Kyle Shurmur tossed two picks against Missouri but averaged a stellar 8.7 yards per attempt.
Vanderbilt 21, Ole Miss 13
Christopher: Ole Miss’ defense has absorbed its share of dumpster-fire GIFs on Twitter this season. And deservedly so. But, statistically, it is better than one SEC unit: Missouri.
So go ahead. Give those cute little ‘Dores a pat on the head for putting up 17 points and 411 total yards at Mizzou last week. Here are Vandy’s point totals against SEC defenses in 2016: 13, 6, 13, 17, 16, 17. Let’s be optimistic and say that Ralph Webb finds running room against the Rebels. Give the Commodores another 17-point outburst.
Now consider that Shea Patterson has seized command of the Ole Miss offense. Patterson boasts unreal arm talent. We’re talking the No. 1 arm in the 2016 class. Ole Miss’ roster contains plenty of ability on the receiving end of those passes.
Patterson helped the team score 23 points in the fourth quarter alone against a ranked Texas A&M team in College Station. Can this group get 27+ in Nashville? Yes.
Ole Miss 31, Vanderbilt 17
- Christopher: 70-21, 49-42 ATS
- Alex: 63-28, 40-51 ATS
- Week 11: Christopher (5-2/5-2), Alex (4-3/1-6)