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:
Nicholls State at Georgia (-48)
Alex: The visiting Colonels are one of those FCS teams that is not particularly good at their own level. Nicholls (I guess it’s officially trying to drop the “State”) went 3-6 against Football Championship Series schools last season, and dropped its FBS games by a combined score of 95-0.
Seeing as Georgia might be one of the top 10 teams in the country, it’s only a matter of time until the Bulldogs starters are resting on the sideline and watching the scrubs run up the score.
Georgia 52, Nicholls State 3
Christopher: Georgia saw enough from Nick Chubb last week. Expect his day to end before the third quarter. And coach Kirby Smart probably wants to play coy with his quarterbacks for another few weeks.
Then again, Nicholls State is a special kind of bad. The Colonels are 1-5 against the spread in their last six games vs. FBS opponents. And UGA wants to ride the momentum it created since hiring Smart, setting a spring game attendance record and beating North Carolina in the opener.
The total is 58.5, so 5Dimes is projecting a score of 52-7.
Smart came to UGA from Alabama, where Nick Saban routinely dialed back the pressure against lesser teams in the second half. The emotional win in the Georgia Dome will be tough to sustain. With a bad Missouri team on the horizon, I doubt these players will maintain the same urgency. Add to that the quarterback charade and a lingering injury to Sony Michel (unlikely to play), and I’m not ready to lay this many points on Georgia.
Georgia 49, Nicholls State 6
Prairie View A&M at Texas A&M (-48)
Alex: The Panthers lost 80 straight games — an NCAA record — from 1989-1998. But the Prairie View A&M program is in an entirely different state now: Second-year coach Willie Simmons has a 7-game winning streak going into Saturday, including a narrow victory over Texas Southern on Labor Day weekend.
Texas A&M just picked up an important and emotional Week 1 win against No. 16 UCLA, and the Aggies are now being considered a national contender. That makes me nervous about this week’s cupcake matchup; how many players are already looking toward Week 3 at Auburn? I think Texas A&M puts forth an unimpressive showing against inferior competition at home.
Texas A&M 33, Prairie View A&M 13
Christopher: John Chavis finally has this Texas A&M defense going in a nice direction, as evidenced by last week’s game against UCLA. Myles Garrett and his band of merry Aggies are going to terrorize some offensive lineman this year. It wouldn’t be shocking if the team threatens double-digit sacks in this game.
Texas A&M is as deep at receiver as any team in the SEC (Alabama can make an argument). Trevor Knight and Kevin Sumlin both need this to further the narrative started with a resounding overtime victory against UCLA. I think we’ll see the Aggies score as often as possible.
Texas A&M 63, Prarie View A&M 10
Western Kentucky at Alabama (-28.5)
Alex: Alabama rarely struggles against non-Power 5 teams at home, but the Tide also tend to make bettors nervous in such games. Last year’s margins of victory against Middle Tennessee (27) and Louisiana-Monroe (34) were a slight dip from Florida Atlantic (41) and Southern Mississippi (40) the year before. In 2013, both Colorado State (25) and Georgia State (42) got off relatively easy.
You can see that Nick Saban’s teams don’t really run up insane margins against teams that they could probably hang 70 on. I mean, c’mon, they beat a ranked Southern Cal team by 46 at a neutral site in Week 1. I think it’s more of the same this weekend: a polite beatdown.
Alabama 45, Western Kentucky 20
Christopher: The public (80 percent on Alabama in this game) is going to overreact to Alabama’s 52-6 victory against No. 20 USC. The Tide benefited from an interception returned for a touchdown and the Trojans’ defeatist attitude in the second half. Plus, teams now have real film on Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts.
Western Kentucky is similar to Appalachian State. The Hilltoppers won 12 games last year, went 8-0 in C-USA and finished the season ranked in the AP Top 25. In a 46-14 win against Rice last week, new quarterback Mike White threw for 517 yards on 31 attempts. WKU allowed just 16 sacks in all of 2015, and the offensive line returned basically intact.
I don’t expect Alabama to win by 5 touchdowns. Even if the Tide get a 30-point lead, there’s a chance at a back-door cover due to Saban’s modus operandi, which Alex referenced.
Alabama 42, Western Kentucky 16
Kentucky at Florida (-16.5)
Alex: There are two underachieving Week 1 performances and a major streak to consider here. History tells us the Gators will roll at home against the Wildcats, against whom Florida has 29 consecutive wins in any venue.
BUT: The Gators only managed a 17-point win against UMass in Week 1, and the Wildcats have lost the past two Florida-Kentucky games by a combined total of 11 points. It seems the underdog is closing in on a streak-busting day. I won’t go crazy and pick Kentucky to avoid 30 straight losses, but I think the Wildcats are powerful enough on offense to keep this close throughout.
Florida 27, Kentucky 24
Christopher: “Kentucky should’ve won.” How often have we uttered that sentence in the last two years? During the 2015 version of this matchup, red zone play doomed UK in a 14-9 loss.
Point is, I trust Jim McElwain far more than I trust Mark Stoops. Kentucky’s overall talent level has improved drastically in the past three years. But the Wildcats defense resembles Swiss cheese. The Gators seemed vanilla against UMass, and I expect a more explosive UF offense that takes more chances in this game.
The combination of Drew Barker, Boom Williams and Garrett Johnson looks formidable for Kentucky, so that team may hammer the offensively-challenged Mizzou, Vandy and South Carolina. Going against the Florida defense, though? The Gators have allowed 3.3 yards per carry since the start of the 2014 season. UMass rushed 35 times for 46 yards last week.
As of Wednesday, 67 percent of public bets sided with Kentucky. That’s enough for me to lean in the other direction.
Florida 28, Kentucky 10
Wofford at Ole Miss (-41)
Alex: Alabama is coming to Oxford next week, but I doubt Ole Miss is looking past its current opponent after blowing a 22-point lead in Week 1. The Rebels know this won’t be a cakewalk; Wofford is a strong program that tends to play FBS teams closer than expected, and the Terriers return 20 starters (!) for coach Mike Ayers’ 29th season.
Expect a challenge from the visiting squad before an angry group of Rebels puts on the afterburners. Chad Kelly’s stat line needs a cosmetic boost after Monday’s 4-turnover performance.
Ole Miss 43, Wofford 10
Christopher: I competed in the Southern Conference in college, so I suppose I should pick Wofford to cover this massive spread of nearly 6 touchdowns. But I can’t.
Ole Miss remains explosive, as we saw in the first half against Florida State. The Rebels could put up more than 42 points in the first half alone. And this program needs something to feel good about after a long offseason and a major second-half letdown against the Seminoles.
Chad Kelly remains the best quarterback in the SEC, and I think he’ll throw for 6 touchdowns in this game.
Ole Miss 56, Wofford 10
Middle Tennessee at Vanderbilt (-5.5)
Alex: The Commodores were a sad bunch in Week 1, blowing a 10-point lead to South Carolina and failing to score in the game’s final 44-plus minutes. And Week 2 isn’t your typical non-Power 5 matchup; MTSU took Vandy to the wire in Murfreesboro last season, and quarterback Brent Stockstill was red-hot last weekend in a 55-0 win against Alabama A&M.
The coach’s kid finished 30 of 36 for 329 yards, 5 touchdowns and an interception, and he spread out his scoring throws to five different receivers. I don’t like how this is shaping up for Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason, who can’t afford to fall to 0-2.
Middle Tennessee 27, Vanderbilt 21
Christopher: I know the Commodores lost to the Gamecocks both times. But I still think Vanderbilt was the better team against South Carolina, both last weekend and in 2015. Vanderbilt represented good value for the majority of last season, and I think that continues to be the case after the loss to South Carolina.
Before the season, SB Nation’s Bill Connelly listed the defensive front seven as the biggest question mark for MTSU. So expect Ralph Webb to produce an even better outing than he did last week (23 touches, 128 total yards). The Blue Raiders nearly beat the ‘Dores last year, so coach Derek Mason’s team won’t be caught by surprise.
Expect a vintage Mason-coached performance by the Vanderbilt defense against quarterback Brent Stockstill.
Vanderbilt 24, Middle Tennessee 14
Arkansas at TCU (-7.5)
Alex: Few expected Arkansas and TCU to struggle against Louisiana Tech and South Dakota State, respectively, but both teams nearly suffered embarrassing Week 1 losses at home. That leaves bettors in a tough spot, as neither program is inspiring much confidence at the moment.
It’s tough to see this game being anything but a dogfight, with Arkansas’ athletic defense potentially able to shut down Heisman hopeful Kenny Hill, while the Razorbacks’ inefficient offense goes up against the Frogs’ porous “D.” I think Texas Christian pulls out a victory, but Arkansas is a strong bet to keep things close at AT&T Stadium.
TCU 24, Arkansas 21
Christopher: The Arkansas offensive line, once again enormous, got beat far too often against Louisiana Tech. The Razorbacks found out that Austin Allen won’t be able to sustain the level of play at quarterback that his brother provided — at least not early in the season. And this TCU team scores points in bunches against pretty much anyone.
Both of these teams got downgraded in the minds of most viewers for lackluster Week 1 wins against inferior opponents (the Horned Frogs beat the wrong Dakota State, 59-41). But I expect TCU to at least contend for the Big 12 title, while Arkansas may be fighting Mississippi State and Auburn to stay out of the bottom of the SEC West.
I don’t think Arkansas is ready to win a shootout, although its defensive line may force Kenny Hill into a few mistakes.
TCU 35, Arkansas 27
South Carolina at Mississippi State (-6.5)
Alex: The Gamecocks are 1-0, but anyone who puts too much stock in that win at Vanderbilt is a damn fool; Will Muschamp’s squad looked awful on offense, and the defense might as well have been going up against a Pop Warner team when Vandy tried to throw the ball.
Meanwhile, those who are counting out Mississippi State because of a Week 1 upset loss to South Alabama would be wise to reassess that pick. The Bulldogs were the victims of several crucial missed tackles and a pair of short-range field-goal misses. On offense, quarterback Damian Williams showed an ability to move the ball well during a couple stretches. I don’t think fans in Starkville will leave disappointed for a second straight week.
Mississippi State 21, South Carolina 10
Christopher: Dan Mullen is going to be asked very different questions after this season.
The last two years, his name got linked to more coaching searches at major programs than any other sitting SEC head coach. Then he allowed Jeffrey Simmons to join the team after video surfaced of the 2016 signee apparently hitting a woman. Then he lost Dak Prescott, De’Runnya Wilson and Fred Brown. Then he lost. To South Alabama. At home.
Dan Mullen your thoughts… https://t.co/sc8UyYQFy8
— Breitwieser (@breitwieser) September 3, 2016
Fortunately, I think Mississippi State’s defense will be good enough up front to contain a wretched Gamecocks offense. Unfortunately for football fans everywhere, both teams should struggle to move the ball.
Hey, maybe this Damian Williams kid will surprise us. Mullen’s one career constant has been quarterback development.
South Carolina won a game it should’ve lost. Mississippi State lost a game it should’ve won. That has affected this line. I like the Bulldogs here.
Mississippi State 20, South Carolina 10
Jacksonville State at LSU (-30.5)
Alex: It’s not clear whether we’ll get “angry LSU” or “our season’s already over” LSU on Saturday. There’s a chance players sense Les Miles’ end is near after a Week 1 loss to unranked Wisconsin, and that might be an accurate assessment.
But it’s still September. LSU is 0-0 in conference play. There’s plenty of season left. The Tigers are more than likely ready to rebound and regather momentum before the SEC grind begins. Jacksonville State is no pushover — it was the FCS runner-up last season and nearly upset No. 6 Auburn — but LSU is one of America’s most talented teams, and it’s not looking past this matchup.
LSU 44, Jacksonville State 17
Christopher: Jacksonville State is a quality FCS team. But LSU has better athletes at every position group. Les Miles and the Tigers should get a chance to take out some of their frustrations, even if Leonard Fournette’s ankle keeps him out.
I tend to go overboard in this picks column. But this game isn’t worthy of a long write-up.
There’s plenty of season left, LSU fans. You’ll be disappointed if you expected a title. But if you’re OK with 8 or 9 wins, you don’t need to panic. This will be win No. 1.
LSU 38, Jacksonville State 10
Arkansas State at Auburn (-19)
Alex: Last year’s Sun Belt champions took a 31-10 beating at home vs. Toledo this past weekend, dropping the Vegas line for Saturday from -13 to -19 (The other side of that equation was Auburn’s 6-point home loss to No. 2 Clemson).
These teams defied expectations in opposite ways, pointing to a big Auburn win this weekend. But I’m still not sure the Tigers can score 19 points, let alone win by 19. Until Gus Malzahn sorts out his motley quarterbacking crew, it’s better to play Auburn’s matchups safe.
Auburn 24, Arkansas State 13
Christopher: Let’s play a quick game of word association.
Gus Malzahn! … (offense, right?)
Auburn’s defense! … (Carl Lawson, I presume?)
Auburn’s biggest offensive weapon! … (Um, who is the team’s best offensive lineman?)
If Kerryon Johnson, a poor man’s Brandon Powell (of Florida), is your offensive superstar, you’ve got problems. Malzahn seems to be making quarterback decisions by throwing darts, or spinning a giant Price Is Right-style wheel. Congratulations, Sean White, you get to … wait for it … ohhhhh! You have to hand off this play.
I don’t trust Auburn to score 20 points, much less beat any FBS team by that margin. Yes, the defense played an impressive game against Clemson. But transfer quarterback Chad Voytik, formerly of Pitt, should be able to make enough plays with his arm or his legs to keep this one reasonable.
Auburn 27, Arkansas State 10
Eastern Michigan at Missouri (-25)
Alex: Similar to Auburn, Missouri’s offense was an ugly mess in Week 1. Sophomore quarterback Drew Lock was inefficient (5.5-yard average on 51 attempts) against a West Virginia defense that ranked 86th vs. the pass last season, and primary running backs Alex Ross (3.7 yards per carry) and Ish Witter (3.2) both underwhelmed.
The good news? Eastern Michigan was trash last year, going 1-11 overall and 0-8 in the MAC. The Eagles showed some promise during a 61-14 blowout of Mississippi Valley State last weekend, but don’t read too much into that; the FCS Delta Devils only had one win last year, too.
Missouri 30, Eastern Michigan 3
Christopher: After a 26-11 road loss to West Virginia, new head coach Barry Odom fell on the sword. Missouri pulled Drew Lock in favor of Marvin Zanders during the middle of his second consecutive productive drive, and the drive stalled. Odom took the blame and said it was a mistake.
Then, the media asked offensive coordinator Josh Heupel about it. Heupel said it was his call, not Odom’s, and that he wouldn’t change his decision if given the opportunity. It played like he publicly contradicted Odom, but he probably didn’t realize it at the time.
At any rate, that gives us some insight into Heupel’s personality.
Missouri has beaten just four teams by at least 25 points in its last 27 games, including one FCS opponent. But that was during the Gary Pinkel era. J’Mon Moore (23 targets vs. West Virginia, according to Pro Football Focus) and Alabama transfer Chris Black (102 receiving yards) are better athletes than Eastern Michigan’s cornerbacks.
Back to Heupel: He seems like the type of person that will press any advantage against a weaker team like EMU in an attempt to run up the score.
Missouri 35, Eastern Michigan 9
Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee (-11.5)
Alex: Appalachian State straight-up outplayed the Volunteers last Thursday. Butch Jones has plenty of talent in Knoxville, but where was it? Quarterback Josh Dobbs looked lost. Running back Jalen Hurd was a mere mortal. A defense full of All-SEC talent got smashed in the mouth by a Sun Belt team.
So, here we are: a neutral-site clash with ACC stalwart Virginia Tech in front of 150,000 people. The Hokies weren’t overly impressive vs. Liberty in Week 1, but they still won by 23. Quarterback Jerod Evans is a bigger, better version of App State’s dual-threat leader, and he’s got some great options to throw to, including a pair of excellent receivers and tight end Bucky Hodges, who caught 2 touchdowns against Liberty.
On defense, Tech is large up front and returns all four starting defensive backs. I’d be surprised to see a blowout in favor of Tennessee, a team that still needs to prove something — anything — before you take it seriously.
Virginia Tech 27, Tennessee 21
Christopher: One of the biggest overreactions in the SEC after Week 1: Tennessee is terrible.
The Vols should’ve lost to Appalachian State. But coach Butch Jones and UT finally won a close game in the fourth quarter. They were due.
Tennessee still is saturated with stars. Jalen Hurd. Derek Barnett. Alvin Kamara. Cam Sutton. Jalen Reeves-Maybin. Yes, there are concerns … Joshua Dobbs, an experienced senior starter, looked more like Jeremy Johnson than Dak Prescott. The interior defensive line got pushed around by a much smaller team.
The offensive line was most troubling. That’s supposed to be coordinator Mike DeBord’s biggest value. The group made huge improvements from ’14 to ’15, and returned a lot of experience. And the effort against the Mountaineers was shameful. Expect Bud Foster to blitz more often than a 15-year-old playing Madden.
Expect a bounce-back effort from Dobbs, though. Josh Malone should have some opportunities downfield. And Tennessee’s defense should dominate. If betting were legal, I’d like the under in this contest.
Tennessee 28, Virginia Tech 13