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:
Ohio at No. 15 Tennessee (-27.5)
Alex: If Tennessee is the team experts expected it to be during the preseason, this game should be a blowout. The Vols appeared to turn a corner after getting down 14-0 against Virginia Tech in Bristol this past Saturday, scoring 31 consecutive points and winning by 21 on the strength of five VT fumbles and the resurgence of Josh Dobbs.
Ohio, which has scored 91 combined points in its first two games, is no slouch, but the Bobcats defense — which gave up 56 to Texas State in the opener — might as well be made up of 11 turnstiles. If Tennessee can’t capitalize, there’s no way I’m picking it to break an ugly losing streak against Florida on Sept. 24.
Tennessee 44, Ohio 10
Christopher: Three things concern me if I’m looking at laying 4 touchdowns on Tennessee.
- The Vols’ entire season will be decided in the four games after this one, including next week vs. Florida.
- UT wants to keep Joshua Dobbs healthy, and may not rush him as often in this game.
- Ohio’s offense has been efficient and balanced this season. Frank Solich is a solid coach, and I don’t expect Tennessee to shut out the Bobcats.
I’m still claiming the conductor spot on the Tennessee hype train. UT will go 4-0 against nonconference teams, 4-0 against the dregs of the SEC East and should get to at least 10 wins by splitting against Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Texas A&M.
But my money goes to Ohio for this one.
Tennessee 33, Ohio 13
Vanderbilt at Georgia Tech (-6.5)
Alex: Vandy’s big win over Middle Tennessee was more impressive than you think; the Commodores — helpless on offense in Week 1 — put up 47 points against a team that held them to 17 last season. The Blue Raiders had star quarterback Brent Stockstill back, too, but he could not get anything started against a tough Commodores “D.”
On the other side, Georgia Tech has already played and defeated an elite defense (Boston College), and the Yellow Jackets are sneakily tough at home; Paul Johnson’s team has not lost by more than a touchdown in Atlanta since October 2012. This should be a close one.
Georgia Tech 20, Vanderbilt 17
Christopher: Georgia Tech’s offensive line isn’t great. The Yellow Jackets are built on long clock-draining drives. If Vanderbilt can disrupt that and avoid facing third-and-2, that’s a huge advantage.
‘Dores running back Ralph Webb is the most accomplished offensive player in this game. Justin Thomas, Tech’s quarterback, also is talented. The outcome may hinge on which one of those players is more productive.
Vanderbilt probably should be 2-0 right now, and then this line is much closer. I think Vandy may be the better team in this game. A win could revive bowl game hopes for coach Derek Mason.
Vanderbilt 24, Georgia Tech 23
No. 1 Alabama (-10.5) at No. 19 Ole Miss
Alex: It’s the same story as last year: Ole Miss can’t do this again, right? Alabama looks like a dominant force, while Hugh Freeze and Chad Kelly are playing with house money.
There’s a deceiving unimportance to this one, as we can count on Mississippi to blow the SEC West lead if it wins, and count on Alabama to overcome an early-season loss en route to another Playoff appearance. The biggest question is whether Freeze’s defense has the tools to stop ‘Bama in the passing game, especially when Jalen Hurts tucks and runs (Everyone saw Florida State’s Deondre Francois gash the Rebels on opening weekend).
But Hurts, a true freshman, is not yet a reliably accurate passer, and his first game in enemy territory will probably produce some unexpected results. I’ll go with the steady hand — Kelly — and expect the Ole Miss defense to bother Alabama’s young star.
Ole Miss 31, Alabama 28
Christopher: When I look at this game, I see a “tale of two secondaries.”
Chad Kelly > Jalen Hurts. At least for now. But the Ole Miss offensive line isn’t great shakes. Alabama’s pass rush is more or less as fierce as 2015. Kelly has a little Brett Favre in him, both good and bad. And the Alabama secondary is outstanding. Physical, fast, ball hawks and terrific with the ball in their hands.
The Rebels’ secondary is shaky. And Alabama’s receivers are scary good. ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley can grab quick screens and do real damage. Gehrig Dieter and O.J. Howard are fantastic second options.
Assuming the turnover ratio doesn’t equal last year’s (Alabama 5, Ole Miss 0), those mismatches in the passing game all point to Bama.
Alabama 35, Ole Miss 20
East Carolina at South Carolina (-3.5)
Alex: Vegas usually slots the home team a 3-point advantage, so it’s basically calling this an even matchup. Here’s why: East Carolina put up 52 against Western Carolina and 33 against North Carolina State (both wins), while South Carolina has made every one of its first downs look like brain surgery.
USC quarterbacks Perry Orth (55.6 completion percentage, no touchdowns, 1 interception) and Brandon McIlwain (4.88 yards per attempt) have been pretty bad, though McIlwain put together two touchdown drives during the second half against Mississippi State. I’m not trusting the Gamecocks until they put together a full 60 minutes of good football.
East Carolina 24, South Carolina 20
Christopher: South Carolina rushed 63 times for just 155 yards against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. Perry Orth and Brandon McIlwain are completing 52.2 percent of their passes, with 2 touchdowns in 69 attempts. Bryan Edwards is a fine true freshman, but he isn’t a good enough offensive option to carry an entire unit.
East Carolina just scored 33 points against North Carolina State. That offense consistently moves the ball and scores points against power-conference foes. The Gamecocks have to hope this is a grind-it-out game like they got against Vanderbilt. But if the score reaches the 30s, I’m not confident in a South Carolina win, much less by more than a field goal.
East Carolina 27, South Carolina 24
New Mexico State at Kentucky (-19.5)
Alex: If Mark Stoops can’t get his Wildcats to show up in Week 3, he’s as good as gone (buyout, schmyout). New Mexico State is the worst FBS program in the country, and it’s not a particularly close race; The Aggies have not had a winning season in 14 years. Kentucky can’t possibly allow them to stay in the game, right?
Let’s give Stoops the benefit of the doubt for one more week, though it’s scary to pick a team that just got embarrassed by 38 points in a potentially winnable game. Drew Barker will wake up from his nightmare and move the ball against a poor defense.
Kentucky 40, New Mexico State 13
Christopher: Last week represented a horrible mismatch for Kentucky, which you would’ve known if you read my analysis of that game in the Triple G. The UK defense remains waif-thin. But, when this bunch faces a defense without elite talent, it can move the ball.
Considering the UTEP Miners put up 518 yards on this Aggies defense in Week 1 — including 249 rushing yards for Aaron Jones — I expect Boom Williams and Jojo Kemp to have banner days.
This line would be at least three touchdowns if UK (0-2) had performed better the first two weeks. There’s decent value here.
Kentucky 42, New Mexico State 20
No. 17 Texas A&M at Auburn (-3.5)
Alex: The emergence of Sean White in Week 2 means the Tigers might actually be set at quarterback (though I’m not holding my breath). Auburn’s defense is particularly stout, and matches up well against Texas A&M’s flashy attack. Add in some homefield advantage, and you have an answer to, “Why is A&M an underdog against THESE guys?”
Kevin Sumlin’s teams are 3-1 in SEC road openers, and the Aggies offense will provide an unrelenting challenge for the Tigers, especially in the passing game. There’s also the nearly impossible task of keeping A&M ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall at bay. Those two will keep White from finding his groove on the Plains.
Texas A&M 23, Auburn 21
Christopher: Auburn outplayed my expectations the first two weeks of the season. On name alone, the Tigers downgraded at defensive coordinator from Will Muschamp to Kevin Steele. The Muschamp hiring was a major reason the media thrust Auburn into the SEC favorite role prior to the 2015 season. But in reality, for whatever reason, that wasn’t a good fit.
Carl Lawson being healthy is one factor. But the defense is playing better than it has in years.
I’m skeptical that’s going to last. On paper, Clemson presented a bigger test than Texas A&M’s offense. But, just like at defensive coordinator, some things don’t work like we expect. The Aggies are poised to present problems with a fleet of top-end receivers and Trevor Knight serving as a steady facilitator.
Auburn’s offense found more of an identity last week with Sean White at quarterback and a steady running game. But this is the least excited I’ve been about a Gus Malzahn unit in a long time. That plays against Auburn here.
Texas A&M 28, Auburn 24
Mississippi State at No. 20 LSU (-14)
Alex: Go ahead, LSU fans. Believe that Danny Etling was an upgrade over Brandon Harris against Jacksonville State. The Purdue transfer tossed a 46-yard touchdown on his first drive and briefly looked like Joe Montana when held up next to Harris.
But it’s tough to look past the rest of Etling’s performance. He went 3-of-9 for 35 yards, no touchdowns and an interception after that first drive. Meanwhile, Mississippi State has a pair of quarterbacks — Damian Williams and Nick Fitzgerald — that have both played better than the guys in Baton Rouge. Can the Bulldogs hang on against Leonard Fournette? No, but this should be a close game going into the fourth quarter.
LSU 27, Mississippi State 17
Christopher: Brandon Harris has absorbed all the negative energy related to the perception of this team. In the shadows, just like it was last year, is this team’s defense. Defensive play was overlooked as a factor in last year’s disappointing season. And despite the “upgrade” to Dave Aranda and a saturation of potential NFL talents, that continues to be the case.
If FCS member Jacksonville State (368 total yards) could equal LSU’s offensive output last week (371), a Dan Mullen-coached Mississippi State should do something similar.
The Bulldogs are not going to be fooled by LSU’s switch to Danny Etling, either. Stopping Leonard Fournette is the top priority for their defense. Until the Tigers can beat people downfield, I don’t think Fournette — as good as he is — is enough to allow LSU to run away with this game.
Mississippi State should be in contention for last in the SEC West. I don’t think they win. But LSU should have a tough time separating.
LSU 24, Mississippi State 21
No. 16 Georgia (-6.5) at Missouri
Alex: How much stock should you put into Missouri’s 61-21 win over Eastern Michigan, which featured a breakout performance from sophomore quarterback Drew Lock (450 yards, 5 touchdowns)? Probably not much, given that EMU has failed to win more than two games in four consecutive seasons.
Ditto for Georgia’s narrow 26-24 win over Nicholls, a result that shocked fans across the SEC. This is perhaps the week’s most fascinating matchup; Missouri has nowhere to go but down, and Georgia can only improve on its Week 2 performance. I think the Tigers will stick around until the second half, at which point Nick Chubb begins wearing them down and Lock makes a couple crucial mistakes.
Georgia 30, Missouri 20
Christopher: The Missouri offense discovered a novel concept after last year’s floundering — keep the same five offensive lineman in the same spots every practice and game, and they’ll maximize their talents. Last year’s musical chairs among that unit made no sense.
Better play by the line has allowed Drew Lock to get more comfortable and take advantage of some athletic receivers. Add to that Missouri’s tempo, and the Tigers are going to gain yards at a much easier clip than they did in 2016.
Georgia comes into this game angry after a mediocre performance in a classic let-down spot. The key is the play of Georgia’s offensive line. Missouri’s front seven is still strong. UGA’s identity is running the football, and even with Jacob Eason, there are questions at receiver. I expect the Bulldogs’ offensive line to play better, but how much? That’s the crux of this game.
Georgia 27, Missouri 21
North Texas at No. 23 Florida (-36.5)
Alex: These “blowout” lines are the toughest to pick because it’s nearly impossible to know when a Georgia/Nicholls game will rear its ugly head. I’m 99 percent sure Florida will beat North Texas on Saturday, but can it do so by more than five touchdowns?
There are two reasons I don’t think the Gators will do it: They’re coming off a near-perfect performance against Kentucky, and the players are assuredly sneaking peeks at a Sept. 24 trip to Knoxville. First-year Mean Green offensive coordinator Graham Harrell (yes, that guy) will put up enough points to beat the spread.
Florida 43, North Texas 16
Christopher: Florida has played four lower-tier non-conference opponents under head coach Jim McElwain. The Gators failed to cover the spread in the last three contests, including an overtime win against Florida Atlantic and a scare against East Carolina.
Put aside the hope and pride in last week’s drubbing of Kentucky. Luke Del Rio is a fine quarterback and Antonio Callaway is a nice player. But this offense isn’t as good as it will be in 2017.
Thanks to Will Muschamp’s recruiting, this defense still is among the most feared in the country. North Texas quarterbacks Alec Morris and Mason Fine have combined for a pathetic 5.2 yards per attempt while throwing four interceptions against the likes of SMU and Bethane-Cookman.
Florida may pitch a shutout here or score on defense. But I’m not sold on the Gators scoring at least six times.
Florida 38, North Texas 3
Texas State at No. 24 Arkansas (-31)
Alex: I don’t trust the Razorbacks to cover a huge spread against a team that hung 56 points on Ohio in Week 1. Last week’s performance at TCU was excellent, but it came on the heels of a thoroughly disappointing 21-20 win over Louisiana Tech.
Austin Allen became a star in Fort Worth, and he’ll have a chance to back up that status against Texas A&M next weekend. In the meantime, I’m expecting a modest — not crazy — day from him and the rest of the Razorbacks offense. A first-year Texas State staff will keep things somewhat interesting in Fayetteville.
Arkansas 45, Texas State 23
Christopher: I’m hoping that we finally get a good dose of true freshman running back Devwah Whaley. That may necessitate a big early lead.
Can the Arkansas defense shut down Texas State? Senior quarterback Tyler Jones threw for 418 yards in the season opener. I’m skeptical that an average Razorbacks secondary will be able to hold the Bobcats to single digits.
I asked a member of our sales team about this game: “I’m going to say Arkansas rides the momentum, Bret Bielema goes nuts and the Razorbacks win by 40. I don’t know anything about Texas State.” That surely represents the opinion of the common fan.
This number is inflated by the fact that Arkansas (2-0) won an exciting overtime game. But this team could be (arguably, should be) 0-2. Twelve of Araknsas’ last 28 games were decided by one possession. I don’t trust this team to blow out a Sun Belt program with a decent audience.
Arkansas 42, Texas State 14
- Christopher: 20-5 (15-10 ATS)
- Alex: 17-8 (12-13 ATS)