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:
Kent State at No. 1 Alabama (-43.5)
Alex: As outlined in Week 2, Alabama typically does not beat the snot out of its small-school opponents, and Nick Saban is unlikely to authorize an ugly blowout against his alma mater. Still, this is the Crimson Tide’s biggest spread since 2014 for good reason: Kent State is bad.
The Golden Flashes — who have still not won a MAC title since 1972, the year after Saban left — lost to North Carolina A&T in four overtimes and then posted an unconvincing 27-7 win over Monmouth this past Saturday. But Paul Haynes’ squad did manage to hang with Penn State in Week 1 (33-13), and I’d be surprised if the Tide beat the visiting Flashes (who Saban carefully selected as a non-conference opponent) by more than 5 touchdowns.
Alabama 44, Kent State 10
Christopher: This Alabama team is more feast/famine than we’ve seen in years. The defense gives up yards (relative to the norm for this program). But it thrives on sacks, pressures and turnovers. The offense sputters, then Jalen Hurts and a collection of receiving targets are electric.
I’m not sure that bodes well for the team’s national title chances. Yet Alabama made it past the Ole Miss speed bump for the first time in three years. Even Nick Saban may have trouble avoiding an emotional letdown after that classic. The Tide should cruise past Kent State and Kentucky before facing ranked teams in four consecutive games.
As Alex pointed out, Saban typically goes conservative against teams like the Golden Flashes in the second half. Alabama surely wants to re-establish its running game and build the confidence of Hurts the passer with easy, high-percentage throws to its superior athletes. Look for a more controlled, even performance.
Alabama 42, Kent State 3
No. 12 Georgia at No. 23 Ole Miss (-7)
Alex: It’s rare for a 7-point underdog to be ranked nine spots higher in the AP poll, but Vegas clearly has paid attention to Ole Miss’ firepower — and Georgia’s slightly unimpressive start — through the first three weeks. The question is: Can the Rebels bounce back from a 48-43 loss to Alabama that might have zapped them physically and emotionally? Georgia was in a dramatic game of its own, but a 3-0 record makes weekday preparation a lot easier to handle.
The Bulldogs defense is pretty suspect (Missouri’s Drew Lock posted 322 yards by halftime), and vulnerable to domination by Ole Miss’ elite passing game. Plus, it’s still too early to trust Jacob Eason in back-to-back performances on the road. Mississippi should climb back into the SEC West race with a convincing victory.
Ole Miss 33, Georgia 21
Christopher: Chad Kelly and the Ole Miss passing offense remain potent. Jacob Eason already is drawing a “clutch” label thanks to a fourth-and-10 touchdown throw to edge past Missouri last week. This is the present and the future when it comes to quarterback play in the SEC.
The Rebels’ schedule is unfortunate. The team played Florida State and Alabama very tough in the first three weeks of the season — with two fewer days of rest. Now Ole Miss must face a ranked Georgia team.
But the Bulldogs offensive line is struggling to the point where Missouri made Nick Chubb and Sony Michel look pedestrian last week. I’m not sure that Georgia is ready to turn loose Eason. The Georgia pass defense also looks mighty vulnerable, having just allowed 376 yards and 3 touchdowns to Drew Lock.
I wish the number was 6.5. Still, this screams opportunity to me. Georgia won a few games it could’ve lost and Ole Miss lost a few games it should’ve won. Kelly has a chance to further solidify his NFL draft prospects here.
Ole Miss 35, Georgia 27
No. 19 Florida at No. 14 Tennessee (-6.5)
Alex: I promised to bet against Tennessee in this game if the Volunteers couldn’t cover the spread against Ohio last week, and I’m going to stick by that, even with Florida losing quarterback Luke Del Rio to a knee injury. Austin Appleby was a hack at Purdue, and he’ll likely be a disappointing substitute for Florida, but the Gators’ 11-game winning streak has seen plenty of ugly victories.
The Vols have a lot of injury concerns, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and Josh Dobbs is still a mediocre passer. If Florida can slow him down in the running game — and I think it will — it should pull off the upset and drop the first domino in what figures to be a chaotic SEC East race.
Florida 19, Tennessee 17
Christopher: This line opened at Tennessee minus-11 during the summer. Most Vegas shops listed the Vols as the favorite by more than one touchdown. But despite an injury to Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio, 74 percent of public bets are on the Gators as of Wednesday night. That has been enough to nudge the line past the key number of 7.
Both of these teams are good. Both these teams are flawed.
Tennessee’s concerns: The graph of Joshua Dobbs’ passing ability remains a flat line rather than an incline. This offensive line has regressed. And the defense, supposedly bolstered by a coordinator change and with experienced talent galore, is bruised. It’s also been pushed around in the running game.
Jim McElwain is a better coach than Butch Jones. He’s not as strong at marketing and recruiting. But during games, give me McElwain over Jones every day.
Still, talent matters. And despite the injuries, I have very little confidence that Florida’s offense can move the ball effectively with Austin Appleby playing quarterback. And Boom Williams rushed for 5.5 yards per carry against Florida two weeks ago, so the run defense can’t be considered impenetrable. Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara and Dobbs aren’t the three-headed rushing monster many envisioned, but I think they’ll do enough to end a miserable losing streak against the Gators.
Tennessee 27, Florida 20
Mississippi State (-21.5) at UMass
Alex: This is a surprisingly large spread, especially for a road team that will be traveling more than 1,300 miles. And — while we’re at it — especially for a road team that dropped its opener to South Alabama and hasn’t been able to break 23.5 points in two of its three games.
On the other side, UMass only lost by 17 at Florida, and then stayed within 19 against Boston College. Last week’s 21-13 win over FIU confirmed that, yes, the Minutemen can score points in evenly matched games. The Bulldogs will have plenty more talent — and maybe a functioning offense with Damian Williams back under center — but don’t count on a blowout.
Mississippi State 27, UMass 14
Christopher: I think Mississippi State is the worst team in the SEC West this year. But the Bulldogs squeezed out nearly 500 yards against a Will Muschamp-coached defense just two weeks ago. And this team remains solid up front on defense, despite the relative success of LSU’s running game last week.
The Minutemen offense ranks 126th in the country for long scrimmage plays, with just 22 that have topped 10 yards. So, it’s very possible for a single-digit scoring output from that side.
It’s a little baffling that the Bulldogs suddenly can’t run the ball after so many years churning out effective backfields. But Mississippi State scored 20 points against a pretty good LSU defense last week. I think it’s likely the team tacks on at least touchdown and a field goal to that total and gets into the 30s.
About 60 percent of the public money is on UMass as of Wednesday night. So I’m going the other way.
Mississippi State 35, UMass 10
Delaware State at Missouri (-51)
Alex: Look no further than Missouri’s Week 2 performance against Eastern Michigan for a clue as to how this one will go. The Tigers found their rhythm on offense, putting up 61 points while Drew Lock built up his confidence; and you saw how that confidence manifested itself against Georgia in primetime.
Delaware State is a mediocre FCS program that has one winning season in the past eight, and is already 0-2 this year after getting spanked by Delaware and roughed up by Monmouth. Expect the Missouri record book to be updated for the second time this September.
Missouri 67, Delaware State 13
Christopher: Expect Marvin Zanders to play most, or all, of the second half once the outcome is settled. And he’s predominately a read-option quarterback. Mizzou needs to establish a consistent running game.
So, covering this monstrous spread may depend on an extraordinary first half. But with the Tigers emulating Baylor’s offensive system, Drew Lock putting up huge numbers (yards and attempts) and Josh Heupel’s run-up-the-score aggression, that’s very possible.
Normally I wouldn’t touch a spread this large. But Alex undersold it — Delaware State (0-2) is not a mediocre FCS program. It is a terrible one. The 56-14 loss to Delaware earlier this year seems like progress. In 2015, this team went 1-10 with huge losses to North Carolina Central (33 points), Kent State (32 points), Bethune-Cookman (28 points), Florida A&M (28 points) and South Carolina State (27 points).
So, yes, I do think Missouri can score five or six times in the first half and cruise.
Missouri 58, Delaware State 9
Vanderbilt at Western Kentucky (-7.5)
Alex: Will Derek Mason still have his job in 2017? That answer might depend on how this game goes. It’s embarrassing that an SEC team is a 7.5 underdog against a Conference USA team; perhaps more embarrassing that this is becoming standard for the ‘Dores after James Franklin took his two straight 9-win seasons and dipped for Happy Valley.
Mason’s team fell apart in the second half of a 38-7 beatdown at Georgia Tech last Saturday. If things don’t go the road team’s way early at Western Kentucky, you can expect another punishing loss.
Western Kentucky 30, Vanderbilt 17
Christopher: I’ve adjusted my preseason projection of this Vanderbilt team.
I figured the offense would make marginal progress, while the defense would remain one of the better units in the SEC. Instead, the defense has taken a large step backward. It’s the one positive that Derek Mason has been able to claim during his tenure thus far — yet this team allowed 286 passing yards to Middle Tennessee State and 289 rushing yards to Georgia Tech.
Western Kentucky’s offense remains potent by Group of 5 standards. Vandy may have trouble keeping pace. But I do think that the Commodores defense is better than what they’ve put on the field in the first three games. Vanderbilt is a “bet against” team at this point, but I think there’s slight value on them in this game.
Western Kentucky 24, Vanderbilt 17
No. 18 LSU (-3.5) at Auburn
Alex: Many are convinced Danny Etling is an improvement over Brandon Harris, and the numbers from Saturday’s 23-20 win over Mississippi State (19-of-30 for 215 yards, 1 touchdown, no interceptions) back that claim. The second half was scary, though; Leonard Fournette fumbled the ball away twice, and mental errors kept other Tigers drives from succeeding.
Essentially: The Tigers’ problems don’t all revolve around the quarterback position. There’s a dark cloud hanging over Les Miles’ team that won’t seem to go away. Auburn is in a similar funk — and still a mess at quarterback — so expect a low-scoring battle that will owe more to two ugly offensive gameplans than talent-laden defenses.
LSU 14, Auburn 13
Christopher: Auburn’s offensive performance against Arkansas State appears to be a misnomer. LSU’s defense isn’t as good as most figured with the addition of coordinator Dave Aranda. But against an offense that features Kerryon Johnson, Kamryn Pettway and Tony Stevens? Yes, please.
Auburn’s defense gave up two sacks to Myles Garrett, and Daeshon Hall had three hurries and a fumble recovery. Expect Arden Key to beat the Auburn tackles a few times as well.
Fun fact: coach Gus Malzahn’s team is 0-6 at home vs. SEC opponents since losing to Texas A&M on Nov. 8, 2014. A loss here and Malzahn’s job status will be debated in the media and among the fan base for the rest of the season — and rightly so, as it would represent a seven-game SEC losing streak at Jordan-Hare Stadium. In fact, Auburn is 2-10 against SEC competition overall since that loss to the Aggies.
The LSU offense isn’t the epitome of explosive. But Leonard Fournette and a ball-control offense should be good enough here. This Auburn team just isn’t very good, despite an upgraded defense.
LSU 24, Auburn 20
South Carolina at Kentucky (-2)
Alex: Only gamblers care about this game, but that’s why you’re here, right? To figure out which of these horrible options you should put money on? Your decision will come down to how much you trust new Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson, who looked great in relief of Drew Barker in Saturday’s 61-41 win over New Mexico State (a very bad team).
South Carolina’s defense was stout against high-volume East Carolina, and has now put forth a pair of excellent performances (the other coming at Vanderbilt in Week 1). There’s so much turmoil on both sides of this matchup that it feels wrong to pick one, but it’s safer to go with that Gamecocks “D” instead of against it this week.
South Carolina 16, Kentucky 13
Christopher: Vanderbilt is changing my mind. I know South Carolina beat the ‘Dores. But I still think the Gamecocks could be the worst team in the SEC in 2016.
If New Mexico State can put up 35 points against this Kentucky defense — in one half — South Carolina surely can find a way to score. I also think that JUCO transfer quarterback Stephen Johnson, a slippery runner who can’t be more than 170 pounds (listed at 6-foot-2, 183), will not look nearly as good against a Will Muschamp game plan.
Weekly Boom Williams rant: UK just needs to give him the darn ball. It’s unfathomable to me. He’s averaging 7.1 yards per carry — in the SEC! And how many 20-carry games? Zero. With such a wretched defense, I’d give him the ball on first, second, third and fourth down, until he couldn’t stand up any more.
Kentucky’s offense features the superior weapons in this matchup. I’m terrified of betting on them due to that defense. But I feel the same way about the South Carolina offense.
Kentucky 27, South Carolina 21
No. 17 Arkansas at No. 10 Texas A&M (-5.5)
Alex: The winner of this game will be king of the West dark horses, and recent history tells us Texas A&M will come away happy; the Aggies have won all four SEC matchups against the Razorbacks, with all four wins coming by 7 points or more.
Trevor Knight and Austin Allen have both been good in the early going, and both defenses have had their share of impressive moments and untimely collapses. Six points at a neutral site feels like too big of a spread between two strong — not yet elite — teams. Expect an exciting offensive battle that gets decided by the Aggies’ strong pass rush in the final moments.
Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 31
Christopher: Texas A&M remains undervalued for one more week, even after moving into the AP Top 10. This game has gone to overtime the last two seasons, with the Aggies winning both. But this is the best A&M team since the 11-2 finish in 2012. The defense is markedly improved, led by a pass rush that’s top 5 in the nation.
Meanwhile, I continue to expect a plateau type season for the Hogs. Arkansas should get credit for learning how to win close games, which it couldn’t do early in Bret Bielema’s tenure. The TCU game represents a true road win against a ranked power-conference opponent. But I’m not sold on this Razorbacks team being anything more than an 8-4 bunch. The offensive line should get demolished by Myles Garrett and company, and the secondary ought to give up yards in chunks.
If these two teams played in a few more weeks, this line would be more than one touchdown. Texas A&M has made media types weary with the fool’s gold of the last two seasons. This time in 2014 and ’15, people didn’t heed my warning that the Aggies weren’t that good. Heed me now with the opposite message: This could be the second-best team in the SEC.
Texas A&M 31, Arkansas 17
- Christopher: 28-7 (21-14 ATS)
- Alex: 25-10 (17-18 ATS)