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:
Alcorn State at No. 20 Arkansas (-49)
Alex: Fred McNair — a former pro quarterback and the brother of late NFL MVP Steve — is in his first year as Alcorn State boss, and he’s already struggling to live up to the stellar four-year tenure of his predecessor Jay Hopson (now the head coach at Southern Mississippi). The Braves are 1-2, including a 43-18 loss at Grambling State last weekend.
But there are a few things going in McNair’s favor: Arkansas just suffered a bruising loss to Texas A&M, and the Razorbacks are undoubtedly eyeing their Oct. 8 home game against No. 1 Alabama. There’s also Arkansas’ Week 1 brush with death to consider, when it needed a strong finish to keep Louisiana Tech from pulling off a major upset.
This seems like the perfect Vegas trap game. Look for the Hogs to stumble out of the gate long enough that a seven-touchdown lead won’t be attainable.
Arkansas 47, Alcorn State 10
Christopher: Arkansas’ biggest problem is its offensive line. Otherwise, this is a very good offense. And the offensive line faced a complete mismatch against Myles Garrett and Texas A&M. But against Texas State? The Hogs rushed for 226 yards.
Alcorn State’s senior linebacker Darien Anderson has 30 tackles and 6.5 sacks in just three games. But as long as Arkansas gets a big-bodied lineman on Anderson, I expect the Razorbacks to have their way.
The Braves have allowed a 400-yard passer (DeVante Kincade, Grambling State) and a 500-yard passer (Brandon Duncan, Arkansas Pine-Bluff). And the Razorbacks receivers are far better than any this secondary has seen all season.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and his team have an edge to them. I expect them to dominate a lesser opponent and cover the big number.
Arkansas 59, Alcorn State 7
No. 23 Florida (-10) at Vanderbilt
Alex: The Gators are talking about national championships when they should be trying to figure out how they’re going to make it out of Nashville with their one-loss record intact. Jim McElwain needs to get his team mentally readjusted after it blew a 21-point lead at hated rival Tennessee.
On the home side, Derek Mason’s group somehow pulled out an overtime win at Western Kentucky and is riding a wave of confidence. His Commodores defense had the Gators’ number last year in a 9-7 Florida win at The Swamp. Another blue-and-orange win is nigh, but it won’t be by double digits.
Florida 19, Vanderbilt 12
Christopher: Vanderbilt played well enough to win this game last year — at least on defense. An offensive abomination in 2015, the game shouldn’t be much better this time. The ‘Dores arguably have made more progress on offense than the Gators. But Florida still fields a very good defense capable of halting that progress.
As Alex referenced, it’s narcissistic and misguided for the players to be talking national championship. With LSU, Georgia, Arkansas and Florida State left on the schedule, it wouldn’t be all that shocking if the Gators finished with four losses. But the East Division remains thin. Florida needs to regroup and try to go unbeaten in its remaining four divisional games, starting with this one.
Just when we count out Derek Mason, his team plays much better. The overtime win against Western Kentucky should be a boost. If only this team had held a second-half lead against South Carolina, Vandy would be halfway to a bowl game at 3-1. This is a noon ET kickoff in Nashville, so there shouldn’t be a home-field advantage in terms of the crowd. But that’s a tough spot on the road for a Florida team that just got a bomb dropped on it in the second half.
Antonio Callaway and Ralph Webb need to create their own offense in this one. The under can’t be too low.
Florida 21, Vanderbilt 13
No. 11 Tennessee (-3.5) at No. 25 Georgia
Alex: Kirby Smart’s first season took a nosedive in Oxford, and now he must draw up a game plan to defeat a team that simply won’t die. The Vols have not lived up to expectations this season, but they’re 4-0 and have come back to life after being down 14 points to Virginia Tech and 21 points to Florida.
This is a huge game for UGA; if the Dawgs win, they will be in the driver’s seat for the SEC East crown. If they lose, their championship game hopes become longer than a DMV line during the Monday lunch hour. Both of these teams have serious issues, but they’re coming off wildly different weekends, and the road squad has more talent to work with.
Tennessee 30, Georgia 20
Christopher: Tennessee can all but lock up a spot in Atlanta on the first day in October.
That may sound presumptuous. All due respect to Missouri, though — a win here almost certainly means Team 120 will finish 6-0 against the SEC East. That leaves crossover games against Alabama and Texas A&M. Take care of business against the Vanderbilts of the world, find a way to split against the Tide and Aggies and Tennessee would win the division outright. Even at 6-2, the Vols would look good. The Florida-Georgia winner would have to go unbeaten in the rest of its SEC schedule to usurp them.
Fans and the media have reacted to this Tennessee team like hormonal teenagers. One quarter we’re in love. One quarter we think this team is awful. But the Vols have remained the exact same team since the start of the 2015 season. Talented and flawed.
Talent eventually won out vs. Florida. And I’d expect the Vols’ defensive line to exploit Georgia. Can Joshua Dobbs and the passing game build on a terrific second half and also find a way to take advantage of a beatable UGA secondary? Or will Jacob Eason and the Bulldogs passing game be the one making tangible progress? I think both, to a degree.
Tennessee 31, Georgia 27
Louisiana-Monroe at Auburn (-33)
Alex: The Warhawks are under new leadership. Matt Viator (previously employed by FCS school McNeese State) is attempting to drag ULM back to the heights it reached in 2012, when the Hawks beat No. 8 Arkansas on the road before losing a pair of contests to Auburn and Baylor by a combined 8 points.
They’ve played Power 5 opponents tough in recent years, and their new 4-2-5 defense will attempt to contain any big plays by the home team. Good luck stopping Sean White and Kerryon Johnson on the ground, but a run-heavy approach by Auburn will bleed plenty of clock and make it challenging to reach that Vegas threshold.
Auburn 38, Louisiana-Monroe 13
Christopher: Louisiana-Monroe isn’t going to be intimidated in this spot. The Warhawks played five SEC teams in the last two years, and already faced then-No. 14 Oklahoma this year. Louisiana-Monroe scored 17 in that game, and almost upset Georgia Southern on the road last week.
This is a classic letdown spot for Auburn. Yes, the Tigers moved the ball much better between the 20s against LSU. No, Auburn did not reach the end zone a single time.
Fortunately for coach Gus Malzahn, the Louisiana-Monroe run defense gives up 5.4 yards per carry. Expect Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway to enjoy big-time performances. Still, I’m not so sure that Auburn is 5 touchdowns better than this outfit.
Auburn 38, Louisiana-Monroe 7
No. 9 Texas A&M (-17.5) at South Carolina
Alex: A&M is now a bona fide College Football Playoff contender, which — if you’ve been following along with the Kevin Sumlin era — means it’s time for a setback. Not necessarily an “L,” but a close enough game to keep fans chewing their nails into the fourth quarter.
South Carolina is a capable defensive team. And with Myles Garrett (ankle) somewhat hobbled, the Gamecocks might be able to move the team a little bit, despite the fact that Brandon McIlwain is roughly the size of one of Garrett’s thighs. There’s so much ahead of Texas A&M — including back-to-back games against Tennessee and Alabama later this month — that it might forget Will Muschamp embarrassed them at Kyle Field last season.
Texas A&M 23, South Carolina 14
Christopher: South Carolina has occupied spot No. 14 in my SEC power rankings — even after beating Vandy. Texas A&M? No. 3. There always is a wide disparity between the top of the SEC and the bottom.
John Chavis’ defense has improved enough to dominate this game. The Gamecocks mustered 10 points last weekend against a Kentucky team that gave up 35 to New Mexico State — in a single half. South Carolina averages 3.0 yards per carry and 6.0 yards per pass attempt. True freshman receiver Bryan Edwards and sophomore tight end Hayden Hurst are the most prominent “weapons.”
South Carolina represents the least intimidating offense in the SEC. Even including Vandy. Texas A&M’s offense ranks No. 7 nationally in yards per game. The Aggies are as balanced as they’ve ever been in the Kevin Sumlin era.
Expect Texas A&M to put a hurting on Will Muschamp. The honeymoon ends here.
Texas A&M 35, South Carolina 10
Kentucky at No. 1 Alabama (-35)
Alex: Kentucky doesn’t have an igloo’s chance in Hades this Saturday, but a 5-touchdown line is tough to predict when the Crimson Tide are involved. Alabama doesn’t have a habit of running up the score, though the competition is sometimes bad enough (see: last week vs. Kent State) that the Crimson Tide will accidentally stumble into a 42-0 lead soon after the second-half kickoff.
Wildcats quarterback Stephen Johnson will be in over his head against this Tide defense, and coach Mark Stoops is still probably looking over his shoulder for Tommy Tuberville. We’ll see if Nick Saban shows some mercy, but his team should be capable of something ugly in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama 52, Kentucky 3
Christopher: The news came down Wednesday that Blake Barnett, a former 5-star quarterback who spent all offseason in hot contention for the starting job, will transfer. For many teams, this would serve as a major distraction. For Alabama, that may only make them more focused, as Nick Saban surely will drive his entire staff to ensure that this team stays ready.
In any case, this is Jalen Hurts’ team. Has been for some time. Don’t buy into the Kentucky renaissance on defense, either. South Carolina is the worst offense in the SEC. UK may have looked better. But they aren’t. This unit still resembles Swiss cheese on a good day. Alabama’s athletes will overwhelm them.
Boom Williams and Benny Snell are fine running backs and my favorite thing about this UK team. But Kentucky’s offensive line doesn’t stand a chance against the Alabama front seven. The prognosis is even worse for Stephen Johnson, who is so thin he looks as if he’d snap in half if an intramural Average Joe went a little too hard during a game of two-hand touch.
Three years ago, a player like Johnson would raise concerns against a huge, lumbering Alabama defense. But this unit is much faster. And if you think it has lost its physical edge, Reuben Foster has something to say.
Alabama 49, Kentucky 10
Memphis at No. 16 Ole Miss (-14.5)
Alex: Ole Miss likely ended the future of this rivalry because the Tigers have become a stronger football program than expected, and this year is no exception. Memphis has outscored its first three opponents by a combined 155-27, while quarterback Riley Ferguson has completed 67 percent of his passes for 843 yards, 11 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
The Rebels, however, are from a different galaxy than the trio of those opponents (Southeast Missouri State, Kansas and Bowling Green). Their offense and defense both turned in near-perfect performances against a decent Georgia team last weekend, and two of the country’s most talented defenses — Alabama and Florida State — have already been liquified by the Chad Kelly-led passing attack.
Expect a blowout in Oxford as the Rebels provide a little more sturdiness to their College Football Playoff hopes.
Ole Miss 44, Memphis 21
Christopher: Don’t expect a shocker in Oxford like we saw at the Liberty Bowl last season. But this Memphis offense remains prolific in the passing game, even without 6-foot-7 quarterback Paxton Lynch. Granted, it came against suspect competition. But the Tigers average 9.1 yards per pass attempt, which is in line with last year’s figure. This Ole Miss defense gives up yards in chunks.
Chad Kelly, the most prolific passer in the SEC, is perfect for this offense. He doesn’t mind taking chances. And his tall, athletic receivers make him look good more often than not. Still, he’s probably due for a costly turnover or two — the cost of being a “gunslinger” quarterback.
Despite playing Florida State, Alabama and Georgia early in the season, the Ole Miss pass offense is the most explosive in the SEC. The Rebels have 24 completions of at least 20 yards. So they’re going to put up points here. But even with a three-score lead, the back door will remain open for this Memphis team.
This is one of those games where the half-point makes all the difference.
Ole Miss 42, Memphis 28
Missouri at LSU (-13)
Alex: This will be Missouri’s grand re-entrance into SEC relevance. With Les Miles gone, all eyes will be on LSU until Drew Lock and the (visiting) Tigers offense command the conference’s attention with another strong performance.
Don’t forget: Mizzou boasted one of the best defense’s in the country last season, and while the current unit is lagging behind that pace a bit, there’s still enough talent on Barry Odom’s defense to bottle up Danny Etling and keep Leonard Fournette from dominating the game. I don’t like the amount of distractions LSU has needed to deal with this week, and I don’t know how much support Ed Orgeron’s team will get from the home crowd if it doesn’t get off to a strong start.
Back in August, it was impossible to imagine a 2-3 start for Louisiana State, but here we are.
Missouri 24, LSU 23
Christopher: Mizzou is overinflated after a 79-0 romp against a glorified high school team. Drew Lock is an extreme version of every precision passer. He’s a practice player who is much, much better when he isn’t being pressured.
Arden Key, Lewis Neal and LSU are athletic enough to present problems for this Missouri offensive line, which has played remarkably well. The East Division Tigers have only allowed 1 sack in four games. Plus, LSU’s corners are athletic enough to win 1-on-1 matchups against J’Mon Moore and others.
Ed Orgeron isn’t the long-term answer at LSU. But he’s succeeded in this interim spot before. The team in Baton Rouge may feel nostalgia for the Les Miles glory days, but also must be relieved to get a fresh start. Don’t expect wholesale offensive changes. And the passing game remains wretched. But this feels like the outing that Leonard Fournette dominates.
LSU 31, Missouri 17
- Christopher: 35-9 (26-18 ATS)
- Alex: 30-14 (21-23 ATS)