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:
Auburn (-2.5) at Mississippi State
Alex: This is exactly the type of game that Gus Malzahn needs to win to keep his job. It’s also going to be tougher than people expect. Mississippi State dropped its opener to South Alabama, but has since collected two convincing wins — vs. South Carolina and at UMass — while beating the spread at LSU.
Auburn has been tough as well; the Tigers held No. 2 Clemson to 19 points, kept Texas A&M’s electric “O” relatively bottled, and snuck past LSU before stomping on Louisiana-Monroe last weekend. Gus Malzahn’s once-revered offense might be making somewhat of a comeback with Sean White at the helm. MSU’s Nick Fitzgerald is a strong runner like White, but I feel much better about the Bulldogs offense when junior Damian Williams — who looked good against South Alabama and during the LSU comeback — is the man behind center (the Bulldogs appear set on keeping the younger guy in).
This is an even matchup between teams trying to prove they’re not the worst in the West. Even the defenses (Mississippi State 37th, Auburn 40th) have produced similar results. Betting on either one is probably not a good idea, but it’s safer to pick the program without a coach on the hot seat … especially when it has home-field advantage.
Mississippi State 27, Auburn 23
Christopher: Auburn’s defense continues to represent a pleasant surprise. The Tigers have lopped off nearly 50 yards per game from what they allowed last season while improving from 13th to 7th in the SEC in sacks per game. This is a solid unit competing against a middle-of-the-road Mississippi State offense that isn’t explosive.
Auburn is starting to run the ball well again under Gus Malzahn. Most don’t realize it, but Auburn leads the SEC in rushing yards per game. And the team finally has settled on Sean White as its best passer, with John Franklin III coming in and offering an occasional changeup. White has completed 68.4 percent of his passes.
Auburn is a much better team than I imagined. This group feels like 8-4. On paper, the two programs are close. But the Tigers are the better side.
Auburn 27, Mississippi State 20
No. 9 Tennessee at No. 8 Texas A&M (-6.5)
Alex: There is no room for reason here. The Volunteers will give up a 28-0 first-half lead and then win the game on an overtime field goal that bounces off both uprights and goes in. Repeat after me: Tennessee is a zombie squad. It will never lose again. Tennessee is a zombie squad. It will never lose again. Tennessee is a zombie squad. It will never lose again. Tennessee is a zombie squad. It will never lose again. Tennessee is a…
Tennessee 31, Texas A&M 28
Christopher: I’ve ridden the Tennessee bandwagon further than just about anyone outside of Knoxville since January. I still think the Vols will finish the season 10-2 as the SEC East champions. But here’s where the run of magic ends — in front of 100,000 close friends in College Station.
Tennessee has recovered 76 percent of the fumbles in its five games this season, which we know statistically is pure luck. The Vols also have won in overtime and on a last-second Hail Mary in addition to come-from-behind efforts against Virginia Tech and Florida. But the offensive line has regressed. The defense is battered and in desperate need of a bye week. And Joshua Dobbs is much the same quarterback as he’s been his entire career when it comes to throwing the ball downfield.
Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall are nasty pass rushers. Used to be, Tennessee would go for four yards and a cloud of dust against a hapless Texas A&M run defense. But in the second year of John Chavis, the Aggies have made a remarkable turnaround, improving from 108th in 2015 to 45th so far this year.
Everyone will watch to see Derek Barnett and Garrett try to outdo one another. But it may be decided by the running ability of quarterbacks Trevor Knight and Joshua Dobbs. Right now I trust Texas A&M to win the line of scrimmage, and so I think they’ll win the game as well.
Texas A&M 31, Tennessee 21
Vanderbilt at Kentucky (-3)
Alex: Lord help anyone who watches all 3-plus hours of this game. Vanderbilt and Kentucky have shown little to no signs of competence on the offensive side of the ball this season, with the Wildcats’ back-and-forth win over New Mexico State (a glorified FCS school) being the lone exception.
Here’s what Kentucky has that Vanderbilt doesn’t, though: hope. Quarterback Stephen Johnson at least has the potential to do something interesting. Kyle Shurmur and Wade Freebeck? They offer nothing. The Vandy passing offense does not exist. On top of that, Derek Mason is still making the SEC’s leading rusher cover punts, because there’s apparently nothing Mason wants more than for his star player to suffer a totally preventable season-ending injury so he can finally get canned and move back west to coordinate a Pac-12 defense.
Kentucky 17, Vanderbilt 10
Christopher: This is an underrated matchup between unheralded running backs. In the blue corner is Boom Williams, averaging 7.3 yards per carry. In the gold corner is Ralph Webb, who should surpass 3,000 yards of career offense in this game. Those are not easy feats given the collective mediocrity of their teammates.
In order of most to least trustworthy, here’s how I rate the units in this game: 1) Vandy defense, 2) Kentucky offense … OK, fine. The Kentucky defense and Vanderbilt offense are less trustworthy than a politician. I’d feel terrified putting my dollars on either unit.
I’m not sold on UK’s defensive “resurgence” against South Carolina and Alabama. The Gamecocks offense couldn’t hurt a fly, and Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts’ inaccuracy downfield did more to limit Bama than the players in blue. Webb ought to be able to get some hard-earned yards between the tackles. And the way that the ‘Dores dominated the line of scrimmage against the Florida Gators, I expect them to do the same against the Wildcats.
Vanderbilt 19, Kentucky 13
No. 1 Alabama (-13.5) at No. 16 Arkansas
Alex: Arkansas has played Alabama close each of the past two seasons. In 2014, Alabama needed a fourth-quarter touchdown to escape Fayetteville, 14-13. Last fall, the Crimson Tide were held to 3 points over the first 43 minutes before an 81-yard touchdown pass from Jake Coker to Calvin Ridley allowed ‘Bama fans to breathe again.
What I’m trying to say is: Bret Bielema has figured out how to stick with Nick Saban after getting pummeled 52-0 three years ago. I don’t think that’s enough to win — ‘Bama has so much more talent, especially on defense — but a two-touchdown spread seems way too large here. Those who love to root for chaos should side with the Hogs this weekend; the SEC West would become a five-team race overnight if Austin Allen and Co. pull off the upset.
Alabama 35, Arkansas 31
Christopher: The Razorbacks lean on play-action passes, which isn’t an effective strategy against this defense. Speaking of ineffective, Arkansas’ offensive line should hope that’s the description of their unit after this one, rather than something more insulting.
Jalen Hurts looked more like a true freshman last week, especially on throws deep downfield. He’s taken good care of the football, throwing just one interception in 135 attempts. But he’s been increasingly erratic on downfield throws, missing a few open receivers against Kentucky. And while Alabama’s offensive line is pretty good, it shouldn’t go down as one of the better units during Nick Saban’s tenure.
Both teams have outstanding athletes at receiver and tight end. Arkansas has played this game well in 2014 and 2015, nearly winning the latter.
Alabama did not play well last week despite crushing Kentucky. Expect a more complete team performance here before the Tide has to face Tennessee and Texas A&M.
Alabama 31, Arkansas 17
Georgia (-7) at South Carolina
Alex: Hurricane Matthew is this game’s biggest story, and — thanks to Georgia’s vanishing SEC East hopes — it’s not close. There is little doubt that the Bulldogs are the superior squad. But that might not mean much on a weekend that will likely be defined by the weather (or a neutral-site move).
Florida was a shell of itself last week after losing to Tennessee, and I think Georgia might be headed for a similar hangover. UGA’s loss was one of the most heartbreaking in conference history; the emotional fallout is likely to linger into this weekend.
In terms of on-field production … South Carolina has an underrated defense that has held all of its opponents to 27 points or fewer. UGA will win because the Gamecocks offense is trash, but the Bulldogs have struggled on the road, and will have a tough time separating themselves.
Georgia 21, South Carolina 17
Christopher: Will Muschamp is doing the job with South Carolina’s defense that we all thought he would last year at Auburn. Only now he’s a head coach, not a coordinator. But man, can he game plan on that side of the football. Hanging close with Texas A&M was an underrated feat considering the personnel.
Obviously Muschamp and Kirby Smart are familiar with one another. They played college ball together at Georgia and served on the same coaching staff at Valdosta State and LSU. Both defensive-minded coaches, only one of them will trot out talents like Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Jacob Eason and Isaiah McKenzie.
South Carolina has scored 13, 14, 20, 10 and 13 points this season. The 20? That came against East Carolina. Sophomore tight end Hayden Hurst, a former walk-on, leads all skill players with 302 yards of offense. I expect the Gamecocks to score 14 points at most — maybe even single digits. And even against a solid defense, UGA should be able to muster a comfortable win.
Georgia 24, South Carolina 13
- Christopher: 43-9 (28-24 ATS)
- Alex: 37-15 (25-27 ATS)