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:
Mississippi State at BYU (-7.5)
Alex: Brigham Young has been one of the nation’s best teams against the spread this season (5-1), and it’ll be hosting a Mississippi State team that must travel nearly 2,000 miles on a short week to a near-high-altitude destination after getting blown out at home. This seems like a no-brainer in BYU’s favor.
On the field, the Cougars are coming off a dominant road win at Michigan State. They used a strong ground game that features running back Jamaal Williams and quarterback Taysom Hill, much like Auburn used its running backs and quarterback to wreak havoc against MSU on the ground in Starkville this past weekend.
If the Bulldogs gave any indication that they’d consider subbing Damian Williams at quarterback, I’d consider MSU this week. But Nick Fitzgerald is the future in Starkville, which means the present will likely continue to be full of growing pains.
BYU 31, Mississippi State 17
Christopher: The public money is heavy on BYU (68 percent), and for good reason.
- Mississippi State is 1-4 against the spread, and BYU is 5-1.
- The game kicks off at 10:15 p.m. ET in Provo, Utah — on a Friday night.
- The Cougars just clobbered Michigan State on the road. Auburn just clobbered the Bulldogs in Starkville.
Add in the subtraction of Dak Prescott (Mississippi State) and the continued existence of Taysom Hill (in his 100th season at BYU, it seems like), and the square bettor will be all over the home team here.
That’s a mistake.
Mississippi State’s rush defense (37th nationally) is superior to its pass defense (80th nationally). BYU likes to run the ball. It’s pass offense (88th nationally) isn’t very effective. The last time Mississippi State faced a physical, run-first team? It came within a field goal of LSU in a 23-20 loss.
This could be Dan Mullen’s worst team since becoming head coach. But the Bulldogs should own an advantage at the line of scrimmage in this game, especially on defense. Expect a market correction here, as the trends are at least a little misleading.
BYU 24, Mississippi State 23
Vanderbilt at Georgia (-14.5)
Alex: There’s one big anomaly to consider here: Vanderbilt’s 38-7 loss at Georgia Tech last month. Other than that, the Commodores defense has been able to keep every other contest close. Consider that Georgia’s passing game is a mess (Jacob Eason’s completion rate is well under 50 percent since beating Missouri), and it’s clear that the game on Saturday will come down to Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and the Bulldogs offensive line against the Vandy front.
Vanderbilt’s offense doesn’t bring much more to the table than South Carolina did last week, and star running back Ralph Webb could have trouble against a Georgia defense that’s been stingy against opposing backs.
We’re looking at two offenses with strong runners that can’t seem to do much through the air. That should make for a relatively quick game, and UGA should have trouble building up more than a two-score lead against the ‘Dores.
Georgia 24, Vanderbilt 13
Christopher: I agree with my cohort here. I don’t see much difference in this matchup from last year (Vandy kept it close) or last week (Georgia needed a botched onside kick to cover vs. South Carolina).
The Commodores basically are the Gamecocks with Ralph Webb. An otherwise-ineffective offense is going to have trouble scoring against Georgia. But Vandy’s defense is respectable, probably even good.
This is the fourth SEC East game for the ‘Dores. The other three, all losses: 13-10, 13-6, 20-13.
Georgia’s offense arguably is the most talented Vandy has faced. Or at least it has the potential to be. But Jacob Eason and the passing game have struggled (51.2 percent completion rate, 6.1 yards per attempt). Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was pretty conservative last week against a similar opponent in South Carolina. And the running game has sputtered on occasion due to health and offensive line play.
It’s possible the Bulldogs put it together. Vandy’s rush defense is susceptible. But Nick Chubb and Sony Michel both topped 100 rushing yards last week, and the offense still only scored 21 points.
Coming off a short week, including the stress and worry of a game pushed back one day due to Hurricane Matthew, Georgia gets a wounded animal with a coach who may be on the way out.
Georgia 23, Vanderbilt 14
No. 1 Alabama (-13) at No. 9 Tennessee
Alex: My first piece of advice would be not to put money on this game, because the Volunteers will make you put your foot through your TV. Last week, if you had Tennessee +6.5 — as I did in the Triple G — you watched the Vols work their way back from a 28-7 deficit to a tie at the end of regulation. Money, right? Nope. An A&M touchdown and an interception brought us right back to the same place (Loserville) we’d been for more than three quarters.
That was only the latest chapter in an already long book of 2016 Tennessee’s dramatic swings. It will take a tremendous deficit in the first three quarters (let’s say 35-0) for me to believe that UT is dead and gone … but at least we know they’re mortal, now. They can lose!
I think Alabama is primed for a big victory on the road. The Crimson Tide have more talent than Tennessee, they’re much healthier than Tennessee, and they’re going to outcoach the Vols. Josh Dobbs and Co. don’t have enough shovels to dig out of the hole they’re about to fall into.
Alabama 41, Tennessee 27
Christopher: Check out Alabama’s margin of victory in this game since 2010.
Last year, on a snap-for-snap basis, no one played Alabama tougher than Tennessee outside of the national championship game. The talent gap between these programs has closed.
Yes, Tennessee’s defense is bruised and battered. And the Vols have had to endure gut-wrenching contests vs. Florida, at Georgia and at Texas A&M in the last three weeks. Still, Team 120 had enough in the reserve tank to nearly come back and beat the unbeaten Aggies in overtime, on the road.
Alabama hasn’t had it easy, either. The Tide gave up 30 points to Arkansas despite nearly putting Austin Allen in a body bag. And quarterback Jalen Hurts may have the deepest group of pass-catchers in the conference, but is beginning to look like a true freshman in terms of downfield accuracy. Tennessee’s got the better group of runners out of the backfield, including quarterback Josh Dobbs.
This is a maddening and miserable Tennessee team to watch. But it’s still a top 10 program playing at home in arguably its biggest game of the year. If the Vols can stop fumbling away the football, this one should be close well into the fourth quarter.
Alabama 35, Tennessee 31
Missouri at No. 18 Florida (-13.5)
Alex: Luke Del Rio is back, which means … what? Quarterback wasn’t the primary problem against Tennessee, when the defense blew a 21-point lead. Austin Appleby was ugly in the second half of that game and unproductive against Vandy, but what makes Del Rio the savior of UF’s suddenly paralytic offense?
We know Jack’s kid tore up UMass and Kentucky — the latter with plenty of help from the ground game — and he clearly outplayed Appleby in the preseason. However, the assumption that things will immediately click back into place could prove to be foolish.
Thankfully for the Gators, this week’s opponent provides plenty of room for error.
Missouri has been one of the season’s more head-scratching teams. They put forth one decent big-game performance (a 28-27 loss to Georgia at home), but failed to show up at West Virginia and LSU. They’re back to square one this week.
Florida’s pass defense is — save for the second half against Tennessee — outstanding, and will more than likely neutralize Tigers quarterback Drew Lock. Missouri should show more life than it did in Baton Rouge two weekends ago, but we’re talking about baby steps for the Mizzou offense again.
Florida 28, Missouri 10
Christopher: Public confidence in Mizzou continues to swing wildly. After a painful-to-watch 26-11 loss at West Virginia? Low. After nearly winning the next three — two blowouts sandwiched around a narrow late loss against Georgia? High. Then the team got pounded into submission by LSU. It’s low again.
Luke Del Rio’s return from a knee injury helps Florida. But the Gators backfield isn’t good enough to run roughshod on the Tigers, in my estimation.
Don’t expect Drew Lock (17 of 37, 167 yards at LSU) to fare much better against this secondary. But can Florida score enough to win by more than two touchdowns? I have enough confidence in Missouri’s defense to say no.
Florida 24, Missouri 13
No. 12 Ole Miss (-7.5) at No. 22 Arkansas
Alex: This is do-or-die time for both teams’ relevance down the stretch. Who wants to be the SEC West dark horse?
That description fits Ole Miss much better than Arkansas, which might be spiraling out of control after failing to stack up to Texas A&M and Alabama. The Hogs defense faces perhaps its toughest challenge of the season this Saturday; recent opposing QB numbers indicate that the Rebels’ Chad Kelly is going to breeze past the 300-yard mark.
It looks like we’re getting the same old Arkansas: good for an upset or two, but not able to stack up when it needs a “W.” A certain university professor was arrested after expressing a more vulgar version of this, but Bret Bielema needs to begin showing some serious progress in Fayetteville.
Ole Miss 44, Arkansas 28
Christopher: Before the Arkansas-Texas A&M game three weeks ago, I mentioned on the radio that the 3-0 Razorbacks were one of the most overrated teams in the country. A few national media members had the Hogs ranked in their top 10. The radio host acted as if I had an IQ of a frog. But, lo and behold, Arkansas lost by 21 and 19 points to the two best teams in the SEC West.
I don’t know why anyone expected different. This Arkansas team was poised to plateau this season based on a number of factors, namely personnel. We may see this team slip back to 4-4 in the next two weeks.
Ole Miss has to be smarting about the two blown leads vs. Florida State and Alabama. Otherwise the Rebels are 4-1 and still in the College Football Playoff conversation. Instead, the team needs to start a brutal stretch with a win. Arkansas’ pass defense allows 7.6 yards per attempt. This secondary is overmatched against Chad Kelly and the athleticism of the Ole Miss receivers.
I expect Arkansas still is sore, too — especially its offensive line and Allen after last week’s physical beating administered by Alabama. I like the road team here.
Ole Miss 42, Arkansas 31
Southern Mississippi at LSU (-25.5)
Alex: Southern Miss is going to put up points in Baton Rouge. The Golden Eagles have scored at least 31 in every game this season, and rank No. 16 in the country with 318.6 passing yards per contest. If the offense stalls, kicker Parker Shaunfield is a perfect 10-for-10 on field goals this year, including 5-for-5 between 40-49 yards.
Here’s the thing, though: USM is charitable. Its 15 total turnovers (8 interceptions, 7 fumbles lost) are sixth-worst in the country. Louisiana State will be able to piled up touchdowns in a hurry if it keeps getting the ball back against the Eagles’ spotty defense.
If you’re an over/under kind of bettor, take the over (currently 57.5), and expect a back-door cover from the consistently explosive Eagles.
LSU 52, Southern Miss 28
Christopher: Southern Miss’ total defense ranks 16th in the country. The Golden Eagles also feature Nick Mullens, seventh in the country with 1,874 passing yards.
That’s enough for me. LSU needs to score at least 40 points to cover this spread. And that’s happened exactly once all season — two weeks ago against Missouri, the last time the Tigers took the field. Against other FBS teams this season, LSU is averaging 17.3 points per game.
Even if LSU gets up by four touchdowns, the back door will remain wide open.
LSU 38, Southern Miss 17
- Christopher: 47-10 (32-25 ATS)
- Alex: 40-17 (26-31 ATS)