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:
UMass at South Carolina (-20.5)
Alex: The game opened at South Carolina (-22.5), which made a lot of folks chuckle because the Gamecocks have not scored 23 points in a game all season. Hell, they’ve scored 20 points just once … against East Carolina.
When you consider that UMass managed to get at least one touchdown on the board against Florida and Boston College — and racked up a combined 87 points in losses to Mississippi State, Tulane and Louisiana Tech — this game seems like an easy one to call.
Barring some sort of offensive renaissance in Columbia, you should be safe with the Minutemen this Saturday.
South Carolina 27, UMass 13
Christopher: South Carolina’s point totals this year: 13, 14, 20, 10, 13, 14. The 20-point “outburst” came against East Carolina, which committed 4 turnovers.
The UMass defense is worse than ECU by a sizable margin (allowing 47.8 more yards per game) against an easier schedule.
I enjoy watching tight end Hayden Hurst play (not just because I root for fellow redheads). And the Gamecocks receivers seem to be getting healthy. There’s intrigue at quarterback, too, as rumors swirl that South Carolina will turn to true freshman Jake Bentley. He probably couldn’t drive this Edsel further into the disaster zone if he tried. (History lesson: The Edsel was such a bad car that Ford Motor Company lost $250 million on it — in 1960.)
If UMass scores a touchdown, we’re expecting South Carolina to score at least 28 points. Will Muschamp’s defense better play some darn good football. It could happen, but I feel more comfortable putting down money against this team for now.
South Carolina 28, UMass 10
No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama (-18.5)
Alex: Alabama has been steamrolling its opponents, so there’s nothing crazy about picking the Crimson Tide to beat the No. 6 team in the country by nearly three touchdowns. Nick Saban’s teams have lost just once at Bryant-Denny Stadium since Johnny Manziel turned in his Heisman-winning performance four seasons ago.
Texas A&M has a lot going for it, including a poor man’s Manziel in Trevor Knight, an elite receiving corps, and a strong pass rush featuring Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. The Aggies have enough talent to hang with the Tide, much like Ole Miss did in Oxford last month.
Recent history says Alabama has a clear upper hand over A&M (the Tide have recorded consecutive blowouts in the rivalry), but this might be Kevin Sumlin’s best team since taking the Aggies job in 2012, and the CBS broadcast will undoubtedly show plenty of highlights of that Manziel game — alongside highlights of Knight’s Alabama takedown in the Sugar Bowl one season later — as reminders that this ‘Bama team is not invincible.
Expect the Aggies to give the Tide a game in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama 34, Texas A&M 28
Christopher: The narrative goes something like this: Nick Saban won national championships without an explosive offense or a great quarterback. Jalen Hurts is like an F-18 airstrike from the USS Roosevelt in the Persian Gulf. Better duck! That’s bolstered by the Tide’s blowout win against a limping Tennessee team that managed to take Texas A&M to overtime in College Station.
But Hurts isn’t going to slice through a John Chavis-coached defense like a hot knife through butter. And Hurts’ downfield accuracy remains a question mark. And Trevor Knight has been there, done that vs. Alabama. Although I expect the approach will be much different this time. The Aggies have to find a way to shorten the game by sustaining drives, either with quick passes to their athletic receivers or by utilizing Knight’s running ability.
If Alabama blitzes Knight and forces him to throw the ball downfield with accuracy, this huge line may start looking generous for Tide fans. Keep in mind Alabama has scored 11 non-offensive touchdowns this season.
Still, this is a chance for Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M to prove this program is nationally relevant yet again. I don’t expect an Aggies win. But I don’t think the Tide are as invincible as it has appeared in recent weeks.
Alabama 38, Texas A&M 20
Middle Tennessee at Missouri (-6.5)
Alex: Missouri has been Jekyll and Hyde this season, setting school records against inferior opponents while getting laughed off the field against superior ones.
Middle Tennessee State is in the grey area. The Blue Raiders are a pretty good football team — they’ve scored at least 38 points in four of their six games — but they couldn’t measure up to Vanderbilt in Nashville, and their sometimes-lax defense is a potential lighter for the fuse that turns Missouri’s offense from dormant to dominant.
Some might wonder if the Tigers are psychologically broken after getting blown out by LSU and Florida, but they rebounded well after an embarrassing season opener at West Virginia, and appear to be competitive at home. I’ll give them a pair of touchdowns in this matchup.
Missouri 34, Middle Tennessee 20
Christopher: Drew Lock is a big part of the Jekyll and Hyde act. He’s at his best when his receivers are the superior athletes — but, most importantly, when the opposing defensive ends and linebackers aren’t in his face. Better competition makes things tougher. That doesn’t account for this extreme difference:
- vs. Eastern Michigan/Delaware State: 68.5 percent completion rate, 852 yards, 10 TDs, 0 INTs
- at LSU/Florida: 38.2 percent completion rate, 206 yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs
The Tigers (3.0) and Gators (3.2) rank among the nation’s best in sacks per game. The Blue Raiders (2.7) do not. That’s not a bad figure, but it includes 4 sacks against the likes of Alabama A&M and North Texas.
Middle Tennessee’s pass defense isn’t a total farce. But it’s vulnerable enough for Lock to get something going. And the Mizzou defense is better than the stats reflect.
Missouri 27, Middle Tennessee 17
No. 17 Arkansas at No. 21 Auburn (-9.5)
Alex: Arkansas already gave up tiebreakers to Texas A&M and Alabama, so the Razorbacks appear to be toast in the SEC West race, but they might be the conference’s third-best team when the dust settles this season.
A visit to Auburn this Saturday provides Bret Bielema with an opportunity to win back-to-back games against Top 25 competition for the third year in a row. Quarterback Austin Allen (19 of 32 for 229 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception) played well enough to beat a talented Rebels defense, and he’s shown enough star power this season to give fans confidence against a tough Auburn front.
Arkansas’ primary problem will be stopping Auburn’s multi-faceted rushing attack. The Hogs allowed Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly to run for 89 yards and 2 touchdowns, and they’re giving up 175.9 yards on the ground per game, 80th in the country.
But Gus Malzahn’s offense is still light years away from the Nick Marshall Era, and it’s a bit silly to assume the Tigers will take advantage of anyone’s defense. This game will answer the question: Is Auburn back? I’m not convinced.
Arkansas 27, Auburn 24
Christopher: Arkansas’ offensive line remains abysmal. If you’re a stat-head, check out these disconcerting figures. For example, the Razorbacks rank 128th out of 128 in converting third-and-short or fourth-and-short. Meanwhile, Austin Allen continues to get treated like a piñata. (Hello, Carl Lawson!)
Credit the Razorbacks for finding a way to beat a good Ole Miss Rebels team. I didn’t see enough to alleviate my concerns with the back seven of the defense or their offensive line.
Arkansas’ rush defense ranks last in the SEC. Remember that embarrassment of a rush defense that Texas A&M fielded in 2013? It allowed 5.4 yards per carry. This Arkansas team yields 5.6. Statistically, Auburn is hovering near the national top 10 in rushing yards per game. Since Gus Malzahn delegated play-calling responsibilities to coordinator Rhett Lashlee, quarterback Sean White has gotten even better. He’s completed 73.4 percent of his passes since the Clemson game, a remarkable figure.
The Tigers have a newfound prowess on defense. They’re rested, while the Hogs played Texas A&M, Alabama and Ole Miss in three of the last four weeks, and now must travel to Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn 34, Arkansas 24
Mississippi State (-3) at Kentucky
Alex: Nick Fitzgerald continues to show flashes of potential — including an athletic touchdown leap/dive/flip/whatever at BYU last Friday — but he’s still too wild in the passing game, and while his turnovers didn’t kill MSU this past weekend, they easily could have.
This weekend provides a fairly even matchup between what might be the two worst teams in the conference (they have plenty of competition for that “honor”). Both defenses have surrendered scary amounts of points against iffy offenses.
If we witness a mini-shootout in Lexington, it’s smarter to lean on Fitzgerald and his talented skill players instead of Kentucky’s Stephen Johnson, who is further behind in his development and has contributed virtually nothing in the Wildcats’ past two games.
Mississippi State 31, Kentucky 20
Christopher: Mississippi State is better than Kentucky at all three phases. Both offenses are terrible. Both defenses are pretty bad. And both special teams are decent.
The Bulldogs can load up against the run, knowing that Stephen Johnson isn’t a threat to throw over the top — similar to how the team shut down BYU running back Jamaal Williams on Friday.
The crux of this game: How much better is Kentucky’s defense, really? The Wildcats have made progress on that side of the football. But I don’t fully trust it. Plus, Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs need this one desperately.
Mississippi State 28, Kentucky 24
Tennessee State at Vanderbilt (-28)
Alex: Vanderbilt is a strong defensive team that has shown an ability to score points on offense against inferior competition. We know what the Commodores are about.
Tennessee State, on the other hand, is a mystery. The Tigers — who will only need to travel a few miles on Saturday — have not played an FBS opponent since 2011, when they were a sacrificial lamb at Air Force.
Since then, Rod Reed’s teams have alternated between Top 25-caliber and middle-of-the-pack in the FCS. This year’s squad appears to be one of his best; TSU is 5-1, with the only loss coming by 1 point at No. 19 Eastern Illinois. The underdogs have shown an ability to lean on their passing game and rushing game — depending on the opponent — which bodes well for their chances against Vandy’s staunch front.
Count on a cross-town “rivalry” providing enough of a chip on TSU’s shoulder to keep it within striking distance.
Vanderbilt 37, Tennessee State 17
Christopher: My cohort writes his half of this piece before I do. In the space for my takes, he leaves filler text that says, “Blah.” I fought the temptation to leave that in the space here.
Fun fact: Vandy has allowed 15.5 points per game against SEC East competition and 30.7 points per game against everyone else.
But Tennessee State is an FCS team. As Alex mentioned, they’re ranked. We’ve gotten recent reminders that good FCS teams against mediocre SEC sides are capable of a scare (Jacksonville State vs. Auburn) or a win (The Citadel vs. South Carolina). For what it’s worth, the Tigers rank 82nd in FCS based on the SRS. It’s very possible this team isn’t as good as its 5-1 record.
This Vanderbilt defense, currently full of swag, transformed Zach Cunningham into a household name by beating Georgia last week. I suspect Tennessee State will have a difficult time moving the football. This is the type of game that allows Ralph Webb to go bonkers. Expect multiple touchdowns from him as the ‘Dores cruise.
Vanderbilt 31, Tennessee State 0
No. 23 Ole Miss at No. 25 LSU (-5.5)
Alex: If you take LSU’s two games under Coach “O” at face value, you might have an easy answer here. But that would be a tad reckless, considering the Tigers’ win over Missouri looks much less impressive after the Mizzou’s horrendous performance in Week 7, and considering LSU got down early against Southern Miss in a game that was tied, 10-10, at half.
Yes, there appears to be a new energy in Baton Rouge. But have the Tigers really solved their problems? I’m not so sure, and the Ole Miss offense will put plenty of pressure on Danny Etling, Leonard Fournette, and the gang this Saturday.
Bottom line: The Rebels are too talented to overlook, and the Tigers still have not passed any serious tests since Les Miles got canned. Even if LSU wins by a field goal — a big accomplishment — Mississippi is still the Vegas victor.
Ole Miss 28, LSU 24
Christopher: These two teams are more or less even in terms of talent, analytics and esteem. But only one of them features Chad “Swag” Kelly. If the Rebels can make some plays downfield with those athletic pass-catchers — including Evan Engram, one of the toughest matchups in the SEC — it may be tough for LSU to keep pace.
Danny Etling has played well, but expect a reality check here. And even if the Tigers running game gets going, they’ll be hard pressed to win if Ole Miss starts launching into a fast-paced tempo with chunk yardage. On a neutral field, I’d make this a pick ’em. And I’m not going to give LSU 5.5 points for home-field advantage.
This is a classic undervalued/overvalued spot based on recent results. I think the Rebels are the slightly better side and give them a good chance to win.
Ole Miss 31, LSU 27
- Christopher: 47-10 (32-25 ATS)
- Alex: 40-17 (26-31 ATS)