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:
Kentucky at Missouri (-5)
Christopher: On the surface, it appears that Mark Stoops has a good thing going in Lexington. The Wildcats are 4-1 since a 45-7 loss at Florida. Look closer, and Kentucky isn’t nearly as impressive. It allowed New Mexico State to score 35 points in a half. It propped up a bad defense with wins against hapless South Carolina and Vanderbilt units. And despite clock mismanagement, it snuck past a bad Mississippi State team at home, thanks to a 51-yard field goal as time expired. Oh, and all four of those wins came in Lexington.
Based on point differential, Kentucky has won nearly two games more than expected, according to the Pythagorean expectation. Missouri has lost nearly one more game than expected. I’ve already established in this space that Tigers QB Drew Lock plays much better against weaker defenses. Wildly better. I’d consider UK’s defense mediocre to poor — comparable to Middle Tennessee State, according to analytics.
There’s some value here. Lock and Mizzou should score enough to take care of this one.
Missouri 42, Kentucky 28
Alex: Missouri’s offense falls on its face against strong defenses, but morphs into the 2007 New England Patriots when it goes up against weaklings. And, a week after it gave up 38 points for the third time, it’s fair to classify Kentucky’s defense as a “weakling.”
The question is not whether the Tigers offense will get going, but whether Mizzou’s once-vaunted defense can get back on track. That’s unlikely now that the unit has lost star linebacker Michael Scherer for the season, so the runway is clear for Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson to raise his performance another level.
The first-year starter needs to get his completion percentage (56.1) and efficiency rating (129.1) out of the dumpster, and he’ll get an excellent opportunity to do so as star running back “Boom” Williams tears up a Mizzou run defense that allowed 311 yards to MTSU last weekend.
This one’s for Mark Stoops and all those Wildcats fans who passed away before they could see a Belk Bowl win!
Kentucky 35, Missouri 28
No. 14 Florida (-7.5) vs. Georgia
Christopher: Other than a bizarre second-half sequence against Tennessee, the Florida defense has been smothering. Georgia’s offensive line isn’t good enough to get push here, and Georgia’s receivers aren’t big enough to contend with Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson. UGA has to hope that Nick Chubb and Sony Michel can break loose a few times. Because Jacob Eason isn’t ready to dissect this Gators secondary.
Can Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio pick apart a semi-decent Georgia pass defense — enough so to win by more than a touchdown? I think so, but that will determine which team covers the spread.
Florida 31, Georgia 21
Alex: Given that we can’t count on either starting quarterback to play competent football, one can assume this game will be won on the defensive side of the ball. Advantage: Florida.
The Gators defense is scary; it was able to spin Luke Del Rio’s horrible performance into a blowout victory against Missouri, and — not counting the Tennessee debacle — it has allowed an average of 6.8 points per game.
Georgia, on the other hand, is toothless right now. Allowing Vanderbilt to score 17 points and win was the latest embarrassment for Kirby Smart’s team, which might or might not be about to spiral into bowl-less territory. A rivalry game might shake UGA out of its slump, but there’s no safer bet in this matchup than Florida’s defense shutting down the Bulldogs offense.
The spread is a little big for me, but Saturday should still be an orange-and-blue party in Jacksonville.
Florida 17, Georgia 10
Samford at Mississippi State (-19)
Christopher: In full disclosure, I was an athlete at Samford. So I’ll be rooting for the SoCon version of the Bulldogs, which are 6-1 and ranked in the top 20 of the FCS polls. Now, will they be able to keep this game within three touchdowns? I don’t believe so.
Mississippi State is a very misleading 2-5. South Alabama (21-20 loss) and Kentucky (40-38 loss) were decided by last-second field goals that worked against the Bulldogs. BYU (28-21 loss) came on the road in overtime on a Friday night. Even LSU (23-20 in Baton Rouge) was close.
Dan Mullen and his team should play this game angry. Don’t expect the typical lethargic second-half approach against an FCS school in this one. And, without getting lost in a black hole of analytics, there are some numbers to suggest that Samford isn’t as good as their ranking indicates. I see a little value here for the SEC side.
Mississippi State 38, Samford 13
Alex: I was aware of Samford’s world-class track squad, but not of its recent football success until taking a closer look at the Vegas lines this week. The (visiting) Bulldogs are a Top 25 FCS team that has only lost once this season.
But that one loss might be the key to figuring out this game. Samford (which autocorrect keeps trying to change to “Sanford,” as if the university fathered Demond Wilson at some point) lost by 20 at Chattanooga in late September; a larger margin than the line in this game.
On top of that, Mississippi State has shown an ability to rack up points quickly. I still believe Damian Williams gives them the best chance to win, but Nick Fitzgerald has shown enough “boom” (the “bust” came three weeks ago vs. Auburn) to warrant confidence in the (home) Bulldogs offense this weekend. Roll with the FBS team here.
Mississippi State 41, Samford 20
No. 15 Auburn (-4.5) at Ole Miss
Christopher: Ole Miss is a somewhat baffling 3-4, having lost to Arkansas. The visiting Auburn Tigers are 5-2, having just crushed Arkansas. It wasn’t shocking to see Auburn getting 77 percent of the public money early in the week.
But Hugh Freeze is 7-2 against the spread as a home underdog at Ole Miss. Chad Kelly is a gunslinger with a dwindling number of opportunities to impress NFL scouts. And the Tigers defense quietly is last in the SEC in interceptions.
The dangerous part? Ole Miss has been outscored 139-87 in the second half. The Rebels allow 5.2 yards per carry. If Auburn can put together long, sustained drives — and the quick-strike Ole Miss offense can’t stay on the field — that could be trouble. I don’t see much value in this line. Even if Auburn gets a lead, the back-door cover is a major possibility.
Auburn 31, Ole Miss 27
Alex: Is Ole Miss at its breaking point? The Rebels — preseason playoff contenders — are 3-4 after falling apart in the second half at LSU. Chad Kelly has been good, but he has not been able to overcome the Rebels’ defensive struggles.
Ole Miss has been especially susceptible to giving up yards on the ground (226.9 per game, 113th in the nation), and that’s where Auburn will do most of its damage Saturday. The Tigers have a trio of strong runners — quarterback Sean White and running backs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson — that have combined for nearly 1,500 yards this season.
Kelly and the Ole Miss offense will make some big plays, but Auburn has been stout against dynamic players this season. No team has scored 30 on the Tigers, and Texas A&M was the only opponent to score more than 19. After a blowout of Arkansas last weekend, Gus Malzahn appears to have righted the ship in Lee County.
Auburn 34, Ole Miss 21
No. 18 Tennessee (-13.5) at South Carolina
Christopher: Running back Alvin Kamara and cornerback Cam Sutton remain out, but we should see a much healthier Tennessee team. The Vols are still the favorites to represent the SEC East in Atlanta, perhaps earning a rematch with Alabama. But the Bob Shoop defense has not performed to expectations, injuries or not. Only Vanderbilt has collected fewer sacks per game. In its last four SEC games, UT allowed an average of 38.3 points.
The question is, can South Carolina muster enough scoring drives to keep it close? True freshman Jake Bentley looked capable of completing some passes downfield, albeit within a small sample size and against UMass. The Gamecocks seemed especially conservative, with 14 of his 26 pass attempts going behind the line of scrimmage. And the team still used Brandon McIlwain in certain packages.
Just as a reminder, this South Carolina team scored 14 against Georgia and Mississippi State, 13 against Texas A&M and Vanderbilt and 10 against Kentucky. Let’s say the offense has made progress and gets to 17. That might not be enough to cover this number.
Tennessee 31, South Carolina 17
Alex: Remember all those heated conversations about whether Florida and LSU would reschedule their postponed game, and how Tennessee might eventually get screwed out of playing in the SEC championship?
We always assumed the Vols would finish 4-0 in that scenario, and they’re likely to do so, but this next game at South Carolina has “trap” written all over it. It’s the toughest game left on the Vols’ schedule, it comes on the heels of two psyche-scarring losses, and Tennessee is still dealing with a depleted roster.
There’s no question UT is the better team. But South Carolina has played pretty solid defense this season, and the Gamecocks’ sketchy offense should be able to make something happen against a “D” that has allowed plenty of big plays this fall.
There are too many intangibles leaning USC’s way to give Tennessee 14 points this weekend.
Tennessee 24, South Carolina 17
New Mexico State at No. 9 Texas A&M (-43.5)
Christopher: Texas A&M is favored by more than six touchdowns after staying competitive with Alabama into the second half. These cartoon lines usually are not worthy of real-money bets, as the outcome can hinge on when the Aggies decide to pull their starters, whether the team gets a non-offensive touchdown or whether conservative play in the fourth quarter allows for a back-door cover.
This is a letdown spot for Texas A&M sandwiched between road games in the SEC West. The post-Alabama hangover has been well-documented in the last few years. And for those of you who haven’t watched a lot of this team in 2016, it has become a run-first offense. Even the passing game relies on short throws in hopes that the athletic wideouts can tack on yards after the catch. (Christian Kirk, who leads the SEC with 49 catches, has seen his yards per catch dwindle from 12.6 to 8.4.)
Maybe Trayveon Williams gets loose for a few long touchdowns early. But I lean toward New Mexico State covering the huge number. If those other Aggies can score double digits, we’re looking at a minimum of eight scoring drives for Kevin Sumlin’s team to cover.
Texas A&M 52, New Mexico State 13
Alex: In case you’re unaware of New Mexico State’s football history, here’s a quick recap: It’s garbage. NMSU hasn’t been invited to a bowl game in 56 years. It hasn’t had a winning season in 14 years. The program is an embarrassment to college football.
This year, it’s no different. The 2-5 (visiting) Aggies are allowing 245.6 yards per game on the ground (119th in the country). They’re allowing 258 more through the air (95th). I’d be surprised if Texas A&M — licking its wounds after a 19-point loss at Alabama — doesn’t put up at least 60 on Saturday.
Even with backups in the game, the (home) Aggies are going to find the end zone.
Texas A&M 67, New Mexico State 7
- Christopher: 55-15, 36-34 ATS
- Alex: 47-23, 31-39 ATS