As we did in 2011, we’ll kick off college football season with a preview of the southern economy’s best asset: SEC football. This year the format is practical. We looked at how each time did against the spread in 2011 and take a guess at how they’ll do this season in comparison for bettors. While the two are not mutually exclusive, it’s not only about wins and losses.
Tennessee (2011 Record ATS: 4-7-1)
Welcome back, Tyler Bray, a CC favorite since he led the Vols to 5 straight covers to end the regular season in 2010. With the potential top-5 NFL pick leading the charge and tempered expectations after a porous 2011 (Bray was out most of the season with a broken thumb), I’m looking at the Volunteers as a tremendous value play heading into the season. The potential to fly under the radar may not be there long with week 1 matchup against NC State looming, but the Vols shouldn’t be asked to cover too many points early on.
South Carolina (2011 Record ATS: 7-6)
I’ve never been that hot on betting the Gamecocks in the Spurrier era, and with a middling record of 26-25-1 ATS since 2008, I haven’t missed much. But something tells me SC could be a really good play this year against what should be affordable spreads. The defense is elite (3rd in the country in yards allowed last season) and Connor Shaw provides the consistency at the QB position Spurrier hasn’t had in years. If Shaw can take the next step and long as Mack Truck Lattimore stays healthy, South Carolina could have their best team yet under Spurrier.
Florida (2011 Record ATS: 5-8)
I’m a sucker for elite programs that are down, and maybe that’s a bad thing with the bets I’ve lost backing Mack Brown the last two seasons. But in year 2 of the Will Muschamp era, expectations are still low and the value we can get on the Gators could be phenomenal. The defense, the country’s 8th best a year ago, returns 10 starters, and if the offense can form any sort of identity then there will be value here. We’ll find out early what Florida is made of, with trips to Texas A&M and Tennessee in September.
Auburn (2011 Record ATS: 5-8)
Though I don’t have a great feel for Auburn right now, all signs are pointing up for the 2010 national champs. We all knew last season was a rebuilding year, and the product of that is a 2012 team that returns 18 starters, including what feels like a stable of (possibly mediocre) quarterbacks. I wish Malzahn had stuck around for another year, but his departure means more unknowns and maybe the Tigers can surprise some people. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Auburn (+5) take out Clemson opening weekend in Atlanta which could be a coup for money-liners.
LSU (2011 Record ATS: 10-4)
It’d be tough to make a case for LSU improving on their 10-4 ATS record, so expecting their value to hold really means I’m more than happy to lay money on the Tigers this season. The defense reloads a bit but will still be a top-10 outfit, and the offense will make opposing front-sevens miserable with 4 starters returning on the O-line. The Tigers also return the full stable of running backs and Brad Wing is back to ensure superb special teams. The payouts should come early, as Vegas can’t create spreads big enough for visitors North Texas and Washington is September.
Vanderbilt (2011 Record ATS: 9-4)
Vandy, like LSU, is a team I feel great about from a betting perspective but can’t reasonably expect better results than 2011. The semi-controversial James Franklin produced a profit that I’d previously thought was unobtainable in Nashville, and with Aaron Rodgers’ kid brother Jordan and 17 other starters back, it’s hard to think Vandy won’t be even better than last year. Will Vegas catch up and keep the spreads closer? Hard to say, but unlike 2011 I won’t be afraid to back them in the right spot.
Georgia (2011 Record ATS: 8-6)
I considered giving the Bulldogs the Up arrow, seeing that on paper they appear to be a national title possibility and I’m a sucker for legitimate veteran QBs. But the time to buy Georgia low was last September 17th. After starting 0-2 ATS and convincing bettors that they were the ultimate tease, the ‘Dogs went on the cover 7 of 8 with blogs everywhere hailing Aaron Murray and the boys. But it’s a new season and the last time Mark Richt entered a season with national title hopes (2008) his team stumbled to a 4-6-2 mark against the number. A program that’s become an underacheiver the last 5 seasons, I’m playing wait and see on the Dawgs. If I miss the boat, I’ll be sure to jump on the next one leaving the port.
Texas A&M (2011 Record ATS: 4-9)
I was looking forward to giving the Aggies the thumbs down, but obtaining less than a 4-9 mark against the number would take some serious apathy. But my opinion is that A&M, in what happens to be a down year for the program, is in for a rude awakening now that they’re in the SEC. The offense has put up gaudy numbers in recent years but I have my doubts about Kevin Sumlin’s system working in the SEC, especially with a 1st year triggerman. Don’t expect the Aggies to never cover, but don’t expect much better than 5-6 or 4-7 ATS
Ole Miss (2011 Record ATS: 3-9)
Hard to see the Rebels going anywhere but up, but the post just doesn’t look right with a green arrow next to their name. Hugh Freeze may have been 2011′s Cover King at Arkansas State (10-3) but I can’t see his magic working in the bare cupboard that is Ole Miss. UTEP comes to town September 8th, and Mike Price is always there for us when we need an opponent to destroy. Other than that I won’t foolishly back the Rebels until given a reason to.
Alabama (2011 Record ATS: 9-4)
Assuming Nick Saban (aka the Greek God of college football coaching) doesn’t read this and post on the bulletin board, I see Alabama being a step behind where they were a year ago. 2011 was all about Trent Richardson (more than just a product of the system) and the defense (which was absurd in 2011, allowing only 183 yard/game, nearly 80 yards better than #2 in the country LSU). Richardson and 7 starters from the vaunted D are gone, and though the Tide are a top-10 team again, I’m weary of laying 25-30 week in and week out again. I think they come back to the pack a little bit and those 30-35 point wins now become 21-24 point wins, which may not be enough to keep Vegas happy.
Arkansas (2011 Record ATS: 8-5)
We had such a good thing going, Bobby Petrino. You just had to go and pull the oldest trick in the book and cheat with the hot piece you walk by on the way to your office. Petrino’s Hogs had quickly become one of my favorite plays (24-14 ATS 09-’11) and with the old master out and the homeless man’s version of Petrino in, it’s hard to give Arkansas anything but the thumbs down. It’ll be interesting to see how Vegas handicaps them – the talent is immense (this is a top-5 team with Petrino at the helm) and they may not lose a beat with JLS. Or, things could fall apart. In either event, it’s going to be hard to replicate the easy money we were getting used to.
Missouri (2011 Record ATS: 7-6)
Like A&M, I have questions about Missouri’s ability to succeed in the SEC. Being built on finesse, Missouri is built to succeed in the Big 12 and I have a feeling James Franklin won’t be feeling so hot after games against South Carolina, Florida, and Alabama. I think it’ll be a real transition year for the Tigers and we’ll see where the program stands in 5 years, but this season I do not expect them to make that money.
Mississippi State (2011 Record ATS: 6-7)
Dan Mullen must be starting to understand that Starksville is a hard place to win. Last year was a major disappointment and this season looks like a reclamation project. I expect very little from the Bulldogs this season, but then again, they won’t face a preseason ranked opponent until they go to Tuscaloosa on October 27th, and Mullen is a real coach, so this call could backfire.
Kentucky (2011 Record ATS: 6-6)
I used to love to take the Wildcats against no-namers when Rich Brooks was in charge, but Joker Phillips just doesn’t have the same bag of tricks. The dropoff in Kentucky football was substantial last year and I don’t think we’ve hit the bottom yet. When your head coach is coming up with quotes like “We’ll battle; we’ll fight; we’ll scratch; we’ll claw”, that’s usually a bad sign. Kentucky could be the team that you need to bet against weekly come conference season.