Marc Lawrence of Playbook.com has 2017 SEC Conference Football Betting Preview
Rolling With The Tide
Alabama finished one second shy of winning its fifth national championship in eight years in a heart-breaking loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff title game last season.
The SEC has won the National Championship eight times in the last 11 years, while appearing in the title game 10 times – with the Crimson Tide claiming four crowns.
A Long Time Between Drinks Of Water
Since the Tim Tebow-led Florida Gators defeated Alabama in 2008 in the SEC title game en route to winning the national championship, teams from the West division have reeled off 8 straight victories against East division foes in SEC titles games, including Alabama’s 54-16 victory over Florida in last season.
Take Your Choice
In Las Vegas, Alabama leads the 2017 season win totals brigade at 11, followed by Ohio State at 10.5.
According to odds to win the SEC at 5Dimes.com
, the 2017 SEC East pecking order finds: Alabama -160, LSU +675, Auburn +700, Texas A&M +5000, Arkansas +8000, Mississippi State +12000.
In the SEC East its Georgia +1000, Florida +1100, Tennessee +2200, Kentucky +12000, South Carolina +12000, Missouri +23000 and Vanderbilt +23000.
Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2017 PLAYBOOK Football Preview Guide magazine – the 25th Anniversary Issue, on sale at newsstands nationwide. The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
2017 SEC EAST PREVIEW
FLORIDA Off – 9/4 Def – 6/3 49 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: BEWARE OF THE GATORS
Here’s a sobering thought: since Tim Tebow left in 2009, the Gators have had 10 different starting quarterbacks, none of whom passed for 2,500 yards or 12 TDs in a single season. Feleipe Franks appears to be the next in line this season. A concern is eight Florida players were selected in this year’s NFL Draft, including three members of a secondary that were selected in the 2nd round (UF owned the No. 1 passing efficiency defense in 2016). Nonetheless, Florida qualifies as a ‘play on’ squad in 2017 that improved its stats on both sides of the ball last year, yet slipped SU and ATS. We’re expecting big things from the Gators.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Only 15.4 % of starts made by the Gators last year were by seniors – the 3rd fewest in the nation.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Georgia (10/28)
GEORGIA Off – *8/2 Def – 10/2 53 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
In 2015 a total of 22 true freshmen, which led the nation, played for the Bulldogs. Then last year the Bulldogs ended the season by playing a total of 20 freshmen. Thus, it’s no surprise to learn that only 19.3% of all starts for Georgia in 2016 were made by seniors (the 9th fewest in the nation). Most important, though, Georgia’s top three rushers are back, including Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. The All-Star seniors – the best 1-2 combo in college football – have rushed for 5,835 yards and 48 TDs in their careers. But the big news is the return of 10 starters on defense. Meanwhile, 2nd-year babysitter Kirby Smart is lovin’ it.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: West Georgia had more players drafted (2) this year by the NFL than did Georgia (1).
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Missouri (10/14) -*KEY
KENTUCKY Off – *8/4 Def – 9/3 49 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: TIME TO GO TO WORK, KIDS
After just completing a new mind-boggling 100,000 square foot, $45 million training facility in 2016 – a year after a $120 million “re-imagining” of Commonwealth Stadium in 2015 – it’s time for the Wildcats to git ‘er done. It starts with a team that features the nation’s 7th largest amount of returning production, keyed by 17 returning starters. That’s because just 16.2 % of starts by the ‘Cats last year were made by seniors, the 4th fewest in the nation. Anchoring this year’s attack, the OL returns 47 starts from 2016, a line that paved the way for the 2nd-most rushing yards in school history (3,044) and a school-record 30 TDs. Okay, now get to work.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Kentucky was the No. 3 team in the nation in 4th down conversion percentage last season.
PLAY ON: vs. Tennessee (10/28)
MISSOURI Off – *10/5 Def – 6/2 42 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT
Things went from bad to worse for the Tigers in 2016. After winning 23 games and going 14-4 in SEC play in 2013-14, Mizzou has won just 9 games the past two seasons while going 3-13 in conference contests. The good news, though, is a marshmallow offense came alive in 2016 when the Tigers improved 17 points and 219 yards per game. However, the bad news is the defense fell apart at the seams under 1st year head coach Barry Odom when it regressed 15 points and 177 yards. OC Josh Heupel did his job, and welcomes 10 starters back in 2017. In order to move the program back in the right direction, defensive improvement is a must. A bigger problem is slipping attendance, as the Tigers 52,236 average attendance was the biggest dip off all FBS schools, down 20% from 71,165 the previous season.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Tigers are 26-5 SU and 20-8 ATS the last four years in games where they outgain their opponent.
PLAY ON: vs. Tennessee (11/11) – *KEY as a dog
SOUTH CAROLINA Off – *10/4 Def – 6/2 43 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: COCKED AND LOADED
When SC faced USF in the Birmingham Bowl last season, 76 of the 113-man bowl roster (67.3%) were comprised of either freshmen (52) or sophomores (24) – compared to just 18 juniors and 19 seniors. By season’s end, 13 true freshmen saw game action in 2016, matching Maryland, Ole Miss and Texas for the most true freshmen starters in the country. In fact, the Gamecocks were the only squad in the nation to have freshmen lead the team in rushing and passing yards. Second-year head coach Will Muschamp is thrilled to welcome back the youngsters, but the Gamecocks will face a brutal schedule with 11 bowl teams from 2016. Yuk.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Gamecocks were 0-7 SU against ranked opponents until they defeated Tennessee last season.
PLAY AGAINST: at Missouri (9/9)
TENNESSEE Off – 6/3 Def – 8/1 53 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: ROCKY TIMES ON ROCKY TOP
The Vols’ resurgence all started in 2014 after Tennessee played 23 true freshmen – the most in the nation – the year prior, and then followed it up with 240 total returning starts in 2015. It resulted in a pair of 9-win seasons the past two years. UT has some mighty big shoes to fill in 2017, though. Granted, they’re still a young team that is rapidly maturing. But the loss of QB Joshua Dobbs (23-12 as a starter, the Vols’ career leader in rushing yards and TDs) and RB Alvin Kamara (1,188 all-purpose yards and 13 TDs in 2016) leaves crater-size holes to fill at the two most important skill positions. Things could get a bit rocky in 2017.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Vols ranked No. 126 (3rd worst) in 2016 in 4th down conversion percentage.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Georgia (9/30)
VANDERBILT Off – *9/3 Def – 7/2 43 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: MR MOJO RISIN’
We really liked the makeup of last year’s Vanderbilt squad as a preponderance of youth in 2015 (123 overall starts by underclassmen) led to a vastly experienced band of Commies in 2016. In fact, only 20% of the starts made last season were by seniors, the 10th fewest in the nation. And it paid off in spades as Vandy finished 2016 as the top team in the land in red zone defense – as well as the No. 5 unit in red zone offense. Together that’s a pretty powerful tandem. It resulted in the ‘Dores landing their 4th bowl bid in the last six years. Safe to say, head coach Derek Mason has this team on the rise.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Commodores are 0-16 SU and 2-14 ATS in Game Six of the season over the last 16 years.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Georgia (10/7) – *KEY
2017 SEC WEST PREVIEW:
ALABAMA Off – *6/3 Def – 6/1 52 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: OUTWORK YESTERDAY
For the second straight season the powerhouse Tide return 6 starters on each side of the ball. The difference this year, though, is QB Jalen Hurts is now a sophomore and explosive WR Calvin Ridley is now a junior. After 17 years of coaching experience in the NFL, new co-OC Brain Dabol was lured ($1.2M) to Tuscaloosa. Along with DC Jeremy Pruitt’s $1.3M annual salary, the Tide’s 10 full-time assistant coaches will earn a combined $6.5M… or $5M collectively less than Nick Saban’s $11.5M haul. Sheesh. Meanwhile, like last year’s national champion, Clemson, the Tide will face no back-to-back away games, playing only 4 true road games the entire season. FYI: The Tide has won 17 consecutive SEC games by an average of 21 points.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Nick Saban is an incredible 119-19 SU at Alabama, including 40-1 versus .500 or less opponents.
ARKANSAS Off – *7/4 Def – 5/0 54 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: NOT SO HIGH ON THE HOG
Devastating news hit the Razorback program this offseason when star RB Rawleigh Williams III announced his retirement after suffering a second major neck injury in as many years. “He might be the most complete running back I’ve ever signed,” said head coach Bret Bielema. “He’s serious.” The good news is Austin Allen is one of the top three returning quarterbacks in the SEC. The problem is his top two targets have departed. That and a gaping hole on the DL where none of the starters are anywhere to be found. After blowing some really big halftime leads last season, Bielema shook up his defensive coaching staff to make amends for a plethora of failures.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Hogs have played UNDER their season win total in three of four seasons under Bret Bielema.
PLAY ON: vs. Missouri (11/25)
AUBURN Off – *8/3 Def – 8/2 57 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: HURRY, CLOSE THE DOOR
There’s an army of supporters who feel that Auburn is rapidly closing the door on Alabama. With former 5-star Baylor recruit QB Jarrett Stidham taking over the controls for Gus Malzahn’s offense this season, the door is shutting fast. Consider: Auburn QBs had 12 TD passes in 2016. Stidham had 12 TD passes as a backup with Baylor in 2015. Our 4 Year Statistical Review above confirms the suspicion as it notes the Tigers improved their numbers on both sides of the ball last year (+13 net PPG, +71 net OYPG, and +43 net DYPG). RB Kamryn Pettway averaged 122 RYPG in 2016, the highest mark among all returning FBS running backs. Here come the Tigers.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Tigers are 30-1 SU at home in non-conference games since 2007. The loss occurred last year against Clemson.
PLAY ON: at Clemson (9/9)
LSU Off – *7/3 Def – 5/2 47 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: MILES TO GO
Here’s a bar bet you’ll win every time this year – the Tigers were ranked dead last in 4th down conversion percentage in 2016. It’s numbers like those that ran Les Miles out of town. What backfired last season was a master plan that called for an experienced squad of underclassmen who made 41.9% of all starts last season. Amid rumors of insubordination, they opened the 2016 campaign at 2-2 last year, and Miles was shown the door. Fixer Ed Orgeron steps in as the full-time coach but has a long way to go to mirror Miles’ numbers. There will come a time when he’ll need to win games against quality conference teams… or else.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Ed Orgeron is 2-18 SU as a head coach against winning SEC foes in his career.
PLAY ON: at Florida (10/7) – *KEY as a dog
MISSISSIPPI Off – *5/4 Def – 6/1 60 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: REBEL WITH A CAUSE
The Rebels have somehow managed to crack the 60 returning lettermen barrier once again. In fact, going back from 2017 to Hugh Freeze’s first year with the program in 2012, the Rebels returning lettermen have numbered 60, 61, 58, 60, 58, and 61. What it means is his recruiting skills have been exceptional, thus the reason his teams are 49-27 SU and 44-25-1 ATS throughout his FBS career. And he did it in the ultra-competitive grounds of the SEC. Freeze is gone but the young Rebels started the 5th most freshmen in FBS last season (20.1%), and will be a qualified ‘Mission Team’ in 2017, suffering their first losing season last year under Freeze.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Freeze was 15-1 SU and 14-2 ATS as a favorite vs. non-conference opponents.
PLAY ON: at California (9/16)
MISSISSIPPI STATE Off – *8/3 Def – 7/0 49 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: DAK WHO?
After losing a quarterback that put up some of the most impressive numbers in SEC history, Mississippi State looked to be in a pinch last season. That was until SO QB Nick Fitzgerald surfaced – at just the right time. All Fitzgerald did in his first year as a starter was shatter nine school records. He also broke the SEC single-season record for 100-yard rushing games by a QB (8) and average yards per rush by a QB (7.1). Fitzgerald is joined in the backfield by late-bloomer RB Aeris Williams, who changed the complexion of MSU’s rushing attack late last year. The “A-Train” averaged 102.8 YPG in the last five contests of 2016. All aboard!
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Under Dan Mullen, the Bulldogs are 27-12 SU in seasons after losing 6 or more games the previous year.
TEXAS A&M Off – 6/2 Def – 6/2 50 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: THE SUM OF THE MATTER
On the heels of its third consecutive 8-5 season, it would appear things are hunky-dory in College Station. We beg to disagree. According to our database, the Aggies have suffered four consecutive ATS losing seasons, going 16-32 ATS. What it means is that Kevin Sumlin’s crew has underachieved, as the Las Vegas oddsmakers had them pegged for better results. Along the way A&M is 15-0 SU during the first three games of the season the last three years, but only 9-15 SU and 3-20 ATS out. The good news is RB Trayveon Williams was a 2016 Freshmen All-American First Team selection when he rushed for 1,024 yards on only 147 carries (7.0 YPR) last season.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin is 1-13 ATS in games following a loss since 2013.
PLAY ON: vs. Mississippi State (10/28)