When temperatures climb, so do hopes the projected depth charts return to campus intact when toe meets leather for real in late August. As bettors our goals are different than fans; it's regular season win totals, conference futures, and game of the year numbers that tell us football is right around the corner.
By Todd Fuhrman
We wait with bated breath all summer long for football. National signing day gets us excited for the future while spring practice whets our appetite with intra squad scrimmages. When temperatures climb, so do hopes the projected depth charts return to campus intact when toe meets leather for real in late August. As bettors our goals are different than fans; it’s regular season win totals, conference futures, and game of the year numbers that tell us football is right around the corner.
On Tuesday, Cantor Gaming released win totals for all 14 SEC schools. The day before a prominent offshore sportsbook released odds on who would win college football’s most prominent conference listing Alabama as the favorite despite a rash of question marks on the offensive side of the ball. Gamblers who have done their homework early look to jump on prices that seem out of whack almost as quickly as Rob Ford can chase down his crack dealer. Here’s the list of SEC West win totals (SEC East coming separately) with your way-too-early predictions.
Alabama 10.5 O -120 (Risk $1.20 to win $1.00)
Oddsmakers believe there won’t be a drop off in Tuscaloosa come the 2014 season. On second thought, this may be more a byproduct of a SOFT schedule that appears to pose 2 tests max. Glancing through the Tide’s slate it’s not a mystery where the potential landmines can come into play: at LSU and vs Auburn. Those also are the only games coincidentally where Bama won’t be listed as a double digit favorite. The game against Ole Miss in early October could fall into that category as well but my power numbers aren’t nearly as high as some when it comes to the Rebels. While I worry about uncertainty at QB (among other things) this is a team with elite recruits and Nick Saban calling the shots…there’s only 1 way to look.
Verdict: Alabama O10.5
Arkansas 4.5 O -125 (Risk $1.25 to win $1.00)
Talk about a hot seat right off the bat; we might want to check Bielema’s temperature every week throughout the fall if this season is as rocky as last year. Arkansas already knew their strength would be on the offensive line and they received a boost this week with UNLV all Mtn West guard Cameron Jefferson electing to transfer to Fayetteville amid the Rebels APR ban. The offense has a host of talent at skill positions and they’re going to need it with a defense that no one will compare to either LSU or Alabama. The schedule doesn’t open favorably with 2 of the first 3 games on the highway against Auburn and Texas Tech. Other non-con games include home tilts against Nichols St and NIU have to be W’s if Pig Sooie is to exceed expectations. I don’t list Arkansas as a favorite in any conference game but aside from their opener and tilt against Alabama, they could be single digit pups in the remaining contests. I do expect marked improvement from this team but don’t see enough good spots to warrant going over or under the current reg season win total.
Auburn 9.5 O +100 (Risk $1.00 to win $1.00)
Everyone’s favorite Cinderella story, the Auburn Tigers have high expectations coming into 2014, and rightfully so given how they finished last year. Let me be the first to say that while I love Gus Malzahn I need to see this team do it back to back in a more conventional format for me to buy into everything they’re selling. Aside from non conference games against San Jose St, Louisiana tech, and Samford I’m not sure anything else on the schedule should be taken for granted. A weeknight road game in Manhattan against KSU is anything but a lay-up as are home games against LSU, South Carolina, or Texas A&M. Road games you ask? Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama will see War Eagle favored by less than a touchdown meaning they’d be on upset alert (or underdogs) every single week. I know folks want to believe last year wasn’t a fluke but unless lady luck is wearing an Auburn jersey for the 2nd straight year, 9 wins seems much more plausible than 10… I personally see them 8-4.
Verdict: Auburn U9.5
LSU 9 U -130 (Risk $1.30 to win $1.00)
Maybe I’m a little higher on the Tigers than most given a somewhat challenging schedule. First glance says LSU will be underdogs in 2 road games but won’t be more than +5 in either of those contests. In addition to those 2 coin flips there are 3 more against Wisconsin, Florida, and Texas A&M that will go a long way to determining how Les Miles team finishes the season. There’s obvious concern about the QB position and a receiving corps that lost major game breakers to the draft but a relatively young defense a season ago should be vastly improved. I’ve learned never underestimate the power of Les and while there’s not a ton of wiggle room here, I see a more plausible scenario where LSU wins 10 games compared to 8.
Verdict: LSU O9
Ole Miss 7.5 U -120 (Risk $1.20 to win $1.00)
If there’s a team that needs to put up or shut up within the conference it’s the side hailing from Oxford. There’s a ton of top ranked talent on the defensive side of the ball capable of making game changing plays but there’s one major concern for me with the composition of this roster: QB play. I’ve watched Bo Wallace a ton; there’s nothing that leaves me brimming with confidence when he’s under center looking to beat elite level opponents. There are deficiencies on the O-line that won’t mask the shaky QB play either. I know experts think this could be the season they turn the corner with 3 non-conference lay-ups to get them going. However aside from a home game against Tennessee the Rebels won’t be double digit favorites within the league. Unlike last year the schedule isn’t nearly as advantageous over the back half of the year either. I’m not bullish on fading a defense with this much elite level talent but there’s only 1 way to bet this team’s win total…and with 1 eye closed mind you.
Verdict: Ole Miss U7.5
Mississippi St O7 -130 (Risk $1.30 to win $1.00)
I feel like every year we see a Bulldog win total set at 7 and they start the season white hot only to back into a push. This year’s campaign won’t be as easy as Dan Mullen’s squad will face LSU at the end of the season’s opening month, most likely making them 3-1 headed into their 1st bye. The 2 home games that should define the season, Texas A&M and Auburn, come in back to back weeks sandwiched between byes. Splitting those 2 potentially moves MSU to 4-2. Then 3 straight winnable games could take them to 7-2 before a finishing kick that includes @Alabama, vs Vanderbilt, @Ole Miss. For my money this is too tough a nut to crack, even for a team that I believe will be a covering machine with upgraded talent at a lot of key positions.
Texas A&M 7 Under -130 (Risk $1.30 to win $1.00)
Let the post Johnny Manziel era in College Station begin in earnest. An already bad defense was dealt a major blow this week with 2 key contributors dismissed from the program after off the field transgressions. It’s no surprise where this win total came from considering the Aggies will be chalk in 8 games barring major changes, dogs in 3, and a coin flip in the season finale against LSU. The major hurdle facing this team is every contest on their home schedule is a “loseable” contest. I would have called their defense and o-line major strengths before the recent dismissals, however now there are more questions that remain. Never doubt a Kevin Sumlin offense…we’ve learned that in the past... yet when it comes to betting this win total, I’ll stay away and look for an Aggie return to prominence in 2015.