Wednesday, July 26, 2023 | 2 a.m.
For the first time in 13 years, Alabama is not favored to win the SEC. It only took back-to-back national championships by Georgia to unseat the Crimson Tide at the top of odds boards.
College football has always been top-heavy, and perhaps nowhere has that been more evident than in the sport’s top conference. Alabama has been the standard ever since it won the first six national championships under coach Nick Saban in 2009.
The Crimson Tide’s average future odds to win the SEC since then have been +102 (i.e. risking $100 to win $102). They’ve prevailed in the conference in seven of 13 tries.
If a bettor had wagered $100 on Alabama to win the conference every year in the span, he or she would be up around $275. Examples like that are often misleading, considering no one actually does such an exercise, but in this case, it’s an example of how unstoppable Alabama has been from a betting perspective even with the most smothering weight of expectations.
For the first time in a long time this year, the question is how the Crimson Tide perform when their stock is down. Alabama is +275 to win the SEC, trailing Georgia at -105 (i.e. risking $105 to win $100) with LSU somewhat closely behind at +500.
The only other teams available at less than 50-to-1 are Tennessee and Texas A&M at 17-to-1 apiece. That doesn’t necessarily mean the other 10 teams in the conference are hopeless.
During Alabama’s reign of dominance, one team did overcome 100-to-1 odds to win the SEC — Auburn in 2013 as part of a run to a national championship game appearance against Florida State.
But the longshots won’t have it easy this year. Alabama could potentially be as strong ever, but it’s not even the team to beat at sports books.
Read below for a win-total handicap on every team in the SEC. Over the next few weeks, Talking Points will be previewing every power conference in college football from a betting perspective by picking the win totals.
Listed odds next to the team are from Circa Sports, while the pick comes from the best odds on the chosen side available at the five Las Vegas sports books with win totals available on their mobile apps — Circa, SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas, Caesars/William Hill, STN Sports and BetMGM. Picks are labeled in three confidence categories — plays, leans and guesses. Plays will be tracked in the Weekend Wagers column throughout the season.
Florida: 5.5 wins (over -135, under +115)
The Gators still don’t have the level of talent their blueblood status should guarantee, but the roster is beginning to look more like one that fits with second-year coach Billy Napier’s preferred setup. Namely, they’re massive in the trenches with a pair of explosive running backs in Trevor Etienne and Montrell Johnson. Bowl eligibility should be attainable, even against what multiple projections rate as the nation’s toughest schedule.
Play: Over 5.5 wins at -120 (SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas)
Georgia: 11.5 wins (over +110, under -130)
As dominant as Georgia has been with back-to-back undefeated regular seasons, they’ve had to stage a narrow escape in each campaign — against a diminished Clemson team in 2021 and a mediocre Missouri side in 2022. At some point, a close game is going to fall the other way. That might be this year, perhaps during a tough back-to-back late in the season when the Bulldogs host Ole Miss before traveling to Tennessee. They’re still the best team in the nation but breaking in a new offensive coordinator/quarterback tandem this year in Mike Bobo and, presumably, Carson Beck.
Lean: Under 11.5 wins at -130 (Circa)
Kentucky: 7 (over -110, under -110)
As long as NC State transfer quarterback Devin Leary stays healthy — and he does have an injury history — Kentucky has upside to be the second-best team in the SEC East. The Wildcats’ defense is annually stingy, and the return of offensive coordinator Liam Coen after a year with the Los Angeles Rams bodes well for Leary. BetMGM is offering over 6.5 wins at -160, which is tempting, but with Kentucky’s upside, I’d recommend the higher payout.
Play: Over 7 wins at +110 (SuperBook)
Missouri: 6 (over -120, under Even money)
The Tigers went 6-6 last year thanks almost entirely to a suffocating defense that came out of nowhere. That’s a red flag as defensive efficiency is notoriously fickle year-to-year, especially with more of a one-season blip than a history of success, and Missouri may not have the offense to pull it out of tight games if the other side of the ball regresses. The Tigers have big returning-production numbers, but the rest of the mid-range SEC East division is arguably improved meaning some teams are bound to drop off.
Lean: Under 6.5 wins at -130 (Caesars/William Hill)
South Carolina: 6 (over -120, under Even money)
The Gamecocks have far overachieved their statistical profile in each of coach Shane Beamer’s first two seasons. Either he’s truly one of the best coaches in college football or regression is going to strike at some point. Quarterback Spencer Rattler is a big name but annually the opposite of his coach — an underperformer. The Gamecocks are also often outmanned up front in the SEC.
Guess: Under 6 wins at +110 (SuperBook)
Tennessee: 9 (over -105, under -115)
Coach Josh Heupel’s “smashmouth spread” offense took the SEC by the storm the past two years, but it looked like opponents began to somewhat figure out its relatively simplicity down the stretch last year. The Volunteers may be great again, but it’s not worth paying a premium — last year’s win total was 8 before a 10-2 regular season — with quarterback Hendon Hooker and his two best receivers, including Bishop Gorman High graduate Cedric Tillman, departed. It’s better to take a wait-and-see approach as it pertains to whether new quarterback Joe Milton can pick up where Hooker left off with fewer weapons.
Guess: Under 9 wins at -105 (STN Sports)
Vanderbilt: 4 (over -110, under -110)
The Commodores were ravaged by the transfer portal, but importantly held on to the vast majority of an offensive line that paved the way to an impressive 5-7 record last year. Coach Clark Lea knows employing a slow, ball-control offense and building a decent defense — the focus of this offseason — is the only way the Commodores have a chance in the SEC. But they could potentially hit this win total solely in the non-conference, where they should go at least 3-1.
Guess: Over 3.5 wins at -165 (STN Sports)
Alabama: 10 (over -155, under +135)
On paper, and in a change, this might be the most difficult team to handicap. They’re star-studded on defense with players like cornerback KoolAid McKinstry and edge rusher Dallas Turner but have seen their effectiveness on that side of the ball diminish over the last couple years. Offensively, there’s a relative dearth of big-time playmakers even at quarterback where new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees seemingly panic-added former Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner after spring football. But any time the Crimson Tide have been doubted in the past, they’ve responded emphatically.
Guess: Over 10 wins at -155 (Circa)
Arkansas: 6.5 (over -140, under +120)
Quarterback KJ Jefferson is an incredible talent, but there are a lot of questions around him. Who is he going to throw to with his top five receivers departed? Is new offensive coordinator Dan Enos, a drastic departure from the outgoing Kendal Briles, really the right choice to bring the most out of him? There will be no time for a learning curve considering Arkansas’ first four SEC opponents are LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Alabama. None of the games are at home, by the way, with three on the road the Aggies at a neutral site at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Guess: Under 7 wins at -130 (BetMGM)
Auburn: 7 (over +135, under -155)
Everything went wrong for the Tigers last year beyond just the ignominious end to coach Bryan Harsin’s short time on the plains. Auburn also had the worst turnover luck in the conference – 123rd in the nation per the SP+ ratings — and among the most injuries. In other words, new coach Hugh Freeze isn’t stepping into as poor of a situation as it first may appear. He’s done more with far fewer resources previously.
Guess: Over 6.5 wins at -125 (Caesars/William Hill)
LSU: 9.5 (over -125, under +105)
The gap between Alabama and LSU for SEC West supremacy is a lot narrower than the opening odds indicated. Unfortunately, the market has adjusted. The Tigers are now appropriately merely decimal points behind the Crimson Tide. LSU does have to play at Alabama on Nov. 4, but it’s coming off of a bye (so is Alabama) for what should be one of the biggest games of the year. If both teams are at their best, it’s difficult to imagine LSU not putting up a fight. The Tigers are too stacked at virtually every position group to be beaten up by any team.
Lean: Over 9.5 wins at -110 (SuperBook)
Mississippi State: 6 (over -110, under -110)
The devastating death of coach Mike Leach this offseason leaves Mississippi State in a vulnerable position in arguably the best division in college football. New coach Zach Arnett was thrust into the position without any warning and has since undergone transforming schemes on both sides of the ball. The Bulldogs far overperformed their statistical expectation with an 8-4 season a year ago, so they may have already been destined to take a step back this year before the college football icon’s passing.
Play: Under 6 wins at Even money (STN Sports)
Ole Miss: 7.5 (over -110, under -110)
There would typically be reason for concern with the way Ole Miss lost four of its final five games last season, but they might be minimized with the way coach Lane Kiffin has overhauled the roster for the second straight year. Such personnel turnover is bound to backfire on the Rebels at some point, but the sense is they attracted too much talent for that to happen this year. Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders and UTSA receiver Zakhari Franklin are among the prizes the self-anointed “Portal King” Kiffin brought to Oxford, Miss., the past few months.
Guess: Over 7.5 wins at Even money (Caesars/William Hill)
Texas A&M: 8.5 (over +130, under -150)
By any talent metric, the Aggies have one of the best overall rosters in the nation. Accumulate this many game-changers on both sides of the ball and, at some point, it should pay dividends. Coach Jimbo Fisher’s offense has largely held Texas A&M back during consecutive disappointing seasons but his poaching of new offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino after a couple weeks with UNLV could be the spark the unit needs. Texas A&M’s 1-5 record in games decided by less than a touchdown last year is highly unlikely to repeat.
Lean: Over 8 wins at -110 (SuperBook)