College football season is literally just days away, so hey, what better time to make some last minute wagers, than... right now?
Over the next few days in the lead-up to the season, we'll be previewing all of the biggest conferences, with thoughts and the best and worst bets in each. And today, we start in the SEC, where the proverbial question, that is as old as time, will once again be asked: Can anyone actually beat Bama? Especially after injuries have slowed key players at Georgia and LSU in fall camp?
Here is our full preview of the SEC - where we try to figure out if anyone can beat Bama, and if so, who has the best value?
Here are the odds via DraftKings sports book:
Texas A&M (+1100)
Ole Miss (+2500)
Mississippi State (+10000)
South Carolina (+20000)
The Favorite - Alabama (-165): I mean, could there be anyone else? Not really. But it is worth noting that coming off its sixth national title, there is more uncertainty with this team heading into this season than there has been in a long time. Not only did they lose the Heisman Trophy winner in Devonta Smith, a first round pick at quarterback in Mac Jones and four other first rounders (with five coming on the offensive side of the ball) but the entire offensive coaching staff had to be replaced too - highlighted by Steve Sarkisian's departure to Texas.
Still, this is Alabama, and be honest: Are you really worried?
First off, Alabama might be the only team in college football history to replace a coordinator with a guy who was an NFL head coach the season before, as Bill O’Brien is in for Sark. Oh, and for all the offensive turnover, Bryce Young is still a former five-star under center, and in a bit of a blast from the past, Alabama might have one of the best defenses in the SEC as well. Christopher Allen and Will Anderson are two of the top three returnees in the SEC in tackles for loss, and three of four starters are back in the secondary as well.
The only two things that are certain in the SEC every year are that Alabama will lose a ton of talent to the NFL, and always find a way to replace it.
They’re a worthy SEC favorite.
Does the second favorite have value - Georgia (+200): I'll be blunt, I genuinely thought this might be the year that Georgia takes home the SEC and even a national title... at least until fall camp started. Then top red zone target Darnell Washington and top corner Tykee Smith both went down with foot injuries that could keep them out of the opener against Clemson. And five-star transfer Arik Gilbert from LSU also is away from the team for personal reason.
So, not an ideal start for the Dawgs.
At the same time, remember, while this team opens with Clemson - the SEC schedule is insanely manageable. Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Tennessee are all breaking in first year head coaches (and, if we're being blunt, will be terrible), Florida is down and they avoid Alabama, LSU, A&M and Ole Miss in cross-division games.
Point being, even if they lose to Clemson Week 1, they can still get healthy, rally and enter the SEC title game at 11-1 with the talent to beat anyone they play.
Yes, the early season injuries have me worried for Clemson on opening night. But this team still has enough to rally and win in Atlanta.
Best Value - Texas A&M (+1100): Some will say LSU here, but I'm sorry I just don't see a team going from "worst defense in the SEC" to "good enough to win the league" in one off-season. No matter how many guys from the previous coaching staff they fired.
So instead, I'll roll with A&M here.
A&M was the SEC’s second best team last season, and return the bulk of their team. That includes a slew of skill-position talent, including running back Isaiah Spiller (over 1,000 yards rushing last year), Ainias Smith (46 catches) and Jaylen Wydemeyer (46 catches) who is one of the best tight ends in all of college football. Caleb Chapman also back from injury after tearing ACL vs. Florida. Oh, and they also had the No. 1 ranked defense in the SEC last season and return nine starters on that side of the ball.
That is the good news, but of course there is concern (which is why they are 11-1 to win the league, after all). One, they will have to replace four-year starter Kellen Mond at quarterback. And while Mond may have never been elite, he was consistent and excellent by the end of last season. Two, to win the SEC, A&M will of course almost certainly have to beat Alabama. It’s something they haven’t done since Johnny Manziel was on campus, and the Jimbo Fisher era results have been especially bad, including a 28-point loss in Tuscaloosa last season.
Still, the game is in College Station this year.
And again, this isn't saying that A&M will win the league, just that they have value. Which they do, at 11-1.
Most Overvalued - Florida (+1800): Sorry Gators fans, I just don't see it. First off, there was that pesky, three-game losing streak to end last season (lowlighted by a loss as a 24-point home favorite to LSU), And two, they have to basically replace every offensive player who produced last season, including two first round skill position talents (Kyle Pitts and Kedarius Toney) as well as a multi-year starter at quarterback in Kyle Trask.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is, if this team went 8-4 last year with Trask, Pitts and Toney, is there any reason to believe they'll somehow be better without them?
If you like burning money, wager on the Gators. Otherwise, I'd stay away.
Long Shot - Kentucky (+5500): If we’re being honest, it’s just hard to imagine any long shot cashing in a league with Alabama and Georgia, not to mention Texas A&M, LSU and Florida.
Still, if we’re gambling on a long shot it makes sense they come from the East, and the Wildcats best fit the bill. The defense is always solid under Mark Stoops, and the run game will again be solid as well with the return of Chris Rodriguez Jr. and Kavosiey Smoke (great name!). Nebraska transfer Wan’Dale Robinson should add pop to the offense as well.
At this point the real question with Kentucky is if Stoops really lets new offensive coordinator Liam Coen (who comes to Lexington from the LA Rams) open the playbook, and if he does, how well new quarterback Will Levis performs.
Other gambling and roster notes:
As mentioned above, I didn't hate LSU’s odds at 18-1, but between the uncertainty at quarterback (where Myles Brennan is out with injury) and a defense - even with a new coordinator - ranked 124th nationally last year and I just can’t see this team winning enough to be in serious consideration for an SEC title.
Ole Miss is going to be fun as hell to bet on and watch - just not as an SEC champion. That team will be able to put up 50 on anyone.
There’s a lot to like at Arkansas, where the entire o-line, nine starters on defense and a bunch of solid receivers and tight ends return. What’s not to like though? The schedule, which includes games at Alabama, at Georgia, at LSU, a neutral site versus Texas A&M in Arlington and a home game against Texas. WOOF!
South Carolina is going to be really bad. You’ve been warned, but I legitimately think on paper they might be worse than Vanderbilt. Which is really saying something.