Here we go folks. The 2008-2009 SEC Football season is staring us in the face. I don’t know about you guys, but personally, I can’t wait to kick it off. Especially in the SEC where there is something to look forward to each and every week. Who could forget last year? Remember the Florida Gators doing battle with LSU and losing by 4, then traveling to Kentucky to win a shootout by 8? Speaking of Kentucky, who could forget all the thrills the Wildcats GAve us last year, knocking off LSU and taking Tennessee to 4 overtimes in a thrilling 52-50 loss. Did I say thrilling? How about South Carolina vs. Arkansas? South Carolina vs. Tennessee. I mentioned Arkansas, who could forget their 3 OT upset of #1 ranked LSU to end the year? Ah yes. The Southeastern ConfereNCe. Tee it up baby. Let’s get this party started.
Aside from the great football played in the SEC, it’s also a great Conference to handicap. Much of that has to do with the rich tradition and history in the SEC. There are some bitter rivalries. Emotion, revenge and series history all play huge rolls in handicapping college ball and outside of the Big 10, perhaps no other Conference in football can come close. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to predict that teams like Florida, Georgia, Auburn and LSU will be good. They are always good. It’s it bit more tricky to handicap the rest of the field, but, let’s take a look and see what’s in store for 2008-2009.
Georgia (odds to win SEC 2-1) – Why not kick things off with the Georgia Bulldogs. They deserve it. Only LSU has more wins in the entire SEC than Georgia over the last 8 years. They finished 11-2 last year and number 2 in the nation. They are loaded oNCe again this year returning 8 on offense and 9 on defense iNCluding just about all of their key personnel from a year ago. So, yeah, the Bulldogs are going to be a very good football team this year. But let’s not hand them the National Title just yet. Actually, we can’t even hand them the SEC title just yet. The SEC is without a doubt the toughest Conference in football. There’s no letup. The hits just keep on coming week after week. Georgia has to play at LSU and at Auburn this year. No easy task, even for coach Mark Richt who is 25-4 on the road! Let’s also not lose sight of last year and some of the results we saw. Georgia didn’t exactly dominate the competition week in and week out. Let’s start with a 16-12 loss, at home to South Carolina in the 2nd Game of the year. A couple of weeks later, it took overtime to get by Alabama by a field goal. A couple weeks after that, Tennessee obliterated the Bulldogs 35-14. They also just squeaked by Vandy by a field goal not long after that. A play here and there, and 11-2 could have been 8-5. Either way, this is a solid football team that finds a way to win 10+ Games more often than not. Looking at their Schedule, they could be 7-0 on October 25th when they travel to LSU. October 25th thru November 15th will determine their year as they face LSU, Florida and Auburn in that stretch. Key Games? They get a chance to settle two scores from a year ago against the only teams to beat them. Circle September 13th (at South Carolina) and October 11th on your Schedules (The Vols at home)
Florida (odds 5/2) – We led off with Georgia but could just as easily have kicked of with the Gators. Florida is always loaded. They attract the best Florida talent (which is extensive) and have one of the recruiting classes year after year. Like Georgia, they return just about everyone. 8 on each side of the ball iNCluding Heisman winner Tim Tebow. Unlike Georgia, although they had just 9 wins to Georgia’s 11, they DID dominate teams they were supposed to dominate. They blew out Tennessee, Vandy, South Carolina and Florida State, not to mention the tomatoes cans they played early on. Their Games against other “good” teams, were all close. Auburn, LSU, Georgia and Michigan in the Bowl Game are all Games that could have gone either way. So while Georgia’s 11-2 could have been 8-5, Florida’s 9-4 could have just as easily been 11-2 or 12-1. There’s no question this team wins a minimum of 9 Games oNCe again this year. Their season will come down to Games at Tennessee, LSU at home, and Georgia in the big Cocktail party. Ok, throw in Spurrier and SC as well. No excuses though. Anything less than 10 wins from this team will be a major disappointment.
Tennessee (odds 7-1) – The Vols somehow managed to win 10 Games last year and a share of the SEC title. But, perhaps they had a little lady luck on their side as well. Anyone who looks at their body of work from a year ago, can’t possibly come away thinking, man, that was one good team. Good teams don’t get beat 45-31, 59-20 and 41-17. But there were some bright spots as well. Like slamming Georgia 35-14 and playing LSU tight, 21-14, in the title Game. Fulmer’s job was rumored to be on the line going into the year, but really, a look at the Vols past several years and you see nothing but winning seasons. Multiple 10 and 11 win seasons with the only losing year coming in 2005 when they went 5-6. The Vols will have to get things done this year without star QB Eric Ainge. His departure figures to have a big impact on the team but they do return 8 from an offense that had no trouble finding the end zone. Based on the results of this program over the years, you know the Vols will be competitive. It’s a minimum 7 or 8 win season for the Vols. If they can come up big in key Games against Florida, Auburn or Georgia, it could be 10 wins.
South Carolina (odds 12-1) – I was high on the Gamecocks heading into last season. 7 Games into the season I was looking like a genius as Spurrier had his team at 6-1 and looking like a guaranteed contender for the SEC crown. They then proceeded to lose their last 5 Games finishing 6-6 and not even an invitation to a bowl Game. Talk about a disappointment. But you have to look at the positives here. They had a brutal stretch of Games to end the season. Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and Clemson. They were in every Game except the Florida Game. They lost in OT to the Vols. They lost a Game to Arkansas where both teams were moving the ball up and down the field and SC had their chances and they lost by 2 to Clemson. Couple that with their nice 6-1 start and the fact that they return 10 starters to a respectable defense (16.1 yards per point) and 7 on offense and there’s no reason to think SC won’t be a threat this year each time they take the field. Looking at their Schedule, the 2nd half of the season will oNCe again be the key. It looks like a 6-1 start is oNCe again possible this year but they get LSU, Tennessee, Florida and Clemson to end the year. Providing they can get the wins early in the year, and then beat one or two of the big boys on the 2nd half of their Schedule, Spurrier should at least have this team in a bowl Game this year. The talent is there for more than just a mid December Bowl Game.
Kentucky (odds 40-1) – I made it a point to mention many times last year that Kentucky needed to take advantage of the team they had in place because those opportunities don’t come Kentucky’s way, in football, very often. A glimpse at Kentucky’s records over the last several years shows a buNCh of 2 and 3 win seasons. They won 8 in 2006 and had perhaps their best shot in years to make some noise in 2007 with several key players iNCluding QB Andre Woodson. They started the year 5-0 and caught everyone’s attention with wins over Louisville and Arkansas. They had a setback at South Carolina and then shocked the nation with an upset of number one ranked LSU in triple overtime. They stood at 6-1 with a victory over number one. But they couldn’t hold on down the stretch. They played well, and GAve us all some thrills, and almost broke a 22 Game losing streak when they lost a thriller to Tennessee 52-50 in 4 OT’s. But other stretch losses to Miss St, Georgia and Florida kept them at 8-5 and a minor bowl Game against Florida St. So, a good year by Kentucky football standards, but, a huge disappointment when you consider what could have been. For 2008, it looks like it’s back to mediocrity, or worse. They lose Woodson, 3 of their top receivers and other Key offensive players this year. They return 8 defensive starters, but really, that’s insignificant as no one ever ACCused Kentucky of having a good stop unit. Their defensive yards per point number last year was 13.4. Not good. It was fun while it lasted. When does basketball start?
Vanderbilt (odds 50-1) – You can always count on Vanderbilt for two things each football season. One being a record that will usually see between 2-5 wins (they haven’t had a winning year in 25 years). The other being an upset of a major SEC powerhouse or at the very least, a cover. Last year they lost to Georgia by 3, beat South Carolina and lost to the Vols by one. The year before they lost to Bama and Arkansas by a couple points, they beat Georgia and lost to the National Champion Florida Gators by just 6. This isn’t something new. Seems to happen every year with Vandy. Most of the time, Vandy is anywhere from an 8 point dog to double digits. So while no one is calling for Vandy to even have a winning record, they are still worth keeping a close eye on from a betting standpoint. Look for those few spots which you know will happen as they do every year, where you can step in and take a shot with the Commodores. There’s always some extra value to be had with losing teams and just as sure as I’m sitting here typing this, you can be sure Vandy will upset or cover against one or more of the top teams in the SEC on their Schedule this year.
LSU (odds 4-1) – The West looks like it may be a little easier to unscramble than the East. It looks like LSU and Auburn leading the way with Alabama and maybe a surprise from Miss St rounding out the top Four. You’ve got to give LSU respect. They are the champs until someone knocks them off. What you need to remember about a team like LSU is that it really doesn’t matter which players they lose, how many starters are returning, etc. They recruit some of the best talent in the nation year after year and will always be loaded. Their past is filled with 11 and 12 win seasons. Never less than 8 wins. 8 wins is a down year for this program. No team in the SEC has won more Games than LSU over the last 8 seasons. They start the year oNCe again with a cake walk and 3 easy Games but then things get interesting. In a months time they get Auburn, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina with 3 of those 4 Games being on the road. The LSU season will be decided in that stretch, but one thing is certain. Every Game on the LSU Schedule, is winnable. There are very few teams you can say that about in College football. PeNCil the Tigers in for at worst, a very late December Bowl Game. More likely, a New Years day affair.
Auburn (odds 5/2) – Auburn is another team you can’t count out. Year after year they win. This year they get what looks like their two toughest Games, at home, LSU and Georgia. There is a minimum of 8 wins on their Schedule with the rest depending on what they do against the big boys. They have an interesting matchup on a Thursday night in October when they travel to West Virginia. It looks like Auburn has the inside track in the SEC West and should contend for the SEC title this year. They return 9 on offense and 7 on defense. If they can handle WVA on the road and win their home Games against LSU and Georgia, who knows, we could be looking at more than just SEC title hopes. Remember, Auburn is still upset about being snubbed in 2004 when they went 13-0 but didn’t get to play in the title Game. Keep your eye on Auburn. We’ll have a better idea after the LSU Game on September 20.
Alabama (odds 6-1) – Keep an eye on the Crimson Tide this year folks. This team has displayed all of the classic characteristics of a team “about to have a good year”. At 7-6, with win number 7 coming in the Independence Bowl, Bama might not jump out at most as a team to watch. But sometimes, you can learn as much about a teams chances from their losses as you can from their wins the previous year. More specifically, Alabama had the chance to win every Game last year. No one dismantled the Tide. Sure, they lost to LSU, Auburn and Georgia to name 3, but they lost by a TD or less. As a matter of fact, all of their 6 losses were by a TD or less. Now that Saban has a year under his belt, and Bama returns 7 offensive players and 6 on defense, the team should have plenty of confideNCe that it can play with the best the SEC has to offer. I’d especially look for the offense to gel. Bama had their highest point production in years from their offense Key Games? Bama opens against Clemson, which should answer some questions about this steam right off the bat. They then have 3 Games they should win before facing Georgia with a little chance for revenge on September 27th. Last year Georgia beat the Tide in OT. If both of these team have the kind of years we’re expecting, September 27th could be a classic.
Mississippi State (odds 30-1) – Miss State is worthy of a brief mention here. They have rarely exceeded 3 wins in any given year over the last decade yet are coming off an 8-5 year and have quite of few of the same kids back this year. They were blown out by LSU to start the year but managed wins against Auburn, Kentucky and Alabama last year and didn’t embarrass themselves against a few other SEC powers. It looks like there’s a possible 7 or 8 wins on the daNCe card this year so we’ll have to keep an eye on the Bulldogs.
Arkansas (odds 50-1) – Arkansas should be a mess this year. They lost their entire offense…..which was McFadden and Jones, the best back duo in recent memory and are going with a completely new offensive scheme this year. Going from a running attack to a passing attack. With so few returning starters, a new coach, and a new system to learn, we don’t expect much from the Razorbacks this year. Perhaps there will be some nice early season value going against them if the oddsmakers let last year factor into their lines.
Mississippi (odds 60-1) – This is a case where you have quite a few returning starters, but still kind of have to say, so what. It’s returning starters from a 3-9 team. They weren’t very good last year. It will be interesting to see what new coach Houston Nutt can do with the Rebels. He has no McFadden and Johns to carry him here. So we’ll have to wait and see here. Many of my handicapping peers are picking Mississippi to vastly improve and surprise this year. I’m not sold. We shall see.
So there you have it. The SEC is often the most difficult Conference to preview. Certainly, it’s usually the longest preview, because there are so many good teams, and really no one that you can safely skip over, as in other conferences that sport just 2 or 3 powers. The SEC is also one of the best conferences to wager on. Anytime you have parity, history, and just plain good football teams battling it out in a conference, you have all the ingredients to find some nice wagers!
From a futures betting standpoint, betting a team to win the SEC, it’s hard to reccomend teams with short odds such as Georgia and Florida. Futures betting, can be compared to horse racing. Finding that undervalued team at decent odds and hoping to make a score. Of all the SEC teams with a “shot”, I’d pick South Carolina and Steve Spurrier at 12-1 odds as the best “value” on the board.