There are several SEC teams that appear stuck on seven or eight wins, and this year — whether because of a soft home schedule, or a brutal road swing — that’s about to change, one way or the other. We’re looking at you Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Georgia.
But which teams are the safest bets to beat or fall short of their Vegas win total projections?
About two months ago, CG Technology in Las Vegas offered the over/under win totals for all the SEC teams except Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. So we supplied those.
Here is some analysis on each team’s over-under total and which side the 2017 season will fall on:
Alabama – 10.5 (Over): Only about four teams could conceivably knock off the Crimson Tide, and two of them start and end the season: Florida State and Auburn. The Crimson Tide’s roster is among the most talented in college football, led by reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year Jalen Hurts. Alabama should be in the mix again for the College Football Playoff and a trip to the SEC Championship Game, and that means it will easily go over.
Arkansas – 7 (Under): Many of the offseason headlines have centered on offense, between recruiting and the retirement of Rawleigh Williams III. But the Razorbacks’ defense still lacks a certain punch, and it appears to be a tall task to overcome that and get to a decent bowl out of the West. The Razorbacks will likely start 3-1, but then a gauntlet emerges in games at South Carolina, at Alabama and against Auburn. Throw in a Coastal Carolina win and a push could be the best bet here, but the under is the safer play.
Auburn – 8 (Over): A new quarterback and new offensive coordinator are being counted on for a big year and a possible upset of the arch-rival. But beginning at Clemson and going at LSU, at Arkansas, at Texas A&M and home to Georgia in a four-game stretch is daunting. There are plenty of possible parallels to 2013, including Georgia and Alabama at home with a transfer quarterback at the helm. The Tigers get above eight wins.
Florida – 8 (Over): The three true road games, Kentucky, Missouri and South Carolina, are among the most winnable games around, and one comes three games into the season to work out any newcomer growing pains. Two are in November. The under-achieving Florida offense is poised to finally break through, though Jim McElwain has made it to Atlanta with far less. Knock off Michigan in Arlington, Texas, and a wave of momentum could follow into October during a stretch when Tennessee in Gainesville is the toughest matchup. It’s difficult to find four losses on this slate.
Georgia – 8 (Under): The challenge here is Georgia rarely lives up to expectations (see: preseason No. 1 in 2008, as one example) but the Bulldogs will still be a trendy pick to win the East. Most of that is because of the experienced and talented backfield and the expected improvement from Jacob Eason at quarterback. But there are tripwires throughout the schedule, beginning at Notre Dame, and then at Tennessee where a host of Georgia players have suffered knee injuries through the years. Then there’s the Cocktail Party, South Carolina and Auburn within three weeks, which have all proven to be treacherous in their own right. And Georgia has been known to suffer a Kentucky loss late in the season at Sanford Stadium. It would be a cop-out to choose push here, so we’ll take the under.
Kentucky – 6 (Under): The Wildcats get Tennessee and the Mississippi schools in three consecutive weeks, and that appears to be a make-or-break stretch. They most likely will be 4-2 by that point, and — because they close at Georgia and against Louisville — to make a bowl game, they need to win two out of three in late October and early November. Not many teams can beat the Bulldogs and Cardinals in consecutive weeks.
LSU – 9 (Under): The second half of the Tigers’ schedule is among the toughest around, and it’s not a reach to see the Tigers collecting just a couple wins in that stretch. Even the most optimistic fan might not see two wins out of road games at Florida, at Alabama and at Tennessee. Throw in the season-opener against BYU and nine wins is too tall of a task.
Mississippi State – 5.5 (Over): The Bulldogs survived a rebuilding year with a new quarterback and are poised to take the next step behind Nick Fitzgerald. The new Todd Grantham-led defense will have plenty to prove, and if they can play well in the non-conference games, there’s a path to six wins.
Missouri – 6.5 (Under): The Barry Odom rebuild seems to be still a year away, because even if the Tigers go 4-0 in non-conference play, including at Connecticut, they would need at least three SEC wins to reach a bowl. And two of the easier matchups come at Kentucky and at Vanderbilt. The offense appears to be among the better units around, especially with its up-tempo pace, but the results haven’t followed yet.
Ole Miss – 5.5 (Under): So many NCAA-related distractions, much less the lack of motivation to reach a bowl game, means the Rebels will struggle to gain momentum. Yes, the Shea Patterson-led offense should put up big numbers, but a three-game stretch of at Cal, at Alabama and at Auburn is daunting. Even if they sweep the non-conference slate, finding three SEC wins is tough to figure.
South Carolina – 5.5 (Over): The Gamecocks could be a popular dark-horse pick in the preseason as they return a load of offensive talent that is still young, but with some experience. The string of games like N.C. State, the season opener to set the tone, Kentucky and Vanderbilt should offer a barometer for the kind of season Will Muschamp will have. It’s easy to see how they could start 4-0 with a trip to Texas A&M on tap. Then throw in a win over Wofford and there are several paths to bowl eligibility.
Tennessee – 7.5 (Over): It might be the ultimate stage for a corny Butch Jones motivational quote, but the Vols have the ingredients to make a splash. Even without Joshua Dobbs, Cameron Sutton, Derek Barnett and others, there are plenty of young Vols from strong recruiting classes who have picked up early playing time given the string of injuries. Lose the four toughest games on the schedule (Florida, Georgia, Alabama and LSU) and the Vols could still reach eight wins. Toss in an upset of any of those and a win over Georgia Tech on Labor Day, and it’s easy to see at least eight wins.
Texas A&M – 7 (Under): A lot depends on the opener against UCLA. But with so much pressure on Kevin Sumlin to break the eight-win ceiling, a crack might emerge before mid-October. The Aggies get the benefit of just three SEC road games — at Florida, at Ole Miss and at LSU. But they could understandably have five losses by mid-October, and still have the likes of Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss and LSU remaining. There appears to be more paths to a five-or-more-loss season than an eight-win season.
Vanderbilt – 6 (Under): Not only is Alabama on the Commodores’ schedule this year, their non-conference slate has plenty of land mines associated with it. Last year, for example, Vanderbilt was in a scoring shootout with Middle Tennessee (this year in Murfreesboro) and needed overtime to knock off Western Kentucky. Throw in Kansas State, and Alabama A&M might be the only sure-fire win on the non-SEC schedule. Tennessee should be plenty motivated to avenge last year’s upset, and the Commodores also must travel to Ole Miss. Add it all up and it’s difficult to map a scenario of six wins or more.