I have an analogy that might seem a bit out there, but stay with me.
If you’re going to a game and you want to root for someone but you don’t know who to root for, the rule of thumb is simply watch the first play and go with your gut. That is, if it bothers you that one team just completed a 40-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage, your gut is saying that you’re rooting for the defense.
It’s sort of like that with these early over/unders for regular season win totals. Before these came out, I didn’t have a set number of wins for every SEC team. I probably still don’t. But when BetOnline came up with these lines for a decent amount of SEC teams, I knew my gut reaction after seeing each total. I had a stronger reaction to some than others.
In case you haven’t seen them yet, here’s what they looked like:
The knee-jerk reaction most people have when looking at these is always “wow, that’s it?” Part of that is probably because we’re talking regular season win totals, and not including any potential conference championship or bowl game numbers.
My knee-jerk reaction when looking at those was that the majority of them looked pretty spot on. Those, I stayed away from. But there were a few that stood out.
The play — Over 11 wins
Think about this. Do you really think that Alabama is losing 2 SEC games coming off a year in which it was the national runner-up? Nick Saban hasn’t lost 2 conference games in a season since 2014. I say that because, well, he ain’t losing to Duke. As high of a number as 11 is in a year in which Alabama travels to Auburn and Texas A&M, the odds that Alabama goes 12-0 with a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback are far greater than 10-2.
The most likely scenario is a push at 11 wins, so why wouldn’t you take the over with +110 odds? That’s a no-brainer.
The play — Over 10.5 wins
I know what you’re thinking. It’s always super risky to take the over when a team has:
- A) A headliner nonconference game
- B) Tough crossover draws
- C) All the above
Georgia is “C.” Notre Dame was indeed a Playoff team last year, and that matchup will still be a major challenge even though it’s at home. And facing Auburn and Texas A&M means that if you include the Florida matchup, those are 4 spots that Georgia will face possible Top 25 teams. Getting to 11 wins is by no means a lock.
But the past 2 years, Georgia found a way to do just that. The roster depth and talent level is so high that outside of a Jake Fromm injury, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which this team slows down. Georgia is a good bet to win 11 until further notice.
The play — Under 8 wins
Vegas knows that the under is the play here. That’s why the odds are -145. Auburn, while it had a nice finish to the season, still has some key factors working against it. The quarterback situation is a total mystery that could really go in a variety of ways with new play-caller Gus Malzahn. Lost in the shuffle of that is that the running game still was nowhere near what Malzahn demands in that system, and if that isn’t fixed, that tough schedule looks even more daunting.
Yes, Auburn gets Alabama and Georgia at home, but traveling to Florida, LSU and Texas A&M on top of opening the season with a neutral-site matchup against Oregon means that roughly half that schedule is against preseason Top 25 teams. No thanks.
The play — Over 7.5 wins
The schedule, the schedule, the schedule. It’s a gauntlet. Facing Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and LSU in a season isn’t fair. Add in Mississippi State and Auburn, both of which should at least be decent, and you won’t find many schedules tougher than A&M’s. So why take the over? Well, the Aggies are a borderline Top 10 team for a reason. It’s never bad to have a head coach with a ring and a proven returning quarterback. And defensively, Mike Elko made major improvements to that unit last year that helped A&M reach 8 regular season wins.
Let’s say conservatively that the Aggies lose road matchups at Clemson, Georgia and LSU. Let’s also say Alabama comes into Kyle Field and keeps that streak alive. There’s still loads of potential for at least an 8-win season.
The play — Under 7 wins
I think the recent rises we’ve seen from traditional SEC East powers Florida and Georgia has pushed the bar a bit to high for what Tennessee can do in 2019. Granted, the oddsmakers aren’t expecting that kind of leap, but I’m still not of the belief that the Vols have the necessary weapons in the trenches to make 8 wins feel like a number that’s attainable. Just getting win No. 6 seems like a more realistic goal.
The good news is that the schedule lacks a nonconference game vs. a Power 5 team. Couple that with the fact that Tennessee returns the highest percentage of production of any SEC team and yeah, some improvement should be expected in Year 2 of the Jeremy Pruitt era. The problem is that it seems totally realistic that the Vols get off to an 0-4 start in SEC play with this slate:
- at Florida
- Mississippi State
- at Alabama
In fact, all 8 of Tennessee’s SEC games are against teams that made the postseason last year. For a team that struggled with consistency last year, those are too many land mines for me to want to put my chips on the over.