Some early picks on the interesting Week 1 SEC lines
When the SEC schedule came out in its final piece, I thought I’d have time to guess some Week 1 lines.
I thought wrong.
Minutes after the schedule was announced, we had our first Week 1 SEC lines, and I couldn’t even guess spreads. Having said that, some still took me by surprise.
It’s worth noting that these lines are subject to change. We still have more than a month until the SEC is set to start the season. We could have opt-outs, injuries, suspensions, etc., and all of those not-so-fun things impact spreads. In all likelihood, they will. We’ll of course have picks locked in days before the start of the 2020 season.
But in the meantime, these were my initial thoughts seeing these early Week 1 lines come out (all spreads courtesy of BetOnline):
Alabama (-21) vs. Mizzou
Pick: Alabama -21
Despite Eli Drinkwitz’s best attempt to throw Alabama off the scent with his mysterious quarterback battle, no, I don’t think the Crimson Tide will struggle against the Tigers. I was surprised to see that line so low given how much the deck has been stacked against Drinkwitz’s team this offseason.
Nick Saban is 13-0 with an average margin of victory of 29.6 points in season-openers. Granted, this is the first time he’s ever had a true road game in an opener. Go figure that it’ll come during a pandemic with a fraction of the stadium capacity.
While I think there could be some kinks to work out with the offense in the post-Tua Tagovailoa era early in this game, I wouldn’t be surprised if Alabama’s defense delivered a performance reminiscent of the 2019 opener against Duke. Dylan Moses, Christian Barmore and Co. should make life difficult on a new-look Mizzou offense that didn’t even have a spring game.
It’s hard to imagine there being a specific opt-out or injury that would talk me off Alabama -21.
Florida (-10.5) vs. Ole Miss
Pick: Florida -10.5
I’m all aboard the John Rhys Plumlee hype train. I might actually be the conductor. That Lane Kiffin offense, led by Plumlee, Elijah Moore and Jerrion Ealy, should be a fun group to watch.
But give me an experienced Florida offense to light up an Ole Miss defense that’s loaded with question marks. This seems like an offseason when having a veteran quarterback has never been more important. I’ll trust Kyle Trask, behind what should be an improved offensive line, to keep the Ole Miss defense with that bevy of Florida skill players.
This one might stay a little bit close early on, especially if Todd Grantham’s front 7 can’t find ways to get pressure on Plumlee, but Dan Mullen’s return to Oxford should be a successful one. Give me Florida by 2 touchdowns.
Georgia (-24) vs. Arkansas
Pick: Arkansas +24
Relax, Georgia fans. I still think the Dawgs win in somewhat convincing fashion. But I come back to 2 reasons the Hogs could cover what’s nearly a 4-score spread. Given all of those new pieces on Georgia’s offense, it would be understandable if there was a somewhat slow start. There’s no guarantee that Todd Monken’s group will be clicking from the jump.
On the flip side, I think Barry Odom is going to turn around the Arkansas defense. It’ll tackle much better than it did the past 3 years, and that’ll be evident early on. That’ll frustrate a Georgia team who’ll still be trying to establish its offensive identity.
Of course, one could say the same thing about Arkansas’ offense under Kendal Briles. Does Feleipe Franks make a costly mistake or 2 to let the game get out of hand? Perhaps a Franks interception will spiral things from a competitive standpoint, but a 28-7 result wouldn’t surprise me for the Sam Pittman bowl.
Kentucky vs. Auburn (-7.5)
Pick: Kentucky +7.5
So the initial line that I saw was actually Auburn -11, which stunned me, especially considering that Jordan-Hare Stadium isn’t going to be packed. I still think Kentucky getting 7.5 is too much because of how much production that top-15 defense returns. That’s the key matchup. How does an Auburn offensive line with 1 returning starter protect Bo Nix, who will be playing his first game with Chad Morris calling plays? I think Kentucky wins that battle.
It also seems fairly possible that the Kentucky ground game, which has been criminally underrated this offseason, picks up right where it left off. Sure, it’ll look different with Terry Wilson at quarterback instead of Lynn Bowden, but 4 of those 5 talented offensive line starters are back for the Cats. In the post-Marlon Davidson/Derrick Brown world, I question how Kevin Steele’s defense is going to string enough stops together against that group.
There’s a reason that line came down so quickly. The secret is out that Kentucky is no pushover.
MSU vs. LSU (-17.5)
Pick: LSU -17.5
I don’t think this one is close. I think that LSU offense, which has been hearing all offseason about how much it’s going to regress, comes out firing. Myles Brennan will look the part running Steve Ensminger’s offense, and we’ll be reminded that there’s still a ton of skill player talent in Baton Rouge.
I also worry about an MSU defense that lost a ton of production for the second year in a row. Erroll Thompson’s return helps, but I question how Zach Arnett’s new defense will get enough pressure up front to slow down LSU. That could make for a lopsided start.
And while I believe K.J. Costello throws for a whole bunch of yards this year, I’m still not entirely sure that MSU is going to be able to block better defenses and allow him to throw the way the Leach offense demands. Bo Pelini’s defense is going to rely heavily on that experienced defensive line. It seems inevitable that Derek Stingley or JaCoby Stevens takes advantage of a rushed throw or 2 and flips the field.
I’ll take an LSU blowout in Leach’s SEC debut.
Tennessee (-2.5) vs. South Carolina
Pick: Tennessee -2.5
I have no idea what Tennessee’s quarterback situation is and I’m somewhat optimistic about Will Muschamp’s defense. So why do I have the Vols covering? Didn’t they lay that opening weekend dud last year against Georgia State? Yep. And if you think avoiding the mistakes made in that embarrassing start isn’t on the mind of Jeremy Pruitt, well, I think you’re wrong.
Go figure that the Tennessee offensive line against South Carolina’s front 7 is going to feature a handful of 5-star talents. That’ll be true even if Cade Mays isn’t eligible. That’s a testament to both coaches and the work they did on the recruiting trail.
But Tennessee’s 5-star talent is a little bit more proven in the trenches. In what should be a close game, I like the odds of Eric Gray doing the majority of the heavy lifting. Pruitt’s defense should be able to contain Ryan Hilinski in his first game in Mike Bobo’s offense. The Vols turn a halftime deficit into a 1-score victory in Columbia.
Vanderbilt vs. Texas A&M (-28.5)
Pick: Texas A&M -28.5
I’ve been critical of Jimbo Fisher’s start in College Station. You know how many times the Aggies beat an SEC team by 21 points? Once. It was a 30-6 home win against a banged up South Carolina team last year. So why do I believe A&M will have its biggest SEC blowout win of the Fisher era?
It’s pretty simple. Vandy looks like a mess. It’s a 4-quarterback battle with all new quarterbacks and a new offensive coordinator. The Commodores already had 2 starting offensive linemen opt out, which isn’t great for an offense who entered spring ranked No. 122 in FBS in percentage of returning offensive production. Oh, and to make matters worse, leading tackler Dimitri Moore also opted out. Not great!
Compare that to an A&M squad who returns the most experienced quarterback in the SEC in Kellen Mond, who will lead an offense who returns 80% of its production. That offensive line should be better, and Isaiah Spiller should have running lanes that were similar to what he saw in those Group of 5/FCS matchups last year.
Is 28.5 a ton of points to give up? Sure, but this game has 42-7 written all over it.