The VSiN college football analyst and longtime Gold Sheet handicapper looks at some betting angles for the 2021 SEC season.
Favorites: Alabama and Florida
We’re not going too far out on a limb to project Alabama as one of the favorites. Even if most SEC insiders suspect that not even Nick Saban’s assembly line of talent will be able to seamlessly replace all the offensive talent selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, including quarterback Mac Jones, two wideouts in Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle and running back Najee Harris. Also gone is offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, now the head coach at Texas. But the Crimson Tide doesn’t have to score 48 points a game again to be formidable, and blue-chippers abound, led by five-star sophomore QB Bryce Young, who is capable of picking up where Jones left off. The defense might be the highlight of this Tide edition.
Georgia is getting lots of love from SEC East pundits, but we slightly prefer Florida. Dan Mullen understands offense better than Kirby Smart, and the Gators were in contention for national honors until late last season when a spate of injuries thinned the ranks. After Mullen finally got over the hump against Smart last year, Florida wears the bull’s-eye until further notice in the non-’Bama half of the league.
Live ’dog: Mississippi State:
Rewind to 2013, Mike Leach’s second year at Washington State. All of a sudden, things began to click for the Cougars’ Air Raid offense, and the squad became a force in the Pac-12 and a bowl team for the first time in a decade. Mississippi State hasn’t had that kind of drought — in fact, the Bulldogs got into a bowl game last year at 3-7 because of COVID-19 weirdness — but a similar breakthrough in Starkville wouldn’t surprise. Sophomore QB Will Rogers had a bumpy go in his test run last year, but was looking confident by the end of the season. Moreover, many insiders believe it takes a year to really get a grip on the reads and progressions integral to a Leach offense. The defense held up quite well for most of 2020, as defensive coordinator Zach Arnett kept plenty of capable opponents off balance with a variety of stunts and blitzes. Don’t expect MSU to beat ’Bama for the first time since 2007, but don’t be surprised if the Bulldogs are upgraded either.
Dead money: Auburn:
Though a more conventional case can perhaps be made against Vanderbilt after it lost every game last season and covered only three spreads, the Commodores might be so discounted that they could provide some value for first-year coach Clark Lea. Auburn, meanwhile, likely doesn’t get the same benefit. Routinely overrated by the oddsmakers after Gus Malzahn’s smashing debut in 2013, the Tigers have been a pretty consistent money-burner since, and no surprise if Bryan Harsin’s Auburn debut is similarly overpriced (at least for a while). Spread failings or not, the thought persists among some SEC observers that Auburn hasn’t made an upgrade with this hire. And if not, point-spread shortcomings from the previous regime are not likely to change much either.