2011 SEC Football Predictions and Futures Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 8/8/2011
It’s rare to ever describe a college football conference as a dynasty. But after five straight BCS National Championships (and six of eight titles) the SEC has established itself as a monolith on the NCAA football landscape.
This year the SEC will again attempt to impose its will on the rest of the country. And with two teams in the AP Preseason Top 5 and four teams in the Top 15, the boys from the Deep South are in line for another brilliant season.
Here is a look at my 2011 SEC football predictions and futures odds, with the college football odds courtesy of Bodog:
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The Favorite: Alabama (+170)
The Crimson Tide is notjust the favorites in the SEC, but they are one of the teams on the shortlist for the national title. However, they need to get their quarterback situation stabilized. Unproven sophomore A.J. McCarron and electric freshman Phil Sims gives Nick Saban some options. And the Tide has all of the other ingredients of a championship team – talent, toughness, experience, excellent coaching, and a phenomenal defense. But unless one of the two young QBs really takes the reigns of this offense the Tide could find their title hopes unrealized. While Saban figures out who is under center, the Tide will have (potentially) one of the best defenses of the last decade to rely on. Mix in a full stable of quality backs and a powerful offensive line and the Tide will be able to outmuscle anyone standing in their way. They get LSU at home and other than moderately challenging games at Florida and at Penn State, the path is pretty clear to the SEC Championship Game and the doorstep of the BCS title game.
The Challenger: South Carolina (+450)
South Carolina is one of the only teams in the SEC – and the nation, for that matter – that may be tough enough to bang heads with Alabama. This Gamecocks team has slowly been building up to this season and now they have the talent and experience to make a run at the SEC title. This group was bombed in last year’s SEC Championship Game, losing 56-17 to Auburn. But they have 13 starters back from that squad; including stud runner Marcus Lattimore and enigmatic senior quarterback Stephen Garcia. Mix in All-American wideout Alshon Jeffery and several potential draft picks on defense, and USC is legit. Their biggest test may come at Georgia in Week 2, and the winner of that game will have the inside track in the East.
The Dark Horse: LSU (+450)
On paper this Tigers team has all the makings of a title contender. They have a load of talent back from a team that went 11-2 and won the Cotton Bowl in a blowout. Their quarterback is a three-year senior starter, the coach has a national title on the resume, and there is experience all over this roster. However, I still have a hard time trusting Les Miles or Jordan Jefferson to execute in a big game. Also, the 2011 LSU Tigers football schedule is brutal. They open with Oregon in Arlington, and they have tough road games at Mississippi State and West Virginia – and that’s just September! LSU has to travel to Tuscaloosa this year and that puts them behind the eight ball in terms of winning the West. But LSU has plenty of opportunities to prove itself this year and they have to be considered one of the top teams in the land. However, they are just 19-31-2 against the spread over the last four years so I don’t know that there is any value here.
The X-Factor: Georgia (+1600)
I wrote in my 2011 Georgia football preview that the Bulldogs essentially have a two-week season. With the vultures circling over the head of Coach Mark Richt the Bulldogs need a fast start to keep them at bay. The problem is that they have the toughest opening two weeks of any team in the country, as UGA hosts Boise State in the Georgia Dome in Week 1 and then host rival South Carolina in Athens. After that the schedule opens up and this team has the opportunity to go on a rush. But that is also contingent on quarterback Aaron Murray not suffering a sophomore slump and on defensive coordinator Todd Grantham making a successful transition to a 3-4 after last year’s up-and-down performance. Things will either go really well or really poorly for the Dawgs this year; there is no in between.
The Disappointment: Arkansas (+450)
There are definitely some reasons to be excited about this Razorbacks team. They have one of the best collections of wideouts and receivers in the country. They also have a core of three senior, three-year starters back on a defense that has steadily improved each of the last three seasons. But Arkansas has to play both of the SEC West favorites (Alabama and LSU) on the road, they have a tricky nonconference game against a very good Texas A&M team, and they have a rough three-game home stand in November against USC, Tennessee and Mississippi State. Arkansas has enough soft spots where they should hit the nine-win plateau and have what looks like a good year. But after going 16-8-1 ATS the last two years, and just by looking at their preseason college football odds, I think that this team is a bit overrated compared to what their chances of success (on the field and at the window) really are.
Florida (+175) –This is one of the most difficult teams in the country to handicap in terms of college football betting. The general public still looks at the Gators and sees National Championships. But I see the team that couldn’t get out of its own way last season and is now without one of the best coaches in the country. Only 10 starters are back from last year’s disappointing squad. And outside of the offensive skill positions this group really lacks experience. Florida has enough built-in wins on the schedule that they aren’t a bowl question mark. But with road/neutral site games against LSU, Georgia and South Carolina, and homes game against BCS contenders Alabama and Florida State, the Gators are going to have to grow up in a hurry if they want to top last season’s win total.
Tennessee (+2000) –I really, really like this Volunteers team and Tennessee, along with Mississippi State, is one of my SEC sleepers. After they finally cut the cord with the disaster that is Matt Simms, this Vols offense and this team took off. Tyler Bray really has the chance to be a great college quarterback. The offense was explosive at the end of last year and this group was pretty spry down the stretch. If they can find some defense then I think that Tennessee has the chance to spring a couple upsets in the SEC (they get LSU and USC at home). I am predicting eight wins for this group and Tennesseecould be a team to ride at the window this year.
Kentucky (+7500) –The Wildcats are kind of like the Toronto Blue Jays of college football; Kentucky is always better than people realize and I am always left wondering how they would fare if they weren’t in such a brutal league. Last season snapped a string of four straight winning years in Lexington. They do have plenty of experience back. But they need to replace the quietly effective production of Mike Hartline and the incredible production of Randall Cobb. If UK wants to go bowling again they need to toughen up. They have 10 starters back from a defense that was No. 14 in the nation in pass defense. But they were just No. 85 in rushing defense, and that led to them giving up 28 points per game. If they bow their back a bit, a very favorable schedule (they have just four true road games) is there for the taking.
Vanderbilt (+17500) –If the SEC were run like European football, the Commodores would have been relegated to Conference USA a long time ago. Vanderbilt welcomes back 19 starters. But can you get excited about 19 starters back from a group that has gone 4-20 over the last two years? Vanderbilt has had exactly one winning season in the last decade, and this will not be the second. If things break right for this team they could win four games (Elon, UConn, Ole Miss, Army and Wake Forest are all winnable). But that’s really the ceiling for this unit under new Coach James Franklin.
Mississippi State (+3000) –I am a huge fan of this Bulldogs team and I think that they are going to make some serious noise in the West. Dan Mullen has been incredible while turning this program around and the Bulldogs might have been the quietest nine-win team in the country last year. This season they have one of the nation’s most experienced rosters, with 16 starters and nine three-year starters lining up. The Bulldogs have an absolutely brutal schedule, including four of six games on the road and two home games against LSU and South Carolina. If they are for real, they certainly will have to prove it.
Mississippi (+7500) –There are some college football handicappers that are much higher on the Rebels than I. After a nice two-year run in 2008 and 2009 (18-8 SU, 15-8 ATS) the Rebels regressed last year, including an season-opening loss to Jacksonville State. This Mississippi team just cannot stop anyone. And with just four starters back and no standouts I simply don’t see them improving all that much on the country’s No. 107-ranked defense. Ole Miss does have some soft spots built into the schedule and could be back bowling this year. But this is not a team that I will be betting with this season.
Auburn (+3000) –I hope the Tigers enjoyed their National Championship season. I mean, I REALLY hope they enjoyed it. Because things are going to be rough for the War Eagle this fall. This team lost the most talent in the nation. That includes once-in-a-decade talent Cam Newton. Auburn has just six starters back from last year and there is a host of SEC teams that are hell-bent on revenge. Auburn managed to catch every break last year and went a stunning 7-0 in games decided by eight points or less. This team should fall as hard as any national champ we’ve seen in the last 20 years.
2011 SEC Conference Predictions: Predicted Order of Finish
1. South Carolina
3. Mississippi State
Robert Ferringo is an NFL and college football handicapper and is coming off an exceptionally profitable 2010-11 football season (college and pro). Over the last year his clients have more than tripled their bankrolls with his predictions in all sports. He is looking forward to building on his stellar football handicapping resume again this fall and you can check him out here.
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