2014 SEC Predictions and College Football Futures Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 8/25/2014
There exists the idea in college football that there is the SEC and then there is everyone else. The idea is that this conference is some kind of behemoth, playing at a level above and beyond the rest of the nation.
Well, that idea is a media-driven falsehood. It is myth, like Southern Hospitality. And now that ESPN has a hefty financial stake in this myth, you can expect several more years of hype-fueled fellatio directed at the South's most far-reaching social contribution of the last 30 years. (The trend of wearing pajamas to the grocery store is a close second.)
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The SEC was not the best conference in the country in 2013. That was the Pac-12. The SEC may be the top league in the country this year, slightly, thanks to an absolutely loaded SEC West. The SEC East is horrendous, though, with the bottom four teams in that league simply fodder for the rest of the South. And a lot of this conference's cache rests on bounce-back seasons from disappointing Florida and Georgia as well as West teams like Ole Miss, Mississippi State and A&M living up to their ample hype.
Here is a look at my 2014 SEC college football predictions and futures odds, with the college football odds courtesy of Bovada:
The Favorite: Alabama (-125)
It's easy to be the best when you have the best players. And year-in and year-out the Crimson Tide restock with Top 5 recruiting classes. So any talent they lost, particularly on defense, will be quickly replaced by The Next Man Up. The one key graduation was A.J. McCarron, a four-year starting quarterback that was underrated throughout his time in Tuscaloosa. Alabama is turning to Jake Coker, a Florida State transfer, to seize the reins. If he's not up to task then fifth-year senior Blake Sims is waiting in the wings. In fact, a potential quarterback controversy is one of the few things that could derail another big-time season from the Tide. Whoever is QB will be doing a lot of handing off to T.J. Yeldon, a Heisman candidate. Defensively, Alabama welcomes back just five starters. But they have seven of their top 12 tacklers back and 13 of the Top 20. As usual, Alabama plays one of the easiest, most tailor-made schedules in the country. They have bye weeks prior to their two toughest games, a trip to Ole Miss on Oct. 4 and a trip to LSU on Nov. 8. And Alabama gets rival Auburn at home to close the year. Beyond that, Alabama plays only five 2013 bowl teams, and two of them are the SEC's idiot cousins, Mississippi and Mississippi State. Alabama should walk into the Final Four. But then again, that seems to be what SEC schedule makers, who are on their knees at the Altar of Saban, have in mind. For bettors, Alabama is a weak 14-13 against the spread the last two seasons. That's proof that their hype has far surpassed their performance.
The Challenger: Auburn (+450)
The Tigers might be the defending national runners-up and the defending SEC champions, but they are still behind in-state rival Alabama. Gus Malzahn proved again last year that he is one of the top offensive minds in the country. And with eight offensive starters back, including quarterback Nick Marshall, the Tigers should again be able to score at will. They averaged 47.3 points in the last eight regular-season games and averaged 39.5 for the season. They could top that. Auburn lost several key pieces on defense, including Chris Davis and Dee Ford. But they do have six starters and two other seniors with experience back in the fold. The trick for Auburn will be avoiding a hangover from last year's dream season. They scored miracle wins over Georgia and Alabama - two teams they have to face on the road this year - and the Tigers were mere seconds away from the national title. Auburn slunk to an 8-5 campaign (with a 5-8 ATS mark) after their last title game appearance. But I am confident that Malzahn will do a better job than his predecessor, overmatched Gene Chizik, with regards to leading his team this time around.
The Dark Horse: South Carolina (+600)
Just five years ago the idea of South Carolina winning 11 games in three consecutive seasons seemed like a pipe dream. But that is exactly what Steve Spurrier has done in Columbia. The Gamecocks are 33-6 in their last 39 outings, including three straight bowl wins over Big Ten opponents. However, the Gamecocks have really taken advantage of playing in the weaker SEC East during this stretch. And none of those bowl wins came in BCS games or against Top-15 opponents. So if you're looking for the king of college football's second tier, this may be it. Now it is time to see if the Gamecocks are ready to be a real national player instead of a paper one, earning a Top 10 ranking instead of being gifted one. They need to replace the school's winningest quarterback, Connor Shaw, who posted an incredible 24-1 touchdown-interception mark last year. USC will also need to replace freakish Jadeveon Clowney among five departed defensive starters. They have a tough opening few weeks, with home games against Texas A&M and Georgia. But five of their first seven games are in Columbia, and late-season games against Furman and South Alabama will offer crucial R&R time during a stretch featuring road games at Auburn, at Florida and at Clemson.
The X-Factor: Georgia (+600)
The Bulldogs are the only one of the alleged top SEC teams not to find title success in the BCS era. They've had to sit back and watch Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Florida and even Tennessee celebrate titles during Mark Richt's regime. With an expanded playoff field, can a team that has gone just 4-15 straight up against Top 25 teams not named "Georgia Tech" weasel its way into the Final Four? Injuries killed their 2013 campaign, and the Bulldogs were one of the biggest disappointments in the nation, finishing outside the Top 25 after starting the season in the Top 5. Georgia does have eight returning starters back on a defense that woefully underperformed. And they brought in defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt from Florida State. If they can keep their skill players, namely Todd Gurley and Malcolm Mitchell, healthy then the offense is stacked with talent and experience. The key, beyond health, will be senior quarterback Hutson Mason. Mason has the unenviable task of replacing the school's all-time passing leader. But if he can channel his inner D.J. Shockley then the Bulldogs are primed for a bounce-back season. They have a bye week before a critical game at South Carolina on Sept. 13. But if they win that then a neutral-site game versus Florida and a November home game against Auburn could be the only things standing between Georgia and an unbeaten season. There are a lot of questions here. But also a lot of upside and this could be a dark-horse national title contender.
The Disappointment: Missouri (+3300)
I was one of the only college football analysts in the country bullish on Missouri heading into last year. Gary Pinkel had averaged 9.6 wins per season from 2007 to 2011 before an injury-riddled, five-win campaign in 2012. Mizzou bounced back with an outstanding 12-2 year, an SEC East title, and a Cotton Bowl win over former Big 12 foe Oklahoma State. But now it is time to pay the piper. The truth is that Missouri was a second-tier Big 12 program that struggled to sustain success. It is debatable how much tougher the SEC is now compared to the Big 12 circa 2009. But with just eight returning starters, things likely won't go well for the Tigers this year. They have a tricky nonconference schedule, road games at South Carolina, Florida and Texas A&M and a home game against revenge-minded Georgia. Pinkel has had just two losing seasons the past decade. But one of them was in 2012 with just 10 starters back. I don't know that expectations are very high at Mizzou. But regardless, a drop from SEC East champ to missing a bowl game would be disappointing.
LSU (+600) - It is strange that LSU may be an afterthought in the SEC heading into this season. They have won 10 or more games in four straight seasons and seven of the past nine. But they are another team that spent 2013 living off hype rather than production. The Tigers played four games against "Top 25" teams. They lost three of them, and three of the teams (TCU, Georgia and Florida) finished outside of the Top 25. It was the same thing in 2012, when they went just 2-3 against Top 25 teams. If you need more proof that LSU is overrated, how about a feeble 11-15 ATS mark the past two years. So how good are the Tigers, really? LSU has 12 returning starters, including seven on a defense that allowed over 20 points per game for the first time in five years. LSU has a mammoth offensive line and a host of very talented running backs as well. They will try to pound opponents into submission on offense and overwhelm with speed on defense. LSU only has four road games on its schedule. Four! So the path is pretty clear for another double-digit win campaign.
Florida (+1600) - Last season I correctly tabbed the Gators as my Disappointing Team in the SEC. Boy, did they live up (down?) to that prediction. Florida completely bottomed out to sub-Zook levels, posting a 4-8 mark while losing 17 players to season-ending injury. Will Muschamp has been a huge letdown in Gainesville. And this year might be his last chance. He has 14 returning starters, and you have to think they'll benefit from better injury luck. Florida could sport a Top-10 defense. But they won't do anything until the offense transforms from the disgusting mess it has been the past three years into something useful. Muschamp is still pinning his hopes on quarterback Jeff Driskel, who is a proven loser. So I don't have high hopes. But Florida only plays five "loseable" games, and three of those are in Florida. If they can win two of those and avoid any upsets the Gators should do enough to save Muschamp's hide. For now.
Mississippi (+1600) - For the second year in the row the Rebels are a big "buzz" team in the SEC. They open the season as a Top-20 team and have improved their win total in each of the past three years. Ole Miss has hauled in back-to-back Top-20 recruiting classes. Add in a very talented senior class, led by do-everything quarterback Bo Wallace, and there is no shortage of playmakers. The main issue for the Rebels is a schedule that sees tem playing four preseason Top-25 teams in a five-week span. Unlike Alabama, Ole Miss doesn't have the benefit of bye weeks and diaper changes before all of their big games. So its questionable how well this team will hold up in such a grueling stretch. They get Alabama and Auburn at home. So even if Ole Miss isn't good enough to make a surprise run in the West, they should have a say in who does win the toughest division in the nation.
Texas A&M (+4000) - Now we will see the genius of Kevin Sumlin in action. For the past two years quarterback Johnny Manziel was seen as the driving force behind A&M's surprising SEC success. The truth is that Sumlin, like Malzahn or Baylor's Art Briles, is an offensive mastermind. His system is set up to plug and play, and freshman signal caller Kyle Allen will likely have a short learning curve. The losses of No. 1 draft picks Mike Evans and Jake Matthews will have a bigger impact on the offense than the loss of overrated Manziel. A&M is hoping that a defensive improvement - after dropping from 21.8 PPG allowed in 2012 to 32.2 PPG in 2013 - will support the offense early in the year. The Aggies went just 4-9 ATS last year and somehow weaseled their way into the preseason Top 20. But they have to face three of top five West opponents on the road and drew a road opener at South Carolina from the East. They play in College Station only twice between Sept. 14 and Nov. 14, and I don't think they are as strong as last year's team.
Mississippi State (+4000) - Dan Mullen just keeps getting the job done. He has four straight winning seasons and a 3-1 bowl record during that stretch. Mullen has instilled toughness in Starkville, and he has one of the most experienced groups in the nation (No. 5). The Bulldogs have 16 returning starters, the most since the 14 they had on the 2010 team that went 9-4, and 17 of their Top 20 tacklers are back. The continued development of dual-threat quarterback Dak Prescott will be crucial. If the junior can improve, especially in the passing game, then the Bulldogs have enough juice to spring an upset or three. Their biggest problem is that they face LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss all on the road.
Arkansas (+20000) - The Razorbacks were brutal to watch in Year 1 of Bret Bielema's tenure. Arkansas went 3-9, their worst record in over a decade, and were a far cry from the pass-happy teams that went 21-5 in 2010 and 2011 under disgraced Bobby Petrino. The jury is still out over whether Bielema's system will work in the SEC or whether he can recruit to Fayetteville. Arkansas does have 14 returning starters. But they have one of the most difficult schedules in the country, with just four true road games and neutral-site tilts with A&M (in Arlington) and Georgia (in Little Rock). They'll be more of an obstacle in league play this year after being outscored by an average score of 37.4 to 16.9 in SEC games last year.
Tennessee (+6600) - Hey, remember when Tennessee was good? It seems like it was forever ago. The Vols have had a losing record in four of the past six years and haven't played in a bowl game since 2010. Considering they won 10 games as recently as 2007, that's a pretty steep fall. Coach Butch Davis will get things back on track. I am sure of it. But this won't be the season it happens. Tennessee has just 10 returning starters and a brutal schedule. However, if they can beat Utah State in the opener in Knoxville then Tennessee will close the year with Kentucky, Missouri and at Vanderbilt with a shot at six wins and bowl eligibility.
Kentucky (+20000) - The Wildcats were at least a viable program from 2006 to 2011, winning an average of 6.8 games during that stretch. It remains to be seen if second-year coach Mark Stoops can get Kentucky back to that level after back-to-back 2-10 records. Stoops is rolling with redshirt sophomore Patrick Towles at quarterback over some more experienced options. Stoops also has 15 returning starters to work with. And the key will be getting a defense that's allowed over 31 points per game the past two years back to a level of respectability. I don't think Kentucky's schedule lends itself to more than four wins. But this should be a much more competitive group, and I do see them improving on their 8-15 ATS record the past two years.
Vanderbilt (+20000) - James Franklin bailed at the right time. After back-to-back 9-4 seasons, the Commodores lost a ton of talent and experience. They have just 10 returning starters and are one of the 10 least experienced teams in the nation. Things are going to get ugly in Nashville for new head coach Derek Mason. Vandy has cupcakes like Temple, UMass, Charleston Southern and Old Dominion on the schedule this year. But they may not win another game, and that bowl win over Houston might be the last postseason success this school experiences for some time.
2014 SEC Conference Predictions: Predicted Order of Finish
2. South Carolina
5. Mississippi State
6. Texas A&M
Big Ten Conference Predictions and Odds - CLICK HERE
American Athletic Conference Predictions and Odds - CLICK HERE
Big 12 Conference Predictions and Odds - CLICK HERE
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Robert Ferringo was the top football handicapper in the country last year, earning nearly $8,000 in total football profit in 2014-14 and posting one of the best seasons in America. He hit 62.1 percent for the entire NFL season (95-58) and was amazing down the stretch, closing with 11 of 14 winning NFL weeks and 12 of 15 overall winning football weeks. Robert has posted 3 of 4 winning football seasons, 6 of 7 winning NFL seasons, 30 of 44 winning football months, and 6 of 7 winning NFL preseasons. Also, Robert's proprietary KING College Football Betting System posted another winning season (now 2-for-2) and is 83-58 over the last two years (58.9 percent).
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