2017 SEC Football Predictions with Betting Odds and Expert Analysis
The Southeastern Conference is collapsing under the pressure of unrealistic expectations.
The best and worst thing that ever happened to the SEC was their outstanding run from 2008-2012, in which they won five straight National Championships. That period helped establish the false media narrative (fake news!) that the SEC was some otherworldly football conference playing at a level that was beyond the realm of normal men.
The reality is that the SEC was the beneficiary of a confluence of events: amazing coaching, a flawed system, the lightning storm of several generational players, media perpetuation, etc. But instead of accepting this period of time as a high-water mark, an unsustainable yet oddly prolonged period of true Greatness, the programs (and fan bases) in the SEC accepted this five-year period as the New Status Quo. And since that wave crested, broke, and rolled back, these schools have been chasing that high ever since.
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The result of that quixotic chase is the disjointed, overrated, and overextended SEC that we see in 2017. This league is still dominated by one team - Alabama - and the pressure to match this dynasty has left everyone else scrambling. The hype is still high for this league. But the level of play is still lower than it should be given the amount of talent.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is on the hot seat despite a national title just four years ago. Georgia and LSU, two top-tier programs, pushed out successful coaches because they weren't successful enough. Arkansas (Bret Bielema), Tennessee (Butch Jones) and Texas A&M (Kevin Sumlin) are ready to run successful coaches out of town because they haven't been successful enough. And patience is wearing thin for guys like Jim McElwain (Florida) and Kirby Smart (Georgia) because of doubts about whether they even can be successful enough. It is insanity.
This instability, and the absurd level of expectations that have been set for these programs - Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, and Tennessee all expect to make the playoff and compete for a National Championship every other year - has resulted in a league that can't find its footing.
But hey, don't feel bad for the SEC. Each year these teams are flooded with the best recruiting classes in the country. They are soaked in millions of dollars of profit earned on the backs of their unpaid labor. And they have the national prestige that comes with having their own network and their own throne at the head of the college football media table. These guys will be fine.
But the actuality is that this conference is not nearly as good as you think it is. And nowhere near as good as it thinks it is. Any sense of consistency, stability, or reality left The South a long time ago. All we can do is sit back and watch the implosion.
Here are Doc's Sports 2016-17Southeastern Conference college football predictions (with projected odds to win the conference title in parentheses):
The Favorite: Alabama (-200)
There might not be much value betting on Alabama. But you sure as hell don't want to get caught betting against them. Don't be a hero, man. Don't do it. Alabama, by virtue of getting the best players every year and having the best coaching, is a juggernaut. They are the best program in college football, and Saban's boys have gone an amazing 112-13 straight up over the last nine years. Perhaps more impressively, the Crimson Tide are 73-51 against the spread during that nine-year stretch. Alabama went 10-4 ATS last year, and this year's squad is more experienced than either of the last two versions. Alabama has only four true road games and another tailor-made schedule in the weak SEC West. The path is paved for yet another SEC title and another shot at the College Football Playoff.
The Challenger: Georgia (+1200)
I am not a fan of Kirby Smart. And even though it is only his second season, I feel like we are going to learn everything we need to know about him this year. Georgia has 17 returning starters, a slew of three-year starters and highly-touted veterans, the No. 1 quarterback recruit of 2016 that is now a sophomore, and a pair of Heisman-caliber running backs to play with. After a not-even-as-impressive-as-it-looked 8-5 campaign, the Bulldogs have everything you could want to bounce back and make a run at the SEC crown. But it is on Smart to get the most out of this group. The Bulldogs have a marquee nonconference game at Notre Dame in Week 2 that could give them momentum and national respect. If they win that game, and take care of Tennessee in late September, then the Bulldogs should start 7-0 heading into their crucial clash with Florida on Oct. 28.
The Dark Horse: Auburn (+400)
The Tigers are kind of the default competition for Alabama in the SEC West. And there are certainly some positive factors working in their favor. Auburn has one of the most experienced rosters in all of college football and eight of the 10 top tacklers back from the nation's No. 7 scoring defense in 2016. Auburn rushed for nearly 275 yards per game last season and have their top two rushers, Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson, back in the fold. The key for this team will be transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham. He will try to provide some balance and explosiveness for the offense. Auburn has a killer road game at Clemson in Week 2 and a three-game road stretch in late October and early November. But the Tigers get Georgia and Alabama at home and have an opportunity to make some serious noise. Gus Malzahn is just 23-16 SU and 14-25 ATS since losing in the National Championship Game in 2013. He needs to make something happen this season or he will likely be moving on.
The X-Factor: Florida (+800)
Jim McElwain is an offensive coach that inherited a team stacked with defensive talent. McElwain has ridden the stop unit to a 19-8 record the past two seasons and back-to-back SEC East titles. With nine offensive starters back we will see if McElwain can even things out and improve on the horrid offensive numbers of the past two years. The Gators were No. 107 in the nation in scoring and No. 118 in total offense last year. And they head into their opener with a three-way battle for quarterback and no clear-cut answer at the most important position on the field. Florida has neutral-site games against Michigan (Arlington) and Georgia (Jacksonville). Beyond that they have only three true road games and get both LSU and Florida State in The Swamp. This team has a schedule that sets up for a 10-win season even though they probably aren't as talented last year's group. But the quarterback play will tell the tale, and this team's ceiling will mirror that of its QB, whomever he may be.
The Disappointment: LSU (+650)
I am selling the Tigers this year. They have been a Top 10 staple for most of the past decade. But I feel like the bad karma that festered at the end of the Les Miles regime is going to carry into this season. Ed Orgeron takes over, but this is a guy with a career 22-29 record that flamed out in a failed three-year stint at Ole Miss. The Tigers don't have a quarterback and they lost a fantastic amount of talent. LSU is down its top five tacklers, five of its top six pass catchers, and its Heisman-caliber running back. Other than that everything is fine! The Tigers still have a talented roster thanks to Miles' recruiting. But they have a brutal schedule, and if this team loses its opener against feisty BYU they won't even match last year's eight wins.
Arkansas (+5000) - If you are looking for a sleeper team in the SEC West - or at least a value play at the window - look no further than the Razorbacks. I feel like this could a season that Bret Bielema busts through and pulls out eight or nine wins. Austin Allen is a senior three-year starter at quarterback and highly underrated. The Razorbacks have a massive, talented offensive line. And if they can get absolutely anything out of a defense that can't be much worse than last year's No. 76 ranked squad then these guys could be in business.
Kentucky (+8500) - This is the most talented Kentucky team in a decade. And while they don't have quite enough to compete with the big boys in the East, they absolutely will be a spoiler that plays a role in determining who wins that division. The Wildcats have 17 returning starters from last season's bowl squad, including quarterback Stephen Johnson and their four best defensive players. Kentucky avoids the top three teams from the West, and after their opener at lowly Southern Miss the Wildcats play six of their next eight games in Lexington. If Kentucky is ever going to make a move in this league then this should be the year.
Mississippi (NA) - This program is a mess. There has been a load of off-field drama this summer. So much so that I think the Rebels will be excited just to get back to actually playing football. Interim coach Matt Luke has familiarity with this young team, which could start as many as 11 sophomores. The Rebels went just 5-7 last year and have a low bar to jump this season in what is obviously a transition/rebuilding season. But they have just enough talent on the roster that they could bow up and spring an upset.
Mississippi State (+8000) - Dan Mullen is, in my opinion, clearly one of the best coaches in the country. This guy does more with less than almost anyone in the nation. So even though the Bulldogs will be overmatched in the West yet again, and despite the fact that the team went from having 12 senior starters to just five, I expect Mullen to have his team competitive and ready to secure another bowl bid. This year is definitely a rebuild. And the schedule is a bear. But I expect Mullen and multi-talented quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to overachieve yet again.
Missouri (+15000) - I feel like people are sleeping on the Tigers a bit. This team won the SEC East in 2013 and 2014 before a lot of off-field turmoil, coaching turnover, and injuries derailed the past two campaigns. Barry Odom is ready to wipe the slate clean in Year 2. And with 10 returning offensive starters and a defense stacked with upperclassmen, the Tigers can throw themselves into the mix in a wide-open race in the East. The Tigers open with four straight home games, including key tilts with South Carolina and Auburn, and I think that Odom should be able to drag this group back to a bowl game.
South Carolina (+8000) - Will Muschamp defied expectations last year with a ramshackle Gamecocks squad. Part of his success - which included a surprise bowl appearance - might have been because no one took USC seriously after their 3-9 mark in 2015. The other part was Muschamp doing what he does best and crafting a competent defense out of nothing. Sophomore Jake Bentley showed a ton of promise, and the 10 offensive starters should improve an attack that was No. 116 in the nation in scoring. This team will improve on the field, even if they don't improve in the standings. USC's schedule is brutal. But this team will be ready to fight each Saturday.
Tennessee (+1000) - The Volunteers were one of the most erratic, dramatic and disappointing teams in the country last year. Tennessee flopped after a 5-0 start vaulted them into the Top 10 and in the national title discussion. Now they will try to pick up he pieces without offensive star Josh Dobbs under center. Butch Jones has posted back-to-back 9-4 seasons - Tennessee's best marks since 2007 - but still feels like a beleaguered leader in Knoxville. There is still a lot of talent and experience on this roster, especially on the defense and along the offensive line. But Jones needs to show that he can control and stabilize his program after two drama-filled seasons full of near-misses and unfulfilled potential.
Texas A&M (+4000) - Throw Kevin Sumlin at the top of the list of SEC coaches that enter the season under fire. Sumlin has posted three straight 8-5 seasons, and his Aggies have been one of the worst bets in college football, going 17-35 ATS over the past four seasons. Sumlin has one of his most inexperienced rosters and will be breaking in a new triggerman with either Nick Starkel, Kellen Mond or Jake Hubenak taking the reins. A&M's biggest advantage this year is a friendly schedule. They leave the state of Texas only twice before Nov. 17. And if they can pull just one upset they should be back in a bowl game. However, I think it will take a lot to get back to eight wins. And even then Sumlin might not survive.
Vanderbilt (+17500) - The top of the SEC East is a crapshoot. But part of the uncertainty in this division is the fact that the teams at the bottom are so experienced. Vanderbilt is another great example. Vandy has increased its win total each of the past two seasons under Derek Mason. And with a load of three-year starters on offense - including quarterback Kyle Shurmur and stud running back Ralph Webb - this team is going to be a tough out. Four of their six regular-season losses were by a touchdown or less, and I think they should be able to steal one of or two of those upsets en route to another bowl game this year.
Projected SEC Standings:
6. South Carolina
5. Texas A&M
6. Mississippi State
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