The final month of the SEC regular season opens with the league’s biggest game of the year. And something has to give Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, where an LSU offense scoring over 47 points per game meets an Alabama defense allowing just 16.
There’s so much on the line: a leap back into the College Football Playoff conversation for the Crimson Tide, a vault into the forefront of the Heisman Trophy conversation for Tigers quarterback Jayden Daniels, a potential step toward the SEC Championship Game for either team.
But for sports bettors parsing an opening line of Alabama -3.5, a decision likely comes down to whether a Tide defense that’s been excellent since the Week 2 Texas loss can clamp down on Daniels, who’s rushed or passed for 30 touchdowns and is averaging 386 yards per game just by himself.
The #1 and #6 most efficient passers in Power Five will matchup on Saturday.— Sidelines - Bama (@SSN_Alabama) October 30, 2023
Jayden Daniels and Jalen Milroe are also #1 and #2 nationally in yards per attempt, respectively. pic.twitter.com/R1BFtTkGcs
There’s reason to like either play. Daniels has been electric since the season-opening loss to Florida State, responsible for at least three touchdowns in each of his last seven games, and leading an LSU offense that’s gone OVER the total in every contest so far this year.
Meanwhile Alabama, since getting torched for 34 points by Texas on Sept. 9, has regrouped on defense to allow an average of 15 points over its past six outings.
And yet, Alabama -3.5 at home feels like the sensible play. It’s difficult to overlook how the Crimson Tide has shut down two other high-scoring offenses this season, limiting Ole Miss to just 10 points in a dominant victory and shutting out Tennessee in the second half of a 34-20 win.
Both those games were also in Tuscaloosa, where the Crimson Tide covered as favorites of 7 and 9.5 points, respectively. Saturday’s 3.5-point spread is a more manageable number, and Alabama coach Nick Saban has had a week off to scheme for Daniels and that LSU attack.
Which, by the way, has been rolling up those huge numbers against some pretty mediocre teams like FCS Grambling, Mississippi State (4-4), Arkansas (2-6), Auburn (4-4) and Army (2-6). There’s isn’t an Alabama in that group, to put it mildly.
LSU’s lone notable victory in that stretch was at a 7-1 Missouri team whose scoring defense ranks ninth in the SEC. In the loss to Ole Miss, the Tigers allowed 55 points and 706 yards. LSU hasn’t faced anyone of Alabama’s caliber since its opener against the Seminoles—and we all know what happened then.
Bulldogs Finding Their Bite
For sports bettors, it had to feel like chum in the water: a Georgia team that’s been dismal against the spread and was without its best player, giving 14.5 points at a neutral site to a rival Florida squad that had won two in a row. So of course, the Bulldogs played their most complete game of the season, and easily covered in a 43-20 rout.
It marked just the second time so far this season that Georgia had covered the spread, a bewilderingly low rate for a top-ranked team that’s won 25 straight games outright.
This week sports bettors face another vexing game involving the Bulldogs, who are 15.5-point home favorites Saturday against Missouri. The Tigers have covered in five of their last six, the outlier in that stretch a 10-point home loss to LSU as 6.5-point underdogs—a number they were covering until giving up a pick-six in the final seconds.
It’s been tough to figure out Georgia this season, a situation exacerbated by the fact that the Bulldogs’ best player, tight end Brock Bowers, is out with a high ankle sprain. And yet the Bulldogs have at last looked the part of No. 1 in two of the past three weeks in blowing out Kentucky and Florida. In between, they failed to cover a huge 32.5-point spread at Vanderbilt in the game in which Bowers went down.
We like how Georgia is trending right now, as quarterback Carson Beck grows more confident in the pocket and finds new weapons in Bowers’ absence. Missouri has a fantastic offense with quarterback Brady Cook and receiver Luther Burden, but that Tigers defense doesn’t scare anybody, and Georgia -15.5 between the hedges seems manageable.
With three straight games against ranked opponents on deck—Missouri, Ole Miss and Tennessee—it feels like the Bulldogs are peaking at the right time.
Battle of the Bad Beats
Oh, the angst in College Station. Oh, the anguish in Oxford. Oh, the torment over a pair of bad beats suffered this past weekend in the SEC.
First to Kyle Field, where Texas A&M opened as a 14-point home favorite over woeful South Carolina. The plucky Gamecocks made a game of it late, scoring early in the fourth quarter to pull within a touchdown.
But that would be South Carolina’s last hurrah, as the Aggies marched down for one field goal, and then another, and after recovering a fumble had the ball at the Gamecocks’ 22-yard line with 2:45 remaining.
Up 13, any score would have given Aggies bettors the cover. Instead, they could only watch in horror as Texas A&M ran the ball four consecutive times for short gains, and time expired with the Aggies on the South Carolina 10. And with that, Texas A&M has now failed to cover in three consecutive games.
Then there was Vanderbilt, which opened as a 25.5-point underdog at Ole Miss, and was coming off a home cover against mighty Georgia. Down 33-7 with 5:11 left, the Commodores in nine plays drove down to the Rebels’ 25-yard-line, where they faced fourth-and-5. But rather than kick a field goal, Vandy went for it with 47 seconds left—and turned the ball over on downs after an incomplete pass, allowing Ole Miss to claim the cover by a half-point.
For anyone bold enough to back Vanderbilt, it was a brutal result. The Commodores fell to 1-7 against the spread, while Ole Miss has now covered two straight by just 1.5 points: winning at Auburn by seven as six-point favorites, and beating Vandy by 26 as 25.5-point favorites. And of course, the timing is perfect: the Rebels are 3.5-point home favorites over Texas A&M this week in the Bad Beat Bowl.
Player Prop Watch
A few SEC players to watch this week for potential prop bets, should they be made available:
SEC Pick 3, Week 10
We've reached November and Bama vs LSU highlight's my SEC pick 3.
Alabama -3.5 vs. LSU
There is no more riveting player in America than Daniels, who has single-handedly kept LSU in SEC championship contention as the Tigers try to remedy their issues on defense. But Alabama has cast its lot with its defense and covered four of its past five as a result, shutting down opponents who seemed capable of getting up and down the field.
Tide QB Jalen Milroe has quietly become more efficient, the game is in Tuscaloosa, and it’s hard to bet against Saban with an extra week to prepare.
Kentucky -3 at Mississippi State
These are rough times for Kentucky, which after a nice start to the season has dropped three straight against nationally ranked opponents. But Mississippi State, to put it mildly, is far from the national rankings, and has struggled to muster any offense with quarterback Will Rogers on the shelf with a shoulder injury.
Expect the Wildcats to lean on their defense and running back Ray Davis to grind out a sorely needed victory in Starkville, where the cowbells will have a little less clang than usual.
Auburn at Vanderbilt, UNDER 49
The 27 points Auburn scored against Mississippi State this past week counted as a veritable offensive explosion for a team that had managed 21, 18, 20, 10 and 14 in its previous five games against major-conference competition.
Then there’s Vanderbilt, which hasn’t scored more than 21 in a game since September. The Tigers have gone under in four of six and the Commodores in two of three, each with one push thrown in. This one could be ugly—which to under bettors, would be a beautiful thing.