Thanksgiving weekend in the U.S means food, family and football, the latter being the type of heated college rivalry games that can spark intense arguments while passing the cornbread stuffing or giblet gravy.
But for sports bettors, these season-ending rivalry contests prompt real questions—most notably, does the emotion so evident in these games really matter once the teams line up and start hitting each other for real?
That’s certainly the quandary at hand in the SEC, where the nine rivalry games this weekend run the gamut—six feature home underdogs (three of those by double-digits), and three involve teams angling for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Can emotion and disdain really make up for the differences we’ve seen between teams all season? In some cases, maybe. But a rivalry game isn’t a miracle cure for a bad offensive line, an inconsistent quarterback, or some other issue that’s been an Achilles’ heel since opening weekend.
All that said, let’s take a brief look at each of the nine rivalry games on tap in the SEC this weekend, beginning with the granddaddy of them all: the Iron Bowl.
Alabama -14.5 at Auburn
While we wrote last week that New Mexico State was worth watching against Auburn, it was still a shock to see the Aggies go to the Plains as 22-point underdogs and blast the Tigers by 21. Auburn is an absolute mess right now, and here comes an Alabama team that’s won its last three SEC games by at least two touchdowns each.
Pick: Alabama -14.5
Clemson -7 at South Carolina
The Gamecocks showed lots of fight in winning a tense, defensive battle last weekend against Kentucky to keep hopes of bowl eligibility alive. Clemson played one of its better games of the season in dispatching disappointing North Carolina in Death Valley, but South Carolina just seems to find some magic in November home games under coach Shane Beamer.
Pick: South Carolina +7
Florida State -6.5 at Florida
The knee injury suffered by Seminoles quarterback Jordan Travis last weekend against North Alabama thrusts this game into uncertainty. And yet, the Gators have hardly been a reliable cover this season (last weekend’s close loss at Missouri snapped a three-game losing streak against the spread) while Florida State possesses the kind of defense and running game that can make life easier for a backup QB.
Pick: Florida State -6.5
Georgia -23 at Georgia Tech
First-year coach Brent Key has done a nice job raising the competitive level at Georgia Tech, which behind a slew of transfers has clinched bowl eligibility. But the Jackets are running into a buzz saw that the past two weeks has beaten ranked opponents by 23 and 28 points. Georgia has evolved from one of the SEC’s worst bets against the spread to one of its best, and there’s every reason to believe that run will continue.
Pick: Georgia -23
Kentucky +7 at Louisville
If the wheels haven’t come off at Kentucky, they’ve certainly gotten dangerously wobbly. The Wildcats have stagnated offensively, and the result is five losses (both outright and against the spread) over their past six games. Louisville, meanwhile, withstood a gritty challenge last week at Miami, has clinched its spot in the ACC title game, and clearly has bigger aspirations in mind.
Pick: Louisville -7
Missouri -7.5 at Arkansas
Ah yes, it’s time for the vaunted “Battle Line” game between the most surprising and most disappointing teams in the SEC. Last week’s close win over Florida snapped a run of four straight covers for Mizzou, which outside of Georgia has the most complete offense in the league. Meanwhile it’s tough to have any faith in an Arkansas team that lost to both Auburn and Mississippi State at home.
Pick: Missouri -7.5
Ole Miss -11.5 at Mississippi State
If there’s one game in the SEC where the emotion of a rivalry game might mitigate many of the trends we’ve seen all season, this is it. Mississippi State has fired its head coach, and most importantly got quarterback Will Rogers back in last week’s rout of Southern Miss, the best the Bulldogs have looked in weeks. Ole Miss has failed to cover in three straight, and you have to go back to 2011 to find the last time MSU lost the Egg Bowl at home by more than 12 points.
Pick: Mississippi State +11.5
Texas A&M +11 at LSU
Wait, is this really a rivalry game? Maybe not, given that LSU has won nine of 12 matchups since the Aggies joined the SEC. Texas A&M entered the post-Jimbo era with a closer-than-expected (28 points) win over Abilene Christian, while the Tigers have covered five of their last six (with Alabama being the exception). Expect the Jayden Daniels for Heisman movement to be in full swing against the Aggies and their third-string QB.
Pick: LSU -11
Vanderbilt +26 at Tennessee
Good thing the Commodores had last week off, because they’re in for a long afternoon against a Tennessee team coming off humbling consecutive losses to Missouri and Georgia. Vandy has covered in exactly one game against FBS competition all season (Georgia, strangely enough) and last time out lost by 41 at South Carolina. The angry Neyland Stadium crowd will ready to take out all their frustrations on the visitors from Nashville.
Pick: Tennessee -26
LSU’s Over Streak Ends
It had to end sometime, and this past Saturday night it finally did: up against an astronomical total of 71.5—highest for any game involving an SEC team this year—LSU finished under the number for the first time this season. The Tigers had gone OVER the total in all nine of their previous games against FBS opponents, making them the most reliable bet in the conference over that span.
And even last Saturday, they came close. Opponent Georgia State out of the Sun Belt Conference trailed 56-14 (the eventual final score) with 3:59 left, when the Panthers faced a fourth-and-5 from the LSU 13. Rather than kick a field goal that would have clinched the over, the Panthers attempted a pass that fell incomplete. LSU took over on downs, and ran the ball on five straight plays to kill the clock.
This week brings another opportunity against Texas A&M, and another sizeable total—66.5, the second-highest for any game involving an SEC team this season. The Aggies, for all their injuries at quarterback, have still managed to put up 35, 51 and 38 points over the past three weeks. And Daniels continues to impress: the LSU quarterback accounted for eight touchdowns against Georgia State, six in the air and three on the ground.
Player Prop Watch
A few SEC players to watch this week for potential prop bets, should they be made available:
SEC Pick 3, Week 13
Since we’ve already picked the games, here are three more SEC wagers to consider this week:
Jayden Daniels to Win Heisman Trophy, +110
If you can find the LSU quarterback at a plus-value moneyline, grab him while you can. Some books have elevated him to odds favorite, and stuck him with a negative moneyline as a result. His numbers—46 total touchdowns, over 4,500 yards of total offense—are clearly good enough to win the award. The question becomes whether Oregon’s Bo Nix and Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. split the vote out west.
Texas A&M at LSU OVER 66.5
The Tigers’ over train may have been halted last week, but it won’t be stationary for long. The fact that LSU and Georgia State combined for 70 points against a 71.5-point total this past week gives us renewed confidence that the Tigers and Texas A&M can eclipse 66.5 on Saturday. Daniels has one last chance to impress the Heisman voters, so expect him to be nothing short of spectacular.
Clemson at South Carolina UNDER 51.1
Spencer Rattler is having a fantastic season at quarterback, but his offensive line is so battered he’s almost always on the run. By extension, this South Carolina offense isn’t exactly breaking the scoreboard—the Gamecocks have fallen under the total in four straight games against SEC competition. Clemson, without the five-star skill position players it’s accustomed to, wins behind running and defense and has gone under in five of its last eight.