It was ugly, it was painful, and at times it bordered on embarrassing. And if you bet on the SEC in any of the league’s premier games in Week 1, you’re also feeling the sting.
LSU, South Carolina, and Florida were all hammered in the SEC’s biggest games of opening weekend—the Tigers were humbled by Florida State as a slight favorite, while the Gamecocks and Gators both looked hapless as mild underdogs against North Carolina and Utah, respectively. Everyone else who opened against FBS competition covered, and a few of those teams looked mighty impressive in the process. But it’s the big games that draw the big handles, and in that department, the SEC certainly still has something to prove.
The good news is that the league has another chance in Week 2, which features a slate of three big games and several other intriguing ones. The major focus will be in Tuscaloosa, where Alabama opened as a 7.5-point favorite over Texas in a battle of future conference opponents. The Tide in Week 1 continued its trend of swamping Group of Five opponents in a 56-7 blowout of 39-point underdog Middle Tennessee State, while the Longhorns got a first-half tussle from Rice and failed to cover as 35.5-point home favorites.
In other notable SEC games this week, Ole Miss opened as a 7-point favorite at Tulane, and Texas A&M is a 4.5-point favorite at Miami (Fla.). Vanderbilt is a 10.5-point underdog at Wake Forest, Mississippi State is a 10-point home favorite over Arizona, and Auburn is a 6.5-point favorite at California.
’Bama against ranked opponents
As we mentioned last week, Alabama is a veritable profit machine when playing Group of 5 foes—Middle Tennessee marked the eighth consecutive game against a G5 team in which the Crimson Tide have covered a sizeable spread. Get ready for a similar beatdown against a bad South Florida team (which just gave up 41 in a loss to Western Kentucky) next weekend in Tampa.
But against ranked opponents? That’s another matter. No question, Alabama wins the vast majority of those games outright. But against the spread, the Tide is 36-30 against ranked opponents over the past decade. Over the past five years, that margin has been further reduced to 15–14. Last season, the Tide was 3-3 against ranked opponents, including 1-1 against ranked opponents outside the SEC—the rout of 7.5-point underdog Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl and a one-point close scrape against Texas as 21-point favorites in Austin.
Covering against a ranked opponent has essentially become a 50-50 proposition for Alabama, which creates a vexing situation for bettors. The last time Alabama hosted a ranked nonconference opponent was 2010, when the Tide defeated No. 18 Penn State 24-3, easily covering as 11.5-point favorites. That team had Trent Richardson and Greg McIlroy; Saturday, Nick Saban’s squad will have a beat-up secondary and a quarterback in Jalen Milroe facing his first big start. And remember: Alabama survived last season in Austin only after Texas starting quarterback Quinn Ewers was knocked out of the game.
Overhauled offense, over the total
Saturday marked a smashing debut for new Texas A&M offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino, whose attack put up 52 points and 411 yards on hapless New Mexico. The Aggies threw the ball deep, they pushed the tempo, and they looked like an altogether different offense than the deliberative unit overseen by head coach Jimbo Fisher last season.
Texas A&M eclipsed the over of 49.5 all by itself—and remember, this was a team that went under in seven of 12 games last season, managing only 14 points against Appalachian State and 20 against Massachusetts. The over is an intriguing play again this week when the Aggies travel to Miami, which handled Miami of Ohio 38-3 last week and went under the total of 45.5 only because its defense was so dominant.
The total for Saturday in South Florida is set at 49. Texas A&M beat the Hurricanes in a 17-9 slugfest last season, but the Aggies had all kinds of quarterback issues to go along with a Fisher-led offense that moved only in fits and starts. Since then, Miami has added a new offensive coordinator in former Houston play-caller Shannon Dawson and has bolstered the O-line in front of star QB Tyler Van Dyke. Let’s just say we’d be surprised if we got another grinder between two offenses that appeared much improved in Week 1.
Speaking of totals, how about those Kentucky Wildcats! After going under in every game but one last season, Kentucky eased past a 49-point total in a 44-14 blowout of Ball State in Week 1. With a proven quarterback in N.C. State transfer Devin Leary and a back in Ray Davis, who ran for 1,000 yards last season at Vanderbilt, expect the Wildcats to pile on points again Saturday against FCS Eastern Kentucky and next week against Akron.
Ole Miss as a road favorite
After hammering FCS Mercer in Week 1, Ole Miss steps up in class by playing at a ranked Tulane team that looked great in handling South Alabama 37-17 as 6-point favorites. The Rebels are 4-2-1 against the spread as an away favorite under coach Lane Kiffin, a record that includes spread victories over Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt last season.
Of course, Tulane is not Georgia Tech or Vandy—the Green Wave returns lots of players, including excellent quarterback Michael Pratt, from the squad that went 12-2 overall and beat USC and Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams in the Cotton Bowl. Tulane is 13-2 against the spread since the start of last season, which included an outright victory at eventual Big 12 champion Kansas State.
And yet somehow the Rebels are a fairly universal 7-point favorite in New Orleans, which speaks volumes about the power of the SEC brand. Ole Miss is 1-2 outright under Kiffin against ranked opponents on the road.
SEC 3-Pack, Week 2
After a profitable first week, here are three more picks for week 2. I'll be tracking my weekly record here all season to keep myself honest.
Auburn -6.5 at California
Say what you want about Hugh Freeze, but goodness, can the man coach an offense. Auburn looked like a team transformed in a 59-14 victory over Massachusetts, churning out 492 yards. The Tigers showed off a balanced attack that should travel well to California, home of a Golden Bears squad that needed a flurry of late scores to break open a close game at North Texas.
Ball State at Georgia, over 52.5
Will Kirby Smart rein in the Georgia offense with Stetson Bennett now in the NFL? It hardly looked that way in the Bulldogs’ opener against Tennessee-Martin, against which Georgia piled up 559 yards. Expect more of the same for the Bulldogs and new quarterback Carson Beck against a Ball State team that was beaten handily in Week 1 by Kentucky.
Texas A&M at Miami, over 49
Are we reading too much into one game against New Mexico? Given how dreadful Texas A&M looked so often last year on offense against lower-division foes, we don’t think so. Both the Aggies and the Hurricanes overhauled their attacks in the offseason, and we expect a lot more points than we saw in last year’s slugfest in College Station.