08/02/2013 10:20 AM
2013 Outlook - SEC
July 28, 2013
Skinny: 5Dimes has made Alabama the +300 favorite to win its third consecutive BCS Championship. The Crimson Tide is the -155 ‘chalk’ to win the SEC West and the +150 favorite to win the SEC. Nick Saban’s squad has a season win total of 11 (‘under’ -155, ‘over’ +125).
For a second straight season, Alabama has an easier path to Atlanta than its other SEC West rivals. That’s because the Tide don’t have to play the SEC East’s top three programs – Florida, South Carolina and Georgia – during the regular season.
Alabama returns six starters on offense and seven on defense. Senior quarterback A.J. McCarron has a 25-2 record in 27 career starts. The Mobile, Ala., product completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 2,933 yards with an incredible 30/3 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2012.
McCarron has all of his favorite receiving targets back, including Amari Cooper (59 catches, 1,100 yards & 11 TDs), Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell. The offense loses workhorse running back Eddie Lacy, but this unit has plenty of talent at the RB position. Sophomore T.J. Yeldon will be the starter following a freshman season in which he rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 TDs while averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
Four starters on the offensive line have moved on, but ‘Bama will still have one of the better fronts in the SEC. The Tide averaged 38.7 points per game last year, the highest average scoring output in Saban’s six years in Tuscaloosa. As long as McCarron stays healthy, they’ll score a lot of points again in 2013.
Although I believe the demise of LSU is being exaggerated this summer, I am picking Texas A&M to finish in second place in the SEC West. Like ‘Bama, the Aggies have an easier schedule than LSU.
All the offseason drama surrounding reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel has been overblown. Yes, the expulsion from the Manning Passing Academy was a story worthy of criticism, but – at least to me – the other stuff was simply a product of the 24/7 news cycle and non-stories being made into stories.
Manziel is going to have another outstanding season. Sophomore WR Mike Evans, who had 82 receptions for 1,105 yards and five TDs as a true freshman, could emerge as the nation’s top wideout. Remember, he only played one year of high school football because he was a standout basketball player.
Kevin Sumlin has plenty of options in the backfield, including Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams. Also, Ben Malena returns after rushing for 808 yards and eight scores while averaging 5.9 YPC. Despite the loss of Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M will have one of the SEC’s top o-lines led by first-team All-American Jake Matthews.
The Aggies returns five starters from a defense that surprisingly held opponents to just 21.8 PPG in 2012.
Sumlin’s squad has a season win total of 9.5 (‘over’ -145, ‘under’ +115). The Aggies have the fourth-shortest odds to win the nationals title (14/1). They have +380 and +850 odds to win the SEC West and the overall league title, respectively.
LSU lost a lot of players early to the NFL and more than half of its defensive starters went in the draft. Nevertheless, there’s still a ton of talent in Baton Rouge and I believe Les Miles covets the fact that most experts think this is going to be a rebuilding year.
LSU has eight starters back on offense and four on defense. Senior QB Zach Mettenberger had his ups and downs in his first season as a starter, but he came of age in the near-upset of Alabama and was a much better player late in the season.
Mettenberger has his top four WRs back, including All-SEC candidates in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckam. RB Jeremy Hill is currently suspended, but the Tigers have veterans Kenny Hilliard (the nephew of LSU and Saints great Dalton Hilliard) and Alfred Blue.
LSU’s daunting schedule includes home games against Florida and Texas A&M, in addition to the season opener vs. TCU at Cowboys Stadium. The road slate includes trips to Athens, Starkville, Oxford and Tuscaloosa.
LSU has a season win total of nine (‘under’ -150, ‘over’ +120). The Tigers have +525 odds to win the SEC West, +1250 odds to win the SEC and 19/1 odds to win the BCS Championship Game.
The Ole Miss brand is rapidly soaring under the leadership of Hugh Freeze, who led the Rebels to a 7-6 straight-up record and a 10-3 against-the-spread mark in his first season at the helm in Oxford. Next, Freeze assembled one of the best recruiting classes in the country, tabbing the consistent No. 1 player in America (DE Robert Nkemdiche), the No. 1 WR (Laquon Treadwell) from out of Chicago and one of the nation’s best OTs (Laremy Tunsil).
Ole Miss returns nine starters on offense and 10 on defense. The Rebels have a season win total of eight (‘under’ -145, ‘over’ +115). They have 10/1 odds to win the SEC West and 27/1 odds to win the SEC.
Junior QB Bo Wallace accounted for 30 TDs last season, throwing for 22 scores and rushing for eight. He is a big-time playmaker but will need to cut down on his interceptions (17) if Ole Miss is going to improve in 2013.
Wallace has one of the SEC’s best WRs in Donte Moncrief, who hauled in 66 receptions for 979 yards and 10 TDs. Senior RB Jeff Scott rushed for a team-high 846 yards in 2012. He had six rushing TDs and one TD catch.
The schedule is absolutely brutal through mid-October, but the Rebels don’t have to leave the state of Mississippi after an October 5 trip to The Plains to face Auburn. They have a five-game stretch over six weeks that looks like this: at Texas, open date, at Alabama, at Auburn, vs. Texas A&M and vs. LSU. (Due to the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M into the SEC, there are scheduling quirks like Ole Miss hosting A&M and playing at ‘Bama for a second straight season.)
I think Arkansas AD Jeff Long ran a perfect coaching search. He brought big money to the table and went after nothing but elite coaches, including LSU’s Les Miles, Boise State’s Chris Petersen, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and Vandy’s James Franklin.
When you’ve already taken Heisman treatment from at least four coaches and you still end up hiring a man who took his team to the last three Rose Bowls, well, you’ve done an outstanding job. Just when it seemed as if nobody wanted to be the new leader of the Razorbacks, Long went up north and stole one of the best Big Ten head coaches in Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema, who won 68 games seven seasons with the Badgers.
Arkansas is in good hands with Bielema moving forward, but he will have to work magic just to get the Hogs to a bowl game. The schedule is incredibly difficult, including road games at Rutgers, at Florida, at Alabama, at Ole Miss and at LSU. The Hogs might be favored in five games.
Auburn should be vastly improved after bringing back former OC Gus Malzahn, who led Arkansas St. to a 10-3 SU record and a 9-4 ATS mark in his first season as a collegiate head coach. Obviously, the Tigers fell apart in their one season without Malzahn, going an atrocious 3-9.
AU got abysmal QB play from three different guys last year who combined for a 7/15 TD-INT ratio. If Malzahn can just get decent QB play, AU can improve its win total by at least three games. Now I have no idea who the signal caller will be (surely not Kiehl Frazier?!), but I trust that Malzahn will put a solid offensive product on the field.
Auburn has a season win total of 6.5 (‘over’ -135, ‘under’ -105).
Mississippi St. started 7-0 in 2012, only to lose five of its next six games. The Bulldogs got thumped 41-24 at Ole Miss and dropped a 34-20 decision to Northwestern at the Gator Bowl.
Dan Mullen’s squad has a season win total of six (‘under’ -145, ‘over’ +115). MSU has seven starters returning on offense and five on defense.
Senior QB Tyler Russell threw for 2,897 yards with a 24/10 TD-INT ratio last year. However, his top four receivers are gone. RB LaDarius Perkins is back, though. He rushed for 1,024 yards and eight TDs while averaging 5.0 YPC last season.
Mississippi St. has one of the SEC’s best young LBs in Benardrick McKinney, who had 102 tackles as a true freshman.
Georgia is the +145 ‘chalk’ to win the SEC East and it has +400 odds to win the conference. The Bulldogs, who have 25/1 odds to win their first national title since Vince Dooley was coach and a dude named Herschel Walker wore No. 34, return nine starters on offense and three on defense. They went 12-2 SU and 8-6 ATS last season, ending the year with a 45-31 win over Wisconsin at the Capital One Bowl.
But the story of UGA’s 2012 campaign will always and forever be the incomprehensible decision-making by both Mark Richt and Aaron Murray at winning time. The fact that Richt has spent the offseason defending the thought process is equally as galling.
(To be clear here, I know Richt is a good man and I like him for the most part, but those sort of clock-management decisions are elementary. Mistakes like that are the difference between winning the SEC East and winning the national title. When coaches who make millions commit such costly blunders, they absolutely deserve to be called out for it.)
UGA is loaded on offense with Murray set to surpass David Greene as the school’s all-time leading passer at some point in October. He has one of the country’s best tight ends (Arthur Lynch), two excellent WRs (Michael Bennett & Malcolm Mitchell) and a great 1-2 punch at RB (Keith Marshall & Todd Gurley).
The defense is the unit to be concerned about if you’re a UGA fan. This group brings back only three starters and the playmaking of Jarvis Jones will be sorely missed.
Georgia might start 4-0 but it could be 1-3 and done by the end of September, too. The Bulldogs open at Clemson and then host South Carolina. They (finally) face LSU in Athens on Sep. 28.
South Carolina has enjoyed the best three-year stretch in school history, winning 31 times, including back-to-back 11-win seasons. The Gamecocks return seven starters on offense and five on defense. They have a season win total of 9.5 (‘under’ -120, ‘over’ -110).
I like Steve Spurrier’s team to provide gamblers with a winner on ‘over’ 9.5 wins. Also, I’m calling for the Gamecocks to win the national championship (30/1 odds!).
USC has the nation’s best player in junior DE Jadeveon Clowney, who had 13 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore. Clowney demands double and triple-teams, which will allow DT Kelcy Quarles and DE Chaz Sutton to make plays galore.
Spurrier has two QBs he can win with in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson. Shaw played through pain the entire 2012 season after suffering a lower back injury in the opener against Vandy. He also struggled with foot and shoulder injuries at various points.
Nevertheless, Shaw completed 67.5 percent of his throws with a 17/7 TD-INT ratio. Also, Shaw rushed for 608 yards (before subtracting sack yardage) and three scores. Dylan Thompson got the starting nod in the regular-season finale at Clemson (10-1 at the time) and responded by throwing for 310 yards and three TDs without a turnover in a 27-17 victory.
Thompson also came in out of the bullpen and threw the game-winning TD in a 33-28 win over Michigan at the Outback Bowl. The rising junior signal caller finished the year with a 10/2 TD-INT ratio.
Spurrier hinted at SEC Media Days that we might see Shaw line up at WR in some situations with Thompson under center. Thompson’s presence will also allow Spurrier to call running plays for Shaw without as much fear of an injury.
Marcus Lattimore is gone but the Gameocks won nine of 10 games after Lattimore went down with season-ending injuries in 2011 and 2012. Bruce Ellington is USC’s top WR who hauled in 40 receptions for 600 yards and seven TDs. The ‘Cocks also have an outstanding TE (Rory Anderson) and I’m expecting better production out of WRs Damiere Byrd and Shaq Roland.
Will Muschamp led Florida back into the upper echelon of college football after a pair of disastrous seasons. The Gators would’ve gone to the BCS Championship Game if Southern Cal could’ve beaten Notre Dame at home in the final week of the regular season.
UF had as many big wins as any team, winning at Texas A&M and at FSU, in addition to home victories over LSU and South Carolina. The Gators limited foes to just 14.5 PPG.
UF returns six starters on offense and four on defense, but I believe those numbers are a bit deceiving. That’s because DE Ronald Powell is back after missing 2012 with an ACL tear, and the o-line will be bolstered by a pair of transfers who were starters at Nebraska and Maryland in 2011.
The defense is in good hands with perhaps the best d-line and secondary in the SEC (and Muschamp!). UF also has the country’s best punter in Kyle Christy. Those factors make it nearly a given that the Gators will win at least eight games.
But to get back to double-digit wins, the offense must make big strides. This unit will be all about junior QB Jeff Driskel, who will need help from a WR group that disappointed last season. With the exception of the Georgia game, Driskel did a tremendous job of limiting turnovers (only five interceptions). He also rushed for four TDs and is a big-time weapon when he scrambles.
Even with the loss of Mike Gillislee, who rushed for 1,152 yards, UF is fine at the RB position. I expect sophomore Matt Jones (5.3 YPC) to enjoy a breakout season and watch out for true freshman Kelvin Taylor, the son of Gator Great Fred Taylor.
Florida has a season win total of nine (‘under’ -135, ‘over’ -105). The Gators have +365 odds to win the SEC East and +950 odds to win the conference.
From a scheduling standpoint, UF is clearly at a disadvantage compared to UGA and South Carolina in the East. The Gators play at LSU, while UGA gets LSU at home and USC doesn’t have to face Les Miles’s bunch. None of the three have to face ‘Bama, which gives the Tide an advantage over the rest of the West. In non-conference play, Florida plays at Miami in Week 2 (without starting LB Antonio Morrison due to suspension) and closes the regular season at home vs. FSU.
The incredible coaching job done by James Franklin at Vanderbilt in his first two seasons can’t possibly be overstated. The Commodores closed the 2012 campaign with the SEC’s longest winning streak (seven), beating North Carolina St. by a 38-24 count at the Music City Bowl.
Vandy reached nine wins last season for the first time since 1915. On Franklin’s watch the last two years, the ‘Dores have compiled an 18-8 spread record.
Vandy’s defense is loaded with upperclassmen. If this unit gets through August without any injuries, it will have seven senior starters and three juniors. The Commodores allowed only 18.7 PPG in 2012.
Senior CB Andre Hal was a second-team All-SEC selection last year when he broke up 14 passes and made two interceptions. Senior DE Walker May tallied seven tackles for losses, three sacks and seven QB hurries. In Phil Steele’s position rankings, he has Vandy’s linebackers and secondary both ranked as the fourth best in the SEC.
The question mark for this team is QB where Austyn Carta-Samuels inherits the job from Jordan Rogers. Carta-Samuels got one start last season in a 58-0 win over Presbyterian but barely touched the field otherwise. He had 21 starts at Wyoming as a freshman and sophomore, throwing for 3,655 yards with a 19/13 TD-INT ratio.
Carta-Samuels probably has the SEC’s best 1-2 combo at WR with Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd. ESPN’s Mel Kiper has Matthews as the No. 1 WR for the 2014 NFL Draft after he made 94 catches for 1,323 yards and eight TDs in 2012.
Vandy has a season win total of seven (‘over’ -125, ‘under’ -105). The Commodores have 23/1 odds to win the SEC East, 45/1 odds to win in Atlanta.
When you are entering the SEC like Missouri was, the last thing you want to see is three starting offensive linemen go down with season-ending injuries in August. That’s what happened to the Tigers, who also had their QB James Franklin coming off of offseason shoulder surgery.
Factor in the absence of RB Henry Josey (torn ACL late in ’11) and you had the makings of a lost season. Franklin was never 100 percent healthy and completely lost his confidence. The result was a 5-7 record.
When measuring Mizzou up to Texas A&M, you get the sense that Gary Pinkel needs an eight-win season to keep the Tiger faithful happy. I fully expect Franklin to have a bounce-back season and Josey is back in the mix. They need sophomore WR Dorial Green-Beckham to step up his play after a disappointing freshman season.
New head coaches Butch Jones (Tennessee) and Mark Stoops (Kentucky) are absolutely killing it on the recruiting trail right now, but neither program is going bowling in 2013.
SEC Championship Game - South Carolina beats Alabama
2013 Win-Loss Projections
School Record Win Total (5Dimes) Bowl Projection
South Carolina 12-1 9 ½ BCS Championship Game vs. Oregon
Florida 10-2 9 Outback Bowl vs. Big Ten #3
Georgia 10-2 9 ½ Chick-Fil-A Bowl vs. ACC #2
Vanderbilt 7-5 7 ½ Liberty Bowl vs. C-USA #1
Missouri 6-6 6 Independence Bowl vs. ACC #7
Tennessee 5-7 6 -
Kentucky 4-8 4 ½ -
Alabama 11-2 11 Sugar Bowl vs. At-Large
Texas A&M 10-2 9 ½ Cotton Bowl vs. Big 12 #2
LSU 9-3 9 Gator Bowl vs. Big Ten #5
Ole Miss 8-4 8 Music City vs. ACC #6
Auburn 6-6 6 ½ BBVA Compass Bowl vs. AAC #5
Mississippi State 5-7 6 -
Arkansas 5-7 5 ½ -
Games to Watch:
1-Alabama at Texas A&M (Sep. 14) – 5Dimes has Alabama listed as an expensive 9.5-point favorite as of July 26. The Tide will have the revenge angle and two weeks to prepare following an open date. However, Texas A&M opens at home against Rice and Sam Houston St., so I’m not sure the open date gives ‘Bama much of an advantage (if any). I like the home underdog.
2-South Carolina at Georgia (Sep. 7) – Steve Spurrier still owns Georgia. He compiled an 11-1 record against the Dawgs during his 12-year tenure at Florida, and he’s now led the Gamecocks to three straight wins over UGA. Clowney has made life miserable for Aaron Murray in the last two meetings. 5Dimes has UGA as a four-point favorite.
3-Florida vs. Georgia (Nov. 2 in Jacksonville) – For the first time since the 1980s, Georgia has won back-to-back games against Florida. Muschamp is now 0-6 in the series after losing to UF four times as a player at UGA. He wants the win as bad as any on the schedule this season. The winner will have a great chance to get to Atlanta, while the loser will be in trouble. 5Dimes has UGA as a three-point ‘chalk’ (-120) with a total of 45.5.
4-LSU at Alabama (Nov. 9) – 5Dimes has ‘Bama as an 11.5-point home favorite with a total of 39.5. LSU has dropped back-to-back games in this rivalry, but the Tigers won a 9-6 decision in overtime in their last trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium. Both teams have two to prepare for this showdown.
5-Texas A&M at Ole Miss (Oct. 12) – If the Aggies beat Alabama, they will essentially own a two-game lead over the Crimson Tide in the SEC West standings. Therefore, ‘Bama will need A&M to lose twice. The best chance for the Aggies to go down will be at LSU on Nov. 23 and this is probably the second-toughest test. In its favor, Texas A&M has an open date before going to Oxford. Ole Miss will be returning home after back-to-back road assignments at Alabama and at Auburn (and LSU will be on deck). 5Dimes has the Aggies favored by four.
Week 1 Best Bet: Take South Carolina -11 vs. North Carolina – I love UNC head coach Larry Fedora’s ability to call offensive plays and he has an excellent QB in Bryn Renner, who had a 28/7 TD-INT ratio last season. But the Tar Heels are going to have their hands full in protecting Renner. I think the Gamecocks pull away in the second half to win a 31-16 decision.
Players to Watch:
1-A.J. McCarron (Alabama QB) – He has never missed a start, staying healthy for 27 consecutive games. If this streak were to come to an end, Nick Saban would have to turn to a QB with next-to-no experience. And the value of McCarron, in addition to his place in the annals of Alabama football history, would become even clearer. If McCaron misses an extended period of time, any hopes of a three-peat will disappear.
2-Jeff Driskel (Florida QB) – As stated above, we know UF’s defense is going to be enough for this to be an 8-4/9-3 type of team. If Driskel becomes an elite QB, the Gators are capable of getting to Atlanta and Pasadena.
3-Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina DE) – More than any player in America, Clowney is capable of dominating a football game all by himself. With one play, he can make a sack, force a fumble and send an opposing QB to the sidelines for the rest of a game. He has the best chance of any defensive player to win the Heisman since Michigan’s Charles Woodson.
4-Dorial Green-Beckham (Missouri WR) – He was the nation’s No. 1 player in the 2012 prep recruiting class, but Green-Beckham only made 28 catches for 395 yards and five TDs. With James Franklin 100-percent healthy, Missouri needs Green-Beckham to have more than 1,000 receiving yards and about 10 TD grabs.
5-Kenny Hilliard (LSU RB) – With Jeremy Hill’s status unknown (currently suspended indefinitely), Hilliard finally looks like he’ll get the bulk of the touches. As a freshman, Hilliard led the way to a blowout win over Georgia at the SEC Championship Game. He averaged 5.4 YPC and garnered All-SEC Freshman honors. In 2012, he took a backseat to Hill but still managed to rush for six TDs and average 5.7 YPC.
6-Brandon Williams (Texas A&M RB) – With the threat of Johnny Manziel’s scrambling and passing, Texas A&M running backs are going to have chances galore to be effective. This transfer from Oklahoma was a top-five RB coming out of high school in 2011 and rushed for 4.8 YPC as a freshman with the Sooners. Williams is expected to have a huge impact on this potent offense.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
--Only two SEC West teams have never made it to Atlanta – Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Obviously, the Aggies have only had one chance while the Rebels haven’t won the division since it formed in 1992. As for the SEC East, three schools (Vandy, Kentucky & Missouri) have failed to make it to the Ga. Dome.
--During Steve Spurrier’s tenure at South Carolina, the Gamecocks have compiled a 52-42-5 spread record.
--Mississippi St. is 10-5 ATS as a home favorite on Dan Mullen’s watch.
--LSU has limped to a 19-30-1 spread record as a home favorite under Les Miles.
--Alabama owns a 16-8 spread record as a road favorite during Saban’s six years in Tuscaloosa.
--UF’s Driskel has 60/1 odd to win the Heisman.
--Top Ten QBs:
1-Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M)
2-A.J. McCarron (Alabama)
3-Aaron Murray (Georgia)
4-Connor Shaw (South Carolina)
5-Jeff Driskel (Florida)
6-Zach Mettenberger (LSU)
7-Dylan Thompson (South Carolina)
8-James Franklin (Missouri)
9-Bo Wallace (Ole Miss)
10-Tyler Russell (Mississippi St.)
--Ranking the Head Coaches:
Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs: