SEC Title Game Again Overshadows Championship Weekend
As has been the case since 2008, this Saturday's SEC Championship Game completely dominates the storyline on the final weekend of college football's regular season.
Top-ranked Notre Dame no doubt will be watching Saturday en masse in South Bend - the Irish will go 44 days between their victory last Saturday over Southern Cal and the BCS title game on January 7 in Miami. The Irish are now 2/1 to win the national title. For comparison's sake, they were 40/1 when the 2012 season kicked off. The book isn't too exposed at that number.
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This will be the fifth-straight season that either the nation's No. 1 or No. 2 BCS team plays in the SEC title game. The Alabama-Georgia winner is assured of a chance to extend the conference's national championship streak to seven years in a row. The Tide are seven-point favorites at the book and 4/7 national title favorites; they opened the season as 5/1 second-favorites to USC. Georgia is 2/1 to win the title and opened the season at 16/1.
There will be live play-by-play betting on the first meeting between the Tide and Dawgs since 2008. It will be a steep drop for the loser, likely to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. That's because No. 4 Florida will be guaranteed an at-large BCS bowl bid if it finishes in the top three of the standings. That seems a sure thing, with the Tide-Bulldogs loser expected to drop below the Gators. Because only two teams from one conference can play in BCS bowls, the SEC runner-up is out of luck.
Like most games involving top SEC teams this season, expect a defensive slugfest. Georgia has perhaps the best defensive player in the nation in linebacker Jarvis Jones, a possible No. 1 overall draft pick in the NFL next April. Georgia's defense struggled in the first half of the season, allowing 24.1 points in the first six games, but that was partly due to some suspensions to key players on that side of the ball. In the past five games, UGA is allowing 8.6 points per game.
Alabama ranks No. 1 nationally in points allowed (9.3) and total defense (233.7 yards per game). That defense will face the best offense it has seen in 2012 as Georgia set a school record with 456 points. This could be the final SEC game for Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who is expected to be highly sought-after for some of the top openings this offseason, including in the SEC (think Auburn would love to steal him away?).
If you are looking at common opponents this year, the Tide and Dawgs had five: Florida Atlantic (poor FAU), Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Auburn. Alabama went 5-0 in those five and won on average by 32.8 points per game. Georgia won all five by an average of 25.8 ppg. Overall the Dawgs have certainly played an easier schedule with just two games versus ranked foes. One of those was a loss to South Carolina. Georgia coach Mark Richt is 2-9 versus top-10 teams since 2008 and 3-9 against all ranked teams since 2010.
Alabama had four games versus ranked foes, and its lone loss came against Texas A&M - which essentially handed Aggies QB Johnny Manziel the Heisman Trophy. Tide coach Nick Saban has faced Richt three times and is 3-2, with two of those wins coming while at LSU. The Tide's offense will be missing a key player in big-play receiver Kenny Bell. He broke his leg in the win over Auburn last week and is done for the season. Bell was second on the team in receiving yards (431) and tied for third with three touchdowns. He was averaging a team-high 25.4 yards per catch and had the Tide's two longest receptions of the season (including an 85-yard TD). Georgia knows all about losing receivers to injury as it saw Michael Bennett and Marlon Brown go down with season-ending injuries during the year.
The Granddaddy of Them All
The book also will offer Live Betting this weekend on Friday night's Pac-12 Championship Game between UCLA and Stanford as well as Saturday night's Big Ten Championship Game between Nebraska and Wisconsin. Both are rematches from the regular season and the winners this time will meet in the Rose Bowl.
Stanford beat the Bruins in Pasadena just last Saturday, 35-17. The Cardinal's No. 1 rush defense held UCLA to just 73 yards on the ground and also sacked UCLA dual-threat QB Brett Hundley seven times. It gave Stanford three-straight 10-win seasons for the first time in school history. It also figures to make head coach David Shaw very attractive to NFL teams, especially with the success of Shaw's former boss Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco. Look for a prop at Bovada on Shaw's future. He was named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year this week.
Saturday's game is in Palo Alto, and Stanford is an 8.5-point favorite. The Cardinal haven't played in the Rose Bowl since 2000 and UCLA hasn't since 1999. Nebraska, meanwhile, beat Wisconsin 30-27 in Lincoln on September 29. The Badgers twice had 17-point leads in the game, including 27-10 midway through the third quarter. Huskers QB Taylor Martinez had a combined 288 yards passing and rushing, and scored three times. Wisconsin star running back Montee Ball was held to 93 yards on 31 carries but did score three times. The year before in Madison, Wisconsin crushed the Huskers in the Big Ten debut season.
The Big Ten Championship Game is again in Indianapolis and the Huskers are three-point opening favorites. The Badgers are looking to become the first Big Ten team to reach three-straight Rose Bowls since Michigan in the late 1970s. Even though it's Nebraska's second year in the Big Ten, it has been to the Rose Bowl before. The Huskers lost to Miami in the January 3, 2002, Rose Bowl, when it was also the national championship game.
There could be a Rose Bowl rematch as well. Nebraska lost at UCLA 36-30 on September 8.
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