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Alabama favored to three-peat

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Alabama has won three of the last four national championships and oddsmakers have made the Crimson Tide the ‘chalk’ to three-peat in 2013.

Sportsbook.ag has Alabama as the prohibitive plus-250 favorite (risk $100 to win $250), while Bovada has the Tide’s future number at +425 (risk $100 to win $425).

Bovada has -with the second-shortest odds (+750), but Sportsbook has Ohio State with 6/1 odds while the Oregon Ducks have a 7/1 number. Bovada has the Buckeyes with 8/1 odds.

Texas A&M is at 10/1 and 11/1 at Sportsbook and Bovada, respectively. The Aggies return Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who guided them to a win at Alabama this past season.

The Tide will visit College Station in Week 3 for the SEC opener for both schools. ‘Bama senior quarterback A.J. McCarron will be seeking to outplay his counterpart, Manziel, in front of what promises to be a raucous crowd at Kyle Field. ‘Bama opens the season at the Ga. Dome in Atlanta against Va. Tech.

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Manziel lost several key running mates on offense to graduation, but Texas A&M has two more All-American candidates in sophomore wide receiver Mike Evans and offensive tackle Jake Matthews. Evans enjoyed a breakout 2012 campaign, hauling in 82 receptions for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns.

The Aggies also return their leading rusher Ben Malena, who rushed for 808 yards and eight TDs while averaging 5.9 yards per carry.

Nick Saban’s program has been in the news recently for two reasons. First, four players were arrested and subsequently dismissed from the program for multiple assaults on students.

The good news is that Saban has hired Mario Cristobal as the team’s new offensive line coach. Cristobal, who did a stellar job building the Florida International program over the last six years only to get fired after a 3-9 campaign last year, comes to Tuscaloosa just one month after returning to his alma mater as Miami’s associate head coach.

But Cristobal couldn’t turn down the opportunity to work with Saban and bolted Coral Gables. He will be a big help to Alabama’s recruiting in South Florida.

Oregon may have lost head coach Chip Kelly to the Eagles, but it still has plenty of talent on hand for Mark Helfrich in his first season. QB Marcus Mariota returns with an arsenal of weapons around him, including do-it-all athlete De’Anthony Thomas, RB Byron Marshall and incoming five-star freshman RB Thomas Tyner.

In non-conference action, the Ducks will play at Virginia in Week 1 and host Tennessee in Week 2.

Ohio St. has a cupcake schedule that could help its national-championship aspirations. The Buckeyes host San Diego State and travel to Berkley to face California in their toughest non-conference contests.

The next-tier of contenders according to Sportsbook’s odds include Georgia (12/1), South Carolina (15/1), Florida (15/1), Stanford (15/1) and LSU (15/1). To me, the most attractive team is Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks and I recommend shopping around because you can find even more generous odds than 15/1.

For starters, South Carolina will have the best player in America in Jadeveon Clowney, who is going to have a monster season. The Gamecocks undoubtedly have one of the nation’s best head coaches (ever!) and now have two quarterbacks who are proven winners in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson.

South Carolina has proven it can win without Marcus Lattimore already and now it will have a healthy Brandon Wilds, who missed all of 2012 and most of 2011. However, as a true freshman two years ago, Wilds produced three consecutive 100-yard rushing games after Lattimore sustained his first ACL tear.

In the games Lattimore missed in both 2011 and 2012, South Carolina compiled a 9-1 record (11-1 if you count the wins at Mississippi St. and vs. Tennessee in which he was injured).

The Gamecocks have won 22 games the past two seasons. Unlike the last two years when Georgia won the SEC East despite losing to South Carolina, the Bulldogs won’t have the built-in advantage of an easier schedule in 2013.

South Carolina doesn’t have to play LSU or Alabama, while UGA does face LSU (finally). Spurrier’s team gets Clemson, Florida, Vanderbilt and North Carolina at home. A run of three consecutive road games is always daunting, but we will definitely see the Gamecocks favored in those road assignments at Arkansas, at Tennessee and at Missouri.

So there you have it. Assuming South Carolina gets through spring practice without any significant injuries and/or suspensions, I’m predicting the school to win its first national title against Ohio St.

When Urban Meyer was on his way to his first national championship at Florida in 2006, the Gators needed a blocked extra point and a blocked field goal late in the fourth quarter to secure a win over South Carolina.

This time around, Spurrier will deny Oscar Weiner what he likes to call ‘a national.’

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--Sportsbook.ag has Manziel listed as the plus-300 favorite to become just the second player in NCAA history (Archie Griffin at Ohio St. in 1974-1975) to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner. The offshore betting shop has these Heisman odds for the following players: McCarron, South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney, Ohio St. QB Braxton Miller and Georgia QB Aaron Murray share 10/1 odds, while Thomas, Mariota, Southern Cal WR Marquise Lee and Clemson QB Tajh Boyd have 12/1 odds.

--Louisville has 25/1 odds to win the BCS Championship at Sportsbook and the website has QB Teddy Bridgewater with 15/1 odds to win the Heisman.

--LSU will take on TCU in its season opener at Cowboys Stadium on Aug. 31. The Tigers clubbed Oregon in their season opener at the same venue two seasons ago. Cam Cameron, the former head coach at the University of Indiana and for the Miami Dolphins, wil be Les Miles's new offensive coordinator. 

-- Is there any doubt that Mississippi's Hugh Freeze has been 'The Offseason Coach of the Year' after bringing in an incredible recruiting class that ranked in the Top 10 of every publication and in the top five of a few? The Rebels open the 2013 campaign at Vandy and travel to Austin to take on Texas in Week 3. 

--The bitter Florida-Miami rivalry will resume this season in Week 2 at Sun Life Stadium. The Gators don't have to play Texas A&M this season. In fact, they won't see Manziel again unless the Aggies and UF meet up in the Ga. Dome at some points in the next 2-3 or years. 

--2013 Coaches on the Hot Seat:
1-Lane Kiffin (Southern Cal)
2-Randy Edsall (Maryland)
3-Paul Pasqualoni (UConn)
4-Gary Pinkel (Missouri)
5-Mack Brown (Texas) 

Brian Edwards can be reached at briane@vegasinsider.com.

For daily sports gambling analysis, follow Brian Edwards on twitter at Vegasbedwards.

  
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