SEC Report - Week 9
October 25, 2017
By Brian Edwards
Editor's Note: Brian Edwards is on a 19-7 tear in college football during the month of October. He owns a 39-21 record (65%, +16.4 units) for the season. Brian is the #1 overall money leader and is ranked second in winning percentage out of 37 college-football handicappers on VI! Don't miss out on any of his pay-if-they-win-only selections for Week 9!
Let’s start our stroll around the SEC in Oxford, where Ole Miss (3-4 straight up, 2-5 against the spread) will take on Arkansas at noon Eastern on the SEC Network. As of early Wednesday afternoon, most offshore books had the Rebels favored by 3.5 points with a total of 64. Many Vegas betting shops were holding off on posting a number until there was more clarity on the status of Arkansas senior quarterback Austin Allen.
Well, that clarity came Wednesday morning when Allen was ruled ‘out.’ Therefore, the Vegas shops will be posting a number in a matter of minutes (when this story was filed early Wednesday). Allen will miss a third straight game with a shoulder injury. The veteran signal caller had completed 56.4 percent of his passes for 850 yards with an 8/4 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
In his absence, the Razorbacks have dropped a 41-9 decision at Alabama and lost 52-20 at home vs. Auburn. Making matters worse, senior center Frank Ragnow was lost to an ankle injury that will require season-ending surgery. Ragnow was a fourth-team All-American in 2016 and a top candidate to win the Rimington Trophy this season. Also, true freshman RB Chase Hayden sustained a lower-leg fracture to end his year.
Hayden had rushed for 326 yards and four TDs while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He had 42 rushing yards on only two attempts and one catch for 23 yards vs. Auburn before getting injured.
Redshirt freshman QB Cole Kelley, who is a 6’7” 260-pounder, has been given the last two starts and played a good chunk of the second half at South Carolina three weeks ago. Kelley has connected on 57.0 percent of his passes for 549 yards with a 4/2 TD-INT ratio.
Bret Bielema is now 27-31 during his five-year tenure in Fayetteville, placing his job security in serious jeopardy.
Ole Miss’s season was cursed before it started and things got worse in Saturday’s 40-24 loss to LSU as a seven-point home underdog. Star sophomore QB Shea Patterson was lost for the season due to a torn PCL. Patterson had completed 63.8 percent of his throws for 2,259 yards with a 17/9 TD-INT ratio.
In the two games prior to hosting LSU, Patterson had thrown for 697 yards and six TDs without an interception. However, he struggled mightily against the Tigers, getting intercepted three times before being injured. Patterson was replaced by juco transfer Jordan Ta’amu, who hit 7-of-11 passes for 78 yards against LSU. Ta’amu will get his first career start vs. Arkansas.
Florida and Georgia are poised to collide at 3:30 p.m. Eastern on CBS. As of early Wednesday, most books had UGA installed as a 13.5-point favorite with a total of 43.5. The Gators, who have won three in a row over UGA and have dominated the rivalry by winning 21 of the last 27 meetings dating back to Steve Spurrier’s arrival in Gainesville in 1990, haven’t lost to the Bulldogs by more than 12 points since 1997 when Robert Edwards rushed for four TDs in a 37-17 Georgia victory.
The key to this handicap is the health of five Florida starters, who were all listed as ‘questionable’ as of Tuesday and who each missed a 19-17 home loss to Texas A&M two weeks ago. In that defeat to the Aggies, UF lost the heart and soul of its defense in senior DE Jordan Sherit, who had to undergo season-ending hip surgery earlier this week.
Sherit had recorded 23 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, nine QB hurries and one pass broken up. Of the five starters hoping to return this week, three were upgraded to ‘probable’ Wednesday morning, which is probably whey you saw the number dip from 14 to 13.5. Two of those starters upgraded are the offense’s two best playmakers outside of RBs Malik Davis and Lamical Perine, WRs Tyrie Cleveland and Kadarius Toney, who also has the ability to play QB, especially considering UF’s struggles at the position.
Third-year sophomore DE Jabari Zuniga is the third starter who is now expected to play vs. UGA. He sprained his ankle at practice the week of the A&M game and didn’t dress against the Aggies. Zuniga had produced 18 tackles, 2.5 sacks, three TFL’s and five QB hurries in UF’s first five games.
Another starter who is ‘questionable’ is OG Bret Heggie, a redshirt freshman who garnered SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors in a 38-24 win over Vandy on Sept. 30. Heggie sustained a concussion in the first half of a 17-16 home loss to LSU on Oct. 7, and he sat out the Texas A&M game. Finally, the fifth starter hoping to dress vs. UGA is senior safety Nick Washington, who left the LSU game with a shoulder injury and DNP vs. A&M. He remains third on the team in tackles with 29.
As if Florida (3-3 SU, 2-4 ATS) didn’t have enough issues to deal with in this tumultuous campaign that started with the suspensions of nine players for their involvement in a credit-card fraud scandal, third-year head coach Jim McElwain made some controversial comments at Monday’s presser without being provoked.
McElwain said, “There’s a lot of hate in this world and a lot of anger and yet it’s freedom to show it. The hard part is obviously when the threats against your own players, death threats to your families, the ill will that’s brought upon out there, and yet I think it’s really one of those deals that really is a pretty good testament to what’s going on out there nationally. A lot of angry people. In this business we’re the ones they take shots at and that’s the way it is.”
A media member countered with, “Death threats?” And McElwain responded, “Mmmhmmm.” (AKA: Yes.) Then he was asked if he could and expand and said, “No.”
Next, he was asked if “he was shocked with the level of vitriol?” McElwain then said, “No, here’s the one thing. You’re in the business, that’s all part of it. You get it. When it’s directed toward your players, when it’s directed to families, wives, that kind of thing…and yet at the same time they know what they signed up for as well. That’s part of the business.”
These remarks obviously went viral quickly, prompting UF’s administration to meet with McElwain. Hours later, the University of Florida Athletic Association released the following statement, “The UAA takes the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and families very seriously. Our administration met with Coach McElwain this afternoon and he offered no additional details.”
Wow. Just wow! Those five final words are all you need to know: “He offered no additional details.”
Remember, former AD Jeremy Foley hired McElwain and judging by the results, Foley has proven to be one of the worst modern-day ADs in terms of hiring football coaches (we obviously credit Foley for one of the top hires in college basketball history (Billy Donovan) and it appears he also nailed the recent hoops hire of Mike White). With McElwain’s failures to date, Foley is looking at a 1-for-4 batting average (.250) on pigskin hires. Urban Meyer worked out extremely well, albeit for a brief period of time, while the hires of Ron Zook, Will Muschamp and McElwain have been complete busts.
New Florida AD Scott Stricklin was formerly at Mississippi State, where he pulled a quick trigger in firing basketball coach Rick Ray after his third season. Then in a shocking hire, Stricklin somehow lured Ben Howland, a coach who spent a decade at UCLA and took the Bruins to three consecutive Final Four appearances, to Starkville.
Some media members wrote on Tuesday that UF could perhaps fire McElwain “with cause” and wiggle out of a $12 million buyout for fabricating a story about death threats. Whatever the case, McElwain lost the rabid fan base long ago, and this development makes it all the more likely that a messy divorce could be forthcoming.
Then again, if Florida wins out from here and UGA loses at Auburn, the Gators would go to a third straight SEC Championship Game. To be clear, I don’t see that happening (at all!) but in this Dark Ages Era of the SEC East and with UGA’s abysmal history in this rivalry for nearly three decades, who the hell knows?
Anyway, back to the game in Jacksonville, where Georgia (7-0 SU, 5-2 ATS) has so often seen promising seasons flushed down the toilet. This version of the Bulldogs, the second under Kirby Smart, the former UGA player who spent nearly a decade helping Nick Saban collect championships of the SEC and national variety, doesn’t look the part of one that will lose to an inferior UF team with issues galore.
UGA has won six of its seven games by 21 points or more. The only game that was decided in the fourth quarter was a 20-19 win at Notre Dame. Smart’s team even lost starting QB Jacob Eason in the first quarter of the opener, but true freshman Jake Fromm has played so well that a now-healthy Eason has been relegated to back-up status.
Fromm has completed 62.0 percent of his passes for 1,162 yards with a 12/3 TD-INT ratio. His favorite target is junior WR Terry Godwin, who has 16 receptions for 369 yards and five TDs, including a sick one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone that was crucial in the win over the Fighting Irish.
But this UGA offense is all about a ground game that features three elite RBs, including senior Nick Chubb, senior Sony Michel and true freshman D’Andre Swift (358 rushing yards, one TD and an 8.5 yards-per-carry average). Chubb has a team-best 688 rushing yards, eight TDs and a 6.4 YPC average, while Michel has 492 rushing yards, six TDs and a 7.2 YPC average.
In UGA’s last outing, it won a 53-28 decision over Missouri but failed to cover the number as an enormous 28.5-point home ‘chalk.’ Prior to that game, the Bulldogs had not given up more than the 19 points scored by Notre Dame from any opponent. UGA is ranked third in the nation in total defense, 11th versus the pass, fourth at defending the run and fourth in scoring defense (12.6 PPG).
UGA is 2-2 ATS as a double-digit ‘chalk’ this year. Meanwhile, Florida is 2-1 ATS with one outright win (at LSU last season) as a double-digit underdog during McElwain’s tenure.
The ‘under’ is 5-2 overall for UGA, which has seen its games average combined scores of 50.1 PPG. Totals have been an overall wash (3-3) for the Gators, but they have seen back-to-back ‘under’ appearances. UF’s games have had average combined scores of 47.0 PPG. The ‘under’ has cashed at a 5-1 clip in the last six meetings of this bitter rivalry.
Florida has won the last three games by scores of 24-10, 27-3 and 38-20. The Gators were at least +400 on the money line at most spots early Wednesday, +450 at William Hill (risk $100 to win $450).
Like UF and UGA, South Carolina and Vanderbilt enjoyed an open date heading into their encounter at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. Eastern on the SEC Network. As of early Wednesday, most books had South Carolina (5-2 SU, 4-2-1 ATS) favored by seven points with a total of 44.5. The Commodores were +230 on the money line.
South Carolina has lost three of its best players – WR and special-teams ace Deebo Samuel, senior LB Bryson Allen-Williams and last year’s leading rusher, sophomore RB Rico Dowdle – to season-ending injuries. The team’s No. 2 TE, K.C. Crosby, is also done for the year with an injury. On the bright side, the Gamecocks are going to get three starting offensive linemen back vs. Vandy. Two of those players have missed back-to-back games, while a third has been out for three straight outings.
South Carolina handed N.C. State its only loss of the season to date by a 35-28 count in the opener. Then the Gamecocks went to Missouri, fell behind 10-0 at the end of the first quarter, but answered with a 31-3 run to win a 31-13 decision as three-point underdogs. In its home opener, however, USC dropped a 23-13 decision to Kentucky as a six-point favorite.
Will Muschamp’s team rallied from a 16-0 fourth-quarter deficit to nip La. Tech, 17-16, on a last-second field goal in Week 4. USC went to College Station the following week and allowed a 10-point third-quarter advantage to get away in a 24-17 loss at Texas A&M. Next, the Gamecocks blasted Arkansas by a 48-22 count thanks to three defensive TDs. And before the bye week, they rallied past Tennessee to a 15-9 win as 2.5-point road underdogs.
South Carolina is 1-1 SU and 0-2 ATS when listed as a favorite this year. The Gamecocks are 2-1 SU but 1-2 ATS at home.
Since starting the season with three straight wins, Vanderbilt (3-4 SU, 3-4 ATS) has dropped four in a row both SU and ATS. The Commodores have lost all those games by 14 points or more. They own a 9-9 spread record in 18 games as road underdogs during Derek Mason’s four-year tenure.
Vandy lost 57-35 at Ole Miss its last time out, failing to cover as a three-point ‘dog. Mason’s team is 0-4 in SEC play, 1-2 both SU and ATS in three road assignments. The Commodores picked up their lone road win both SU and ATS in their opener, a 28-6 win at Middle Tennessee (when Brent Stockstill and Richie James were 100-percent healthy).
The bright side out of the trip to Oxford was the performance of Ralph Webb, the senior RB who was already the school’s all-time leading rusher coming into the season. Webb rushed for more than 54 yards in a game for the first time all year, producing 163 yards and two TDs on 23 carries. For the season, Webb has run for 408 yards and five TDs with a mediocre 3.7 YPC average.
Vandy junior QB Kyle Shurmur has mostly played well this season, completing 54.9 percent of his throws for 1,331 yards with a stellar 14/2 TD-INT ratio. He has also run for a pair of scores.
South Carolina sophomore QB Jake Bentley has a 12/4 TD-INT ratio, throwing five TD passes without an interception in the last three games. He has a pair of elite targets despite the absence of Samuel, who went down in Week 3 when he was playing like an All-American with six TDs scored already. Bentley still has sophomore WR Bryant Edwards and junior TE Hayden Hurst. Edwards has 33 receptions for 420 yards and one TD, while Hurst has 19 catches for 297 yards and two TDs.
The ‘under’ is on a 5-1 run for the Gamecocks, who have watched the ‘under’ go 2-1 in their three home contests. Their games have averaged combined scores of 44.4 PPG. Meanwhile, Vandy has seen the ‘over’ go 4-3 overall, 2-1 in its three road assignments.
Texas A&M (5-2 SU, 5-1-1 ATS) has had two weeks to prepare for Saturday’s showdown vs. Mississippi State at 7:15 p.m. Eastern on ESPN. As of Wednesday, most books had Mississippi State (5-2 SU, 5-2 ATS) listed as a 1.5-point favorite with a total of 56.
Kevin Sumlin’s team blew a 44-10 lead late in the third quarter of its opener at UCLA, eventually losing 45-44 in an unfathomable fourth-quarter collapse. Nevertheless, the Aggies covered the number as six-point underdogs. Since then, they’ve won five of six games with the lone defeat coming against unbeaten and top-ranked Alabama. A&M lost a 27-19 decision to the Crimson Tide, playing ‘Bama to its only one-possession game of the year to date.
Texas A&M is just 2-4 ATS in six games as a home underdog during Sumlin’s six-year tenure. This is a huge game for Sumlin, who has seen his hot seat cool considerably. However, that could quickly change with back-to-back home defeats to MSU and Auburn, which comes to Kyle Field (off an open date) next week.
Mississippi State is 1-2 both SU and ATS in three road assignments this year, but it was smashed at UGA (31-3) and at Auburn (49-10). The Bulldogs are seeking their third straight win after responding to those road L’s with home wins vs. BYU (35-10) and Kentucky (45-7). They took the cash in both outings as 23 and 14-point favorites, respectively.
Junior QB Nick Fitzgerald is MSU’s star. He has completed 56.9 percent of his passes for 1,179 yards with an 11/7 TD-INT ratio. Fitzgerald does his best work with his legs, though, rushing for 561 yards and nine TDs while averaging 6.9 YPC. RB Aeris Williams has rushed for a team-high 594 yards and two TDs with a 5.1 YPC average.
Mississippi State has posted a 9-9-1 spread record in 19 games as a road underdog during Dan Mullen’s tenure. The Bulldogs have seen the ‘under’ go 5-2 overall, but the ‘over’ is 2-1 in their road contests. They’ve seen their games average combined scores of 51.6 PPG.
The ‘under’ is 4-3 overall for the Aggies, 3-1 in their four home outings. Their games have averaged combined scores of 58.4 PPG. They’ve seen the ‘under’ cash in three consecutive contests.
Tennessee and Kentucky will collide in Lexington at Kroger Field on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on the SEC Network. As of Tuesday morning, most books had UK favored by 5.5 points. However, by early Wednesday afternoon, most spots had UK installed as a 3.5 or four-point favorite with a total of 46 or 46.5.
This is the first time the Wildcats have been favored over the Volunteers since 2007 when they lost 52-50 as 2.5-point home favorites. Tennessee has won 31 of the last 32 head-to-head meetings with Kentucky, yet UT is available to win outright for a +150 payout (risk $100 to win $150).
Kentucky (5-2 SU, 2-5 ATS) has won three of four home games but has limped to a 1-3 spread record. Mark Stoops’s squad saw its 5-1 record evaporate last week in Starkville, where Mississippi State dealt it woodshed treatment in a 45-7 clubbing as a 14-point home favorite. The 52 combined points slithered ‘under’ the 54.5-point total.
UK senior QB Stephen Johnson struggled mightily, completing only 13-of-28 passes for 117 yards with two interceptions. He did run for 54 yards on just six attempts, but Benny Snell was held to 18 rushing yards on seven carries.
For the season, Johnson has completed 61.2 percent of his throws for 1,355 yards with a 9/4 TD-INT ratio. Snell has rushed for 541 yards and six TDs, averaging 4.1 YPC. Johnson has 198 rushing yards for a pair of scores. Garrett Johnson is the team’s leading receiver, hauling in 32 balls for 369 yards and two TDs.
Kentucky is 0-3 ATS as a home favorite this season, 4-8 ATS in its last 12 such spots and 9-9 overall as a home ‘chalk’ under Stoops. Meanwhile, Tennessee (3-4 SU, 1-6 ATS) is 1-1 ATS as a road underdog this year, 5-6-1 in 12 road ‘dog situations since Butch Jones took over in 2013.
The Volunteers are in the SEC East basement with Vandy and Missouri with their identical 0-4 ledgers in league play. They have lost three in a row and haven’t scored an offensive TD since the second quarter of a 17-13 non-covering win over UMass on Sept. 23. Since then, UT has scored 16 points in 14 quarters of action, but seven of those came on a pick-six in last week’s 45-7 loss at Alabama. In their richest underdog situation in the 100-plus year history of the program, the Vols failed to cover as 36.5-point road underdogs in Tuscaloosa.
The ‘under’ is 5-2 overall for the ‘Cats, 3-1 in their four home outings. They’ve watched their games average combined scores of 49.3 PPG. The ‘under’ is 5-2 overall for UT, 1-1 in its road contests. The Vols have seen their games average combined scores of 46.4 PPG.
Missouri has a non-conference game at UConn. These teams met two seasons ago in Columbia, with the Tigers getting extremely fortunate to win a 9-6 decision. However, the Huskies easily covered as 21.5-point road underdogs. As of Wednesday, Missouri was installed as a 13-point road ‘chalk’ with a total of 76.5. The Huskies were +400 on the money line (risk $100 to win $400).
Missouri RB Damarea Crockett is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. The sophomore had run for a team-best 481 yards and two TDs through six games. Crockett was averaging 6.0 YPC one year after rushing for 1,062 yards and 10 TDs with a 6.9 YPC average. He also has four catches for 35 yards and one TD this year.
Barry Odom’s club has covered the spread in three straight games thanks to the play of junior QB Drew Lock, who has a 13/2 TD-INT ratio in those three outings. He threw for 467 yards and six TDs in last week’s 68-21 win over Idaho as a 14.5-point home ‘chalk.’
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
-- Missouri is a road favorite this week for the first time in its two years under Odom.
-- Alabama is the -120 'chalk' to win the College Football Playoff at Sportsbook.ag. Georgia shares the fourth-shortest odds with Clemson (10/1), both of whom are behind Ohio State (+450) and Penn State (7/1). Auburn's odds are 80/1, while LSU (300/1) and Mississippi State (1,000/1) are also still on the futures board.
-- There are two SEC players remaining on the board to win the Heisman Trophy: Alabama QB Jalen Hurts has the fifth-shortest odds (30/1), while UGA's Chubb is a 75/1 longshot.
-- Updated SEC Games of the Year lines from The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas:
Alabama -24 vs LSU
Auburn -13.5 at Texas A&M
Auburn -3 vs. Georgia
LSU -13.5 at Tennessee
Mississippi State -17.5 vs. Ole Miss
Georgia -9.5 at Ga. Tech
Louisville -6.5 at Kentucky
Clemson -17.5 at South Carolina
Alabama -10.5 at Auburn
LSU -10 vs. Texas A&M
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.
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