SEC Notebook - Week 12
November 17, 2017
By Brian Edwards
Editor's Note #1: Brian Edwards owns a 49-32 record (60.5%, +14.1 units) in college football this season. Brian is ranked second in overall money and 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 13!
Editor's Note #2: Make sure to check out Brian's thoughts on the Florida coaching search down at the bottom in 'Bonus Nuggets.'
Let’s get our Week 13 trip across the SEC started in Fayetteville, where there was big news this week when long-time AD Jeff Long was dismissed. Long hired fifth-year coach Bret Bielema and has been his strongest supporter, so this move clearly paves the way for the Razorbacks to simultaneously turn the page from Long and Bielema.
There’s this matter of a $12 million buyout for the former Wisconsin head coach, but money usually isn’t an issue in the Ozarks. Remember, this dude named Jerry Jones is an alum and he’s known to have a few greenbacks at his disposal.
Whatever the case, Bielema’s imminent pink slip has to have put a cloud over a team already coping with the results of a disastrous season. And now here comes Mississippi St., a squad that’s only tasted defeat at Georgia, at Auburn and at home vs. Alabama.
As of Friday afternoon, most books had the Bulldogs installed as 13-point favorites with the total in the 58-59 range. MSU had been an 11.5-point ‘chalk’ most of the week before the line went up to 13 late Thursday and early Friday. The Hogs were available to win outright for a +370 return (risk $100 to win $370).
Arkansas (4-6 straight up, 2-7-1 against the spread) is 6-8 ATS as a home underdog during Bielema’s tenure. The Razorbacks are 3-2 SU & 0-4-1 ATS home this year. They had won back-to-back games until dropping a 33-10 decision at LSU as 18-point underdogs last week.
Arkansas was tied 7-7 with the Tigers at halftime, but things went South in a hurry in the second half. Austin Allen, who had missed four straight games with a shoulder injury, returned to action but didn’t appear to be anywhere near 100-percent healthy. The senior signal caller completed 13-of-23 throws for 140 yards but in the few instances when Allen attempted to throw the ball downfield, he was underthrowing receivers badly.
Allen is the only experienced option Saturday vs. MSU. Cole Kelley, who started the four games when Allen was out, was arrested Sunday morning on DUI charges and has been suspended indefinitely. Arkansas has had o-line issues the last two years and this group already lost All-American center Frank Ragnow to a season-ending injury several weeks ago. Making matters worse, starting guard Hjalte Froholdt is ‘questionable’ with an ankle injury.
Mississippi State (7-3 SU, 7-3 ATS) is clearly the country’s best three-loss team. Dan Mullen’s club is 2-2 both SU and ATS on the road this year, but it is 2-0 ATS as a road ‘chalk’ with easy wins at La. Tech (57-21) and at Texas A&M (35-14).
MSU led for a good chunk of game, trailed for only a brief seven-minute stretch in the 60-minute affair and gave Alabama all it wanted and then some in Starkville last Saturday night. However, Alabama RB Damien Harris scored on a 14-yard touchdown run with 9:49 remaining to knot the score at 24-24.
Then with 38 seconds left and Alabama facing a third-and-15 play from its own 43, Mississippi State DC Todd Grantham decided to bring the blitz. The stat sheet will give credit to QB Jalen Hurts for hitting Calvin Ridley on a quick slant that turned into a crucial 31-yard gain to the MSU 26.
But Hurts and Ridley would have had zero shot at hooking up on the play if not for Harris, who made a sick cut block on an MSU blitzer to give Hurts the time to find Ridley perfectly in stride. At that point, the Crimson Tide was in field-goal range, but it took the lead on a Hurts’ TD pass on the following play.
MSU was able to get into Hail-Mary range despite only having 25 seconds once it received the kick. QB Nick Fitzgerald threw to the end zone and the Bulldogs caught a monster break when the refs called pass interference on the Crimson Tide. Replays clearly showed it was the accurate call, but how many times do you see PI called on a Hail-Mary attempt? Ummm, never! Anyhow, the 15-yard penalty got MSU into ‘Bama territory and now the bomb into the end zone had a much better chance.
But Fitzgerald inexplicably didn’t even give his guys a chance to make a play, throwing the ball well out of he end zone for an incompletion to finish the game. Fitzgerald threw for 158 yards and didn’t commit a turnover, rushing for 66 yards and one TD as well. Aeris Williams ran for 97 yards and a pair of scores on 22 attempts.
For the season, Fitzgerald has a mediocre 13/10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. But the junior QB does his best work with his long legs, rushing for 867 yards and 13 TDs with a 6.3 yards-per-carry average. Williams has run for a team-best 873 yards and four TDs, averaging 4.7 YPC.
MSU junior starting WR Donald Gray has missed back-to-back games and is ‘questionable’ at Arkansas with a groin injury. Gray has 24 receptions for 214 yards and three TDs.
The ‘under’ is 6-4 overall for the Bulldogs, 2-2 in their road assignments. They’ve seen their games average combined scores of 52.2 points per game. Meanwhile, the ‘over’ is 6-4 overall for Arkansas, 6-2 in its last eight contests. The ‘over’ has hit in three straight home games for the Hogs to improve to 3-2 when they’re at home. They’ve seen their games average combined scores of 63.7 PPG.
Kickoff on CBS is scheduled for noon Eastern.
In another noon Eastern tilt, Auburn will face ULM on ESPN2. As of Friday afternoon, most spots had the Tigers listed as 36.5-point home favorites with a total of 68.
Auburn (8-2 SU, 5-3-2 ATS) is undefeated in five home games with a 2-1-2 spread record. Gus Malzahn’s team is off its best performance of the season, taking top-ranked Georgia behind the woodshed in a 40-17 clubbing as a 2.5-point home underdog. The Tigers enjoyed a massive 488-230 advantage over UGA in total offense.
AU saw Georgia march right down the field on its opening series to take a 7-0 lead, but it would respond with 30 unanswered points until UGA’s Rodrigo Blankenship buried a 47-yard field goal with 5:32 left in the third quarter to trim the deficit to 30-10. The Dawgs wouldn’t get any closer.
Jarrett Stidham completed 16-of-23 passes for 214 yards and three TDs without an interception. Kerryon Johnson rushed 32 times for 167 yards and also caught two passes for 66 yards and one TD. Ryan Davis hauled in four receptions for 55 yards and one TD. Stidham has thrown 12 TD passes compared to only one interception in the last seven games.
With Alabama on deck at Jordan-Hare Stadium in a game that’ll decide the SEC West and determine the division’s representative against UGA in Atlanta at the SEC Championship Game, AU falls into a vintage look-ahead scenario (or sandwich spot, whichever you prefer, since it will be playing the No. 1 team in the CFP rankings for a second time in three weeks) vs. ULM.
ULM (4-5 SU, 5-4 ATS) has played a soft schedule, especially when you consider that its Week 2 game at Florida State was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma. Nevertheless, we’ll point out that the Warhawks haven’t lost by more than 11 points all season. They faced one ranked team, losing 37-28 at Memphis in the season opener.
ULM has a true sophomore in Caleb Evans, who is a dual-threat QB that has enjoyed an outstanding campaign. Evans has completed 65.1 percent of his throws for 2,076 yards with a 12/3 TD-INT ratio. He has also rushed for 465 yards and 11 TDs.
ULM is ranked 18th in the nation in total offense and 19th in scoring with a 37.0 PPG average. On the flip side, the Warhawks are ranked No. 126 in the country in both total defense and pass defense. They are No. 120 in scoring ‘D,’ giving up 37.9 PPG. With those numbers in mind, ULM’s 7-2 overall record for the ‘over’ should come as zero surprise. The ‘over’ is 4-1 in its five road assignments.
Since the ‘under’ cashed in its first three games, Auburn has seen the ‘over’ hit in seven consecutive contests. The ‘over’ is 3-2 for the Tigers at home. They’ve seen their games average combined scores of 54.1 PPG.
Georgia (9-1 SU, 6-4 ATS) will be in bounce-back mode for the first time this season when it plays host to Kentucky at 3:30 p.m. Eastern on CBS. As of Friday afternoon, most books had UGA listed as a 21.5-point favorite with a total of 52. The Wildcats were +1050 on the money line at 5Dimes.eu (risk $100 to win $1,050).
Georgia is 5-0 SU and 2-3 ATS at home. Kirby Smart’s team has compiled a 4-3 spread record in seven games as a double-digit ‘chalk.’ The Bulldogs have won seven in a row over UK and they’ve covered the number in four consecutive meetings, including last year’s 27-24 win in Lexington as 2.5-point road favorites. The ‘under’ has cashed in back-to-back head-to-head encounters and is 4-2 in the last six UK-UGA confrontations.
The ‘under’ is 6-4 overall for UGA, 4-1 in its home games. The Bulldogs have seen their games average combined scores of 49.1 PPG.
Kentucky (7-3 SU, 3-7 ATS) owns a 6-2 spread record in its last eight games as a road underdog. Mark Stoops’s team is 3-1 SU and 2-2 ATS on the road this year. The Wildcats ended a 0-5 ATS slide in last week’s 44-21 win at Vanderbilt as 2.5-point underdogs.
Benny Snell stole the show in Nashville by rushing for 116 yards and three TDs on merely 17 carries. Stephen Johnson completed 13-of-17 passes for 195 yards, in addition to rushing for 44 yards on nine attempts. The UK secondary intercepted Vandy QB Kyle Shurmur four times, a remarkable feat when you consider that Shurmur had been intercepted only three times in the Commodores’ first nine games.
Snell, a true sophomore, has bagged a second straight 1,000-yard season. He has rushed for 1,013 yards and 15 TDs with a 4.3 YPC average. Johnson has completed 62.8 percent of his passes for 1,800 yards with a 10/4 TD-INT ratio. He has also run for 348 yards and three TDs, averaging 4.4 YPC.
The ‘over’ has hit in three straight UK games and four of its last five to improve to 5-5 overall. However, the ‘under’ is 3-1 for the ‘Cats in their four road assignments.
Florida (3-6 SU, 2-7 ATS) has lost five in a row and has failed to cover the spread in four straight games. The Gators will look to end those skids Saturday at The Swamp, where they take on UAB at 4:00 p.m. Eastern on the SEC Network. As of Friday, most books had UF listed as a 10.5-point home favorite with a total of 48. The Blazers were in the +325 neighborhood on the money line (risk $100 to win $325). We’ll also note that neither the side nor the total have budged an inch since Monday.
In its first season back on the field since the program went on a two-year hiatus due to financial reasons, UAB (7-3 SU, 8-2 ATS) has been one of the nation’s biggest surprises. Bill Clark’s team has won three in a row and five of its last six both SU and ATS. In fact, UAB is 7-1 ATS in its last eight outings.
As underdogs this year, the Blazers own a 6-0 spread record with five outright wins and their lone outright defeat was a 46-43 loss at North Texas, which leads Conference USA’s West Division with a 6-1 record in league play. UAB has won back-to-back road games as a heavy underdog, including a 30-12 win at Southern Miss as an 11.5-point ‘dog on Oct. 28.
Then last week at UTSA, the Blazers won a 24-19 decision while catching seven points. The game wasn’t even that close, with UAB leading by double digits from late in the first quarter until the Roadrunners trimmed the deficit to 21-13 with 13:16 remaining. The Blazers went back up by 11 points just minutes later with a field goal, and UTSA made the score look more respectable with a TD pass with 1:11 remaining.
UF lost another starter to a season-ending injury in last week’s 28-20 loss at South Carolina as a five-point underdog. Center T.J. McCoy broke his foot, becoming the second starting offensive lineman to be lost for the year in a two-week span.
Ole Miss (5-5 SU, 3-6-1 ATS) will play host to Texas A&M at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2. As of Friday afternoon, most betting shops had the Rebels favored by 1.5 points with a total of 68. They own a 4-2 SU record and a 2-4 ATS mark at home this season.
Since Ole Miss QB Shea Patterson went down with a season-ending injury in a 40-24 home loss to LSU on Oct. 21, juco transfer Jordan Ta’amu has been nothing short of sensational in three starts. He has gone 2-1 both SU and ATS, throwing for 368, 382 and 418 yards. The only loss both SU and ATS came when Arkansas rallied from a 24-point deficit in Oxford to win on a last-second field goal.
When Ole Miss was at Kentucky two weeks ago, Ta’amu hit D.K Metcalf for a game-winning TD pass with five seconds remaining. He had three TD passes without an interception in last week’s 50-22 home win over Louisiana, formerly known as UL-Lafayette. Finally, Ta’amu has proven to be a running threat as well, evidenced by his 149 rushing yards and four TDs with a 4.7 YPC average.
Ole Miss WR Vann Jefferson is ‘out’ vs. A&M due to an elbow injury. Jefferson has 42 receptions for 456 yards and one TD.
Like Arkansas, Texas A&M (6-4 SU, 6-3-1 ATS) is a team facing the certain dismissal of its sixth-year head coach Kevin Sumlin in the next two weeks (or days). The Aggies have played just a pair of true road games this year, going 1-1 SU and 2-0 ATS. They lost at UCLA 45-44 after blowing a 44-10 lead late in the third quarter, in addition to winning a 19-17 decision at Florida.
Sumlin’s team avoided a three-game losing streak by stroking New Mexico 55-14 as a 19-point home ‘chalk’ last week. Nick Starkel, the redshirt freshman QB who missed six games in a row after getting injured at UCLA, completed 21-of-30 passes for 416 yards and four TDs without an interception against the Lobos. Christian Kirk had four catches for 120 yards and one TD, and he also scored on a 90-yard punt return. Starkel has thrown six TD passes without an interception in the last two games.
The ‘over’ has hit in seven straight games for the Rebels to improve to 9-1 overall. They’ve watched their games average combined scores of 69.5 PPG.
Totals have been a wash for A&M both overall (5-5) and on the road (1-1). However, we’ll note that the ‘under’ cashed in four straight games for the Aggies until the ‘over’ appeared in their last two contests. They’ve seen their games average combined scores of 59.6 PPG.
Missouri is in the midst of a 6-0 ATS tear and takes a four-game winning streak to Vanderbilt. These SEC East rivals will collide at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on the SEC Network. The Tigers had been favored by 8.5 points for most of the week, but most spots had them at nine late Friday afternoon. The total was 66 and Vandy was +270 on the money line.
Barry Odom’s team has won its last four games by margins of 47, 40, 29 and 33. And with a hat tip to Christopher Smith of SECCountry.com who shared this remarkable factoid on my Games Galore podcast this week, Missouri has beaten the spread – closing number at the Westgate SuperBook is how he actually phrased it – by a mind-boggling 113.5 points during its six-game ATS roll. Smith also shared that during Vandy’s 1-6 SU slump (and 1-5-1 ATS slide), it has lost to the number by 97.5 points.
Missouri junior QB Drew Lock is absolutely on fire, posting a 25/4 TD-INT ratio in his team’s last six games. The Tigers smashed Tennessee by a 50-17 count as 12-point home ‘chalk’ last week, gashing the UT defense for 433 rushing yards with an 8.2 YPC average.
Vandy’s defense, which was stellar last season but lost star LB Zach Cunningham when he bolted for the NFL a year early, has issues to say the least. In six SEC games, the Commodores are allowing 46.2 PPG. The ‘over’ is 6-0 in those contests. The ‘over’ is also on a 5-2 run for Missouri.
Despite last week’s four-interception anomaly, Shurmur still maintains a solid 21/7 TD-INT ratio. Senior RB Ralph Webb, who became Vandy’s all-time leading rusher during his junior campaign, will play his last game at home Saturday. The Gainesville, Fla., native, who wasn’t recruited by the Gators, scored on a 31-yard run to open the scoring vs. UK last week. However, Webb was only given nine carries for the game, turning those into 70 rushing yards. He became the SEC’s 10th all-time leading rusher against the ‘Cats.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
-- Butch Jones finally took a pink slip Sunday after last week’s debacle at Missouri. He was offered the opportunity to coach UT’s last two games but declined. According to multiple reports, the Tennessee brass made a huge presentation and lucrative offer to former NFL coach Jon Gruden on Wednesday night in Tampa. As of late Friday afternoon, Gruden was still mulling the offer (or simply toying with UT yet again, whichever you prefer). Many people believe that MSU’s Dan Mullen will be the Vols’ next target when/if Gruden deals out Heisman treatment (as expected....again!).
-- LSU is listed as a 16-point road favorite at Tennessee for a 7:00 p.m. Eastern kick on ESPN. The total was 45 or 45.5 as of late Friday afternoon. From a betting standpoint, this is "LSU or pass."
-- Not that it matters much, but former Ball State, San Diego State and Michigan head coach Brady Hoke is UT's interim head coach.
-- Alabama and South Carolina’s lines fall into the “Extra Games” section this week. I’ve seen the Tide listed as a 44-point favorite vs. Mercer, while the Gamecocks were favored by 22 vs. The Citadel. Alabama is 5-15 ATS in its last 20 games when favored by 35 points or more.
-- As for the UF coaching search, my sources tell me that a deal with Chip Kelly could happen at some point this weekend. It’s unclear if an actual offer has been made yet, and the reports of “Ambassador/Former HBC” Steve Spurrier balking at new AD Scott Stricklin’s push to hire Kelly are absolutely accurate. Spurrier is bullish on UCF’s Scott Frost, who is certainly not a given to come to UF even if he gets an offer. The Gators can’t even speak face-to-face with Frost for another 10 days. Frost and his wife just had their first kid last week, and he is a Nebraska alum whose parents live in Lincoln. (The Nebraska job is a given to open up in the next 10 days.) Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy made a push to get the UF job in 2014, but then-AD Jeremy Foley was running the show and made a third terrible football coaching hire with Jim McElwain (shocker!).
My advice to Stricklin and the brass at UF is this: Pop a freakin’ chill pill! Relax for a minute. This is a crucial hire, one that shouldn't be made too quickly. I'm told the criteria for this hire is based soley on two things: First, this coach has to be a proven winner (no more hires of a Mountain West guy with three years of HC experience or a first-time head coach like Muschamp) and secondly and most important, this guy has to be ready, FIRED up and salivating to take on Nick Saban in every single way. Yes, Kelly would be a solid hire and I’m sure there’s a good chance that he wants a strong offer and will only take it if UF comes strong and does it quickly. In other words, I suspect Kelly is out of the equation if Florida wants to wait and interview others that it can't talk to quite yet. But is Kelly the right fit? Would his peculiar act play right with the Florida fan base? UF hasn’t been on probation in more than a quarter-century, but Kelly was given an 18-month show cause at Oregon.
And most, including a close friend of Kelly’s in Chris Landry (check Landry’s podcast out and follow him on Twitter – trust me on that one!), have clearly stated that Kelly would MUCH rather be in the NFL, but he’s realistic and knows that’s not going to happen anytime soon. However, if he thrived at UF (which would be one of those ‘good problems’ after seven of the last eight seasons have been disappointments), who says an NFL owner wouldn’t come calling in 2-3 years? My point is that there are question marks with Kelly. As for Gundy, I saw him at my favorite bar (Local Catch on Highway 30-A in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.) this past summer and recently found out he owns a beach house here, which is a 4.5-hour drive northwest of Gainesville. I’m told his wife loves it here and is sick of Stillwater. Also, Gundy loves the hunting in South Georgia and already wants to buy a hunting camp in that area that's less than two hours from Gainesville.
I've been saying it since mid-October -- Gundy is The Guy for the Gators! He is on his way to a sixth double-digit win total in the last eight years at Oklahoma St., where he gains first downs and scores TDs in abundance with mostly 3-star recruits. He would kill it at Florida and is a better fit with fewer questions than Kelly or Frost. And hey, if talking with Gundy and/or Frost when their regular seasons conclude leads Stricklin to stil prefer Kelly, then go back to him with an offer. And if he feels jilted and doesn't want the job at that point, well, then he wasn't the right guy anyway. Lastly, Knoxville sports radio titan Tony Basilio told me on my podcast this week that he's heard that Chris Petersen isn't happy at Washington. 'Coach Pete' apparently doesn't like competing with the Seahawks and doesn't feel UW offers a real college environement being in the big city. My goodness! I wanted Petersen as the UF coach nearly a decade ago. Make him the next target and absolutely blow him away with an offer and see what happens. Remember, very few college football programs own three national titles, but the Gators do. This is still one of the best jobs in all of football -- college or pro. There's no hurry and there's no getting this one wrong.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.
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