SEC Notebook – Week 1Editor’s Note: Brian Edwards is off to a 2-0 start going into his Friday Night Lights selection on the San Diego St. at Stanford total. He hit the Hawaii at Colorado St. ‘over’ before the end of the third quarter last week, and then cashed with Tulane as a home underdog Thursday night. Don’t miss any of his Saturday selections!
**Ole Miss vs. Texas Tech**
-- These teams will collide in Houston for this tone-setting season opener Saturday at noon Eastern on ESPN. As of Friday afternoon, most betting shops had Texas Tech installed as a 2.5-point favorite with a total of 67. The Rebels were +115 on the money line (risk $100 to win $115).
-- Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury is on the hot seat going into his sixth season at his alma mater, where he remains second in school history with 12,429 career passing yards. Kingsbury has generated plenty of offense, but the other side of the ball has been a nightmare. He has compiled a 30-33 overall record while limping to a 16-29 mark against Big 12 competition. Kingsbury has taken the Red Raiders to three bowl games, going 1-2 in those contests. He probably needs to go at least 7-5 during the regular season to be retained.
-- Texas Tech won a 27-23 decision at Texas as an eight-point underdog in last year’s regular-season finale. The victory clinched a postseason bid and probably prevented Kingsbury from taking a pink slip. The Red Raiders allowed a fourth-quarter lead to get away, however, in a 38-34 loss to South Florida in the Birmingham Bowl.
-- Texas Tech brings back six starters on offense and 10 on defense. The Red Raiders finished 2017 with a 6-7 straight-up record and a 6-6-1 against-the-spread ledger. They return their top eight tacklers (and 12 of their top 13) from a defense that gave up 32.2 points per game. That’s not great, but it was an immense improvement from the 41.3, 43.6 and 43.5 PPG given up from 2014-16. However, a pair of key secondary members are injured. Senior cornerback Octavius Morgan is ‘out’ with a knee injury, while senior safety Jah’Shawn Johnson is ‘questionable’ with a shoulder issue. Morgan recorded 41 tackles, eight passes broken up and one tackle for loss last season, while Johnson produced 97 tackles, five PBU and four TFL’s.
-- Ole Miss is going to have an outstanding offense, but it might field the SEC’s worst defense in 2018. Matt Luke had the interim label removed after guiding the Rebels to an Egg Bowl win at Mississippi St. as 15-point road underdogs. The win over the Bulldogs, Ole Miss’s third in its final four games, allowed it to finish 6-6 SU and 5-7 ATS.
-- Ole Miss returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense. The Rebels lost 28 lettermen, however. The offensive talent is still top notch despite the defections of several players, including former five-star recruits Shea Patterson (Michigan) and Van Jefferson (Florida). On Mel Kiper Jr.’s first Big Board for the 2019 NFL Draft that he released early this summer, junior WR A.J. Brown and junior OT Greg Little were listed at No. 4 and No. 6 in the first round, respectively.
-- When Patterson went down with a season-ending knee injury vs. LSU last October, juco transfer QB Jordan Ta’amu took control of the offense. And he delivered. Ta’amu completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 1,682 yards with an 11/4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He found D.K. Metcalf for a TD pass with four second left to lift the Rebels to a 37-34 comeback win at Kentucky.
-- Brown was a second-team All-American selection last season when he caught 75 balls for 1,252 yards and 11 TDs. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge combined for 80 catches and 14 TD grabs. All three WRs have bright futures in the NFL.
-- In neutral-site season openers, Ole Miss won and covered vs. Boise St. in Atlanta in 2014, but it allowed a 22-point first-half lead to get away in a loss to FSU in Orlando back in 2016.
-- For more of my thoughts on the 2018 Rebels, check out this link here.
-- Kickoff is scheduled for noon Eastern on ESPN.
**Central Michigan at Kentucky**
-- As of Friday afternoon, most books had Kentucky listed as a 17-point home favorite with a total of 49. The Chippewas were +600 on the money line (risk $100 to win $600).
-- Kentucky is going into its sixth season on Mark Stoops’s watch. He joins Vandy’s Derek Mason and LSU’s Ed Orgeron as the SEC coaches who are on the hot seat in 2018. Stoops has gone winless in back-to-back bowl-game appearances, including last year’s 24-23 loss to Northwestern when he decided to go for two (and failed) after scoring a potential game-tying TD with less than a minute left. He has a 26-36 overall record at UK, going 12-28 in SEC play.
-- Kentucky finished ’17 with a 7-6 SU record and a 4-9 ATS mark. Three of the six defeats came by six combined points. There was zero excuse for not snapping the longest active losing streak in an FBS rivalry vs. Florida last year. The Gators scored twice on TD passes when UK literally didn’t have a defender lined up on the WR split out wide. The first was on a 4th-and-three play at midfield late in the second quarter. The second was UF’s game-winning TD pass in the final minute came on third and goal coming out of a bleeping timeout!
-- Terry Wilson was named the starting QB for the Wildcats earlier this week. Wilson, who had a 26/11 TD-INT ratio playing juco ball last season, started his career at Oregon in ’16 before transferring.
-- For more of my thoughts on UK, star RB Benny Snell and defense, check out this preview I wrote several weeks ago.
-- Central Michigan won five consecutive games to close the regular season and clinch a bowl bid last year. The Chippewas finished 8-5 SU and 7-6 ATS after losing 37-14 to Wyoming at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. They bring back four starters on offense and six on defense.
-- CMU owns an 11-4 spread record in its past 15 games as a road underdog. During John Bonamego’s tenure that’s beginning its fourth season, the Chippewas are 12-6 ATS in 18 road assignments.
-- CMU is winless in eight games against SEC foes.
-- ESPNU will have the telecast at 3:30 p.m. Eastern.
**Washington vs. Auburn**
-- As of Friday afternoon, most spots had Auburn installed as a 2.5-point favorite for this crucial showdown at the Mercedez-Benz Dome in Atlanta. The total was in the 48-49 range, while some shops had the Huskies at +110 or +115 to win outright.
-- This venue wasn’t kind to Gus Malzahn’s troops last season. After winning the SEC West thanks to home wins over second-ranked Georgia and top-ranked Alabama during a three-week stretch, AU lost the rematch with UGA in the ATL at the SEC Championship Game by a 28-7 count. Then in the Peach Bowl, UCF closed out an undefeated campaign by besting the Tigers, 34-27, as a 10-point underdog.
-- Auburn finished the year with a 10-4 SU record and a 5-7-2 ATS mark. There was no shame in the two other losses at (eventual CFP semifinalist) Clemson and at LSU in one-possession games. Actually, truth be told, there was certainly some discontent among the AU faithful when Malzahn’s squad allowed a double-digit second-half lead to get away in Baton Rouge. Nevertheless, he was awarded with a lucrative contract extension after his fifth season on the job.
-- Auburn returns six starters on offense and seven on defense. The top-five WRs are back, but Will Hastings and Eli Stove are both injured and ‘out’ vs. UW (and for at least several more games). Ryan Davis is QB Jarrett Stidham’s favorite target. Davis enjoyed a breakout ’17 campaign, hauling in 84 receptions for 815 yards and five TDs. Stidham completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 3,158 yards with an 18/6 TD-INT ratio.
-- Auburn has to replace workhorse RB Kerryon Johnson, who ran for 1,391 yards and 18 TDs with a 4.9 yards-per-carry average. Kam Martin will get more touches and be counted on to produce. The junior RB had 453 rushing yards and two TDs with a 6.1 YPC average last season.
-- Auburn has lost five of eight games played on a neutral field during Malzahn’s tenure. The Tigers are 3-2 in school history in five games against Pac-12 foes
-- Washington brings back eight starters on offense and nine on defense from a team that went 10-3 SU and 7-6 ATS. Chris Petersen, who has been in the top five of my Coaching Rankings for more than a decade, has got the Huskies rolling now. The former long-time HC at Boise St. took UW to the CFP in ’16 before losing 24-7 to eventual runner-up Alabama.
-- All three of Washington’s L’s last year came in one-possession games (at Arizona St., at Stanford and vs. Penn St. in the Fiesta Bowl. Senior QB Jake Browning is second in school history in career passing yards (9,104) and is poised to break Cody Pickett’s school record later this month. RB Myles Gaskin is second in career rushing yards at UW with 4,055. He needs just 52 rushing yards vs. Auburn to eclipse Napoleon Kaufman’s record that was established from 1991-94.
-- Browning connected on 68.5 percent of his passes for 2,719 yards with a 19/5 TD-INT ratio last year. He lost top target Dante Pettis to the NFL and TE Hunter Bryant went down with a season-ending injury last month. Look for junior WR Aaron Fuller to emerge as Browning’s go-to guy this season. Fuller had 26 catches for 291 yards and one TD in ’17.
-- Gaskin ran for 1,380 yards and 21 TDs while averaging 6.2 YPC in ’17. He also had 19 receptions for 232 yards and three TDs.
-- Washington senior OT Trey Adams is listed as ‘questionable’ with a knee injury. Adams was a second-team All-American two seasons ago, but he injured his knee in a late-October loss at ASU last year.
-- The last time Petersen brought a team across country to Atlanta for a season opener was when he was at BSU in 2011. Kellen Moore and the Broncos came to the Ga. Dome and smashed Georgia 35-21 in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated.
-- ABC will provide the broadcast at 3:30 p.m. Eastern.
**West Virginia vs. Tennessee**
-- As of Friday afternoon, most shops had WVU installed as a 9.5-point ‘chalk.’ The Volunteers were +300 on the money line, while the total was 61.5 points.
-- Tennessee fired Butch Jones after last year’s 4-8 nightmare that brought an end to his five-year tenure. The Vols, who finished ’17 with an abysmal 2-10 spread record, lost all eight of their SEC games. They scored a just a 19.8 PPG clip while surrendering 29.1 PPG. UT finished the season minus 1,462 in total offense vs. its opponents.
-- Jeremy Pruitt, who has been one of the nation’s top DC’s for many years during stops at Alabama, FSU, Georgia (and a second run at ‘Bama), landed his first HC-gig in Knoxville after a debacle of a coaching search that resulted in the dismissal of AD John Currie and the return of legendary coach Phil Fulmer to take his place. Currie had struck out on a slew of candidates after a fan revolt basically vetoed his desired hiring of former Rutgers HC Greg Schiano. Then when Currie appeared poised to hire Washington St.’s Mike Leach, he was ordered back to Knoxville from his meeting with Leach in California and handed a pink slip. Fulmer took over and decided to go with Pruitt several days later.
-- UT brings back six starters on both offense and defense (12 total). The offense lost stud RB John Kelly, who ran for 778 yards and nine TDs as a senior. Pruitt has refused to announce a starting QB, leaving fans and pundits to wonder whether it will be sophomore Jarrett Guarantano or Stanford grad transfer Keller Chryst. The fifth-year senior took over the starting job for the Cardinal midway through ’16 and led it to a 6-0 record. Chryst went down with a torn ACL in a bowl-win over North Carolina, though. He made it back for Week 1 last season but wasn’t as effecting and eventually lost his job to K.J. Costello.
-- West Virginia went 7-6 SU and 6-7 ATS in ’17. The Mountaineers bring back seven starters on offense and five on defense. Most important, QB Will Grier returns for his senior season. Grier had WVU with a 7-3 record going into a home game vs. Texas, but he dislocated a finger on his throwing hand early in the first quarter and missed the regular-season finale and the Heart of Dallas Bowl (a 30-14 loss to Utah). Grier completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 3,490 yards with a 34/12 TD-INT ratio upon his return to the field after being out since midway through the ’15 season.
-- Grier might have the country’s best 1-2 combination of WRs in Gary Jennings and David Sills. Jennings had 97 receptions for 1,096 yards and one TD last year, while Sills had 60 catches for 980 yards and 18 TDs. Sills garnered second-team All-American honors and Jennings was a second-team All-Big-12 selection.
-- Leading rusher Justin Crawford (1,061 yards LY) is gone, but Kennedy McCoy is ready to take on a bigger load. McCoy rushed for 596 yards and seven TDs with a 4.8 YPC average in ’17. Dana Holgorsen and his staff are high on redshirt freshman RB Alec Sinkfield.
-- In his first seven years on the job at WVU, ‘Holgo’ is 4-6 in neutral-field games. He is 53-37 overall with only one losing season (4-8 in ’13).
-- Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Eastern on CBS.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
-- South Carolina will host Coastal Carolina at noon Eastern on the SEC Network. As of late Friday afternoon, the Gamecocks were favored by 29.5 points with a total of 57. Just like last year when I had South Carolina ‘over’ 5.5 wins (and it cashed before the calendar hit November) for its season win total, I recommended USC to go ‘over’ 7 wins earlier this summer. I’m already on it heavy at even money but unfortunately, the juice has gone so far North (at least -150 at many Vegas shops, as high as -190 at some globals) for me to continue to endorse this play at the expensive price. Some global shops have even moved the number to 7.5 and still have juice on the ‘over’ (around -130 at most).
-- Kentucky starting OT Landon Young was lost to a season-ending injury last week.
-- Vanderbilt will play host to Middle Tennessee at 7:30 p.m. Easter on the SEC Network. As of late Friday afternoon, most books had the Commodores as three-point home favorites with a total of 56.5. They thumped the Blue Raiders 28-6 as three-point road ‘chalk’ in last year’s season opener. Check out more on Vandy from my preview earlier this summer.
-- The lines for FBS games against FCS foes were not yet available when this column was filed late Friday afternoon. Florida is taking on Charleston Southern, Mississippi St. is hosting Stephen F. Austin, Arkansas is squaring off with Eastern Illinois in Chad Morris’s debut, Georgia will welcome Austin Peay between the hedges and finally, Missouri hosts UT-Martin.
-- My full preview of Alabama vs. Louisville is here.
-- New head coach Joe Moorhead has suspended star QB Nick Fitzgerald for one game due to a violation of team rules dating back to March. Keytaon Thompson will make his second career start vs. SF Austin. Thompson led the Bulldogs to a 31-27 Taxslayer Bowl victory over Louisville as 6.5-point underdogs. He rushed for 446 yards and six TDs with a 5.9 YPC average last year. For more on MSU, check out my preview here
-- Texas A&M coasted to a 59-7 win over Northwestern St. on Thursday night in College Station. The Aggies took the cash as 46.5-point home 'chalk.' Trayveon Williams was the catalyst in Jimbo Fisher's debut, rushing for 240 yards and three TDs on 20 carries.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.
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