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Expectationswatch: goin’ over/under on the SEC

Over/under.

So Vegas has released a big set (though not a complete one) for their season total win bets. You can find the easiest set to read here courtesy of Tomahawk Nation, another here. Blutarsky conveniently compiles just the SEC numbers here.

And yeah, even if you’ve never gambled so much as your Chips Ahoy at the school lunch table on the outcome of a college football game, you should take a look, since the win totals provide a rough view of how well Vegas expects each team to perform. The short version on the SEC: Alabama and Florida are still the cream of the conference; Arkansas, Auburn, and Georgia are all battling on the second tier; and LSU heads up the third group, with South Carolina and Tennessee (!?!?) a bit behind Miles’ bunch.

This would be news to the Bayou Bengal faithful, no doubt, and maybe to Dawg fans and Hog fans that aren’t expecting to have to rub shoulders with Auburn this season. (Or perhaps those naturally pessimistic Dawg fans who might think 7-win seasons are in danger of becoming the norm.) But remember that Vegas is Vegas for a reason–these are folks whose livelihood depends on getting these things right.

But more important than the expectations-setting is the fun of guessing how you’d bet your Monopoly money in Rich Uncle Pennybags’ Monopoly Vegas. So I thought I’d take a second annual whirl at the available lines for the eight SEC teams listed. Last year’s effort produced five winners to just one loser (damn you, 2009 Ole Miss bandwagon) and two pushes. Not bad, huh? Too bad regression to the mean dictates this year’s picks will suck like the cold, black vacuum of outer space, but here they are, anyway, ranked from those I’m most confident in to least confident in:

1. Tennessee, under 7 wins. The disclaimer on the TomahawkNation board says that this number could drop if the fallout from the Bar Knoxville fight claims too many players, and you’d almost have to expect it to, since I can’t imagine any bettor, anywhere, will look at this schedule–with every SEC “toss-up” game on the road and near-sure losses against Florida, ‘Bama, and Oregon all at home–and think there’s eight wins there. The Vols might get to 7 and the push if they sweep the six games they’re likely to be favored in (UT-Martin, UAB, and the final four) and find an upset somewhere, but with a new quarterback behind a totally green line, a gutted defense, and the most tumultuous offseason in college football, I think it’s more likely they’re the ones getting upset.

2. Auburn, over 8.5 wins (+110). WOOOOOOOO WAR DAMN EAGLE HEY and all that. A more thorough breakdown of the schedule and final prediction for Auburn’s record will have to wait until the season preview in August, but for now, suffice it to say our boys are perfectly capable of winning their first three road games (Mississippi St., Kentucky, Ole Miss) and that I don’t see them going worse than 6-2 at home with three bodybag games already in the win column.

3. LSU, under 8 wins. To lose this bet, LSU would have to hit nine wins, and as with Tennessee and eight, when two of your home games are against Alabama and North Carolina in Atlanta, where are those wins going to come from? Even if the Purple Tigers manage to grab one of the roadies at Arkansas, Auburn, and Florida (questionable), they’d still either have to beat ‘Bama or sweep the opening UNC-Miss. St.-West Virginia gauntlet … neithero f which I see happening. The odds tilt overwhelmingly in favor of 7 wins over 9. (By the by, the book with the 7.5 number lists the under at +140, i.e. bet 100 to win 140. That’s a nice little bonus that would, hypothetically, make that bet just about as appetizing, if a lot riskier.)

4. Georgia, over 8.5 wins. Dawgs will be favorites in a minimum of seven games–the two nonconference cupcakes, the three teams in the bottom half of the SEC East, the roadies at Colorado and Mississippi St.–and even if they drop one of those, there could be three wins between their dates against Carolina (who they mostly own), Arkansas (at home), Florida, Auburn, and (overrated) Tech. As long as Murray stays upright and avoids the back-breaking picks, there’s too much talent and that experience on that offense not for it to rank amongst the SEC’s best, and Grantham has to be an upgrade on Martinez. Plus, the turnover thing. The Dawgs should find nine wins this year.

5. Alabama, over 10 wins (+120).
Blerrrggghhh. Do I really like the Tide to win 11 games, again? Not necessarily. But the schedule‘s too friendly to expect them to drop three. Unless Carolina or LSU take a much larger step forward than I expect them to, Arkansas’s the only truly dangerous road game, and I can’t see them losing more than once at home. Even if they split the Florida/Auburn home dates and slip up once on the road, where’s the third loss? Maybe if Dareus winds up suspended and the bottom totally falls out of the defense, but if 10 wins is what’s most likely, 11 is more likely than 9.

6. South Carolina, over 7 wins (even). It’s a tough call here, because wins over Carolina would be a big part of both Auburn and Georgia making their overs; can those two and the ‘Cocks all clear the hurdle? I think so, because there’s six really good chances on this schedule for Carolina to grab W’s: Southern Miss, Furman, and Troy in the nonconference, Kentucky, Vandy, and Tennessee in the SEC. (Normally you might not expect the ‘Cocks to sweep the back-to-back road games in Lexington and Nashville, but … I think they can this year.) From that point it’s six tough games, but they only need one win to push (a split between Arkansas and Georgia?) and just two for the win (a second somewhere on the road … Clemson?). As with Alabama, 7-5 seems the most likely outcome, but this should be a much-improved team over last year’s; 8-4 seems much more possible than a fall all the way to 6-6.

7. Florida, under 10 wins (even). If that game against Alabama was in Gainesville, I’d probably flip the predictions for both the Gators and Tide. But it’s not, so I’m going with the under for Florida. Even for the mighty Gators, there’s only a handful of sure things this year–the two paycheck games, Vandy/Kentucky. It’s not likely they lose to Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi St., or Carolina … but could I see a slip-up in there? Yep. Against one of the Gator offense took a step back without Mullen; I don’t expect them to get it back with so many question marks at receiver and running back, and now the D is poised to regress as well with the loss of Charlie Strong. It won’t surprise me in the least to see them get to 10 wins, but this doesn’t look like an 11-win squad to me at all. I don’t think.

8. Arkansas, under 8.5 wins (-130). Look, I’ve already got Georgia, Auburn, and Carolina going over; someone in the middle of the pack has to go under, right? I’ll take the Hogs, who have five rough games away from home: at Georgia, at Auburn, at Carolina, at Mississippi St., and the neutral game at Texas A&M. That already looks like three losses to me, meaning the Hogs would have to sweep their home slate to reach nine. They’re capable of that, certainly–LSU and the Tide are the only threats, the latter obviously the big one–and there’s a reason I’ve ranked this bet No. 8 on the list. But I don’t trust that defense, I don’t trust Mallett to make the easy throws in tight games, and I think when all is said and done there’s four losses here somewhere.

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