It’s that hard time of the year for college football fans, stuck between spring practice and the fall season.
In a little less than two months, stadiums will fill and voices will be hoarse once more. But until then, let’s cure some of the long summer’s wait by talking about some enticing season-long bets.
We’re talking about over/unders on team win totals.
For those who don’t know, many of the top sportsbooks allow you to bet on these, and it’s a very simple wager to make.
For example, if Georgia’s win total is set at 10 ½, the bettor decides whether the Bulldogs will win more or less than that figure. In the case of Alabama, whose over/under is set at 11, there’s a chance of the bettor gaining back his wagered money and nothing else if the Tide end up with exactly 11 wins.
We all know injuries can ruin a seasonal bet. Look no further than Florida State last year for proof of that. There’s also the factor of having money tied up all regular season. After all, teams must play the full 12 games before a payout.
But these seasonal bets are some of the most confident ones to make. They can often be made on better grounds than single game bets, where a couple fluke plays could make the difference between bottle-popping and remote-throwing.
This isn’t like betting on a Heisman winner or national champion either. These are wagers that can be made far more accurately with data and roster analysis, and that’s what we’re here to bring you today.
We’re going to take a quick trip around the country, hitting every major conference to find schools who will play above and below expectation. We’ll start by taking plenty of time to discuss the defending national champions.
SEC: Alabama Crimson Tide, Over 10.5 -160 BetOnline, Over 11 -125 Bovada
Every conceivable factor is working in Alabama’s favor for 2018.
While -160 is a steep price to wager for over 10.5 wins (you’d bet $160 to win an extra $100), it’s as close to a mortal lock as you’ll find for a win total wager.
First, consider that the Crimson Tide haven’t gone Under since 2013. And that’s because they would’ve had to have been perfect to go Over that year. It took a 109-yard return off a missed field goal on the final play of the final game of the regular season on the road against a fellow 11-game winner and arch rival (Auburn) just to keep them from a perfect regular season.
If it takes all those factors to keep Alabama Under, then it’s easy to see why people are lining up in droves to bet the Over.
And the team they have this year is superior to that 2013 squad in almost every way. On top of that, there seems to be a crop of solid-but-not-great teams with them in the SEC West. So, providing there’s not a hand-of-god type play like the one in 2013, it’s hard to see them losing a game. And if they do lose one, the Over on BetOnline would still be a winner.
Only once in the last decade have the Tide lost two regular season games. They’ve only lost two of those in the past three seasons combined. Vegas continues to wait for Alabama to regress. But they’re likely as powerful and balanced as they’ve ever been, especially on offense.
After answering the call and hype in the national championship, Tua Tagovailova looks to be the most electrifying QB Alabama has had in the Saban era. The coach won titles with the likes of Greg McElroy, A.J. McCarron (twice), and Jake Coker at quarterback. So, imagine what he can do with a Heisman front-runner at the position.
Those other QB’s were all serviceable. McCarron was even brilliant at times. But none of them had half the talent Tagovailova brings. He picked apart a loaded, veteran, top-5 defense like it was a middling group of five team. His reads were tremendous, his arm strength dynamic, and he’s not a slacker in the ground game either.
He brings a threat to the air that Saban hasn’t had and could create one of the most explosive offenses the SEC has ever seen.
They’re loaded at running back too, even after bruiser Bo Scarbrough went to Dallas in the draft. Najee Harris, who made defenses look foolish as a true freshman last year, will be the big-bodied (6’2”-230 lbs) back to change the pace on the ground. He’ll be doing so for Damien Harris, who has become the model of consistency. He has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. More impressively, he had 7.1 and 7.4 yards per-carry in each of those years. With a bigger workload, he’d be putting up video games stats.
And don’t forget they still have former starting QB Jalen Hurts for certain packages. He’s a shifty runner in his own right and gives yet another asset opponents must game plan for.
The only major knock on this offense is that it will be without first round pick Calvin Ridley. No other receiver had over 264 yards last year. But they had three freshman wideouts who showed flashes of No. 1 talent.
At least one out of a group of Henry Ruggs III, Jerry Jeudy, and Devonta Smith should burst onto the scene. Bama has a great track-record developing stud wideouts (Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, Ridley anyone?), so don’t expect anything different, even if it takes a half-season to find the next first-round pass-catcher.
The offensive line may’ve “only” been fifth in the conference in sacks allowed, but they’re returning nearly everyone from that unit. Center Bradley Bozeman is the only important casualty. They have so much depth up front that it truly is an embarrassment of riches. SEC success starts in the trenches, and another year of experience for this line will do wonders.
And speaking of the trenches, they will be key on the other side of the ball as well.
Rarely is the Bama D-line anything close to questionable. But when you lose a pair of guys to the draft, have another graduate, and have a player transfer, it’s hard not to experience effects from attrition. Luckily, the Tide restock faster than your neighborhood Walmart, with the value of Whole Foods.
Speaking of not missing the produce, Raekwon Davis (6’7”-306lbs) should anchor this group after 8.5 sacks last year. Isaiah Buggs had plenty of playing time last year as well, starting 13 games, and Johnny Dwight knows the schemes front and back coming into his fifth season. This unit may take a step back, but they’re not getting pushed around by anyone short of elite.
The fellas behind them will be even tougher to break through.
People forget all the injuries Alabama had in the linebacking corp. last year. They went through this unit like the plague.
Still, it never seemed like much of a hole at all. If Mack Davis is healthy, he’s an All-SEC LB, no question. Dylan Moses may well be on his way to becoming one as well. They have veteran leadership and a young spark in this group that may make it their best aside from running back.
The defensive backs will need time to build their confidence, especially with Trevon Diggs still trying to fit in at corner. But with the likes of Lamar Jackson-less Louisville, Arkansas State, and Shea Patterson-less Ole Miss as opponents early in the year, they’ll have an easy transition.
So, who can stop a program this well-rounded? Well, perhaps Georgia in an SEC title bout, or Clemson in yet another playoff matchup. But that doesn’t matter in this wager. All that matters is the regular season, and there’s slim pickings in terms of top-notch competition.
With Jackson moving on to the NFL, Louisville doesn’t stand a chance playing in Tuscaloosa. Arkansas State, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Louisiana-Lafayette, and the Citadel are all savory cupcakes. The last time Tennessee beat Bama, we were talking about things like MySpace and “Borat”. Don’t expect them to contend even with a former Alabama coordinator (Jeremy Pruitt) at the helm. Saban is 12-0 against former assistants.
Jimbo Fisher may be a big splash for Texas A&M. But opening SEC play against the Tide with an inexperienced quarterback is a death wish. Missouri, on the other hand, has an experienced and stat-padding quarterback in Drew Lock. But they’re no better than fourth in an SEC East that is mediocre behind Georgia. Their secondary is too much of a concern and replacing their number-one playmaker in J’Mon Moore won’t be easy.
This leaves old adversaries LSU and Auburn, along with rising contender Mississippi State.
LSU will get a bye—as will Bama—before the two teams play. But after playing Florida, Georgia, and Miss State in a row, LSU may still be worn out by the time they get to the Tide. They don’t have enough perimeter playmakers to keep up with the scoring of an upgraded Alabama offense.
You have to go back to 2011 for the last time LSU had over 17 points against the Tide. They only have one win against them since.
Miss State is as loaded at the skill positions as they’ve ever been. Nick Fitzgerald is a top-4 SEC quarterback too. But even with what seems to be a seamless transition from Dan Mullen to Joe Moorhead at head coach, Bob Shoop’s direction of the defense can’t necessarily be trusted. Just look at his recent work at Tennessee.
His defense was dead-last in the league in 2016, and 81st in FBS the year after. Just like at Miss State, he had talent to work with. He even had a stud defensive lineman (Derek Barnett) like the one he has now (Jeffery Simmons). Still, his defenses were shredded, including the combined 94 points the Tide put on them the past two years.
Even if Fitzgerald is on fire, expect the play-calling on the other side of the ball to squander it.
So that leaves us with Auburn. Again.
Rivalry games have a way of bringing out the wildest of scenarios. But Auburn simply shut down Alabama last year, forcing them to be one-dimensional and overpowering them at the line.
This year, Auburn still has a Heisman dark horse at running back (Kam Martin), a top-10 FBS QB (Jarrett Stidham), and a defensive line to make most teams shiver. But if Tagovailova is as advertised, Auburn will have another dimension to deal.
A lot of the Hawaiian will be on tape by the time he plays the Tigers, but Auburn will not be able to put as many bodies up close to the line. If Alabama’s o-line can withstand Auburn’s heavies up front, Bama will go 12-0.
And if there’s another 109-yard return, or even another ground pounding delivered by the Tigers, 11 wins will still get the Over on BetOnline.
Florida Gators, Over 7.5 -165 BetOnline, Over 7.5 -165 5Dimes
With Vegas giving the Gators a 3.5-win bump and bettors putting money into the Over, you would think people are asking too much of Florida. Then you see Athlon place them 17th in their preseason top 25 and wonder if they were misprinting something from the year before.
After all, this is a team that won four games all last season. That’s right, four. They were a catastrophe to watch. The defensive levee they held for years finally broke late in the year and the offense continued to move down the field at the pace of eleven corpses.
Coach Jim McElwain was fired for not reporting supposed death threats he and his coaching staff received. But it’s clear what the real reason was: the inept offense and lack of quarterback development.
The team also had their leading rusher (Jordan Scarlett) and receiver (Antonio Callaway) suspended all year, so that certainly didn’t help.
But beyond the excuses, firings, suspensions, and injuries (yes, there were lots of those too), the Gators have a lot to look forward to this season. Most of that has to do with Mullen, the former offensive coordinator for two Gator national championships.
He doesn’t have a Tim Tebow or Percy Harvin, but the cupboard is far from bare talent-wise inside The Swamp. But quarterback—as it has been ever since Tebow left—is the biggest issue.
Feleipe Franks will likely be starting again this season, to the collective groan of the fan base. He had almost as many interceptions (eight) as touchdowns last year (nine). He was easily flustered in and out of the pocket. His reads were consistently abysmal.
But Mullen has been considered a quarterback whisperer of sorts. He developed Alex Smith (Washington Redskins starter), Tim Tebow (Heisman winner), Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys starter), and Nick Fitzgerald (future NFL draft pick), so he must be doing something right. Still, Franks doesn’t fit into the duel-threat mold he covets, and highly-ranked recruit Emory Jones isn’t quite seasoned enough.
So how can the Gators get to eight wins? By using the creativity of Mullen’s offense and mixing it with a defense that could easily return to top-10 form.
But it won’t be easy. Go even deeper, and Florida’s advanced statistics were even more cause for regurgitation. 105th in average field position, 113th in offensive efficiency, and 100th in explosive plays says a lot. But that doesn’t mean the Gators don’t have explosive playmakers. They just had no plan to make it all click.
Mullen will have some fun pieces to work with this year. Tyrie Cleveland is a true No. 1 wideout who’s improved his route running and has speed to kill a defense deep, as Tennessee found out last year. Transfer Van Jefferson (Ole Miss) has plenty of SEC experience to bring to fold too.
Florida also boasts easily the most underappreciated running backs corp. in the SEC. Scarlett missed all of last year due to a suspension after expecting to rush over 1,000 yards. In his place stepped Malik Davis, who’s field vision as a freshman was well beyond his years.
The guy produced 6.7 YPC with an average offensive line and little-to-no passing attack to balance with the ground game. If he can recover from ACL injury he suffered late in the year, this is a two-headed monster that can carry and close games for the Gators.
But out of all the pieces to be excited about this season, Kadarius Toney is the guy. He had an average of nearly 9.5 yards a touch. Dan Mullen had Harvin in his first stint with the Gators and utilized him perfectly all over the field. Toney has much of the same makeup and skill-set that Harvin had, even if he’s a bit more under the radar by comparison. Look for him to have a major breakout year.
The line anchoring this transition into the Mullen era is experienced, if not anything to rag on about. Tackle Martez Ivey will be playing Sundays after this year, but the pass protection will have to take a step forward to keep Franks from crumbling.
But at least this is the only side of the ball they should have to worry about.
For the first time in over a decade, the Gators defense did finish outside the top-15, falling to 31st. Switching from a 4-3 defensive scheme to a 3-4 will be a tricky fix as it always is, but many of their players suit this style better. That includes their leader on defense, end Cece Jefferson.
The Gators also have two young cornerbacks in C.J. Henderson and Marco Wilson, who have shutdown potential. Considering Florida’s recent defensive back pedigree (they’ve been coined “DBU” and have seven draft picks in three years), there’s no doubt these two will be properly developed.
Throw in a potential All-SEC member like Chauncey Gardner at slot/safety, and there should be an improvement from a group disappointed to finish 28th out 130 teams in passing yards allowed.
Their only major concern on defense comes from the depth at linebacker. David Reese is a rock in the middle, but he’ll need help. There’s more high-level skill at the position, but it’s whether inexperienced or erratic. Vosean Joseph, for example, has tremendous athleticism and can put a hurting on a ball-carrier. But he frequently missed assignments throughout the year and needs tackling discipline.
So, what does this all equate to, and who do they match up well with on their schedule?
Well, you can kiss the rivalry game with Georgia goodbye. They’ve got five-star talent across the board and not even the Gators can handle all the weapons they have in the backfield. And that’s after the Dawgs lost Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to the draft.
FSU is probably a reach too, which no doubt stings considering the Seminoles have beaten Florida five years in a row. Their Gulf Coast offense should implement their run game perfectly, and there’s plenty of returners on their line to keep Jefferson at bay.
As for easy wins, Charleston Southern, Idaho, and Colorado State should supply appetizers before big games. Vanderbilt won’t be as easy as a drink of water, but they’re the weakest link in the SEC East. Kentucky got as close to Florida last season (28-27) as they probably will for a long time. Florida has won 31 (no need to adjust your monitor) consecutive games against the Wildcats, so we’ll side with that tidbit of history.
Tennessee isn’t nearly as equipped as Florida after their coaching change. There’s a lot of kinks to work out in their passing game, and Florida catching them early in the season will pay dividends. An in-the-works pro-style offense will be a field day for the hungry Gator DB’s.
That leaves us with Florida needing a split between South Carolina, Missouri, LSU, and Mississippi State. The first three they lost against last year, so at least one of those has be answered for.
LSU landing QB Joe Burrow from Ohio State is a big get. But that program is still going backward under Ed Orgeron. They lost their two main playmakers on offense, RB Derrius Guice and WR D.J. Chark. It’d be a miracle if anyone filled their shoes.
After two straight offensive slop-fests for these two teams, Florida will be the team to pull out of the slog. After LSU found a tiny spark with all the shifting they implemented last year, Mullen will have more weaknesses to choose from than usual with this defense. And this is after he put together a perfect game plan last year against them, leading Miss State to a 37-7 win.
Speaking of Miss State, their matchup with the Bulldogs will serve as a big measuring stick for the program. Dan Mullen has both won and lost as a coordinator against this team, but he built a winner at Miss State that will reap the benefits of his work this year. It’ll be close, but they have the disrupters on the D-line that will create a lot of stumbling for Franks. Chalk up a loss here for Florida.
Missouri is a true toss-up. The Tigers will score points, but creating pressure on Lock will go a long way to minimizing the mayhem their offense can release. Florida was cannon fodder for them last year. This year, so much will change by the time they play, that it’s nearly impossible to predict. But it’s much better that they’re playing them late, allowing them ample time to settle into Mullen’s schemes.
Lastly is the South Carolina game. Though Jake Bentley is promising with his wingman WR Deebo Samuel back from injury, their running backs aren’t up to snuff. If the Gators are allowed to key primarily on Samuel and fellow WR Bryan Edwards, they’ll have plenty of chances to flip the script in the turnover game.
The Gamecocks still have a couple reliable defenders, but none of the three phases are that intimidating. If some combination of Cleveland, Davis, Jefferson, Scarlett, or Toney is clicking at the time, that should be enough weapons to silence the Gamecocks.
Florida has a 10-win ceiling but should fall comfortably at eight or nine W’s. 7.5 is a luxury and insurance in case the Missouri games goes haywire again. But with easier contests early in the season, the Gators will adjust to the offense by the time they get to big-baddies on their schedule.