Brian: Next up on our preview of the BCS conferences is the $2.25 billion dollar industry known as the S-E-C.
Our previous BCS conference previews: Pac 10, Big XII, Big Ten, Big East
For reference, here is a composite prediction of how the experts think God's Conference will play out this season:
4. South Carolina
2. Louisiana State
6. Mississippi State
First up, Over/Under - 7 regular season wins for South Carolina
Brian: I simply don’t see things getting any better for Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks this season. Last season’s 7 regular season wins seems to be a bit of a ceiling for South Carolina. The non-conference schedule doesn’t do South Carolina any favors with two ACC programs book-ending the season along with Florida Atlantic and South Carolina State. I wouldn’t expect a repeat of South Carolina’s 34-0 beatdown of NC State to start the season, especially with this year’s tilt at Carter-Finley Stadium and even with Clemson at home, I see the Tigers continuing their recent dominance over their intra-state rivals. Assuming that South Carolina goes 2-2 out of conference, I would need them then to go 5-3 in conference just to push and 6-2 for the over. Last season’s four SEC wins came at Ole Miss and Kentucky and at home vs. Tennessee and Arkansas. This season they have to travel to Knoxville and Fayetteville, and both Tennessee and Arkansas should be vastly improved from a season ago. Ole Miss will be better. I don’t see USC going any better than 2-2 in those games. Tack on losses at Alabama, at Georgia, Florida. I’m fairly confident in the under (-200) here. Maybe, maybe South Carolina gets to 6 wins and goes bowling, but that’s about it this season. Yes, Spurrier will get more consistent quarterback play from sophomore Stephen Garcia, but there are still lots of question marks on the offensive line – an O-line that gave up the second most sacks in the SEC last season. Take the under here for easy money.
Jeff: This is my local team you are talking about, Brian, and you hit the nail on the head. The Gamecocks will NOT win more than 7 games. Take the under (-200) here and the worst you'll do is get your money back at the end of the season. I have talked to people who have attended some of their practices and they say USC look worse than last year. Not only does Smelley continue to get into off the field issues but they also play in an extremely tough division. If they lose to NC State to start the season, it will be tough for the Gamecocks to go bowling again.
Over/Under - 7 regular season wins for Tennessee
Jeff: I like Tennessee to bounce back this year, make some noise in the SEC and get some wins against ranked opponents this year. But as far as their prospect of getting to 8 wins, I don't like it. Tennessee doesn't play any major powers out of conference but UCLA could knock them off and depending on how things go, Memphis could prove to be a tough game. In SEC play they unfortunately have to travel to Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss. That's 3 preseason Top 10 teams on the road. What a brutal schedule. Since I have to make a pick here I'll take the under (-165) but if we were playing with real money I'd stay away from this bet entirely.
Brian: This is a tough call as there are a ton of unknowns going into the beginning of the Lane Kiffin era in Knoxville. I'm fairly certain the Vols will improve on last year's 5-7 record but by just how many games is the million dollar question. The bright spots for the Volunteers will be All-American junior safety Eric Berry. The weaknesses will be in the linebacking corps and in the offensive skill positions. But the Tennessee offense can't possibly be worse than it was last year. Giving a cursory glance over the Vol schedule, I would predict a 7-5, 4-4 SEC season for Kiffin in his first year. Wins in non-conference play against Western Kentucky, Memphis and Ohio, and conference wins over Vanderbilt, Kentucky, South Carolina and Auburn. But since pushing is unmanly, I'll hesitantly take the under (-165) here and predict that either South Carolina or Auburn take care of the Vols in Knoxville. 6-6, 3-5 in the SEC in Kiffin's first season, and the Vols return to the postseason.
Over/Under - 7 1/2 regular season wins for Auburn
Brian: I have no doubt that Auburn will turn it around eventually, but I think the faithful on the Plains can’t expect monumental change to come in one season. And turning a 5-7, 2-6 season into an 8-4, 5-3 season in a single year is what I would consider monumental change. I went to an Auburn game last season right when the wheels were starting to fall off the Tommy Tuberville train, and Auburn dropped 6 of their last 7 games to end the season with their only win coming against I-AA Tennessee-Martin. Chizik will face the same sorts of problems that led to Tuberville’s departure – trying to fit a square peg (a spread offense) into a round hole (players traditionally recruited to run the power-I). It might get better with new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, but his new system will take time to develop. Quarterback is equally as much of a question, with Chris Todd and Kodi Burns stinking up the joint last season (I ended up seeing both in the 25-22 loss to Arkansas). Throw in Neil Caudle and much like the Eagles, I’m not sure we’ll have a Tiger starting QB named until very late in August. To expect 8 or more wins for the Tigers this season is simply too many. Three non-conference gimmes (Louisiana Tech, Ball State, Furman) and a home game against Kentucky seem to be the only locks for Ws this season. Auburn has a tough non-conference opponent in West Virginia coming to Jordan-Hare on September 19, and could foreseeably go 0-4 on the road in the SEC this season (Tennessee, Arkansas, LSU, Georgia). Throw in tough home games against Alabama and Ole Miss, and the under (-220) seems to be the EASY, easy choice for Auburn this season.
Jeff: Predicting that Auburn will win 8 games this season is a tough thing to do. Tough even though I do expect significant improvement over last season with the Tigers getting back to a bowl game this year. Ole Miss and Alabama are both ranked high entering the season in the SEC West and they also travel to Athens and Morgantown in out of conference play. I see a lot of wins on Auburn's schedule to get them to the six they need for bowl eligibility but to predict 8+ is just impossible given their incredible struggles last season. Under (-220).
Over/Under - 8 1/2 regular season wins for Georgia
Jeff: Georgia will most likely go 6-2 in SEC play this year. But the Bulldogs have, by far, one of the most interesting non-conference schedules of any BCS team this year. Because of that tough non-conference schedule, UGA aren't a lock to reach 9 or 10 wins and go over. Among their games against Oklahoma State, Arizona State and Georgia Tech, will they go 3-0, 2-1, 1-2??? Given that Georgia will be breaking in a new quarterback, a new running back, and that crazy non-conference schedule ... I think you have to take the under here (-110) and expect Georgia to lose a game or two along the way to a team they should normally beat.
Brian: You are right Jeff. In predicting this line, the focus should be on Georgia's non-conference schedule. I have to give the Bulldogs credit though. After spending years in the friendly confines of the Peach state, snacking on I-AAs and Sunbelt teams between the hedges, UGA went out and scheduled a damn fine slate of non-conference games this season. So good, in fact, that is considered by some to be one of the toughest schedules in the BCS. The Bulldogs start the season in Stillwater against a top 25 squad in Oklahoma State. The Bulldogs also scheduled Arizona State, and go to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech at the end of the season. The problem, as you alluded to, is that Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno aren't walking through that door. A year ago, Georgia was a mythical national championship contender. A 10-3, 6-2 SEC finish was actually a disappointment for Bulldog nation. If the Athens faithful thought 10 wins was a disappointment last season, they aren't going to like what they get from UGA this season. I'll predict that Georgia loses at least 2 of their 4 non-conference games (in all liklihood at Oklahoma State and at Georgia Tech). In addition, I'll predict the Bulldogs go 6-2 at best in SEC play with losses to Florida (yes, again) and LSU. There are plenty of other trap games on the sched this year including September 19 at Arkansas (who UGA didn't face last season) and October 10 at Tennessee. Go with the under (-110) here. Georgia won't go any better than 8-4 this season.
Over/Under - 8 1/2 regular season wins for LSU
Brian: This is an extremely interesting line. An over here would mean a two game improvement from last season’s 3-5 SEC finish. I’ll assume for a moment that LSU coasts through their non-conference schedule of UL Lafayette, Tulane, Louisiana Tech and a road trip to Seattle (Washington) and gets to 4-0 just as they did last year. So then the Tigers have to turn two SEC losses in 2008 to two wins in 2009. Only two of LSU’s five SEC losses came on the road, and it’s questionable whether the Tigers can take down Florida at home this season. Let’s assume that LSU will turn the Arkansas game from a loss to a win, which leaves me looking for one more SEC W. The most likely candidates then are the road trips to Athens or Tuscaloosa, as I expect both Georgia and Alabama to take a bit of a step back this season. Not to mention the Alabama game was lost in overtime last season. Overall, I like LSU’s chances to get back on track this season, win at least 9 games and be in the running to take the SEC West crown after a one-year hiatus from being unstoppable. Go with the over here (+100) and expect LSU to challenge Ole Miss and Alabama for the West division crown.
Jeff: Brian finds this line fascinating while I find it easy money. Like he said, LSU should go 4-0 in non-conference play so 5-3 in the SEC would get the Tigers to 9-3. LSU was down last year but when you have the opportunity to make money off a team that has two recent national championships by only winning 9 games, you take it!! OVER OVER OVER (+100) and don't look back.
Over/Under - 9 regular season wins for Ole Miss
Jeff: As indicated by our preliminary preseason blogpoll ballot, we are high on Ole Miss this season. Even though I have the Rebels lower in my blogpoll ballot than Brian, there is no way this team wins 8 games or less this year. Over (-130).
Brian: Yes, we are high on the Rebels, but with good reason. The Rebels finished last season on a 6 game winning streak, including wins at LSU and vs. Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. Junior QB and Texas transfer Jevan Snead looks poised to have another outstanding year under center should the offensive line gel. Whether right or wrong, preseason polls are becoming as much about who you play as they are about the talent you return. Mississippi's 2009 schedule is THE weakest in the SEC and one of these weakest for a BCS conference team (77 of 120 to be specific, according to Phil Steele). Only my Northwestern (85) and Rutgers (106) have a weaker preseason strength of schedule. Two I-AA teams (SE Louisiana and Northern Arizona), two 'meh' Conference-USA teams (at Memphis and UAB), and two of their toughest SEC West opponents have to come to Oxford (Alabama and LSU). Not to mention Ole Miss misses both Florida and Georgia and instead gets Tennessee, South Carolina and Tennessee from the other side of the conference. To win less than 9 wins this season would be a HUGE disappointment. Some might point to last year's preseason media darlings like Georgia or Clemson and say the same fate awaits Mississippi this season, but I just don't see it. The talent is there and the schedule so weak that Ole Miss should be playing in their first SEC Championship Game come December. Over (-130).
Over/Under - 9 1/2 regular season wins for Alabama
Brian: Much like the LSU line, I find the Bama line extremely interesting this year. Alabama benefits greatly from missing both Florida and Georgia from the other side of the conference this season. I’m not going to expect a repeat of last season’s 12-0 start, especially with the departure of John Parker Wilson and questions on the offensive line. Still, the Bama defense should be filthy with nine of twelve starters back in 2009. For me, this line comes down to whether I think Alabama can win at least one of their three games against marquee opponents this season, including the Chick-Fil-A College Kickoff against Virginia Tech in Atlanta, a road trip to Oxford against Ole Miss in October, and a November 7 home date against LSU. Not only will they have to take 1 of those 3 games, but they’ll also have to avoid getting tripped up against the rest of the SEC and in non-conference play. If there is anything we learned from recent history, it’s that even the games against FIU, North Texas and Chattanooga aren’t 100% gimmes (cough: UL-Monroe). A lot of magazines and prognosticators have Bama in their preseason top 5, but for some reason I’m higher on Ole Miss or LSU’s chances to win the SEC West this season. I’ll take the under (-175) assuming that a 9-3 season or worse is much more likely than 10-2 or better.
Jeff: I expect Alabama to regress from last year, at least in terms of total number of wins. Despite losing the SEC Championship and the Sugar Bowl, Alabama still won 12 games last year in a perfect regular season campaign. This year, however, there is no way the Tide get to twelve wins again. Since I'm an ACC guy, I'll protect the shield and count the Virginia Tech game as a loss for them. But once conference play hits, the good news, as Brian points out, is that Alabama misses both Florida and Georgia from the SEC East. So getting to 10 wins mostly comes down to splitting the LSU and Ole Miss games. I like their odds of doing that so without any other missteps in conference play they would get to 10-2. But, this is the SEC so I feel sure someone will trip them up this year now that they have a huge target on their backs. An upset loss in the SEC brings them back down to 9-3. But then again, Brian took the under here and I have not gone back on my never failing logic of Brian typically being wrong with these things and I will take the OVER (+125)!!!
Last one, Over/Under - 11 regular season wins for Florida
Jeff: Is it more likely that Florida will win them all or lose two games? I am going to say that it is more likely that the fighting Tim Tebows run the table than lose two game even though the most likely scenario is that they lose one game again and push with 11 wins. Over (-120).
Brian: While I won't discount the possibility of a loss or two on the Gators schedule this season (a la 31-30 at home vs. Ole Miss last season), you simply can't ignore the facts here.
- The Gators are loaded with talent, not only on offense but more importantly, on the defensive side of the ball. Every defensive member of the Gator's two-deep roster returns, and that was a defense that ranked first in the SEC for scoring defense. Yikes.
- The schedule is manageable, particularly in non-conference play where all four of their games are at home (Charleston Southern, Troy, FIU, Florida State). The Gators also miss Alabama and Ole Miss this season from the SEC West.
No lines on Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, or Arkansas.