A conference once regularly on top of the college football world has had its status relegated to Alabama and 13 other teams. The Crimson Tide will be a championship contender again this year, but the biggest question for the league in 2017 is whether another team in the conference can challenge Alabama and compete for a playoff berth.
With the season less than two weeks away, the Bettor Take Cover staff decided which SEC team has the best chance to knock Alabama off its perch, along with betting picks for the division winners, season totals and Heisman contenders.
Editor’s Note: wagering on sports is illegal everywhere in the United States except Nevada, so these lines and picks are for entertainment purposes only.
SEC Championship Picks
Sam Johnson: I like Alabama to win the SEC this year. That’s not to say they definitely make the playoffs again, but no one else has given me enough reason to think that Alabama will be challenged again this year in the SEC. The Pick: Alabama -150.
Lance Barton: Saban and the Tide have won three consecutive SEC titles, and there are many reasons why I believe they will make it four straight. Their conference schedule sets up beautifully aside from the season-ending road trip at Auburn. The offense is loaded with depth at every skill position and returns an experienced offensive line. Jalen Hurts, the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year, returns at quarterback, and this is the first time Saban has had a returning starting QB since AJ McCarron. The defense is once again loaded with talent led by an experienced secondary, which is highlighted by DB Minkah Fitzpatrick. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s biggest concern will be replacing key NFL departures in the front 7 who accounted for 75 percent of the Tide’s sacks last season. We all know the drill though. It’s next man up in Tuscaloosa. The Pick: Alabama (-150).
Cole Frederick: For a team that has won three straight SEC titles and four of the last five, there’s no reason to doubt Alabama. The schedule is favorable, and -150 is a pretty good price considering they were so much better than anyone in the league last fall. The Pick: Alabama (-150).
Dark Horse SEC Championship Picks
TJ Daugherty: I’m not sure if it’s fair to say the team with the second best odds to win the conference is a dark horse, but they’re a team not named Alabama so they are qualified from my perspective. It seems like the last decade at Auburn has been a vicious cycle of new year, new QB, and once again Auburn fans will see a new face commanding the offense. Jarrett Stidham was recently named the starter and he seems to have the tools to be successful in first-year OC Chip Lindsey’s system. He has the arm to stretch the field and get the ball to Auburn’s athletic receivers such as Nate Craig-Meyers, Darius Slayton and Kyle Davis. This should also open up lanes for running backs Kerryon Johnson and Kam Pettway. One of Auburn’s strengths this year will be the offensive line. I look for them to wear teams down and take over games late in the fourth. If the defense can come close to repeating last year’s numbers, I feel like the Tigers will be well on their way towards an SEC championship run. The Pick: Auburn +500
Sam Johnson: Don’t laugh, but Kentucky is the best value here at +10,000. Kentucky will have the best offensive line in the conference and the East can get really, really weird. It’s certainly possible that several teams are tied with two or three SEC losses and the bluegrass boys sneak into the title game in Atlanta for the first time. At that point, I’d highly recommend hedging your bet because you can make enough money to forget about how weird it was to see Kentucky in a conference championship game. The Pick: Kentucky +10,000.
Lance Barton: There is a lot of value with Auburn at +500. We all know what Gus Malzahn can accomplish when he has a big time playmaker at QB, and he definitely has one with Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham. The offense is loaded around him with talented receivers, a dynamic duo of tailbacks and a solid offensive line. Auburn’s defense made tremendous strides last season and finished 28th overall in the country. The Tigers return seven starters from that defense and should by nasty up front. The schedule sets up nicely for Auburn as they play rivals UGA and Alabama at home. If they can get past LSU in Baton Rouge on Oct. 14, they will be a serious contender for the SEC Title and for a College Football Playoff berth. The Pick: Auburn +500.
SEC Division Winners
Cody Jinnette: Tennessee isn’t necessarily my pick to win the SEC East, but with Georgia and Florida having similar odds (+130 and +140, respectively), I don’t think there’s any real value in picking those two. Georgia had an up-and-down season last year, and Florida lost half of their defense and still has issues at quarterback. If Tennessee can avoid falling apart for one season—easier said than done with Butch Jones as your head coach—they have the talent to win the division. The Pick: Tennessee +400.
Cole Frederick: Jim McElwain is two-for-two in winning the SEC East at Florida, and I like the Gators’ chances to win the division for the third straight year. The quarterback situation isn’t great, but you’re telling me Malik Zaire will be worse than Austin Appleby or Treon Harris? I’ll take my chances with McElwain. The Pick: Florida +140.
Cody Jinnette: Full disclaimer: I’m an Auburn fan. Another full disclaimer: Jarrett Stidham is going to be incredible this year. As we’ve seen in year’s past, if Auburn has a QB, Gus will win you enough games to make it to Atlanta. If you believe in Stidham like I do, then this is the right move (and the odds are good). If you believe that no one is going to get past Alabama, then take your money and gamble on another conference, we don’t want you here. The Pick: Auburn +400.
Cole Frederick: We can all agree that taking Alabama at -250 would not be a great idea, right? You’re having to risk too much to win $100. Meanwhile, Auburn is sitting there at +400 with the best overall roster the program has had in many years, and they get the Iron Bowl at home. I’m not picking Auburn to win the West, but there’s plenty of value at +400. The Pick: Auburn +400.
Lance Barton: It’s going to be a big year down on the Plains. Auburn has recruited at a Top 10 level on both sides of the ball for the last few years. The issue has been consistent play at the quarterback position, but that will not be the case this year with Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham at the helm. Defensively the line could prove to be one of the best in conference. The Tigers’ season looks like it will come down to 4 games: at Clemson, at LSU, vs. Georgia and vs. Alabama. I think they split those games and get to 10 wins. The Pick: Auburn over 8.5 (-160).
TJ Daugherty: This line is absurd. This is my first 5* lock of the year (Note: I don’t lose 5* picks). This team brings back one of my favorite quarterbacks in Nick Fitzgerald, who is coached by one of my favorite coaches in Dan Mullen. They are the second most experienced team in the West, and if they take care of business in the games they will be favored to win, they have the talent to pull off an upset or two. The defense will be a strong unit that returns seven starters, and they have some talented JUCO transfers infused among them to provide depth. I have studied this schedule over and over, and a Nick Fitzgerald injury is the only thing that would keep this team from making a bowl game. The Pick: Mississippi State over 5.5 (-155).
Sam Johnson: Kentucky gets Florida and Tennessee at home and they play South Carolina very early in the year. They’ll also get the kamikaze Ole Miss Rebels at home, who I can’t imagine will be too fired up to be playing for nothing in Lexington. They have three very winnable non-conference games and they play in-state rivals Louisville at home. They will have the best O-line in the conference to compete in the post-Urban Meyer limbo known as the SEC East. The Pick: Kentucky over 7 (+120).
Cole Frederick: I’m with TJ on this one. Dan Mullen is the second best coach in the SEC, and he has a proven track record with mobile quarterbacks. Nick Fitzgerald finished third in the league in rushing last season, and Mullen has had a full offseason to develop his skills in the passing game. The SEC West won’t be very great this year, and I think the Bulldogs are good enough to finish third in the West. The Pick: Mississippi State over 5.5 (-155).
Cody Jinnette: Kentucky returns the most starters in the SEC and they have a very manageable. They get both Mississippi schools from the West and have Florida and Tennessee at home. They have a good coach in Mark Stoops and will look to improve upon their 7 win season last year. The Pick: Kentucky over 7 (+120).
Cole Frederick: In Ed Orgeron’s three seasons in the SEC at Ole Miss, he won 10 games. Total. That’s it. In Orgeron’s first full-time season at LSU, the Tigers’ over/under is set at nine. So to win on the over, you’d be betting that Orgeron leads the team to as many wins this year as he had in three full seasons at Ole Miss. I’ll pass. Derrius Guice is one of the two best running backs in the entire country, but defensive star Arden Key isn’t healthy and the schedule is a nightmare. A non conference game against BYU won’t be easy, and the Tigers have five road games in SEC play thanks to their power move last year against Florida. LSU travels to Florida, Alabama, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Ole Miss. I think nine wins is the absolute best case scenario for this team and a 7-5 season is far more likely. Pound the under. The Pick: LSU under 9 (-105).
Lance Barton: Kevin Sumlin will not survive the year in College Station if this prediction comes true. There are major questions at QB, they still cannot stop the run, and the schedule is brutal. Trips to the Swamp, Baton Rouge, Pasadena, and home games against Alabama and Auburn will be tough to overcome. The opener against UCLA is a huge tone setter for the season. The Sumlin critics will be out in full force if they fall to the Bruins, and they will be staring 5-7 or 6-6 straight in the face. The Pick: Texas A&M under 7 (-115).
Sam Johnson: Arkansas may lay claim to the league’s most pro-ready quarterback in Austin Allen, but I still don’t see them competing in the West this year. They go on the road to take on Alabama, South Carolina, Ole Miss, and LSU, and they play Texas A&M on a neutral field. They have Mississippi State , Auburn, and TCU coming to town to challenge the Razorbacks, and they could be underdogs in at least two of those games. I’m currently counting all of these games as losses and the ones I have not mentioned as wins, which would put their record at a miserable 4-8. So, you’ll need to convince yourself that Arkansas can steal three wins from the matchups I mentioned just to push with Vegas. Good luck. The Pick: Arkansas under 7 (-140).
TJ Daugherty: Vandy did get to six wins last year and star running back returns Ralph Webb returns on offense. This pick is based on scheduling more so than Vanderbilt as a team. The non conference schedule features Alabama A&M, Kansas State, Western Kentucky, and a road game against Middle Tennessee to start the year. I see them going .500 in non conference, and they have a challenging SEC schedule. Finding five more wins in SEC play seems like a long shot. This is one of my favorite under bets in football this year. A push seems like the absolute worst scenario. The Pick: Vanderbilt under 6 (-185).
SEC Heisman Picks
Cody Jinnette: This is probably the hardest bet to nail historically, but I think Guice has the best situation out of the SEC players to get there. He’ll be fed carries, he looked really, really good last year, and he won’t have to overcome the hype that his teammate Leonard Fournette did the last two seasons. Look for him to lead the SEC in rushing yards in an offense that will be slightly less anemic than anything Les Miles put on the field. If he can do that, then he’ll be in NYC for the trophy presentation sometime after they lose the Capitol One Bowl in hilarious fashion. The Pick: Derrius Guice +1200.
Lance Barton: Last season Jalen Hurts won SEC Offensive player of the year as a true freshman at Alabama. He had 36 total touchdowns and rushed for 954 yards on the season. Hurts will be nearly impossible to contain if he progresses as a passer and can push the ball down field to his talented receiving corps. It also doesn’t hurt (pun intended) that he plays for the best team in the country, and will play in some high profile games. The Pick: Jalen Hurts +1600.
I also like Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham at +2000 and Derrius Guice at +1200. Stidham will post gaudy numbers in that system, and he’ll be the best player on an Auburn team that should in the middle of the SEC championship race. He’ll also have a chance to impress voters in big games against Clemson, LSU, Georgia and Alabama.
As for Guice, he ran for nearly 1,400 yards as Leonard Fournette’s backup last season. New offensive coordinator Matt Canada will feed Guice plenty of carries, and he’ll also find ways to get the ball to Guice in space in the passing game.