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SEC Conference Football Preview

   by Ben Burns - 08/18/2009

Florida’s assumed dominance is going to make handicapping the SEC very difficult.

Oddsmakers, fearing being pounded by public Gator action, will be forced to inflate lines. But it might not even matter.

With Superman Tim Tebow back at quarterback and all 11 starters back on defense, covering 30-point spreads might seem like child’s play to the defending champs.

So just how much better are the Gators than the rest of the SEC?

The handicapper that answers that question correctly will be in line to make some money this year. The rest of us will have to look for value elsewhere.

Last year, the SEC didn’t live up its lofty reputation, at least against the spread. In non-conference games, the SEC went 25-22 ATS. But the conference did flex its muscle in the bowls, putting together an impressive 6-2 mark straight up and against the number.

This year, Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss are legitimate top-10 teams, with Georgia a notch below.

But they’re all looking up at Florida, a 2-to-1 favorite to win their third BCS title in the last four years.

Arkansas, with Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett at quarterback for Bobby Petrino, should be the most improved team. The Hogs return 18 starters, most, along with Florida, in the conference.

It’s anyone’s guess how Auburn, Mississippi State and Tennessee will to respond to new coaches.

Steve Spurrier has been eerily quiet over at South Carolina this offseason. Probably because he doesn’t have much to brag about what appears to be another mediocre 6- or 7-win team.

After going to three straight bowl games, Kentucky should take a step back.

With nine starters returning off a very good defense, Vanderbilt could leapfrog Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Four SEC teams will find themselves in the top 10 at various times this season. But the perception is the Gators are head and shoulders above the rest.

They went 8-1 ATS in conference play en route to the National Championship Game. On average, the Gators were favored by more than two touchdowns against the SEC. It will be interesting to see just how that average goes up this year.

Projected Finish

(ATS records are from last three years.)

SEC East

FLORIDA GATORS

ATS: 25-12-1 (Home: 13-4-1. Away: 7-5)

Thing to remember: Only twice in the last 18 seasons has an SEC team gone undefeated. Tennessee did in 1998, and Auburn in 2003. So the odds are the Gators are going to lose.

But to whom?

Urban Meyer’s team has had a tendency to come out a little sluggish for noon kickoffs. Last year’s loss to Ole Miss is the obvious example.

GEORGIA BULLDOGS

ATS: 17-17-2 (Home: 6-10-1. Away: 5-6-1)

Thing to remember: UGA has been a great road team under Mark Richt. The Dogs are 7-2 ATS on the road since 2001.

VANDERBILT COMMODORES

ATS: 19-16 (Home: 9-10. Away: 10-6)

THING TO REMEMBER: All five offensive linemen are among the Commodores’ 17 returning starters.

SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS

ATS: 19-14-2 (Home: 9-8-1. Away: 9-5-1)

THING TO REMEMBER: Who would have ever thought a Steve Spurrier-coached team would be practically void of offensive playmakers? The Gamecocks return just five offensive starters.

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

ATS: 22-15-2 (Home: 12-8-1. Away: 9-4)

Thing to remember: In the middle of July, Lane Kiffin had just two quarterbacks on the roster. Neither is very good. The Vols also lost their top receiver and running back to injury. Is it karma for Kiffin, who has had both feet in his mouth regularly during his short time in Knoxville?

KENTUCKY WILDCATS

ATS: 19-16-1 (Home: 9-9-1. Away: 8-6)

Thing to remember: The loss of All-SEC defensive end Jeremy Jarmon is a big blow to a defense that now has only four returning starters. Jarmon was ruled ineligible after testing positive for a banned substance. He was the only player chosen in the NFL supplemental draft.

SEC WEST

ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE

ATS: 17-20-2 (Home: 7-13-1. Away: 7-4-1)

Thing to remember: The Crimson Tide is a great first-half team. They outscored opponents 254-85 in the first two quarters last season.

OLE MISS

ATS: 20-12-2 (Home: 11-4-2. Away: 8-7)

Thing to remember: The Rebels are 12-5 ATS as home dogs since 2000. Remember that when Alabama and LSU visit Oxford.

LSU

ATS: 14-23-2 (Home: 7-14. Away: 4-7-1)

Thing to remember: LSU is 11-24-1 ATS in conference play under coach Les Miles.

ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS

ATS: 16-20 (Home: 9-11. Away: 7-6)

Thing to remember: In his second year at Louisville, Bobby Petrino’s Cardinals scored 49.5 points a game and went 11-1 straight up, 10-2 against the spread.

AUBURN TIGERS

ATS: 15-21 (Home: 8-13. Away: 5-8)

Thing to remember: When new coaches start over-emphasizing discipline, like controversial hire Gene Chizik has done in his short time at Auburn, you have to wonder how bad of a situation they walked into. Several reserves from last year’s squad were not asked to return to a team that is neither deep nor overly talented.

MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS

ATS: 15-18-1 (Home: 5-11. Away: 9-7-1)

Thing to remember: The Bulldogs are 0-6 ATS as home favorites since 2005. Luckily for new coach Dan Mullen, Mississippi State likely won’t be favored in any home game, except maybe an October homecoming tilt against Houston. And that’ s a big maybe.


Play the under on …

Vanderbilt: Coach Bobby Johnson is one of the most underrated coaches in the nation. He’s turned Vanderbilt into a very difficult team to play. The Commodores play a smart, sound bend-but-don’t-break defense.

The offense has become more conservative recently and should continue to be while they break in a sophomore quarterback.

Nine starters return from last year’s defense, which surrendered more than 24 points only once all season and that was to Florida.

The Commodores are 17-29 over/under the past three years.

Play the over on …

LSU: Les Miles is an offensive coach. His teams at Oklahoma State averaged more than 32 points a game in three of his four seasons.

LSU’s offenses have followed suit, putting more than 30 a game the past three years.

Even last season when the Tiger quarterbacks combined to throw 18 interceptions, LSU put up 35 or more five times.

Sophomore quarterback Jordan Jefferson improved down the stretch and has four returning starting linemen and the SEC’s top running back Charles Scott and top senior wide receiver Brandon LaFell at his disposal.

Miles is an aggressive play-caller, who rarely shies away from going for it on fourth down. He knows has big offensive weapons so look for the Tigers to pick up the offensive tempo.

LSU is 30-18 over/under in Miles’ four seasons.

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