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It’s time for Vegas to issue September report cards. Alabama’s rise to prominence shouldn’t surprise any of us nor should Arkansas’ fall from grace (although anyone who saw outright losses to ULM and Rutgers before the year is lying). There are plenty of questions that need answering but there’s no better way to gauge early season progress than by comparing current form to each team’s preseason win total.
Alabama Over 10 (-155)
Alabama’s freight train has shown no signs of derailing through 4 games. The Tide has outscored opponents 168-21 and without South Carolina, Florida, or Georgia on the schedule, “losable” games are limited. Before the year, Alabama was listed as short dogs for the November 3 showdown in Baton Rouge however that role has changed. My major question right now; who has Alabama really beaten so far?
Forecast 12-0: If you bet Alabama regular season wins over the total, cashing your ticket is just a formality.
The Goal: National title or bust in Tuscaloosa
Auburn Over 7.5 (+155)
Gene Chizik misses Cam Newton like fat kids miss cake. If you back out the 2010 national championship season, Chizik is only 7-11 in SEC conference games. The Tigers early schedule has been challenging but losses to Clemson, Miss St, and LSU still aren’t acceptable on the plains. The schedule isn’t unbearable the rest of the way however 2 of their winnable games come on the conference road where nothing is guaranteed. Kiehl Frazier? Guuulp.
Forecast 5-7: Under bettors are in the catbird seat. I’m calling Arkansas, NMSU, and Alabama A&M at home all wins. Splitting road trips to Vandy and Ole Miss seems plausible, meaning the Tigers need a major upset somewhere to find that elusive 6th win.
The Goal: Getting to a bowl game. Playing LSU close builds confidence for a young team but until close losses (aka covers) count for bowl eligibility, this fervent fan base won’t be satisfied.
Arkansas Over 8.5 (+100)
There are few under win totals on lock status right now; Arkansas is one of them. Much like John L Smith’s coaching career, the money you’ve invested in Pig Souie is dead. With 4 road games still on the schedule and a home date with LSU, the Hogs will be underdogs in 5 of their remaining 8 games. I’m not sure any of their games should be considered lay-ups as turmoil continues to bury the program.
Forecast 4-8: Unless Arkansas runs the table (which isn’t happening), under bettors have nothing to fear.
The Goal: Getting to a bowl game; far different than the preseason expectations of competing for the SEC West title. Realistically, their bowl game will come against LSU in the season finale, one in which I think they could shock the college football world.
Florida Over 8 (+115)
Very few believed Jeff Driskel would mature into a force at QB this fast and give the Gators a reliable pivot for 2012. Road wins at Tennessee and Texas A&M showed his potential, leaving Gator nation excited about their prospects. Florida has 4 tests remaining, home dates against LSU and South Carolina in addition to the “world’s largest outdoor gathering of college coeds” vs UGA and a trip to Tallahassee to close the regular season.
Forecast 10-2: Eight wins is a formality yet 10 is my projection no matter how ambitious people think I’m being here. Defensively, UF is elite but need skill position talent to emerge on the outside turning my prediction into reality.
The Goal: Gator football isn’t back although a division title makes the visor a fashion casualty in Gainesville. With so much early season buzz, the season won’t be considered a success without a win over UGA and a final ranking in the top 10.
Georgia O9.5 (-155)
No one is surprised the Bulldogs are 4-0 and even fewer will be when they’re 5-0 headed into Columbia on October 6 to battle the Gamecocks. UGA’s road game with South Carolina will be the only time all year Bulldog nation should be slight dogs (my current number has the Gamecocks -1). The first 3 games didn’t leave me brimming with defensive confidence, however the lock down effort Saturday vs Vanderbilt proved UGA is improving and poised for big things defensively in 2012.
Forecast 11-1: Assumes a split of their games against South Carolina and Florida. UGA has a shot to ride Aaron Murray to a natl title game appearance…if they can get through Bama in the SEC title game.
The Goal: It’s title time in Athens. If the defense shores up a few leaks, this team has the talent to play spoiler for Alabama’s date with destiny.
Kentucky O5.5 (+220)
If UK wins 2 games we might not be able to handle Clay Travis’ claims of owning a college crystal ball. The Wildcats went 1-1 in the games most deemed “must wins” if they’d sniff their projected season total. Maxwell Smith’s bum shoulder isn’t getting the Cats to bowl eligibility considering they will be dogs of a TD or more in 6 of their remaining 8 games.
Forecast 2-10: The focus is building towards the future. What future? At best UK steals a 3rd game if they upset Vandy as short home underdogs but I wouldn’t bet on it.
The Goal: Use this season to gain experience since there’s as much of a chance this team goes bowling as I publish my first best seller by January 1.
LSU O10 (-145)
Unlike a lot of their SEC counterparts, the jury is still out on the 2012 LSU tigers. Their trip to Jordan Hare wasn’t confidence-instilling for their fans, not with tilts at Florida and against South Carolina coming up in the next 3 weeks. I’ll remain skeptical of this offense until I see more from Mettenberger who has only thrown 4 TD passes against defensive juggernauts North Texas, Idaho, and Washington.
Forecast 9-3: I’m calling for LSU to go under their win total and miss the BCS this year. I see 6 games the Tigers could lose (don’t expect them to sweep or get swept) and I don’t have confidence in this offense away from Tiger Stadium.
The Goal: Finishing the season in New Orleans competing for the BCS crown is the name of the game for the Bayou Bengals. However, reality and expectations just don’t mesh this season because I’ve seen flaws that has me thinking LSU ends up in the Cotton Bowl instead of the BCS.
Ole Miss O5.5 (+240)
There weren’t high expectations for the Rebels in Las Vegas before the season. Credit to coach Freeze for exceeding last year’s 2 win total already but last I checked you don’t become coaching lore in the Grove by beating UTEP, Tulane, and Central Arkansas. Now is the time to see if these Rebels have enough confidence to become bowl eligible. If the Texas game was any indication, that outlook is rather bleak.
Forecast 5-7: I’m not sure where the 2 wins come from although my gut says this team finds a way to beat Auburn or Texas A&M at home before springing an upset somewhere else on the schedule. Home vs Vandy is the other game where Ole Miss has a shot to snag that elusive 6th victory.
The Goal: Continue to get seasoning for Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti as the program moves towards the future. I think if the boys in Oxford find a way to go bowling, Freeze can eradicate remnants of the Houston Nutt era gone horribly awry.
Mississippi St O7.5 (-125)
The cupcake portion of the schedule is over and beginning October 6, MSU starts their move to adulthood. Beating Auburn in your own building is a nice win, but this season won’t be considered successful for Dan Mullen if that’s the signature victory. State will be favored @Kentucky, vs Tennessee, vs Middle Tennessee St, vs Texas A&M, vs Arkansas, and @ Ole Miss. None of those games should be considered lay-ups beyond the home date against the Blue Raiders. Continued development of Tyler Russel and LaDarius Perkins will make Starkville forget Vick Ballard.
Forecast 9-3: I’m confident that Mississippi State can start the season 7-0 (6-1 at worst) headed into Tuscaloosa. Schedule isn’t easy over the last 5 games but asking this team to go 3-2 during that stretch isn’t unreasonable which leaves them an outside shot at double digit wins.
The Goal: 7-6 in 2011, 9-4 in 2010, and 5-7 in 2009 so the next milestone for this program is getting to double digit wins under Coach Mullen. Their 3rd straight bowl is a done deal with the major question now being where do they fall in the pecking order behind Alabama, LSU, South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia.
Missouri O7 (-115)
Are you having fun with life in the SEC yet Missouri? I have news for Tiger fans: a schedule that includes a home date against Alabama and road dates at Florida, Tennessee, and Texas A&M could mean no bowling in Columbia for these Tigers. James Franklin still isn’t himself and if he can’t run the offense at 100%, this team’s ceiling is limited.
Forecast 5-7: If Missouri loses to UCF Saturday, the Tigers will be 2-3 meaning home wins over Vandy, Kentucky, and Syracuse only get them to 5. I’m not sure Missouri is built to win on the conference highway yet and making the postseason could require stealing a road tilt or upsetting Bama. I just can’t see it…
The Goal: Making a bowl during their first tour of the SEC goes a long way for recruiting and progress, just not sure the depth or talent is there.
South Carolina O8.5 (-135)
It’s not offense making headlines for the Gamecocks this year; it’s a stifling defense holding opponents to under 10 PPG. USC is already 4-0 (2-0 in the SEC) but could still be underdogs in 3 of their remaining 8 games. Lattimore doesn’t look like himself from a pure explosion standpoint however you wouldn’t know it by his workload (82 touches already) and 4.6 ypc. I remain skeptical of the Gamecocks QB play until I see more consistency.
Forecast 10-2: Despite 4 very difficult games (3 of which come on the road), I have a sneaking suspicion the ole ball coach can get this team to 10 wins on the strength of the aforementioned stingy defense.
The Goal: Being competitive at 8-4 is no longer acceptable; success is measured in SEC East titles but this edition is still a playmaker or 2 away from a league crown.
Tennessee O7 (-110)
There isn’t a single team in the country that plays a more difficult 4 game stretch than what Tennessee starts this Saturday. After a road trip to UGA and subsequent bye, there are road games at Mississippi St and South Carolina sandwiched around a home date vs Alabama. Let’s just say 3-1 can become 3-5 quickly and asking a demoralized Vols team to go 3-1 down the stretch might be a challenge.
Forecast 6-6: The Florida game was telling about how this team handles adversity. I don’t know if there is enough speed on the defense and heart in the lockerroom to spring the major upset needed for a 7-5 regular season.
The Goal: Derek Dooley needs to protect his job and a 6-6 Liberty Bowl bid puts him squarely on the hot seat instead of on the ballot for SEC coach of the year.
Texas A&M O7 (-110)
Kevin Sumlin will build something special in College Station but it’s not going to be finished in 2012. Who knew getting the La Tech game moved back to Saturday, October 13 was a death knell during a stretch that sees the Aggies play 12 straight games? If that’s not bad enough, how about the nasty 3 game road trip against Auburn, Mississippi State, and Alabama at the end of the month? The 12th man won’t be showering the conference scheduler with gifts this fall.
Forecast 7-5: Vegas had this win total right at the start of the year, no reason to change now with the game against Tech looking like the swing.
The Goal: If you can get through the first tour of SEC duty and qualify for a bowl, you’ve acquitted youselves nicely during a transition year.
Vanderbilt O6.5 (+135)
2 steps forward, 1 step back for Coach Franklin in Nashville. The schedule isn’t daunting now that USC and Georgia are in the rearview mirror yet the Commodores will still be dogs in 3 of their 4 remaining home tilts. Road trips to Kentucky and Ole Miss should be winnable but asking this squad to win back to back conference games on the highway is no small feat given limited weaponry.
Forecast 5-7: I’d be shocked if this team finds a way to finish with a winning record or even .500 this year. There isn’t enough depth to let them compete in the suddenly deep and rugged SEC east.
The Goal: Back to back bowl eligibility would be a huge boon for this program. Can Franklin work a little magic? He’s going to need to if a postseason birth is still in this year’s holiday plans.