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Stars are aligned for Georgia to win SEC

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Updated: 8/21 8:29 am

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Two years ago, the Georgia Bulldogs almost made it to the BCS National Championship. Unfortunately, they came up short, failing to score on their final drive versus Alabama in the SEC title game.

This season, Georgia has a great chance to bounce back from a disappointing 8-5 campaign and battle for not only the SEC championship but also for a spot in the newly created college football playoffs.

First, LSU is off the schedule and replaced by Arkansas. Second, the Bulldogs miss Alabama. Third, they get Auburn at home.

Aaron Murray is off to the NFL but Hutson Mason received important game action last season, and the defense will be 10 times better than it was in 2013.

Time now to take a deeper look into the league, along with conference championship odds and regular season over/under totals courtesy of Bovada.

EAST

7) KENTUCKY (200-1) - The Wildcats are 10-22 ATS as underdogs the last four years. Despite allowing the same 36 points per game as they did in 2012 (inside the SEC), they gave up almost a full yard per play. Eight starters return on defense, so look for improved numbers. The same might be said for the offense if Patrick Towles puts up better numbers than the two quarterbacks from last year. Still, even with slightly better play on both sides of the ball, it is doubtful Kentucky will make a dent against SEC competition.

Final thought - The Wildcats are 7-15 ATS (32 percent) the last two years. Expect a higher winning percentage in 2014 because the team is more competitive than it was last season. Over/under total - 3.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 4-8, 1-7.

6) TENNESSEE (66-1) - The Volunteers are 2-7 as home favorites the last two years. The offense mustered just 18 points per game in conference play primarily due to its lack of effectiveness inside the red zone. The Vols scored only 10 touchdowns on 24 chances (42 percent), just one year after completing 22 touchdowns on 33 opportunities for 67 percent. Usually, that statistic signifies a solid rise in points the following season. However, Tennessee moves forward without all five 2013 offensive line starters. The defense also is a question mark with the loss of players who accumulated 72 percent of last year's sacks.

Final thought - The Volunteers have finished below .500 ATS each of the last three seasons. Make it four in 2014. Over/under total - 5.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 5-7, 2-6.

5) VANDERBILT (200-1) - The Commodores are 28-13 as road underdogs the last 10 years. Last year's defense gave up 43 more yards per game in league play (compared to 2012) but allowed nine more points per game. That last number is not in keeping with the previous figure. For comparison purposes, Kentucky and South Carolina allowed almost the same number of yards per game but the Wildcats gave up just one more point per game and the Gamecocks allowed the same ppg average as in 2012. Given those totals, it appears Vanderbilt's 2014 defense has a chance to be better than last year's team even with the loss of six of its top eight tacklers. On the other hand, the offense scored five more ppg inside the SEC despite, averaging 38 fewer yards per game. That means fewer points will be scored this year.

Final thought - Eight home games plus bye weeks before dates at Missouri and Mississippi State should send the Commodores to their fourth straight bowl game. Over/under total - 6. Predicted overall and conference records - 6-6, 2-6.

4) Missouri (33-1) - The Tigers are 12-3 as road favorites the last seven years. It seems as if everything went right for them last year. They were plus-16 in turnover differential and moved from 100th nationally in red zone touchdowns all the way up to 15th. The defense also got in on the act inside the 20-yard line, jumping from 121st nationally in red zone touchdown percentage to 46th. Missouri will not be so lucky in 2014, especially with the loss of its starting quarterback, leading rusher, top three receivers and six of its top nine tacklers.

Final thought - Missouri, along with Ball State, will have the biggest decline in total number of victories from 2013. Over/under total - 7.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 6-6, 3-5. Take under 7.5 wins at +105.

3) SOUTH CAROLINA (6-1) - The Gamecocks are 6-2 ATS in non-conference play the last two years. They bring back a host of starters - 14 to be exact. However, the ones they lost will adversely affect their ability to win the East. Don't expect Dylan Thompson to have the same 24-1 touchdown-interception ratio that Connor Shaw produced in 2013. Defensively, the line took a major hit with the loss of not only Jadeveon Clowney, but Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton, who combined for 12.5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss. In addition, the secondary lost its two starting cornerbacks.

Final thought - South Carolina is a team to wager against each week considering many prognosticators expect a Top 10 finish. Over/under total - 9.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 9-3, 5-3. Take under 9.5 wins at -115.

2) FLORIDA (16-1) - The Gators are 1-6 ATS in non-conference play the last two years. One thing is for certain - the offense will score more points than it did last season, especially with a healthy Jeff Driskel and the additions of Jake McGee and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. One has to guess last year's defense was an anomaly considering the Gators allowed over four yards per carry for the first time since 2002. They return seven of their top nine tacklers, one year after losing five of their top six. Florida lost four games decided by seven points or less last year. More than likely, that number will turn 180 degrees this season.

Final thought - Last year's offense had a different starting lineup for all 12 games. If the Gators stay away from the injury bug, they will have the second biggest turnaround in FBS play behind North Carolina State. Over/under total - 7.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 9-3, 6-2. Take over 7.5 wins at -130.

1) GEORGIA (6-1) - The Bulldogs are 0-5 as road underdogs the last four years. They have a lot going in their favor this season as mentioned at the top of this column. Last year, the defense had its worst season in over 100 years, allowing 29 points per game. This year, 10 of the top 13 tacklers return. Offensively, Aaron Murray directed an outstanding group, one that lost its top three receivers from 2012, With the top two receivers back, and a healthy set of running backs, the Bulldogs will top the division in points.

Final thought - Georgia was minus-18 in turnover ratio last year compared to 2012. That number should improve this year. All in all, 2014 could be a very special season in Athens. Over/under total - 9.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 11-1, 7-1. Take over 9.5 wins at -125. In addition, grab the 14-1 odds for the Bulldogs to win the FBS Championship.

WEST

7) ARKANSAS (200-1) - The Razorbacks are 3-8 as road underdogs the last three years. The passing game killed them last season as Brandon Allen and A.J. Derby combined to complete just 50 percent of their throws, which was better than only seven other FBS squads. Arkansas also was last in conference play in turnovers lost (19) and turnovers gained (seven). The defense was a wreck as well, ranking last inside the SEC in scoring and next-to-last in yards allowed. Expect slightly better production in 2014 - but not by much.

Final thought - It will take at least one more year for Bret Bielema's "Wisconsin" offense to fit Arkansas' personnel. Over/under total - 4.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 4-8, 1-7.

6) TEXAS A&M (40-1) - The Aggies are 10-27 as road underdogs since 1999. We will see just how much Johnny Manziel (and to a lesser extent Mike Evans) meant to the program by how well the offense plays in 2014. Kenny Hill has been named the starting quarterback, and the sophomore does have many weapons available, along with a solid offensive line. Still, there is no way the Aggies will average over 40 points for a third straight season. Furthermore, the defense was hit hard by defections, so don't expect many improvements from that side of the ball.

Final thought - The Aggies destroyed their non-conference opponents last year but outscored league teams by only one point and outgained them by just 15 yards. Over/under total - 7. Predicted overall and conference records - 7-5, 3-5.

5) MISSISSIPPI STATE (40-1) - The Bulldogs are 5-0 ATS in their last five games. Not much was expected of them last year, but Dan Mullen still got the Bulldogs to a bowl game. In fact, they were outscored in conference play by over a touchdown despite outgaining their opponents by an average of three yards per game. The offense was banged up for most of the year and the leading receiver coming into the season had just 17 receptions. This year, look for Mississippi State to bounce back with the return of 57 lettermen, which includes 16 starters.

Final thought - Mississippi State comes into the new campaign ranked just 36th in the AP Preseason Top 25, so the club should do well against the spread. Over/under total - 7.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 8-4, 4-4.

4) OLE MISS (16-1) - The Rebels are 4-12 as road favorites over the last 10 years. The return of 19 starters did not put Ole Miss over the top in 2013, but the team did improve by one victory. One reason for the lack of improvement was its play inside the red zone on both sides of the ball. The Rebels dropped from sixth to next-to-last in their offensive red zone touchdown percentage and from fifth to 10th in that category on defense. Those numbers will turn around in 2014, helping the Rebels to an above .500 conference record for the first time since 2008.

Final thought - They played four Top 10 teams last season and that does not even include Auburn. This year's schedule is bit easier. Over/under total - 7.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 9-3, 5-3.

3) AUBURN (9-2) - The Tigers went 8-1 ATS in conference play last year. The previous year that happened, they went 4-4 the following season. Was last year's success due to skill? Was it luck? How did Auburn jump from last to first in the SEC? Gus Malzahn and Nick Marshall had a lot to do with the offensive turnaround, but one has to think the Tigers will not win four games in the final two minutes as they did last season. Moreover, there are question marks concerning Robenson Therezie and Carl Lawson on defense, which could stifle a lot of momentum.

Final thought - Auburn will not go 11-2 ATS for a second straight year. In fact, the last three times the Tigers covered eight or more games in a season, they finished below. 500 ATS the following year (during regular season play). Over/under total - 9. Predicted overall and conference records - 8-4, 5-3. Take under nine wins at +105.

2) LSU (6-1) - The Tigers covered just one of their last five games. The offense averaged nine more points per game inside league play than in 2012 due to a 21 percent rise in red zone touchdown percentage. LSU also ranked No. 1 nationally in third-down efficiency after finishing 60th in 2012. Unfortunately, Zach Mettenberger and the team's starting wide receivers are gone. Conversely, the defense should be top-notch with the return of seven starters and 10 of the top 15 tacklers. Don't forget, the Tigers came into last year without all four starters on the defensive line.

Final thought - A home game versus Kentucky replaces a game at Georgia, so even with a declining offense, LSU could still match last year's SEC win total. Over/under total - 9. Predicted overall and conference records - 9-3, 5-3.

1) ALABAMA (6-5) - The Crimson Tide were 1-3 as road favorites last year. The last two times they finished below .500 in that category, they produced 3-0 and 4-1 marks the following seasons. Alabama, unlike LSU, had a major drop in red zone touchdown percentage, ranking seventh in league play after finishing second in 2012. In addition, its defensive red zone touchdown percentage fell by eight points. If Jake Coker (or Blake Sims) can give Alabama anything close to what A.J. McCarron provided last year, the offense should not miss a beat. Either way, the Tide, once again, will have a top-five defense, so anything but an unbeaten or one-loss regular season will be viewed as a disappointment.

Final thought - Alabama has finished .500 or better ATS for six consecutive seasons. Expect a seventh to come in 2014. Over/under total - 10.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 11-1, 7-1.

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