Beware of several sleepers who could challenge the big three in conference
The SEC is a man's league and just in case you didn't know that, Gus Malzahn will remind you whenever he can. Alabama, Auburn and Georgia figure to be the cream of the crop as usual, but we'll see if there's another team that can crack the holy triad.
Some think Mississippi State can be that squad while others believe Florida has what it takes. This article will take a look at the win totals provided by the South Point Casino. Quite often, you may see me say that the number they provided is pretty strong. Oddsmakers are usually really good when it comes to the Power 5 schools but that doesn't mean there aren't some potential plays out there when it comes to the over/under for certain teams.
Non-Conference Games: Charleston Southern, Colorado State, Idaho, at Florida State
Dan Mullen comes over from Mississippi State and hopes to bring some hope as well. Todd Grantham also comes over from Starkville to take care of the defense. The foundation is in place with 16 starters in place. The questions begin at quarterback where the team has used 12 different guys since 2009. If Mullen can find the right signal-caller, then the skill position talent can be used properly. I really think the defense is going to be strong. The Gators took the rare step back last season, allowing more than 27 points per game, the most by the team since way back in 1946.
Verdict: Eight is a strong number so no play here.
Over 10.5 wins -110...Under 10.5 wins -110
Non-Conference Games: Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee, UMass, Georgia Tech
The Bulldogs are absolutely loaded this year on offense. D'Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield aren't Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, but they will be tough to handle. Another year for Jake Fromm in the offense will mean improvement as he throws to the likes of Terry Godwin and Mecole Hardman. The defense will take a step back, but only because it won't be as good as the 2017 unit. Kirby Smart won't let the defense fall too far though despite only having five starters back.
Verdict: This schedule really doesn't scare me much. The road trip to LSU may be tough, but this team should lose one game if any at all.
Over 5.5 wins EVEN...Under 5.5 wins -120
Non-Conference Games: Central Michigan, Murray State, Middle Tennessee, at Louisville
The Wildcats started out 5-1 before limping down the stretch to a 2-5 finish. They did make a bowl game for the second straight season and have some pieces in place to get back to the postseason. Kentucky has a somewhat friendly schedule with Mississippi State and Georgia both coming to Lexington. Benny Snell probably doesn't get enough publicity for being one of the better running backs in the country. He ran for 1,333 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2017. He's got the majority of his offensive line back so he should be just as dangerous, if not more so. Getting back linebackers Josh Allen and Jordan Jones on defense was big. This group could be sneaky good too.
Verdict: I like the over here at this price especially if Kentucky takes advantage of the winnable road games on the slate. I think the Wildcats could approach seven wins.
Over 7.5 wins +105...Under 7.5 wins -125
Non-Conference Games: UT Martin, Wyoming, at Purdue, Memphis
The Tigers made a bowl game last year for the first time since 2014. Barry Odom is just 11-14 in his first two years at Mizzou. Drew Lock threw for a school-record 44 touchdowns in 2017 so the team is set at quarterback. Having Damarea Crockett healthy at running back will help as well as the return of four of the Tigers' top five wide receivers. On defense the team is turning to some grad transfers to help. The unit was pretty bad last year, allowing nearly 32 points per contest. Missouri closes out with four of the final six at home.
Verdict: I agree with the money move as I only come up with 6 or 7 wins.
Over 7 wins -115...Under 7 wins -105
Non-Conference Games: Coastal Carolina, Marshall, Chattanooga, at Clemson
Deebo Samuel's return to the lineup is going to bolster a group that has seven other returning starters. Jake Bentley threw for 18 touchdowns vs. 12 interceptions in 2017 and lost only tight end Hayden Hurst among his top targets. You can see Will Muschamp's influence on defense with the team shaving off almost seven points per game allowed since he took over. With five starters back, the pieces are in place for another solid effort on that side of the ball. The Gamecocks have two stretches of three straight home games on their slate.
Verdict: I've got 6 or 7 wins for South Carolina
Over 5.5 wins +105...Under 5.5 wins -125
Non-Conference Games: vs. West Virginia, East Tennessee State, UTEP, Charlotte
Jeremy Pruitt has been hired to try and revitalize this program. Tennessee went 4-8 last year and nearly lost to UMass at home as a 28-point favorite. There are plenty of Pruitt doubters, which makes me question how good the Volunteers can be. This team returns just 10 starters. Keller Chryst has been added as a graduate transfer and he was 11-2 as the Cardinal's starting quarterback over the last two seasons. Madre London came the same route from Michigan State and will look to boost a running game that struggled in 2017. The offense averaged fewer than 20 points per game last season, but that should improve. One would think Pruitt would help the defense since that's his background, but this unit has struggled for two straight seasons.
Verdict: The schedule gives Tennessee a shot to go over with several weaker opponents coming to Rocky Top. Still, I've got no play here.
Over 4.5 wins -110...Under 4.5 wins -110
Non-Conference Games: Middle Tennessee, Nevada, at Notre Dame, Tennessee State
The Commodores have actually challenged themselves out of SEC play, which is a departure from what the rest of the conference does. The Blue Raiders and Wolf Pack are each capable of winning in Nashville. Kyle Shurmur is coming off a year when he threw for 26 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions. Losing all-time leading rusher Ralph Webb will hurt, but Illinois transfer Ke'Shawn Vaughn could soften the blow. The question will be if the defense can improve from last year's awful showing. The Commodores surrendered more than 43 points per game to SEC foes. I like Derek Mason as a head coach despite his 18-31 record at the school.
Verdict: Five wins is possible for Vanderbilt, but I'm not confident enough to recommend either side of this total.
Over 11 wins -110...Under 11 wins -110
Non-Conference Games: vs. Louisville, Arkansas State, Louisiana, The Citadel
Alabama just reloads year after year and 2018 is no different. A lot will ride on the quarterback decision with Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa going at it. The latter saved the day in the national title game and has all the tools to be really successful. The running back group is incredible with Damien Harris, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs. The offensive line is going to be awesome as well. Defensively, there are only three starters back and some injury questions, but the team usually figures things out. Jeremy Pruitt is gone with Pete Golding and Tosh Lupoi replacing him as defensive co-coordinators.
Verdict: 11 wins really leaves no room for error. The team's toughest games appear to be at home against Mississippi State and Auburn.
Over 5.5 wins -110...Under 5.5 wins -110
Non-Conference Games: Eastern Illinois, at Colorado State, North Texas, Tulsa
Chad Morris is known for his work on offense, but the bigger issue for Arkansas is a defense that gave up 40 points or more five times last season. Morris will need to identify a quarterback that run his up-tempo offense. The line is pretty much intact with a lot of the skill position guys back as well. John Chavis is tasked with turning around the Razorbacks' defense and he has plenty of experience in the SEC, which should help. Arkansas has a stretch of six weeks where it does not play a true road game.
Verdict: The over might be worth a look here. With just four contests away from home, Arkansas could win enough games to go bowling.
Over 9 wins -110...Under 9 wins -110
Non-Conference Games: vs. Washington, Alabama State, Southern Miss, Liberty
The Tigers will not play their first true road game until Oct. 6 when they travel to Starkville. They've got four true road games with Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama being the others. Auburn is really excited about quarterback Jarrett Stidham's potential now that he has a year under his belt running Gus Malzahn's offense. If the wide receivers stay healthy, Stidham could emerge as a dark horse Heisman candidate. Two wideouts tore their ACLs in the spring so their availability is up in the air. Seven starters return on defense including three on one of the nation's top defensive lines. Consistent pressure on the quarterback will help a secondary that's short on experience.
Verdict: Nine wins is a strong number.
Over 7.5 wins +110...Under 7.5 wins -130
Non-Conference Games: vs. Miami, SE Louisiana, Louisiana Tech, Rice
Thank goodness for a relatively easy out-of-conference schedule outside of the opener in Arlington, Texas, against Miami. The Tigers host Georgia and Alabama, but also play four different teams off of their bye week. Ed Orgeron has done some decent things at LSU and is coming off of a 9-4 showing. The question marks start under center and continue at running back with Derrius Guice going pro. Steve Ensminger will be in his first full season as offensive coordinator following the departure of Matt Canada. The defense will have to be strong for the Tigers to succeed considering how it could take some time for the offense to gel.
Verdict: The under is worth a look here although not at this price. This could be a very tough season for LSU fans.
Over 8 wins -120...Under 8 wins EVEN
Non-Conference Games: Stephen F. Austin, at Kansas State, Louisiana, Louisiana Tech
If Jarrett Stidham isn't the best QB in this conference, then it might be Nick Fitzgerald. The signal-caller had underwhelming numbers last year with just 15 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. He did add 14 rushing TDs. The team's top three running backs return while several wide receivers are back. It will be interesting to see new head coach Joe Moorhead's influence on this side of the ball. The defense should be pretty strong with 14 of the Bulldogs' top 17 tacklers back. The schedule lines up pretty nicely other than a trip to Alabama in November.
Verdict: The money move is right as I see nine wins for Mississippi State.
Over 6 wins +125...Under 6 wins -145
Non-Conference Games: vs. Texas Tech, Southern Illinois, Kent State, ULM
Much like a lot of the other teams in this conference, Ole Miss has a very friendly stretch of games. The Rebels play just three true road games with two others being on "neutral" fields in the opponents' states. Matt Luke got this team to a 6-6 record last year while dealing with a lot of off the field stuff. The team seems to really like him and rallied behind him as the interim head coach. The Rebels probably have one of the best WR groups in the country led by A.J. Brown and DaMarkus Lodge as well as DK Metcalf. The defense will be the question mark for this team. They gave up nearly 35 points per game in 2017.
Verdict: As usual, the money move is correct, but there's no way I'm taking any side at -145.
Over 7 wins -130...Under 7 wins +110
Non-Conference Games: Northwestern State, Clemson, ULM, UAB
Jimbo Fisher replaces Kevin Sumlin here and has 14 starters back to help him make the transition from the ACC. The running back group is very intriguing with Trayveon Williams leading the way. The big decision comes at quarterback where Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel are fighting it out. The offensive line will be very experienced. Fisher hired defensive coordinator Mike Elko away from Notre Dame. He's got some returning talent at all levels of the defense. This team starts and ends with three straight at home and plays just four true road games in total.
Verdict: I've got seven wins so this number is right on the money.
-- Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.