Greeson: Lots to like in a not-so-entertaining SEC slate

Greeson: Lots to like in a not-so-entertaining SEC slate

October 13th, 2017 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

Former LSU football coach Les Miles, center, will be back at Death Valley on Saturday to be honored as part of Saturday's game against Auburn.

Photo by Butch Dill

For the bad beat of this past week, let's go to the pick from the rain-soaked Central Florida at Cincinnati blowout.

The over was 53.5 points, and the teams scored 51 in the first half, then three more touchdowns in the third quarter before a deluge forced the rest of the game to be called off. It was officially a 51-23 victory for Central Florida, but all Vegas tickets were canceled.

That makes a lot of sense where the spread is concerned — you can never tell whether Cincinnati could have added a touchdown or two to get within the 15-point spread — but canceling the over/under when there were 74 points scored midway through three quarters makes little sense.

Vegas, baby. Vegas.

Alabama minus-30 over Arkansas. OK, here's what we know. Alabama coach Nick Saban was ticked off last week and took shots at the media for being too positive. Yes, you read that right. Nevermind that Lord Saban did it after an eight-point road win over Texas A&M, which could end up winning eight or nine games this season. Lord Saban was angry, and when he talks angry, his team almost always plays angry the next weekend. Yes, 30 points is a ton. A ton. But on the comfort scale, would you take Arkansas plus-30? Me neither. Now know that the best player on the Arkansas offense — quarterback Austin Allen — is a dropback passer who has a sore shoulder. Release the hounds.

Texas A&M plus-3 over Florida. The Aggies played hard last week against the powerhouse that is Alabama, a spot in which a lot of folks have simply folded their tents. Yes, you should buy the half and take your chances. What evidence do you have that supports a belief that Florida is any good? A 63-yard pass that exploited Butch Jones and the Tennessee staff for doing Butch Jones types of things? Florida is 3-2 with losses to LSU (which is bad) and Michigan (which is not as good as expected). Florida's three victories are flukes over Kentucky and Tennessee that resulted from terrible defensive coaching decisions, plus a 14-point home win over Vandy. Read that again. A&M has the better quarterback, the best playmaker on the field (wide receiver Christian Kirk) and signs of improvement.

South Carolina plus-3 over Tennessee. OK, another line that stunningly is not the other way. Tennessee is in the bottom 10 in rushing yards allowed nationally, and that was before indefinitely suspending a starting defensive end. So, despite having the best bye week in the history of bye weeks — which we are certain was filled with leadership reps for everyone — what is the strongest statement to make you believe Tennessee wins this game? I'm not sure I can come up with one, and in truth, considering all the angst within the program and fan base, this actually may be one of the rare times playing at Neyland Stadium actually ramps up the pressure on the Vols.

Auburn minus-7 over LSU. This is logic over tradition. Auburn has the best defensive front a questionable LSU offensive line has seen to date this season. That's impossible to overstate here. Did anyone else think the celebration and reaction to LSU escaping the Swamp screamed of a team unsure how good it is? The only drawback here is that Auburn almost always figures out a way to float a stinker when you least expect it. Maybe this is it, but playing in the afternoon at Death Valley is not as daunting, and playing this LSU team will certainly not be as physical as the past eight fruitless trips Auburn has made to Baton Rouge.

Texas plus-8 over Oklahoma. As a head coach, Tom Herman is 6-0 against the spread when his team is an underdog, and going back to his time as an assistant at THE Ohio State, Herman-coached teams are 12-0 against the spread, with 11 outright wins as an underdog. This is a monster rivalry, and the Texas offense is a totally different animal with a mobile quarterback. And since giving up 51 points to Maryland in the opener, the Longhorns may have the most talented defense in the Big 12. Yes, that's like telling you to order the go-to dish from a really bad cook, but you get the idea.

N.C. State minus-11 over Pittsburgh. The Wolfpack defensive front is filled with NFL dudes. They are No. 8 against the run nationally and among the top 20 in sacks. Pittsburgh has offensive line problems — the Panthers are 107th in rushing and have averaged fewer than 3.4 yards per carry, and they are tied for 110th nationally by having allowed an average of three sacks per game. Plus, the Panthers are about to play their seventh game in as many weeks, while N.C. State has had a little extra time to heal after an impressive win over Louisville on Oct. 5. This is a nooner that will be in front of 12,000 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

Last week: 3-3 against the spread (50 percent)

This season: 19-13 against the spread (59.4 percent)

SEC ITEMS OF INTEREST

Sure, the names on the plates for this weekend's Southeastern Conference schedule — Auburn at LSU, Texas A&M at Florida, to name but two games — may have the familiar cache that SEC October Saturdays bring. But the explosion level — the Vegas totals for the Tigers' tussle is 44.5, and for the Aggies and Gators its 51.5 — is tempered at best. And yes, in a week that featured a lot of potential picks, I looked long and hard at the under in each of these games.

Still, a lack of high-profile matchups does not mean there's a lack of meaningful matchups. Let's explore.

First down. Butch's last stand. Tennessee welcomes South Carolina for a game that can't be overstated for Jones. There will be empty seats. The coach pulled the quarterback change card from his deck of tricks and will turn to Jarrett Guarantano, who will make his first start. South Carolina has had time to adjust to losing dynamic playmaker Deebo Samuel and will lean heavily on sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley, who is the coolest teenager since Ferris Bueller. As big as this game is, Guarantano's first series will be so huge. For him. For the crowd. For the momentum. For Butch.

Second down. Elite-level beatdowns. Alabama and Georgia are hosting divisional foes Arkansas and Missouri, respectively, and have the largest point spreads of any conference matchup among Football Bowl Subdivision teams this week. Each is laying 30 points. Thirty. (The only line bigger this week is Central Florida dropping five touchdowns against East Carolina.) With defenses ranked in the top five in the country, Alabama and Georgia are steamrolling all comers right now, and it's not like a lot is expected from the Razorbacks or Tigers. In truth, the most interesting parts of these Saturday affairs may be the postgame pressers for Lord Saban and his apprentice, Capt. Kirby Smart. Here's betting at least one of them gets cross with the media in the bowels of the stadium sometime before church comes Sunday.

Third down. Crazy lines. Yes, I spent a lot of words going over the picks this week, but there are a lot of numbers in SEC games that made me scratch my head. I discussed the one-sided nature of the top-ranked Crimson Tide and No. 4 Bulldogs, but how is Florida favored over A&M? How is Tennessee laying a field goal to South Carolina? How in the world is Ole Miss laying points to Vandy? Maybe the betting world is thinking of last week's vote to officially change the Ole Miss sideline mascot to a Landshark. Hey, I'm cool with that. (Yes, they still call themselves the Rebels, but a school vote changed the Rebel Black Bear to a Landshark as their new sideline mascot. If it seems confusing, well, ask one of your Auburn friends — we know how to explain multiple mascot personality disorder.) The Landshark still does not have a name — here's betting Hugh or Mr. Freeze will not be in the running — and will make his debut in 2018.

Fourth down. Tigers on Tigers. Auburn vs. LSU has been a great showdown filled with craziness over the past two decades. Now add in the fact that former LSU coach Les Miles will be honored during this game as the Bayou Bengals face the last team he coached against. (Remember last year's crazy finish at Auburn?) Here are two keys — and yes, the large number of SEC plays this week calls for a little overlap in the picks and items of interest — for Auburn to stay in the hunt to make it a November to remember in Lee County: First, make LSU quarterback Danny Etling beat you. Second, start quickly, and let all of the LSU fans remember Ed Orgeron is their head coach now.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6343.

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