Challenging Vegas' take on the Hogs, SEC West

By: Harry King
Published: Thursday, May 10, 2018
Arkansas coach Chad Morris talks to players during a scrimmage Saturday, April 7, 2018, at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
Photo by Thomas Metthe
Arkansas coach Chad Morris talks to players during a scrimmage Saturday, April 7, 2018, at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

— Bucking the wisdom of a longtime sports broadcaster and dear friend, there is an inclination to challenge Vegas’ over-under number for wins this fall of at least three teams in the SEC West.

“Those are not two drunks in a bar” making the betting lines, the late Jim Elder reminded every time a point spread was questioned.

Contrarians cite the sports books’ occasional bad miss such as the over-under of seven for the Arkansas team that won four in 2017. But, generally, Vegas’ number is so good that whether an over-under wager is cashed, trashed or a push is decided in the final game of the season.

There is no argument with numbers that indicate Auburn is best equipped to challenge Alabama in the SEC West and that Georgia is head and shoulders above the rest in the East despite playing both Auburn and LSU from the West. The number is 10 ½ for both Alabama and Georgia. Nine is the number for Auburn while South Carolina and Florida are considered second-best in the East, both pegged at a paltry seven.

Arkansas’ number is 5 ½, which is certain to attract wagers on both sides. The most reasonable path to six wins is a three-game streak vs. non-conference opponents in September and in-state winning streak vs. Ole Miss, Tulsa and Vanderbilt in October.

Encouraging for Arkansas fans, the Vegas number is six for Ole Miss and a conference-worst five for Vanderbilt.

Contemplating the over-under for SEC West members Mississippi State, LSU, and Texas A&M, coaching changes are reason to believe the number is askew on all three.

One opinion:

—Mississippi State, 8, too high. The number reflects confidence in new head coach Joe Moorhead and experienced quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who suffered a broken ankle in November.

Moorhead’s offense at Penn State scored 30 or more in 21 of the 26 games in which he was the coordinator and he has head coaching experience, putting together a 38-13 record in four years at Fordham after inheriting a program that was 1-10. Still, there is a reluctance to embrace a coach making his SEC debut.

The over-under might be accurate if Fitzgerald is ready in September, but he said last month that he has been told his ankle is probably 75 percent. “I'm not hurting when I run, but I'm not pushing it, either,” said Fitzgerald, who carried between 10 and 22 times in 10 straight games.

—LSU, 7 ½, too low. Finally, LSU appears to have hired the right coach to deliver on the oft-promised update of the Tigers’ offense. Entrusted with the assignment is Steve Ensminger, a former LSU quarterback who says he worked his 20-plus-year career to be the OC in Baton Rouge.

He has talked about putting the best talent on the field, adding, “And I think that will be three and four wideouts.”

Keep an eye on Joe Burrow, an Ohio State graduate transfer who has two years of eligibility remaining and who is supposed to visit Baton Rouge this weekend.

—Texas A&M, 7, too low. Unlike Moorhead, the Aggies’ Jimbo Fisher is well acquainted with the talent in the SEC since his Florida State team opened the 2017 season with a 24-7 loss to Alabama and he was LSU’s offensive coordinator for several years.

Renown for his work with quarterbacks, Fisher will improve Kellen Mond or Nick Starkel, or both.

In 2000, Fisher’s first year as offensive coordinator at LSU, quarterback Josh Booty threw 10 more touchdowns and four fewer interceptions than the previous year. Selected in the sixth round of the 2001 NFL draft, Booty once said, “Man, I would’ve loved to play for Jimbo for two or three more years … Maybe I could’ve been the first pick in the draft.”

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