Betting line underscores Morris' uphill battle

By: Harry King
Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2019
Arkansas coach Chad Morris speaks to members of his offense Saturday, April 6, 2019, during the Razorbacks' spring game in Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Chad Morris speaks to members of his offense Saturday, April 6, 2019, during the Razorbacks' spring game in Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

LITTLE ROCK — Unwittingly, a sports book’s early numbers for win totals for almost two-dozen college football teams provides realistic perspective concerning the degree of difficulty facing Arkansas in Chad Morris’ second year.

The over/under for all 130 FBS teams will probably be available in June, but a contact with BetOnLine recently emailed betting lines for what was described as the “Top Teams.”

On the list are seven from the SEC, including five from the Western Division where Arkansas and Ole Miss also reside. The sports book did not deem worthy more than four teams from any other league.

Big Ten advocates can question the popular assessment that the SEC West has more good teams than any other, but no other division had more than three representatives on the list. Included are Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State from the Eastern Division of the Big Ten, and Washington, Washington State and Oregon in the Northern Division of the Pac-12.

In the one division Big 12, Oklahoma, Texas and TCU are on the list.

The win totals assigned SEC teams, starting with the West:

• Alabama, 11

• Auburn, 8

• LSU, 9

• Mississippi State, 8

• Texas A&M, 7 1/2

East:

• Georgia, 10 1/2

• Florida, 9

To an amateur handicapper with a preconceived notion about the Aggies in general and Auburn’s quarterback situation in particular, a couple of the numbers seem too low.

Maybe this is giving too much credit to second-year coach Jimbo Fisher, but A&M has always had athletes, Fisher has been relentless about changing the culture in College Station, and the seven-overtime victory over LSU last November might have clinched the sale. In addition, Fisher’s track record with quarterbacks indicates giant strides this fall for Kellen Mond, who completed 50 percent or less vs. Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State last year.

Those of us sold on Fisher expect the Aggies to compete for second in the West, which means winning at least nine and that is with a loss at Clemson in early September.

Hampered the past two years because of Jarrett Stidham’s lack of running ability, expect Auburn’s offense to be more versatile and productive with either redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood or true freshman Bo Nix at quarterback.

Coach Gus Malzahn has been coy about the quarterback competition. Both quarterbacks are considered first teamers, although Gatwood was on the field first at the spring game.

Reading reviews of the contest, a quote from wide receiver Seth Williams is a must-use. The 6-foot-5, 233-pound Gatewood, Williams said, is a “baby Cam Newton.”

To fully appreciate the anticipated dominance of Alabama, know that only a 12-0 season is a winning wager when the line is 11, and that Clemson is the only other team in the country assigned such a number.

It is no coincidence that those two teams met in the national championship game last season and that both return starting quarterbacks — Tua Tagovailoa in Tuscaloosa and Trevor Lawrence at Clemson.

If there is cause for concern among the Alabama faithful, it is Tagovailoa’s so-so performances vs. Clemson in the title game in January and his blah numbers in Alabama’s recent spring game.

Admittedly, he seemed confused at times vs. the Tigers when he threw two interceptions. But, there is a reluctance to jump off the Tagovailoa bandwagon just because he was 19-of-37 with an interception last week while winning quarterback Mac Jones was 19-of-23 for 274 yards with 2 TD passes and 1 interception.

For one thing, a coach can rig situations to embarrass a particular player who needs to be pushed.

Explaining his spring game stats, Tagovailoa noted the offense was limited to a couple of running plays and there “was a lot of miscommunication with me and the receivers.”

By the way, Jalen Hurts, 26-2 as a starter at Alabama before leaving Tuscaloosa when it became obvious Tagovailoa was going to start, was 11-of-14 for 174 yards in the spring game at Oklahoma where the Sooners are among the favorites to make the College Football Playoff and he is expected to be the starter.

OU qualifying for the CFP in three of the first five years has been overshadowed by the accomplishments of Alabama and Clemson — the Crimson Tide making the title game four straight years and the Tigers winning two of the last three.

Hurts and Jake Fromm at Georgia are prominent among the reasons that the sports book identified only the Sooners and the Bulldogs as good enough to be assigned 10 1/2 for winning totals. Ohio State and Washington are the only Power Five conference members at 10.

Also pegged at 10 are Boise State and Central Florida.

When win totals are released for all teams, this amateur expects Arkansas to be at 5 and Ole Miss at 6.

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