King: Handicapping the Hogs and the SEC

By: Harry King
Published: Friday, August 2, 2019
Arkansas football helmets sit atop storage bins during a game against Mississippi State on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas football helmets sit atop storage bins during a game against Mississippi State on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Fayetteville.

LITTLE ROCK — From the professional handicappers’ perception of the Razorbacks to a personal opinion about postseason possibilities, the particulars are redundant:

• Established by a Nevada-based sports book, the over-under number for Arkansas victories this fall is 5.5, same as in Chad Morris’s first year.

• Although quarterback play should be improved and young receivers have potential, enthusiasm for the Razorbacks to win six or more is again lukewarm.

Trying to turn a profit for the fourth straight year, wagering $10 to $30 in Monopoly money on the season-long numbers produced by BetOnLine is a convenient way to unveil a late-summer look at Arkansas and the 13 other SEC teams. As always, the bankroll is $200 and the exercise begins with the Razorbacks.

Before Mike Anderson’s future was resolved and Arkansas baseball’s return to Omaha was a certainty, the outlook for Morris’ second Razorbacks team was often discussed with friends. Every prediction was predicated on 4-0 vs. nonconference opponents and 0-4 vs. Alabama, LSU, Auburn, and Texas A&M.

In doubt were Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Missouri, and if Arkansas loses to the Rebels on Sept. 7, it will be November before the Razorbacks have a home game vs. another one of those four.

The over-under of 5 for Western Kentucky, 3.5 for Colorado State and 2.5 for San Jose State reflects the inferiority of the nonconference opponents. The sports book does not produce a number for FCS member Portland State.

Pegged at 5, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt are the only SEC teams with an over-under less than the Razorbacks’ 5.5, and both face better nonconference foes — the Rebels vs. Memphis and California, and Vanderbilt vs. Purdue.

Obligated to take a stand, the play is the minimum $10 on Arkansas to top 5.5 wins.

Moving on, the only teams deemed worthy of the max $30 wager are Texas A&M to go over 7.5 victories and Georgia to fall short of 10.5.

The Aggies are enthusiastically endorsed despite the fact they are the only team in the country that plays three of the four favorites to make the College Football Playoff — Clemson in September, Alabama in October and Georgia in November.

The number for those teams is an astounding 11.5 for the Tigers, 11 for the Crimson Tide and 10.5 for the Bulldogs.

Backing the Aggies to win eight or more is rooted in second-year coach Jimbo Fisher’s success with quarterbacks and two superb recruiting classes.

Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm could be a first-round pick if he enters the NFL draft a year early, and his offensive line is highly regarded. But, Fromm will miss wide receivers Riley Ridley and Mecole Hardman, plus tight end Isaac Nauta, all of whom declared early for the NFL and were among seven Georgia players selected.

The Bulldogs’ schedule includes Notre Dame, SEC West contenders A&M and Auburn, plus the annual game in Jacksonville vs. Florida, and the suspicion is the Bulldogs will slip up at least twice.

Other than A&M, SEC East Division members Kentucky, Tennessee and South Carolina are most likely to go over the number and each merits a $20 investment:

• Kentucky, 6.5: More game manager than anything else last year, Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson won 10 games as a sophomore and his role will be expanded. The Wildcats have won at least four SEC games each of the last three years under Mark Stoops.

• Tennessee, 7: The Vols, who beat nationally-ranked Auburn and Kentucky in Jeremy Pruitt’s first year, but lost to Missouri and Vanderbilt, should be more consistent under offensive coordinator Jim Chaney hired away from Georgia and defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley who left the NFL. For believers in the home field, the Vols play seven of their first nine in Knoxville.

• South Carolina, 5.5: The Gamecocks, 12-12 in the SEC under Will Muschamp and never worse than 3-5, find a way to get to a bowl for the fourth straight year.

Assigned an 8, Mississippi State also merits a $20 wager, but on the under. The 41 passes Tommy Stevens threw in three years at Penn State didn’t prepare the transfer quarterback for the SEC.

The $10 minimum applies to five SEC teams:

• Alabama, 11, over: Singling out the team that will ruin the Crimson Tide’s second consecutive 12-0 is impossible.

• Florida, 9, over: Although the Gators play SEC West representatives Auburn and LSU back to back in October, nonconference foes Miami and Florida State are no longer among the elite.

• Missouri 8, under: Transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant won 12 games as a first-year quarterback at Clemson, but this supporting cast is far less talented.

• Auburn, 8, over: Head coach Gus Malzahn is taking over the play calling and that probably means more diversity, including the quarterback option.

• Ole Miss, 5, over: The new-look offense under Rich Rodriguez should be worth an SEC victory or two, and Vanderbilt is the Rebels’ annual opponent from the SEC East.

• LSU at 9 and Vanderbilt at 5 appear on target.

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