ATLANTA—11Alive Sports breaks down the SEC's 'Over-Under' victory projections for 2018 (source: VegasInsider.com), with today's piece focusing on the SEC West.
One quick note: We're assuming the good people of Vegas have factored in bowl play with these predictions ... so we'll operate around that assumption.
To view the SEC East over/under projections, click here.
PROJECTED WINS: 10.5
1. This schedule has 12-0 written all over it. Alabama should be a double-digit-point favorite for every regular-season outing ... with the possible and final exception of Auburn on Thanksgiving Saturday.
2. Let's see: No Georgia, Florida or South Carolina from the East; and Alabama's four toughest conference opponents—Texas A&M (Sept. 22), Missouri (Oct. 13), Mississippi State (Nov. 10), Auburn (Nov. 24)—all visit Tuscaloosa.
3. The Crimson Tide likely won't encounter close games on back-to-back weekends. In fact, the most difficult two-game stretch will likely involve at LSU (Nov. 3) and vs. Mississippi State (following Saturday).
4. It would have been fun to watch the Crimson Tide defense chase former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson in the opener; but alas, the Cardinals will have to make do without their most transformative talent of the last 20 years.
At last heck, Alabama stood as a 31-point favorite versus Louisville on opening weekend (Orlando).
5. With this cake schedule, the Tide's quarterbacking competition of Jalen Hurts vs. Tua Tagovaiola will have plenty of time to develop (or blossom) ... without Alabama risking a shocking upset.
1. The trip to Baton Rouge can never be taken for granted, especially if the Tigers are operating at peak offensive efficiency. Also, Ohio State grad transfer Joe Burrow represents an excellent placeholder at the quarterbacking slot.
2. Can Missouri hang 30 on the Alabama defense? For me, that's one of the most intriguing questions of the offseason ... with SEC Media Days just six weeks from now (July 16-19 in Atlanta).
PROJECTED WINS: 9
1. Auburn will enjoy five home games before mid-October, including four straight from Sept. 8-29 (vs. Alabama State, LSU, Arkansas, Southern Miss).
2. The Tigers have five non-home outings on the docket; and yet, they'll play in only three states all season: Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi.
3. If Auburn gets past Washington in the Sept. 1 opener (no small task), the Tigers would have an excellent shot at going 8-0 before the Oct. 27 bye.
4. You can't put a price on Auburn having carryover continuity at the quarterback slot, with Jarrett Stidham (3,158 yards passing, 20 total TDs last year) running the show once more.
With the Tigers' run-oriented offense last season, Stidham still accounted for two 300-yard passing outings and six games of multiple touchdowns.
1. It's a fair question to ask: Does Auburn even want to open the season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium?
The Tigers have dropped their last two games at Atlanta's version of the Taj Mahal; and the third consecutive trip to Georgia won't be a cakewalk either, with Washington boasting a flood of key returnees—including quarterback Jake Browning (62 TD passes for 2016-17) and tailback Myles Gaskin (1,612 total yards, 24 TDs last year).
2. Without a doubt, Auburn has one of the nation's toughest slate for November—vs. Texas A&M, at UGA, vs. Liberty and at Alabama.
Most schools would kill for a 2-2 month ... but for the Tigers, it would likely preclude them from reaching a New Year's Six major bowl (Peach, Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, Cotton, Orange).
3. With the exception of Ole Miss (Oct. 20), Auburn could be underdogs for its five games away from Jordan-Hare Stadium—Washington (Sept. 1, neutral field), at Mississippi State (Oct. 6), at UGA (Nov. 10) and at Alabama (Oct. 24).
As such, it puts the Tigers' Vegas number of '9' in serious 'push' jeopardy.
Speaking of which ... it would have been nice for VegasInsider.com to attach a 'hook' to Auburn's preseason betting line.
If it was 9 1/2 ... I'd probably go under.
If it were 8 1/2 ... the 'over' might have seen like a breeze.
PROJECTED WINS: 8
VERDICT: OVER (INCLUDES BOWL WIN)
1. If quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (major knee injury vs. Ole Miss last year) returns to the field at full strength, Mississippi State has the goods to reach a New Year's Day bowl ... and even threaten Auburn or Alabama during the regular season.
For my money, Fitzgerald represents the No. 2 quarterbacking prospect for the 2019 NFL Draft—after Missouri's Drew Lock.
2. To eclipse the Vegas baseline of eight wins, Mississippi State needs to hit the Oct. 13 bye at no worse than 5-1. If this happens, the Bulldogs would have some flexibility against the likes of LSU and Texas A&M.
1. Hail State will encounter a brutal stretch of Florida (Sept. 29), Auburn (Oct. 6), at LSU (Oct. 20) and Texas A&M (Oct. 27) early in conference play. Thankfully, three outings take place in Starkville.
2. That road trip to Kentucky on Sept. 22 has T-R-O-U-B-L-E written all over it, especially with Florida and Auburn invading Starkville the following two Saturdays.
3. Mississippi State's last two treks to LSU involved a pair of close games—one victory, one defeat. From 2002-12, though, LSU enjoyed an average victory margin of 25.3 points in Baton Rouge.
4. Don't sleep on Kansas State (Sept. 8). Citing the Wildcats' non-conference September home games from the last 10 years (2008-17), KSU has a sterling 24-1 record, with the lone defeat coming against Auburn in 2014.
PROJECTED WINS: 7.5
1. Remember Wisconsin's season-opening upset of LSU two years ago, which quickly derailed the Tigers' hopes for a national title, along with Les Miles' job prospects?
Well, Miami enters this year with similar uber-hype for the College Football Playoff; and yet, some Vegas oddsmakers have LSU installed as the early favorite for the Sept. 2 clash in Texas (AT&T Stadium).
As openers go, this might be one of the most meaningful experiences for LSU—at least dating back to 20 years. If the Tigers can get past the Hurricanes, the narrative for their season changes profoundly.
2. It's been 10 years since LSU hosted Alabama and UGA at Tiger Stadium. If anything, this will create two of the season's best gameday-tailgating scenarios.
3. Thank goodness for Rice, huh? Beginning Oct. 6, LSU's finishing kick of Florida, UGA, Mississippi State, Alabama, Arkansas (road), Rice and Texas A&M offers just one 'gimme' game.
1. We could be looking at the toughest schedule of any SEC West program.
Miami (Sept. 2 in North Dallas), Auburn (Sept. 15), UGA (Oct. 13), Alabama (Nov. 3) and Texas A&M (Nov. 24) could all be top-5 or top-10 programs when it's time to battle LSU; and then throw in two potentially dicey matchups with Florida (road) and Mississippi State (home) ... and it's easy to wonder if the Vegas projectors were being kind to the Tigers this offseason.
2. It's difficult to envision LSU having any win streaks longer than three games.
3. Obviously, LSU would prefer to play Alabama in Baton Rouge, opposed to Tuscaloosa. But venue hasn't really been a factor lately. The Tigers haven't cleared 20 points against the Crimson Tide since 2010.
PROJECTED WINS: 7
1. The Aggies have an eminently doable slate of SEC home games for the season, taking on Arkansas (Sept. 29), Kentucky (Oct. 6), Ole Miss (Nov. 10) and LSU (Nov. 24).
Throw in the three 'gimmes' of Northwestern State, Louisiana-Monroe and UAB ... and head coach Jimbo Fisher has a great shot at exceeding first-year expectations in College Station.
2. Tiny gripe: The bowl matchups might be largely determined before Texas A&M completes its three-game home stand (Ole Miss, UAB, LSU) to end the regular season. In terms of meeting VegasInsider's line of '7' ... the Aggies should be home free after beating the Rebels on Nov. 10.
1. On paper, four of A&M's five toughest games come on the road—at Alabama (Sept. 22), at South Carolina (Oct. 13), at Mississippi Sate (Oct. 27) and at Auburn (Nov. 3).
Right off the bat, this puts the '7' line in jeopardy.
2. Clemson-Texas A&M could be the most hyped game of the Sept. 8 weekend, perhaps drawing the attention of College Gameday.
But here's the problem: The experienced and talent-laden Tigers will likely be sharper in their second outing of the season, whereas the Aggies might need a month or so to fully acclimate to Fisher's system.
3. A&M's on the short list of SEC teams to encounter three straight road games this season (South Carolina, Mississippi State, Auburn) ... even though there's a bye weekend in the mix.
PROJECTED WINS: 6
1. Ole Miss stands as the only SEC program to host Alabama and Auburn this season. We'll let time decide if that's a good thing.
2. The Rebels have two winnable roadies in conference play—at Arkansas (Oct. 13) and at Vanderbilt (Nov. 17). This puts the Vegas number of '6' within reach.
3. On paper, Ole Miss should be prohibitive favorites versus Southern Illinois, Kent State and Louisiana-Monroe at home. But bettor beware: Each 'gimme' game immediately precedes matchups with heated rivals (Alabama, LSU, Arkansas).
1. Ole Miss might have to score 35 points to remain competitive with Texas Tech in the opener.
Both defenses surrendered more than 30 points per game last season; but the Red Raiders have more offensive experienced pieces intact for this year, including the entire offensive line and a quarterback (McLane Carter) who's seemingly ready to flourish on Day 1.
2. It's tough to envision Ole Miss notching a winning streak longer than two games. At the minimum, there's a significant hurdle to clear every other weekend.
3. The finishing kick of Auburn (Oct. 20), South Carolina (Nov. 3), at Texas A&M (Nov. 10), at Vanderbilt (Nov. 17) and Mississippi State (Nov. 22) could be treacherous, especially if the Rebels need two wins during that stretch to secure bowl eligibility.
PROJECTED WINS: 5.5
There's not much to celebrate here, outside of anticipating large crowds and big TV money for the home outings with Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU.
Why so pessimistic? Well, the Alabama clash comes immediately after roadies to Auburn and Texas A&M; and the LSU grudge match precedes the season-ending road trips to Mississippi State and Missouri.
1. We can essentially pencil Arkansas in for six losses—at Auburn (Sept. 22), at Texas A&M (Sept. 29), vs. Alabama (Oct. 6), vs. LSU (Nov. 10), at Mississippi State (Nov. 17) and at Missouri (Nov. 24).
Plus, the trip to Colorado State has the potential to be fruitless, given the Rams' history of passing success under Mike Bobo (former UGA offensive coordinator).
After that ... the remaining five games could be gameday pick 'ems. This gives Arkansas a thin, but doable margin of error, in terms of reaching six wins.
2. Arkansas' Oct. 20 clash with Tulsa comes at an interesting time, in the meaty part of the SEC schedule. It might also serve as a trap game, when factoring in the following note:
The Golden Hurricane finished an ugly 2-10 last year, but the two victories involved shocking upsets of Louisiana-Lafayette and Houston ... with an average victory margin of 26 points.