Alabama - Heavy favorite to win the national title

9:19 AM, Aug 22, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Southeastern Conference has dominated the BCS Championship Game with seven straight victories, including three by Alabama. Last year, the Crimson Tide became the first squad to win it in back- to-back seasons when they dumped Notre Dame, 42-14.

Coach Nick Saban's club is the 5-2 favorite to complete the hat trick with Ohio State the only other team in single digits at 6-1.

Time now to take a deeper look into the league, along with predicted straight- up (overall and conference) records for those wagering on over/unders for total team victories. The over/under number posted is for the entire season, not conference totals. In addition, all statistics provided in the offensive and defensive sections are from conference-only play unless otherwise indicated (all odds to win the league title and totals courtesy of 5Dimes).

EAST

7) TENNESSEE (60-1) - The Volunteers are 1-9 as home underdogs the last five years.

Offense - Trending down. Tennessee saw its scoring average improve from 12 points per game in 2011 to 31 last season. Unfortunately, the offensive numbers will drop with a new starting quarterback and the loss of the club's top four pass catchers.

Defense - Trending up. The defense was the exact opposite of the offense last year as opponents hit for 40 points per game - a 12-point increase from 2011. Look for much improved play in 2013 with the return of 11 of the top 14 tacklers.

Prediction - The Vols are 9-2 to the over in their last 11 games. Expect many more unders this season. Over/under total - 5.5 (4-8, 1-7).

6) KENTUCKY (200-1) - The Wildcats are 2-10 as road underdogs the last three years.

Offense - Trending up. The points did not come for Kentucky last season (12 ppg compared to 11 ppg in 2011), but the Wildcats averaged a half-yard more per play in 2012. Look for them to reach the high teens in scoring this season as they have more weapons at the skill positions.

Defense - Trending up. Last year's defense allowed 20 more yards per game but gave up an average of six more points than in 2011. The Wildcats also ranked last nationally in third down efficiency. However, four of the top five tacklers return in 2013 compared to just two of the top seven a year ago.

Prediction - New head coach Mark Stoops will bring this program back to respectability, but it will take a year or two. Over/under total - 3.5 (4-8, 1-7).

5) Missouri (60-1) - The Tigers are 9-3 as road favorites the last six years.

Offense - Trending up. The move to the SEC took its toll on the Tigers as they went from 12th nationally in total offense all the way down to 96th. Injuries on this side of the ball also played a huge role in the decline. That said, look for a reversal in 2013 with eight returning starters (four came back a year ago).

Defense - Trending up. The defense also had its troubles last season, finishing 11th in scoring and total defense. The ability to move up in both categories is probable if cornerback E.J. Gaines recovers from an injured knee in time for conference play in early October.

Prediction - Not many folks are high on Missouri, so look for an above .500 ATS season. Over/under total - 5.5 (8-4, 4-4). Take over 5.5 wins at -180.

4) VANDERBILT (45-1) - The Commodores are 6-2 ATS in non-conference games the last two years.

Offense - Trending steady. The Commodores averaged 47 more yards per game (compared to 2011), but that did not reflect on the scoreboard as they picked up just one more point per game. Even with the loss of Jordan Rodgers and Zac Stacy, the offense will not suffer due to quality replacements at both quarterback and running back.

Defense - Trending steady. The defense moved from last to first in red zone touchdown percentage and from eighth to second in third down efficiency, The ability to maintain those rankings are slim, especially with Texas A&M replacing Auburn on the schedule. Still, this is a very underrated defense that will not give up many more points than it did in 2012.

Prediction - The Commodores have not gotten the credit they deserve from the oddsmakers as they are 16-8 ATS the last two years. Expect another solid showing both SU and ATS. Over/under total - 7.5 (8-4, 4-4).

3) FLORIDA (9-1) - The Gators are 12-4 as road favorites the last six years.

Offense - Trending steady. Two years ago, Florida ranked last in red zone touchdown percentage and 10th in third down percentage. What happened last year? The Gators improved their scoring average from 21 to 26. This year, the offense should continue to average in the mid-20s despite the loss of its leading rusher and receiver.

Defense - Trending down. The Gators have allowed 19 points per game or fewer (overall) the last six times they returned six or more starters. They also have allowed 20 points per game or more each of the last six seasons they brought back five or fewer. Less than five return this season, so look for the defense to allow around 21 points per game, which equates to a touchdown more than it gave up last year.

Prediction - Florida is 18-18 ATS the last three seasons. After 2013, the number to the right of the hyphen will be larger than the one on the left. Over/under total - 9.5 (7-5, 5-3). Take under 9.5 wins at -160.

2) GEORGIA (4-1) - The Bulldogs are 7-3 as road favorites the last four years.

Offense - Trending up. Last year's offense averaged almost a full yard more per play than in 2011 and the scoring average improved from 29 points per game to 34. With the bulk of the offense back, look for the Bulldogs to come close to the 40-point mark.

Defense - Trending down. The defense did not play up to its capability in 2012, giving up 331 yards per game. The year before the defense allowed just 249 yards per game. Interestingly, the Bulldogs gave up 18 points per game both seasons. With the decrease in returning starters from nine to three, one can safely assume they will allow somewhere in the mid-20s.

Prediction - I predicted the Bulldogs to win the national title last year and they gave it quite a ride, losing by just four points to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. This season, I see a regression, especially with games against Clemson, South Carolina and LSU in the first five weeks. Over/under total - 9.5 (8-4, 5-3). Take under 9.5 wins at +155.

1) SOUTH CAROLINA (5-1) - The Gamecocks were 8-4 to the over last season.

Offense - Trending steady. The offense had an off year in 2012, finishing 11th in yards per carry (3.4) and in passing (200 ypg). The Gamecocks also dropped from first to fifth in red zone touchdown percentage. This season should see a slight increase in production as the passing game will be highlighted a bit more than the 38 percent it was used each of the previous two seasons.

Defense - Trending steady. Last year wasn't one of South Carolina's best defenses as the Gamecocks dropped from third in 2011 down to seventh in scoring and red zone touchdown percentage, third to eighth in third down efficiency and second to fifth in quarterback completion percentage. The Gamecocks come into the new year without their top four tacklers (including all three linebackers), so look for similar numbers.

Prediction - South Carolina lost two games last year - versus at LSU and at Florida. This season, Mississippi State replaces LSU on the schedule and the Gators come to Columbia. The Gamecocks are not the most talented team in the country, but are worth a flyer at 34-1 to win the national championship with their easy schedule. Over/under total - 9.5 (11-1, 7-1).

WEST

7) MISSISSIPPI STATE (100-1) - The Bulldogs are 4-13 as road underdogs the last five years.

Offense - Trending down. The Bulldogs outscored their opponents by six points per game overall in 2012. However, inside the SEC, they were outscored by three. Still, their scoring average improved by a touchdown compared to 2011. Most of the damage was done through the air, but they could struggle in that department in 2013 with the loss of their top four receivers.

Defense - Trending down. This side of the ball did not do the team any favors last year, finishing 12th against the run and in quarterback completion percentage. The secondary could be even worse in 2013 with the loss of three starters.

Prediction - The Bulldogs covered just one of their final six games last year. Look for more of the same this season. Over/under total - 5.5 (5-7, 2-6).

6) AUBURN (125-1) - The Tigers are 3-12 as road underdogs the last five years.

Offense - Trending up. Three years ago, the Tigers averaged 38 points per game. Last year, they averaged 10. Nevertheless, they should rebound with Gus Malzahn taking over as head coach and Nick Marshall coming in as the new starting quarterback.

Defense - Trending up. It wasn't just the offense that was putrid. The defense ranked 12th in scoring and 13th in total yards allowed. This year, Auburn should show improvement even with the dismissal of safety Demetruce McNeal.

Prediction - Auburn was 6-5 to the under in 2012. Look for more overs in 2013. Over/under total - 6.5 (6-6, 2-6).

5) ARKANSAS (105-1) - The Razorbacks are 1-5 as road underdogs the last two years.

Offense - Trending steady. The Razorbacks gained just two yards fewer per game than in 2011, but still scored an average of 13 fewer points per game. Leading the league in turnovers had something to do with the decline. Ordinarily, those numbers would show an increase the following year, but with player turnover and multiple injuries over the summer, don't expect much improvement.

Defense - Trending up. The loss of coordinator Willy Robinson wrecked havoc with the defense as Arkansas ranked next-to-last in pass defense and red zone touchdown percentage. New head coach Bret Bielema brought in his Wisconsin defensive coordinator, so look for massive improvement on this side of the ball.

Prediction - Arkansas is 15-7 to the over (68 percent) in its last 22 games. There will be more unders in 2013. Over/under total - 5.5 (6-6, 2-6).

4) TEXAS A&M (8-1) - The Aggies are 10-25 as road underdogs since 1999.

Offense - Trending down. Texas A&M outscored its opponents 113-0 in first- quarter play over the final seven regular-season games. The Aggies might not get that same type of production in 2013 even if Johnny Manziel plays the entire year. Remember, his 26-9 overall TD/INT ratio was just 13-8 over the final seven games.

Defense - Trending down. There are a couple of signs that point to a more porous defense this season. First, the Aggies' red zone defense and third down efficiency dramatically improved in 2012 (compared to 2011), and second, the defense allowed 10 fewer points per game (than in 2011) but actually gave up an average of two more yards per game.

Prediction - Texas A&M will see last year's 64 percent ATS winning percentage tumble. Over/under total - 9.5 (8-4, 4-4). Take under 9.5 wins at +140.

3) OLE MISS (27-1) - The Rebels are 3-10 as road favorites over the last nine years.

Offense - Trending steady. Last year was a turnaround season for Ole Miss. The offense averaged 16 more points per game and over 100 more yards per game (compared to 2011). Bo Wallace improved as the season progressed in every facet of the game. However, it will be tough for those numbers to increase even more in 2013.

Defense - Trending up. The defense also saw its numbers improve a season ago as the Rebels ranked fourth nationally in tackles for loss and 11th in sacks. Ten starters return in 2013 and the defense also picked up highly regarded freshman lineman Robert Nkemdiche.

Prediction - The Rebels went 9-3 ATS last season. With all the preseason press they have gotten, look for a below .500 ATS record. Over/under total - 8.5 (8-4, 5-3).

2) LSU (12-1) - The Tigers are 22-31-1 as home favorites since 2004.

Offense - Trending up. LSU averaged just 23 points per game, a drop of 12 from 2011. A rebound in scoring will take place because it's doubtful the Tigers will finish 12th in red zone touchdown percentage and quarterback completion percentage for a second straight season.

Defense - Trending steady. LSU allowed 11 more points per game and over 100 more yards per game than in 2011. The Tigers also allowed 10 more red zone touchdowns, falling from second to ninth in that category. This year, they have a very inexperienced front seven, but the defense still will be top-notch.

Prediction - Not many publications had LSU finishing second in the SEC West, so there is a chance the Tigers might be a tad underrated heading into the season. Look for an above .500 ATS record after last year's 5-7 mark. Over/under total - 9.5 (10-2, 6-2).

1) ALABAMA (7-5) - The Crimson Tide are 7-2 as road favorites the last two years.

Offense - Trending steady. Alabama's numbers improved last season (compared to 2011) even with the loss of its four top receiving leaders. The only area of concern is an offensive line that lost three drafted players. Then again, in 2009, the Tide returned only two starters on the line and all they did was win the national championship.

Defense - Trending steady. Last year's defense wasn't nearly as strong as it was in 2011. The Tide allowed 74 more yards per game, over one-half more yards per carry and went from first to seventh in third down efficiency. However, they went from 10 returning starters down to five, so the slight decline can be understood. This year, the only possible weakness is a line that returns just one starter.

Prediction - Alabama has all the tools to win its third straight national title. Saban's club should return to the championship game, but at 5-2 to win it all, it's best to look elsewhere. Over/under total - 11.5 (12-0, 8-0).

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