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2017 SEC Conference Predictions

2017 SEC Conference College Football Preview and Predictions
By Mike M, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

With the start of college football season just around the corner, below is a breakdown of the Souteastern Conference with projected standings, odds and picks for each team.

SEC WEST

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

Preseason ranking: 1
Odds to win SEC: -150
Odds to win SEC West: -250
Odds to win National Championship: +275
Over/Under regular season wins: 10.5

For the seventh consecutive season Alabama is ranked in the preseason top 3 and for the third time in that same time span enters as the top rated team. In what has a become another yearly tradition, Alabama will have to reload after losing ten players to the NFL Draft including four taken in the first round, in what was also the ninth straight season they had someone gone in the opening round. Their success speaks for itself, 48-5 over the last six seasons, winners of four of the last five SEC Championships and four of the last eight national championships. An unheralded part of Alabama’s recent run of dominance is their consistency versus the number, having put up an impressive 73-51-1 record against the spread over their past nine seasons.

The offense returns with talent all over and will be led behind center by sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts, who last season passed for 2,780 yards and an impressive 23/9 TD-INT ratio while also completing 62.8% of his passes and adding an additional 954 yards and thirteen touchdowns on the ground. He returns his favorite target in junior wide receiver Calvin Ridley, has the conference’s best offensive line in front of him including Ross Pierschbacher, Jonah Williams and Bradley Bozeman, while also being able to rely on a dominant backfield consisting of junior running backs Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris that helped pace the team toward the 12th ranked rushing game in the country in 2016.

Seven of the ten Alabama players in the 2017 NFL Draft were from the defensive side of the ball with three of them taken in the first round and all having helped their team to the top rated defense nationally in scoring, rushing and total yards allowed per game last season. Despite the losses, the Alabama defense will be not be anything less than dominant, with future pro players filling the coffers throughout the lineup. Up front they will be led by linemen Da’Ron Payne, Da’Shawn Hand and Raekwon Davis, the linebackers highlighted by Shaun Dion Hamilton and Tashaun Evans and the backs filled out with Minkah Fitzpatrick, Anthony Averett and Ronnie Harrison.

A tough schedule awaits the Crimson Tide, with 9 of the 12 teams they play having gone to a bowl last season including a blockbuster, opening week non-conference against Florida State in Atlanta where they will have a decade long streak on the line as Bama has not lost a regular season game to a non-SEC opponent since 2007. They at least benefit from only four true road games while also avoiding both top teams from the SEC East in Florida and Georgia, and though the Seminoles to start things off is a tough draw, the Tide will still be favored in every game they play and likely won’t be tested again until the last month of the year when they have games against LSU and at Auburn to bookend November.

Considering their consistent dominance and a roster that is yet again stacked with talent, it is easy to see why Alabama is hands down the top favorite in their conference and in the nation. The issue with taking them in preseason bets is there is little value in giving -150 odds to win the always difficult SEC, let alone paltry odds of just +275 to win the BCS National Championship, especially when remembering that despite how good they have been in recent years, they have won taken home the top prize ‘just’ once in the past four seasons. I would be surprised to see them lose more than once, or if at all, during the regular season, so if looking to take Alabama for preseason props go with the over of 10.5 in wins. Bet YOUR college football picks and futures using your credit card at an online sportsbook where it WILL work for deposits and where you'll receive a generous 100% bonus on your first deposit of $100 to $250: Bovada Sportsbook.

2. Auburn Tigers

Preseason ranking: 11
Odds to win SEC: +500
Odds to win SEC West: +400
Odds to win National Championship: +2000
Over/Under regular season wins: 8.5

Expectations are high in Gus Malzahn’s fifth year at Auburn and will hope to capitalize on a weak early schedule and not fall into the same traps as they did in 2014 and 2015, when they started both ranked 6th in the polls and in similar fashion in each struggled down the stretch before eventually finishing just 22nd in 2014 and unranked in 2015.

Experience is abound on the offense with eight starters back for the Tigers, including both running backs in Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson who helped the team finished the year ranked sixth in rushing yards per game. They will need to improve a near opposite passing attack that finished just 112th in the nation, and hopes are high that former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham can step in and lead the team with him the heavy favorite to land the starting role over incumbent junior Sean White. A talented backfield and a strong offensive line should help Stidham early on the season as he gets acclimated to his new surroundings.

The defense is in similar shape with seven starters back, though the four that are gone were all lost to the NFL Draft, with defensive lineman Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson along with safety Rudy Ford and cornerback Joshua Holsey all getting chosen back in April. Despite the quality of loss, the team still returns its top three and six of its top seven in tackles with 2017 SEC All-Freshman end Marlon Davidson and three Davis’ (Deshaun, Carlton and Javaris) amongst the best of those returning.

The Tigers struggled out of the gates last year, going 1-2 with losses to Clemson and Texas A&M that left them playing from behind in the polls and unranked for the first half of the year. They get Clemson again this season in week two but this time it is on the road, though that is the only time they will tasted in non-conference play with their other three games home matchups against Georgia Southern, Mercer and UL Monroe. Auburn will get plenty of chance to build momentum as the game against Clemson is the only difficult one they will face early on and should be either 5-1 or 6-0 before starting the brunt of their SEC schedule in mid-October with three straight on the road against LSU, Arkansas and Texas A&M, and finishing up with home matchups against Georgia and Alabama to end the season.

So your saying there’s a chance-For Auburn to have any possibility of hitting their over in wins they will have to correct a recent downturn against conference opponents, going just 7-12 in their last nineteen SEC games, and streaks of 1-5 against Georgia, 3-7 against LSU and 1-5 against rival Alabama, with that lone win coming in 2013 in the infamous Kick Six game.

3. LSU Tigers

Preseason ranking: 13
Odds to win SEC: +500
Odds to win SEC West: +400
Odds to win National Championship: +2200
Over/Under regular season wins: 9

Ed Orgeron’s first season as LSU’s head coach didn’t start out as well as he hoped with losses in two of their first four games and dropping from 5th in the polls to all the way out of the Top 25. From that point on though they went 6-2 and capped off their year with 29-9 Citrus Bowl shellacking of Louisville and a ranking of 13th in the polls.

There are holes to fill throughout the offense with three players chosen in the NFL Draft (RB Leonard Fournette, C Ethan Pocic and WR Malachi Dupree), five of their top six players in receptions gone from last season and the surprising news in the beginning of August that two year starter at right guard Maea Teuhema was suspended from the program and given permission to transfer elsewhere. With that loss they now return only two starters to their offensive line, a group that will be tasked with opening things up for dark horse Heisman candidate Derrius Guice, who while subbing for the injured Fournette last season ended up running for 1,387 yards, scoring 16 touchdowns and averaging 7.6 yards per carry. With a lack of wide receiver depth and experience, the line play will also be imperative for senior quarterback Danny Etling as he attempts to improve on finishing 11th out of 14th in the conference in quarterback rating and the team’s disappointing 101st ranking in passing yards per game.

Losses to the pro level hit the defense ever harder with end Jamal Adams and DB Tre’Darious White taken in the 1st round, linebackers Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith chose in the 3rdand tackle Devon Godchaux picked in the 5th round of this year’s draft along with DB Dwayne Thomas and DE Lewis Neal signing as undrafted free agents. Even with all those players having moved on, LSU still boasts one of the better defenses in the conference, most notably outside linebacker Adren Key, who is the returning team leader in tackles and had 12 sacks along with 14.5 tackles for loss in 2016, and the NFL bound cornerback tandem of juniors Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver the strength of the back end and all three expected to help offset the vast losses to the pro level.

The Tigers schedule ranks second overall in toughness with their opponents winning 62.8% of their games last season. They do benefit from an easy non-conference schedule and should be 4-0 outside of SEC play, but also have five SEC road games and they have not been very fearsome away from home recently, going just 7-8 in 15 away matchups over the past four seasons with all of their losses coming in conference. They have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball and getting to their 18th consecutive bowl game is a foregone conclusion, but they cannot afford anything close to the letdowns of last season when two of their losses came in games that they were favored by double-digits to win or they will lose any tiny chance they hoped to have of competing for an SEC title.

Earning their stripes- The Tigers will need to go 6-2 in the SEC to hit the over in wins for the year and have a conference schedule that includes road trips to Florida, Alabama and Tennessee along with a tough home matchup against Auburn along with games against Texas A&M and Arkansas. Getting through all of that with only two losses seems unlikely for the Tigers despite their talent laden team.

4. Texas A&M Aggies

Preseason ranking: 33
Odds to win SEC: +4000
Odds to win SEC West: +2500
Odds to win National Championship: +15000
Over/Under regular season wins: 7

2016 was the third season in a row that Texas A&M started 5-0 and in all five years of Kevin Sumlin’s tenure they have begun at least 5-1. From that point on is when they seem to run into trouble, which they did again last season when they crashed back to reality and went 1-4 to the end year and finish unranked for the third consecutive time.

The quarterback race continues to be wide open for the Aggies, with senior Jake Hubenak, redshirt freshman Nick Starkely and true freshman Kellen Mond on listed as possibilities. Whoever ends up winning the job will be looking early and often to junior Christian Kirk, whose ability on the field as both a receiver and returner in the special teams game has him listed as one of the top wide receiving prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft. Kirk will see plenty of double coverage this season with A&M losing their top four out of five in receptions from last season including Josh Reynolds, who gained over 1,000 yards and scored 12 touchdowns last season before being picked by the Rams in the fourth round. They at least have possible star in the making with running back Trayveon Williams entering his sophomore year after rushing for 1,057 yards, eight touchdowns and a 6.8 yards per carry, and he will be joined by senior Keith Ford to tandem the bell cow of the offense in the backfield.

Seven starters are back for the defense, but two of those gone leave a gaping hope up front with 1st overall pick in the draft Myles Garrett and 2nd round pick Justin Evans both having moved on to the NFL along with last season’s leader in tackles (104) Shaan Washington. They will look for veteran leadership to help offset those losses, with tackle Zaycoven Henderson, linebacker Otaro Alaka and safety Armani Watts expected to step to pace the defense on the field.

The schedule lines up well for Texas A&M, with only four road games total including just three in conference. If they can get past UCLA in week one they will be favored in their next four games. From that point on though the schedule gets tougher as they enter the heart of SEC play, but with enough talent back on both sides of the ball there is no question that they should be back in a bowl game for the 9th consecutive season.

Aggie-nizing choice-Under Kevin Sumlin the Aggies are 23-2 against non-conference opponents, and while I do expect them to face trouble against UCLA in week one, there should face no such difficulty in their other three matchups and will go 3-1 at worst outside of SEC play. After that they would likely need to go 4-4 in conference, but I can’t see them getting to the needed five wins to hit the over as I don’t see them possibly beating Alabama or Auburn at home or winning road games at Florida or LSU. If forced to go one way or the other, take the Under.

5. Arkansas Razorbacks

Preseason ranking: 36
Odds to win SEC: +6600
Odds to win SEC West: +3300
Odds to win National Championship: +30000
Over/Under regular season wins: 7

2016 was another moderately successful year for the Razorbacks, going 7-6 and making a bowl for the third consecutive time under head coach Bret Bielema. What could have been though, as they were once ranked for six straight weeks and sitting on a 5-2 record, before ending the year on a 2-4 slide lowlighted by a 35-24 loss against Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl, a game in which they were winning 24-0 at the half.

The offense is highlighted by senior quarterback Austin Allen, who is the returning SEC leader in passing efficiency after earning a quarterback rating of 146.0 thanks to a stat line that includes a 61% completion rate, 3,430 yards passing a 25/15 TD-INT ratio. He doesn’t have a lot of weapons through the air with 6 of the top 7 in receptions gone from a season ago and will hope that sophomore Devwah Whaley can step up in the backfield after the team lost 2nd Team All-SEC running back Rawleigh Williams to a career ending injury in spring practice.

Losses were suffered on the defensive side as well, with ends Deatrich Wise and Jeremiah Ledbetter gone to the NFL Draft as the team loses three of their top four in tackles and faces depth issues through out, especially up front on that line where only one starter returns. They ended in the bottom of the SEC in all four major defensive statistical categories and especially struggled in their losses, all but one of which was by double-digits, with the average loss by 22 points per game and the average points allowed in their non-wins at over 41 points per.

For an SEC schedule the Razorbacks isn’t so bad, facing ‘only’ seven teams that went to the postseason last year, containing just four true road games and drawing TCU as their lone challenging non-conference opponent with cakewalks against Florida A&M, New Mexico State and Coastal Carolina in their other three matchups. The conference schedule is beneficial with the avoidance of Florida, Georgia and Tennessee from the SEC East, and if they can hold serve and win the games they are supposed to, they should find themselves back for their fourth straight bowl game and a chance to redeem last year’s second half Belk Bowl meltdown.

Close shave for the Razorbacks-The over/under is dead on perfect for what I would expect out of the Razorbacks, though if I had to pick one way or the other I go with the under considering their expected struggles on defense and their lack of ability in handling or maintaining consistent success, not only with the bowl game last season but also with the fact that they they’ve only won back-to-back conference games once under Bret Bielema and lost all three times they crept into the top 20 in the polls last season.

6. Mississippi State Bulldogs

Preseason ranking: 45
Odds to win SEC: +7500
Odds to win SEC West: +4000
Odds to win National Championship: +50000
Over/Under regular season wins: 5.5

Dan Mullen begins his ninth season as the Bulldogs head coach and has found consistent success thus far despite dealing with the always dangerous SEC, with trips to the postseason in all but his first year and a total bowl record of 5-2 to show for it. That run may be coming to an end in 2017 with a tough schedule awaiting them and with a roster not completely up to par with the rest of the conference, he could be in for his most challenging season yet since joining the staff in Starkville.

The best reason for hope for the MSU offense and the team in general is junior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who last season passes for 2,423 yards and 21 touchdowns along with leading the team in rushing with 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. He loses his favorite target Fred Ross to graduation but still at least returns senior wide receiver Donald Gray, who contributed with 41 receptions for 709 yards and six scores in 2016. From there on out there are some holes, with multiple running backs since moved on and one of the worst offensive lines in the conference tasked with protecting Fitzgerald and giving him enough to time to either make plays with either on the run or through the air.

The defense is in similar shape as of the offense and will desperately need to improve their stats from last season when they ranked 120th against the pass, 110th in yards allowed per game and 93rd in scoring. They return three of four starters to their defensive backfield, but still rate as the worst grouping in the conference, and the team will count heavily upon their linebackers led by Freshman All American and returning team leader in tackles Leo Lewis along with sophomore nose tackle Jeffrey Simmons up front to help make up for the weakness all over.

The schedule does not bode well for the Bulldogs, ranking 13th in strength and featuring ten teams that finished last season with a winning record and a bowl appearance. They have usually had an edge against non-conference opponents under Dan Mullen, going 27-3 from 2010-2015, but struggled last season to a 3-2 record with their only wins coming against Samford, UMass and Miami Ohio and one of their worse losses versus South Alabama at home in week one that saw them lose despite being favored by 28.5 points. This year they have two easy matchups against UMass and Charleston Southern, but will likely find difficulty against BYU or at a dangerous Louisiana Tech team. The SEC schedule makes things much tougher from there, and I would be surprised if they were able to match last year’s 3-5 conference record. Of the 22 starting players for the Bulldogs, only five are seniors, and with the tough schedule ahead of them and a roster lacking in talent compared to its fellow SEC teams, it is sure looking like their streak of seven straight bowl games will be coming to an end.

State-ing the facts-For every reason stated above I would very confidently take the under of 5.5 wins when it comes to the Bulldogs for the 2017 season. With a difficult conference road schedule against Georgia, Auburn, Texas A&M and Arkansas, it will be interesting to see if they can continue their recent against the spread success, with a record of 9-3 versus the number in their 12 games a road underdog.

7. Mississippi Rebels

Preseason ranking: 52
Odds to win SEC: +10000
Odds to win SEC West: N/A
Odds to win National Championship: +30000
Over/Under regular season wins: 5.5

After an exciting yet tumultuous five years at Ole Miss, Hugh Freeze was forced out as the head coach after it was discovered in June that he called an escort service from a campus line. The Rebels had made it as high as 3rd in the polls in both 2014 and 2015 and made four straight bowls under Freeze, but they also had a total of 25 arrests between 2011-2016 and now enter their 2017 season still without a head coach and the football program in a tailspin.

Sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson is back after starting the last three games of 2016 when Chad Kelly was injured. Who he will throw to is a major question mark, as the team lost three of its top four in receptions and yards including tight end Evan Engram, who was taken in the 1st round of the NFL Draft by the Giants. Patterson will at least have a quality offensive line in front of him that returns four out of five starters and is highlighted by sophomore left tackle Greg Little.

The defense was a major issue in 2016, ranking 100th in scoring, 120th against the run and 111th in yards allowed per game. They return more of their playmakers than the offense and are strongest up front with 2017 Preseason 1st All SEC defensive lineman Marquis Haynes back for his senior season after leading the team in both sacks and tackles for loss. The best of the rest include fellow lineman Benito Jones, linebacker DeMarquis Gates (last year’s team leader in tackles with 79) and junior cornerback Zedrick Woods.

The schedule is not overly kind to Ole Miss, ranking 28th overall and featuring 10 teams that made a bowl game a season ago. They should continue their recent dominance against non-conference teams (20-4 straight up the last five years, 15-8-1 against the spread) with a game at also depleted California their only chance of losing. That is all well in good, but once they get to their SEC games they will likely be underdogs in 7 of their 8 matchups, and combine that with already confusing situation having to break in a new coach right before the season starts, things are not looking bright for fans in Oxford.

Ole Missing the mark-If the Rebels pull of a 4-0 mark in non-conference games, they would need to go just 2-6 in conference play to get over 5.5 wins. Even with that logic, I still would not take them to go over and more expect another down season ending without a postseason trip for the second straight year.

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SEC EAST

1. Georgia Bulldogs

Preseason ranking: 24
Odds to win SEC: +700
Odds to win SEC East: +130
Odds to win National Championship: +2500
Over/Under regular season wins: 8.5

The Bulldogs went 8-5 last season, starting out 3-0 before going 1-4 in the middle of the schedule and then turning things around and winning four of their last five to end the campaign with an underdog win against TCU in the Liberty Bowl. Three of their losses were by a combined 5 points and with seventeen starters back expectations are high in Georgia in what will be head coach Kirby Smith’s second season at the school.

Senior running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel make up one of the best backfield duo’s in the country and will need to be at their creative best, especially early on the season, as their offensive line is lacking in strength and inexperience with only two starters back. Strong armed Jacob Eason is back for his sophomore year after throwing for 2,430 yards and twice as many touchdowns (16) as interceptions (8), though nearly half of those scores went to since graduated wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, who was picked in the 5th round of the NFL Draft in what was the first time since 1982 that only one Georgia Bulldog overall was selected. Eason’s top target will no doubt be tight end Isaac Nauta, who is entering just his sophomore season but was selected to the 2017 Preseason All-SEC Team.

Ten starters return to a defense that ranked 16th in yards allowed per game and 2nd in the SEC against the pass. Everyone of their starters is either a junior or senior and every section of their D ranks as one of the conference’s best, with Jonathan Ledbetter and Trenton Thompson up front, Roquan Smith, Lorenzon Carter and Davis Bellmany in the middle and safeties Dominick Sanders and Malkom Parrish the best of the backs.

Their schedule contains ten teams that went a bowl last season, and while the Bulldogs usually dominate in their non-conference play (13-2 last three seasons), this year may not be as easy with road trips to Notre Dame and Georgia Tech along with hosting always dangerous Appalachian State in week one. Though they do benefit from avoiding Alabama and LSU from the SEC West, five of their conference games are away from home, including their toughest matchups against Tennessee, Florida and Auburn.

Downward Dawg- Georgia has earned a reputation in recent years for usually blowing up their season with unexpected losses, such as having lost at least two games they were favored to win each of the past four seasons and twelve times total in the same time span. With half of those losses coming at home, it easy to see why they are just 2-9 against the spread in their last 11 games as a home favorite. They can afford no such pitfalls this season if they want to get past the 8.5 over/under win plateau.

2. Florida Gators

Preseason ranking: 15
Odds to win SEC: +800
Odds to win SEC East: +140
Odds to win National Championship: +3300
Over/Under regular season wins: 8

In his first two seasons as the Gators head coach, Jim McElwain led his team to back-to-back appearances in the SEC Championship game and 13-3 regular season record against conference competition. This year he has ample talent back on both sides of the ball and is in great position to contend again in the always tough SEC.

The Florida offense returns nine starters, but one of the two fresh faces on the field will be at the quarterback position, with either transfer from Notre Dame Malik Zaire getting the job under center or redshirt freshman Felipe Franks. Regardless of who wins, they will have plenty of weapons around them. Every receiving threat is back with Antonio Callaway the best of the group and tight end DeAndre Goolsby also expected to be a major contributor. The backfield is led by junior Jordan Scarlett, who paced the team last season with 889 yards on the ground along with six touchdowns, and has the benefit of running behind 2017 1st Team Preseason All-SEC left tackle Martez Ivey.

The NFL Draft took a heavy chomp out of the Gators, with seven of their eight players chosen coming from the defensive side of the ball and part of a group that helped the team rank 6thin the country in scoring, 2nd against the pass and 1st in yards allowed per game. Even with all those having moved onto the pros and getting back just five returning starters, the Florida defense still looks to be in good shape all around. They are especially strong up on the defensive line thanks in large part to ends Jabari Zuniga and Cece Jefferson and also in the backfield as well with seniors cornerback Duke Dawson and safety Marcell Harris.

Florida’s schedule is listed as the 15th hardest in the country, facing nine bowl teams and four that ended last season ranked, including non-conference opponents Michigan and Florida State. Thankfully for them they have only three true road games, which is especially helpful considering they have gone 11-1 at home under McElwaine, and also benefit by avoiding both Alabama and Auburn from the SEC West. Whether or not they can make it three straight appearances in the conference championship game will likely come down to their yearly battle against Georgia in Jacksonville on October 28th.

Jim McElwain has led his team to at least eight wins in the regular season in both of his years as the Gators coach and now fields what is arguably his best team since coming to Gainesville. How they adapt to whoever wins the quarterback battle will go a long way in deciding their season, but with a tough but also beneficial schedule I would still take Florida to get over 8.5 wins for the season.

3. Tennessee Volunteers

Preseason ranking: 26
Odds to win SEC: +2000
Odds to win SEC East: +400
Odds to win National Championship: +7500
Over/Under regular season wins: 7.5

Head coach Butch Jones enters his fifth season in Knoxville and after starting out with records of 5-7 and 7-6 in 2013/2014, he has since led his team to back-to-back years with a 9-4 record while also winning and covering in all three of their bowl games. They return seven starters on both offense and defense, but will also need to replace six players who were picked in the 2017 NFL Draft, all of which went in the first four rounds.

Their top three skill position players from 2016, quarterback Josh Dobbs, running back Alvin Kamara and receiver Josh Malone have all since moved on, leaving holes through the offense that will have to rely on an ok offensive line to open up space and provide as much time as possible for the new starters behind them. Junior Quinten Dormady is expected to take over the reins at quarterback and will look to build a connection with wide receiver Jauan Jennings, who had 40 catches for 580 yards and seven touchdowns last season and is hands down their best returning weapon.

Defensively the team looks to be in a bit stronger shape with their top five in tackles back from last season, but they will sure miss Derek Barnett, Cameron Sutton and Jalen Reeves-Maybin from their front seven, especially with the D-line only returning one of four starters. Strong safety Todd Kelly is back from his senior year after leading the team in tackles last season, and will look to combo up with linebacker Darren Kirland to try and help up make for the trio of losses and possibly improve on last year’s disappointing numbers that saw the team finish 95th in the country in yards allowed per game and 104th against the run.

The Vols have gone 24-3 over the last six years against non-conference opponents, and that success should continue again this season with an opening weekend game against Georgia Tech in Atlanta their only tough matchup of the four. Their conference schedule isn’t as fortunate as they draw Alabama and LSU from the SEC West, and they should know early on just far they can climb in conference as they play SEC East rivals Florida and Georgia in the first month of the season. Tennessee hasn’t finished a year ranked in the top 12 since 2001, has lost 26 straight games against teams in the top ten and won just 5 of their last 35 against ranked teams in general, how they handle their toughest opponents will be the deciding factor in just how successful of a season they will have.

Knox and roll – For Tennessee to get over 7.5 wins on the season they will likely have to win every game they are favored in, which is something they struggled to do last season, losing twice in the final five weeks against South Carolina at -13 and then again against Vanderbilt when giving 7. Their consistent struggle against top notch teams and a lack of playmakers on both sides of the ball has me leaning toward under 7.5 for their wins.

4. Kentucky Wildcats

Preseason ranking: 50
Odds to win SEC: +10000
Odds to win SEC East: +2000
Odds to win National Championship: +50000
Over/Under regular season wins: 7

The Wildcats are coming off a 2016 season that saw them end a six year bowl drought but was by far highlighted by a shocking final week of the year, 41-38 upset win at rival Louisville in a game in which they were 27 point underdogs. They should be able to build upon the success of last year’s 7-6 campaign with an experienced squad consisting of 17 starters and a favorable schedule to boot in what will be head coach Mark Stoops fifth season in Lexington.

With a strong offensive line and 2016 Freshman All American running back Benny Snell returning to the Wildcats, their strategy will continue to focus on the rushing attack that last season ranked 20th in the nation. The passing game is not in nearly as good of shape with two of their top three in yards and receptions gone from last season and a receiving group as a whole that ranks as one of the worst in the conference, which does no good for senior quarterback Stephen Jackson as he attempts to help the team improve on a passing attack that ranked just 102nd in the country in yards per game.

The strength of the defense will be their experience, with nine starters back and all eleven expected to begin the year on the field either seniors or juniors. They will be led by the top two returning tacklers to the SEC, linebacker Jordan Jones (109) and safety Mike Edwards (100), and will also rely on linebacker Denzil Ware and Josh Allen to help make up for their biggest weakness, a consistently struggling defensive line that went a long way in the team finishing 2016 with the 110th rated rushing attack in the country.

Kentucky finished 2016 with a 4-4 record in the SEC, including 6-2 against the spread, both of which were their best numbers in the past ten years. They are set up for similar success this season as they avoid Alabama/Auburn/LSU from the SEC West and out of conference look to be in good shape as well with rival Louisville the only game out of four that they should struggle in.

Cat Game – The Wildcats have seven home games this season that includes matchups against Florida, Tennessee and Louisville, and they will need to improve on a recent run of futility against quality opponents at Commonwealth Stadium as they have only covered just twice in their last sixteen games in Lexington as a home dog. With those three games along with a trip to Georgia as four near locks in which they will be underdogs, Kentucky would have to run the table in their other eight games to get past the seven win over/under mark.

5. South Carolina Gamecocks

Preseason ranking: 57
Odds to win SEC: +10000
Odds to win SEC East: +2000
Odds to win National Championship: +50000
Over/Under regular season wins: 5.5

Until finishing last year 6-7, the Gamecocks had not gone back-to-back seasons with a losing record since 2002-2003. They also saw another streak come to an end, as the team had no one picked in this year’s NFL Draft for this first time in 15 years. Thankfully second year head coach Will Muschamp has enough talent back this year to start getting the program back to the consistent winning ways of the past before Steve Spurrier bailed on the team in the middle of the 2015 season and left them in a state of disarray that they are just starting to climb out of.

The strength of the offense is the receiving corps, which returns every player that caught a touchdown in 2016 including their two best weapons, juniors wide receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end Hayden Hurst. Throwing to them will be sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley, who was uncharacteristically accurate in his freshman season, completing 65% of his passes and throwing for nine touchdowns compared to just four interceptions. He will be joined in the backfield by sophomore RB Rico Dowdle, another promising part of the youthful Gamecock offense that averaged 5.7 yards per carry after rushing for 783 yards and scoring six touchdowns a season ago. Their Achilles heel could be their offensive line, which despite returning four of five starters is still expected to be on the conference’s worst, which will certainly to help the team in trying to improve on their dismal stats of last season when they finished 116th in scoring and 115th in yards per game.

Defensively they get six starters back, though most importantly is the return of linebacker Skai Moore, who let the team in tackles three seasons in a row before missing last year due to a neck injury. Moore will be joined by fellow seniors linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams, cornerback Chris Lammons, safety DJ Smith and lineman Tyalor Stallworth on a defense loaded with experience with eight of the eleven playing in the final seasons in Columbia.

A brutal schedule that includes 11 teams that went to a bowl last season and ranks 4th hardest in the county awaits Muschamp and the Gamecocks. There is some glimmer of hope as they have only four true road games (1-9 away record last two seasons) and also avoid Alabama/Auburn/LSU from the SEC West, but a non-conference schedule that includes NC State and Clemson along with the usual buzzsaw of tough SEC matchups will make it a season long battle for South Carolina to try and avoid missing out on the postseason for the second time in three years.

Gamecock sure - South Carolina is just 8-6 straight up in their last 14 games when favored to win. With their tough schedule victories will be at a premium, and if that sort of play continues they will have little to no chance of getting past the 5.5 victory over/under mark for 2017.

6. Missouri Tigers

Preseason ranking: 65
Odds to win SEC: +20000
Odds to win SEC East: +3300
Odds to win National Championship: +50000
Over/Under regular season wins: 6.5

Heading into 2015, Missouri had gone 23-5 over the past two seasons and was coming off an appearance in the SEC Championship Game. Unfortunately for Tiger fans they have reversed course and struggled since, finishing under .500 two years in a row including last year’s disappointing 4-8 record, their worst since 1995 in what was the rookie season of head coach Barry Odom.

The offense returns looks to be in a great shape with ten starters back from a squad that finished 1st in the SEC and 13th in the nation in yards per game with an average of over 500 per. They will again be built upon their quarterback Drew Lock, who helped lead the team to what was the 20th ranked passing attack in the country and now is back with five returning offensive lineman starters in front of him, his top four in receiving back from a year ago and is joined in the backfield by emerging sophomore star Damarea Crockett, who is coming of a 1,062 rushing yard, ten touchdown season. Most importantly for Lock he will get his favorite target in wide receiver J’Mon Moore back for his final season in Columbia, after finishing with 1,012 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016 and currently as a member of Second Team Offense on the 2017 preseason All-SEC team.

Experience is not nearly as bountiful on the defense as only five starters return, and they will undoubtedly miss linebacker Charles Harris, who is now off in the NFL after having been drafted in the first round by the Miami Dolphins. With three of their top four in tackles gone the Tigers will rely on senior end Marcell Frazier to lead the way and greatly hope that despite their personnel losses he can help the team improve on their poor stats from a season ago when they finished 112th against the run and 118th in yards per game.

Missouri went 2-2 in non-conference play last season, their worst record against such competition since 2011, but this season they should find themselves favored in all four of their non-SEC matchups. The Tigers also benefit as they play only five road games this season, which is particularly helpful seeing as though they have gone 1-9 away from home over the past two season, including 1-7 in their last eight against the spread as road underdogs. Which means that if they want to get back to a bowl game, they will need to improve on a recent conference dip as over the past two seasons Missouri has gone 3-13 in SEC play, with a barely better record of 5-11 versus the spread.

Tiger Beat-. Even with what should be a 4-0 non-conference record and an SEC schedule that doesn’t include Auburn or LSU it might still be too tough a task for the Tigers to get over the 6.5 win barrier. They play only two of the four teams in conference that have a lower expected over/under in wins and will be underdogs in nearly if not all of their SEC games.

7. Vanderbilt Commodores

Preseason ranking: 66
Odds to win SEC: +20000
Odds to win SEC East: +3300
Odds to win National Championship: +50000
Over/Under regular season wins: 6

With two weeks left in the 2016 season, the Commodores were 4-6 and it was looking like they were going to be missing out on the postseason for the fourth straight year. Instead they won their last two games of the season against Ole Miss and Tennessee, despite being at least a touchdown underdog in both matchups, and ended their year with a trip to the Independence Bowl. Head Coach Derek Mason will hope to see his team carry that momentum into what will be his fourth season as the Vandy sideline leader.

Nine starters return for the offense, including all of their best skill position players from a season ago. Their lone strength is the backfield, which features 2nd Team All-SEC running back Ralph Webb, who is coming off of a season in which he ran for 1,283 yards and 13 touchdowns. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur returns for his junior year and will need to greatly improve on his accuracy after completing less than 55% of his passes and throwing more interceptions than touchdowns in 2016, and has the weapons around him to do so with the top eight in receptions back from last year’s squad. The main question for the offense is on their line, which lost tackle Will Holden and now rates as one of the worst in the conference, leaving questions as to how well they will be able to open up holes for Webb and give Shurmur enough time to stay healthy and find his returning receivers.

Defensively they get plenty of familiar faces back and will have nine seniors amongst their starting eleven. Unfortunately they are short handed in the middle, where they will need to replace unanimous 1st Team All-American linebacker Zach Cunningham, who led the team with 125 tackles with 16.5 for loss. They will undoubtedly need to sure up their pass protection after finishing 83rd in the country and 11th in the SEC last year in yards in the air allowed per game, and the three senior returning starters leading their backfield should go a long way in helping to do just that.

The good news for Vanderbilt fans is that this year their team avoids playing Auburn and LSU from the SEC West and gets their only two difficult non-conference opponents, Kansas State and Western Kentucky, at home in Nashville. Unfortunately they have also struggled in Mason’s tenure against the rest of the SEC (5-19 record) and on the road (3-13), and with a schedule that rates as the 9th most difficult in the country, the head coach will need to reverse those trends if they have any chance of getting back to the postseason for the second straight year.

Commodore under 6.4 – That schedule consists of nine games against teams that made the postseason in 2016, and with the questions on the offensive line and lack of playmakers on defense, I do not foresee Vandy getting over the 6 win plateau.

Be sure to check out my other conference previews on Predictem's main college football page!

Additional College Football Betting Previews

NCAA Football Week 5 Betting Previews

Here are some additional game previews from this week's college football card.

Free Picks

Editor's Picks - Each weekend our very own in-house All-American Editor makes his NCAA point spread predictions in an attempt to force fumbles, sack and intercept your bookie!

Expert College Football Picks - Free premium college foots plays against the spread from expert handicappers from around the web from week 1 through the National Championship.

Underdog of the Week Pick - We sort through it all and find out which University is getting "too many points" this week. If there was a Heisman Trophy for picking underdogs, we'd be a frontrunner. Expect a 57%+ winning percentage with these picks as we've got a keen ear for loud barking dogs.

Line Movement - NCAA football lines open early in the week and often times move up or down based on wagering activity, injuries to key players and weather. We decipher whether it's square or wiseguy action and predict the point spread winner based on value.

College Football Consensus Picks - We assess the public perception each week and let them pick the winners for us as we fade their selections which provides us with many trips into our bookies endzone.

Computer Picks - We enter them into the computer and the machine makes it's picks. This is a great guide especially when betting totals! These are available after the first few weeks of the season.

Trends - Despite what you have been told or read on tout sites, the trend ain't your friend. We however turn the tables and fade the almighty trend for what should be some great profits over time.

2017/2018 College Football Predictions - Bob gives his picks to win each major conference. At the end, he gives his prediction on who thinks will win the 2018 National Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 8th.

2017 Heisman Trophy Predictions - USC QB Sam Darnold is a heavy pre-season favorite to win college football's most coveted award, but Jay isn't buying it. In fact, he's passing up the top (3) favored players in favor of a QB who he's confident will be NCAA football's best player in 2017.

2017-2018 College Football Championship Predictions - NCAA football experts have the Alabama Crimson Tide running away with the National Championship this season and who can blame them? Roll Tide is LOADED! It never happens that easy though. The USC Trojans (+825), Florida St. Seminoles (+850) and Ohio St. Buckckeyes (+875) all have a legit shot. Oddsmakers have Oklahoma (+1300) on the bubble and everybody looking from the outside in at 20/1 or higher. Jay gives his pick to win it all along with how his top 15 rankings for season's end. Get your bets in early before your favorite team's line drops!

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Heisman Trophy Betting Odds - USC QB Sam Darnold starts the season off as a heavy favorite at +350 odds. Sooners QB Baker Mayfield is second on the list at +700 but can he keep his nose clean? Louisville QB Lamar Jackson should dominate this season but will Louisville be taken seriously? Oregon Ducks RB Royce Freeman is worth a pop at 60/1 if he gets the carries. Bama WR Calvin Ridley brings experience and big-time playmaking ability and will be featured on National TV a bunch, giving him a legit darkhorse shot. But will they throw the ball enough with a QB who likes to run? Missing from this year's list of odds is a defensive player.

Odds to Win the 2017 College Football Championship - The Alabama Crimson Tide are heavy favorites to win the National Championship this year at 5/2 followed by Ohio St. at 13/5, USC at 7/1 and FSU at 17/2. Things drop off a bit with the Oklahoma Sooners coming in at 12/1, Auburn Tigers at 14/1 and Michigan Wolverines at 16/1. Check out your favorite school's odds here!

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