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When you think of college football, the SEC is the usually the first conference that comes to mind. More specifically, the conversation in recent years has focused on Alabama, and which teams might be able to unseat the Crimson Tide atop the conference. The Tide has won six of the last 10 SEC Championships. Alabama will once again enter the 2019 season as the favorite (-155) to win the conference. Let’s break down the conference into two sectionspretenders and contenders. This should allow us to determine the right team to wager on to beat ‘Bama at the best odds.

Pretenders

Arkansas Razorbacks (+25000 to win the SEC)

The Hogs are coming off a 2-10 season (0-8 in the SEC). This will be head coach Chad Morris’ second year, but do not expect much improvement just yet. The schedule is still difficult, there will only be three or four wins available to them and it might be another winless SEC season.

Vanderbilt Commodores (+15000)

Vandy is coming off a decent season, where they finished 6-7 and 3-5 in the SEC. However, the Commodores lost starting quarterback Kyle Shurmur and three of their best defenders. I foresee a decline win total, down to around four or five.

Ole Miss Rebels (+10000)

Ole Miss is coming off a 5-7 season (1-7 SEC). The Rebels also lost their starting quarterback and two elite wide receivers. The defense could improve from a dismal 36.2 points per game allowed, but the offense will likely take a step back. Expect another five-win season.

Tennessee Volunteers (+10000)

The Vols are coming off a 5-7 (2-6 SEC) season under first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt. Await improvement here, as just about every major position has a returning starter. The big issue is the schedule. Tennessee will play at Florida, host Georgia and travel to Alabama in a four-week span. I predict seven wins, but nowhere near the SEC title.

South Carolina Gamecocks (+10000)

The Gamecocks are coming off a 7-6 season and 4-4 in the SEC. There is some hype around this team with the return of quarterback Jake Bentley. However, the Gamecocks did lose the electric wide receiver Deebo Samuel to the NFL and the schedule is brutal. Five games against preseason top 12 teams. Presume around six or seven wins.

Missouri Tigers (off the board)

The Tigers are coming off an 8-5 season (4-4 SEC). The loss of quarterback Drew Lock comes with the replacement of Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant. Missouri will be a threat in the SEC East, but a tough three-week schedule of at Kentucky, Georgia and Florida will ultimately be the Tigers’ downfall. An eight- or nine-win season is certainly possible, but do not think about an East title.

Mississippi State Bulldogs (+3500)

The Bulldogs are coming off an 8-5 season (4-4 SEC) under first-year head coach Joe Moorhead. The defense was incredible and held opponents to an average of 13.2 points per game, which was second best in the nation. However, the loss of Montez Sweat and Johnathan Abram will be hard to replace. The offense also lost quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who was also the team’s leading rusher. Envisage seven or eight wins, but the Bulldogs likely will be fifth in the SEC West.

Texas A&M Aggies (+3000)

The Aggies finished the 2018 campaign 9-4 (5-3 SEC) in head coach Jimbo Fisher’s first season. The return of quarterback Kellen Mond and a second year under Fisher has this team ranked 12th in the preseason AP poll. However, the schedule is menacing, with four games against top-six opponents.

Auburn Tigers (+2800)

Auburn is coming off an 8-5 season (3-5 SEC). The Tigers will be starting a true freshman at quarterback (Bo Nix), so expect some mistakes. The schedule splits into six easy games and six tough matchups. I would forecast an eight- or nine-win season and either a third- or fourth-place finish in the West.

Contenders

Kentucky Wildcats (+3500)

I know this sounds like a crazy homer pick, but hear me out. The Wildcats went 10-3 (5-3 SEC) last eason, and while they lost five players to the NFL⁠—including standouts in running back Benny Snell and defensive end Josh Allen⁠—the offensive unit as a whole should improve from last season, and wide receiver Lynn Bowden will become a household name. The defense will still be a force in the front seven. The main reason UK is a contender is the schedule. With seven games that are considered “easy” games, there are only five left (home games against Florida and Tennessee and away games at Mississippi State, South Carolina and Georgia) that could determine Kentucky’s SEC fate. If Kentucky can win three of those five games, it has an opportunity to win the East and take on Alabama in the title game. I am in love with the regular season win total of Over 6.5 wins.

Florida Gators (+1400)

The Gators are coming off a 10-3 (5-3 SEC) season under first-year head coach Dan Mullen. The return of quarterback Feleipe Franks and running back Lamical Perine has brought plenty of hype surrounding this football season for the Gators. The SEC East will likely be decided among Kentucky, Georgia and Florida in their three games with each other. Florida will have a chance to make the title game and would bring the type of offense that has given Alabama and Nick Saban concern over the years.

LSU Tigers (+1300)

The Tigers finished the 2018 campaign at 10-3 (5-3 SEC). LSU is a gritty football team under head coach Ed Orgeron and it finds ways to win. The Tigers are the only team in the West that I believe can take down ‘Bama in the final standings. Safety Grant Delpit will be a key factor, as he finished last season with five sacks, 9 1/2 tackles for loss, five interceptions and nine pass deflections. He is all over the field and will be a menace to all opposing quarterbacks. LSU at Alabama on November 9 could determine who wins the SEC West.

Georgia Bulldogs (+250)

Georgia is coming off an 11-3 season (7-1 SEC) and lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship. The Bulldogs are returning some key players, like quarterback Jake Fromm and running back D’Andre Swift, but will have a brand-new receiving corps and a young offensive line. With that said, don’t doubt the incoming talent, as the Bulldogs are coming off two straight top-three recruiting classes. Georgia is a significant favorite to win the East again and would love another shot at ‘Bama in the title game.

The Pick: Florida

My pick to win the conference over Alabama comes down to a team I believe can win the East and get a shot in the title game. Florida will have to win some tough games at Kentucky and the neutral-site game against Georgia, but they have the offense to do it. The Gators’ 24-20 win over Miami on Saturday wasn’t the greatest display of the offense this team is capable of, but do not let one opening game be the deciding factor. As I mentioned in their section, the Florida offense will give Alabama problems if they meet in the title game, and that is exactly why I would take those odds in a heartbeat.


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