What had been a narrative of SEC market dominance in college football came to a crashing halt on New Year’s Day and in this past Monday night’s national championship game.
Sure, there were some great bowl highlights overall. Florida, Auburn, and Texas A&M in particular obliterated market expectations and opponents in their victories. Kentucky upset Penn State. But, the top of the heap missed badly.
▪ Alabama (-5.5) was humiliated by Clemson 44-16. That missed the point spread by 33.5 points, in a shocker that saw Alabama’s vaunted defense allow 482 yards on 7.7 yards-per-play. Oddsmakers had been pricing the Crimson Tide as one of the best … if not THE best … college football team ever. Alabama would fail to play to expectations in its last three games vs. Clemson, Oklahoma, and Georgia.
▪ Georgia (-13) virtually no-showed the Sugar Bowl in a 28-21 loss to Texas. The Bulldogs had to rally from 28-7 down just to miss the spread by 20 points. Somehow, smash-mouth specialists were out-rushed 178-72 against a Big 12 defense that had shown a tendency to wear down.
▪ Mississippi State (-7) lost outright to Iowa 27-22. This group of Bulldogs were third best in the SEC in most respected computer and power ratings at the end of the season. It took two cheap touchdowns (drives of 6 and 33 yards) to hang around until the end of a mistake-filled disappointment.
The SEC had posted a cover rate near 60 percent vs. non-conference opponents through the regular season. It wasn’t able to break even in the postseason. LSU joined Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M, and Kentucky in the win/cover column. Alabama would fail to cover twice … Georgia, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt once apiece. That’s a 5-7 ATS record to close out the campaign.
What does this mean for next season? Handicapping college football never stops! Bettors should expect the SEC’s national edges in athleticism and speed to hold true out of the gate. Many league teams are on the rise. Others should enter the 2019 season with a chip on their shoulders.
But, it’s important to avoid the temptation to assume that the SEC’s powers are auto-bets vs. powers from other conferences. Bullying mid-level (and worse) foes from around the nation in September doesn’t necessarily have predictive value for what happens against elite postseason opponents that don’t blink. And, you’re generally paying a premium to bet on SEC teams because of those high market expectations.
▪ That huge market miss in Alabama/Clemson continued a trend we’d been seeing all season in high profile matchups. College football is a volatile sport. You’ll often here compliments for oddsmakers whenever a game lands close to the number. “Those guys really know what they’re doing!” This season was all about huge misses.
Alabama missed big vs. Clemson, but more than doubled a 14-spread as a road favorite at LSU. LSU was a 7-point home underdog to Georgia in a game it won by 20. Georgia had bad misses vs. Texas and LSU, but beat the market by double digits in the Cocktail Party vs. Florida. Those very same Gators beat Michigan 41-15 as four-point underdogs. That’s the Michigan team that was favored at Ohio State by 3.5 points in a game it lost 62-39.
Evidence, at the very least, that bettors have a shot to beat the spread easily if they can make the proper reads.
▪ The Westgate in Las Vegas had posted championship odds for NEXT season even before the Alabama/Clemson kickoff. Next year’s national favorite changed by the end of Monday evening.
Alabama was 3/2 (+150) before kickoff, but had fallen to 5/2 (+250) after losing. Clemson was 7/2 (+350) before kickoff, but had risen to championship favorite at 9/5 (+180) after crushing Alabama with a young quarterback who’s only going to get better (Trevor Lawrence had a passing line of 20-32-0-347 vs. Alabama’s defense! He also led his team to a 67 percent conversion rate on third downs.)
Other SEC entries for your betting consideration: Georgia 12/1 (tied for third with Ohio State), Florida 25/1, Mississippi State 50/1, LSU 50/1, Auburn 50/1, Texas A&M 80/1, South Carolina 300/1, Missouri 300/1, Tennessee 300/1. Ole Miss 1000/1, Kentucky 1000/1, Arkansas 1000/1, and Vanderbilt 5000/1.