It’s become popular in major media circles to blast college football’s Southeastern Conference as “overrated” because it gets so much TV exposure. It would be much easier to make that case if the SEC wasn’t so good at covering point spreads.
Point spreads are about as pure a reflection of how a team is “rated” as you’re going to get. They represent the sum total of informed perceptions backed by real money. If a 10-point favorite only wins by a field goal, they were over “rated” in that game. If a 10-point favorite wins by 21, they were underrated. Point spreads provide a quick snapshot of how teams are rated at any given moment.
To evaluate conferences, you can simply add up the combined point spread performance of all the teams. Of course every league game splits out because one team has to cover while its opponent has to fail (unless the final scoring margin lands right on the number for a push). Just focus on what happens in non-conference games. An “overrated” conference should have a losing record against the spread when facing other leagues. An “underrated” conference would have a winning record.
Last season, the SEC went 39-28-1 against outsiders counting bowls and playoffs, 58% against the spread. Despite criticism about saturation, the SEC was underrated last season.
Yes, Alabama failed to win the National Championship, going 0-2 ATS in the playoffs. Georgia virtually no-showed the Sugar Bowl in a loss to Texas. But, Auburn pounded Purdue 63-14, Texas A&M trounced North Carolina State 52-13.
Do that for every inter-conference game all season, and the SEC got the best of it.
Here are last season’s ATS records by division…
▪ SEC East: Florida 5-0, Missouri 3-2, Vanderbilt 3-2, South Carolina 3-2, Georgia 2-3, Kentucky 2-3, Tennessee 1-3. (19-15 combined)
▪ SEC West: Texas A&M 5-0, Mississippi State 4-1, Ole Miss 3-1, Auburn 3-2, LSU 2-3, Arkansas 1-2-1, Alabama 2-4. (20-13-1 combined)
Once again, reality had an SEC bias. Heavy television exposure is a reflection of quality. And, even with all elements of the betting market having ample opportunity to evaluate the league, the SEC was still underrated by pricing.
As we reported last September, the SEC made a statement in Week One “challenge” games that were priced within a field goal. Skeptics who didn’t want to give the league credit for running up the score against small college cupcakes had no defense for: LSU (+3) beating Miami 33-17 (19-point cover), Ole Miss (-2.5) beating Texas Tech 47-27 (22.5-point cover), Vanderbilt (-3) beating Middle Tennessee 35-7 (25-point cover), and Auburn (-1.5) beating Washington 21-16.
Unfortunately, there aren’t as many projected nail biters early in 2019. We encourage you to start an early 2019 report card with last week’s Florida/Miami result, and Saturday’s Ole Miss/Memphis (ABC, 11 a.m.), and Auburn/Oregon (ABC, 6:30 p.m.) attractions. Single-digit point spreads in all those.
Next week, matchups like LSU at Texas, Tennessee vs. BYU, Texas A&M at Clemson should provide further insight into how the SEC stands nationally.
▪ Saturday, VSiN will focus on the major Mississippi schools, all of whom kick off their seasons. You already know about Ole Miss/Memphis. Mississippi State vs Louisiana in the Superdome is also a morning start (ESPNU, 11 a.m.). Southern Miss hosts Alcorn State at 6 p.m. in Hattiesburg.
Don’t forget that Southern Miss visits Mississippi State a week from Saturday (September 7, ESPNU, 2:30 p.m.)
▪ NFL Preseason action concludes Thursday night with all pro teams playing their exhibition finales. These are not popular betting attractions in Las Vegas or globally because so many teams are just going through the motions with backups.
New Orleans hosts Miami at 7 p.m., before opening the regular season at home against the Houston Texans on Monday night September 9.
The 2019 regular season officially gets underway next Thursday when Green Bay visits Chicago (NBC, 7:20 p.m.). The Bears have been a popular betting team for the public all summer, whether it’s futures prices, Regular Season Win Totals, or individual player props. Sports books across the globe are hoping the Bears get off to a slow start.
▪ Though football is about to dominate the sports betting landscape, VSiN will still keep an eye on baseball for you. As we enter the final month of the regular season, be sure to keep an eye on “recent form” up and down the majors. Don’t risk any long shot underdog money on disinterested dregs playing out the string.
Keep an eye out for relatively “fresh” starting pitchers who may have missed some time earlier while everyone else was suffering through a hot summer.