Bryce Young

2022 College Football Win Total Projections, Odds & Picks: SEC

In the article below, college football expert Thor Nystrom projects the spread for every game using his ATL system (Adjusted Thor Spread). These spreads are from the perspective of the team in question — i.e., Army is a +2.5 underdog at Coastal Carolina and a -5 favorite hosting UTSA.

Here are his total win projections, odds, and picks for the SEC.

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Alabama Crimson Tide

Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 1 out of 131

Away
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Day
Spread
Win odds
Utah St.
Alabama
Sat, Sept 3
-42.5
1
Alabama
Texas
Sat, Sep 10
-13.5
0.9
Louisiana-Monroe
Alabama
Sat, Sep 17
-54.5
1
Vanderbilt
Alabama
Sat, Sep 24
-47.5
1
Alabama
Arkansas
Sat, Oct 1
-17
1
Texas A&M
Alabama
Sat, Oct 8
-18
1
Alabama
Tennessee
Sat, Oct 15
-16.5
0.998
Mississippi St.
Alabama
Sat. Oct 22
-24
1
Alabama
LSU
Sat, Nov 5
-15.5
0.963
Alabama
Ole Miss
Sat, Nov 12
-15.5
0.963
Austin Peay
Alabama
Sat, Nov 19
-61
1
Auburn
Alabama
Sat, Nov 26
-22
1

 

Nick Saban warned us about the repercussions of laxening transfer restrictions. Now he’s going to prove his point. Last year, Alabama lost in the title game to Georgia with a two-deep chock-full of freshmen and sophomores. Saban augmented that returning production with an insane transfer portal crop. Saban only signed five transfers, but all of them were ranked either four or five-star transfers by 247Sports. And each plugs an immediate hole: RB Jahmyr Gibbs, WR Jermaine Burton and WR Tyler Harrell replace RB Brian Robinson Jr., WR John Metchie and WR Jameson Williams, respectively, OT Will Steen addresses the loss of OT Evan Neal and CB Eli Ricks fortifies a CB room that lost Josh Jobe and Jalyn Armour-Davis.

Simply put, this Alabama team is the best preseason CFB team of the past five years. Doesn’t mean they’ll win the title (but I like their odds). The offense returns only five starters, but that comes with an enormous asterisk — add the four immediate starters signed in the portal, and that number becomes nine. The other two new starters will be a top-three OT recruit at RT (JC Latham), and a top 20 WR recruit playing alongside Burton and Harrell (Ja’Corey Brooks or Christian Leary, if they can hold off the small handful of high-octane true freshmen receivers Saban just signed). QB Bryce Young is going to put up incredible numbers this fall.

If you count Ricks as a “returning starter,” Alabama’s number of those on defense increases to eight. Alabama’s defense was very good but not elite last year (No. 9 SP+), that difference manifesting in matchups with high-end offenses. The Tide held seven of 15 opponents to 14 points or less but coughed up 5.5 YPP to ranked teams. This year’s unit looks better equipped to handle high-octane attacks. It has one of the best defenders in the modern era of college football in EDGE Will Anderson, who had 17.5 sacks and 34.5 TFL last season. Ricks and Kool-Aid McKinstry, the former No. 1 CB recruit who also joins the starting lineup this year, are both 6-foot-1 or taller cover corners who will greatly benefit from throws made under duress from Anderson and company.

Thor’s projected win total: 11.8
Las Vegas win total: 10.5
Thor’s bet: OVER

This number obviously gives us zero margin-for-error: One loss burns over tickets, and cashes under tickets. I’m going over anyway. I think this Alabama team has a chance to be one of the best CFB teams of my lifetime. The schedule sets up well, too, with only one competitive OOC matchup, and no Georgia or Florida in SEC play. Brace yourself for what may be the most dominant Nick Saban team yet.

Georgia Bulldogs

Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 3 out of 131

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Home
Day
Spread
Win odds
Oregon
Georgia
Sat, Sept 3
-14
0.924
Samford
Georgia
Sat, Sep 10
-55.5
1
Georgia
South Carolina
Sat, Sep 17
-23
1
Kent St.
Georgia
Sat, Sep 24
-41
1
Georgia
Missouri
Sat, Oct 1
-28
1
Auburn
Georgia
Sat, Oct 8
-14.5
0.949
Vanderbilt
Georgia
Sat, Oct 15
-40.5
1
Florida
Georgia
Sat, Oct 29
-15.5
0.963
Tennessee
Georgia
Sat, Nov 5
-13.5
0.9
Georgia
Mississippi St.
Sat, Nov 12
-16.5
0.998
Georgia
Kentucky
Sat, Nov 19
-15.5
0.963
Georgia Tech
Georgia
Sat, Nov 26
-29.5
1

 

After the championship comes the hangover. The Bulldogs lost a record 15 NFL Draft picks, all of whom were taken in the first six rounds, including five defenders in Round 1. The offense more or less escaped the carnage. RBs James Cook and Zamir White were drafted, but Georgia had the nation’s deepest RB room last year and has ready-made, field-tested replacements ready to go. WR George Pickens was lost, but Georgia should be able to replace his matchup-problem downfield machinations with TE/WR Arik Gilbert, the closest thing we’ve seen to Kyle Pitts since Pitts left college football. QB Stetson Bennett is back, and Georgia has a top-three offensive line in the country.

The historically-awesome defense is where the questions are. Only three starters return — but they’re all standouts. DT Jalen Carter isn’t considered a returning starter — he rotated in behind Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt and Travon Walker last year — but he’s universally regarded as the best front-seven prospect in the next NFL Draft class not named Will Anderson. No team has ever had to replace this much defensive talent year over year. But Georgia’s talent on that side of the ball remains as good as any team in the nation.

Thor’s projected win total: 11.7
Las Vegas win total: 10.5
Thor’s bet: OVER

Fading Georgia after the Bulldogs lost so much talent might seem like a good idea — until you get a load of this schedule. The non-con is three cupcakes, and Oregon in Atlanta. The SEC slate is a dream: Georgia ducks Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Mississippi and Arkansas from the other side, drawing Auburn and Mississippi State. My numbers project Georgia as at least 14-point favorites in all 12 games. I must go over.

Texas A&M Aggies

Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 8 out of 131

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Day
Spread
Win odds
Sam Houston
Texas A&M
Sat, Sept 3
-42
1
Appalachian St.
Texas A&M
Sat, Sep 10
-16.5
0.998
Miami (FL)
Texas A&M
Sat, Sep 17
-3.5
0.643
Arkansas
Texas A&M
Sat, Sep 24
-5
0.681
Texas A&M
Mississippi St.
Sat, Oct 1
-3
0.594
Texas A&M
Alabama
Sat, Oct 8
18
0
Texas A&M
South Carolina
Sat, Oct 22
-10
0.836
Ole Miss
Texas A&M
Sat, Oct 29
-5.5
0.69
Florida
Texas A&M
Sat, Nov 5
-7
0.752
Texas A&M
Auburn
Sat, Nov 12
-1
0.513
Massachusetts
Texas A&M
Sat, Nov 19
-41.5
1
LSU
Texas A&M
Sat, Nov 26
-5.5
0.69

 

Jimbo Fisher beat Nick Saban with replacement-level QB Zach Calzada last year, and he spent the ensuing offseason out-recruiting and out-chirping Saban. Like Lattimer in The Program, Jimbo is clearly ready for A&M’s “place at the table” with Saban’s Alabama and Kirby Smart’s Georgia. Unfortunately, Jimbo might need to make other reservations this fall.

Outside of the touched-by-God performance against Bama, Calzada was bad. A&M will get better QB play out of either Haynes King (whose injury opened the door for Calzada last year) or LSU transfer Max Johnson. Most programs would struggle to replace RB Isaiah Spiller, but with Devon Achane — one of the nation’s fastest players — and five-star frosh LJ Johnson running behind a top-15 national OL, A&M’s running attack could be even more dangerous.

The Aggies bring back five starters on defense. Four of those are defensive backs — A&M’s secondary is one of the best in the nation. The front seven is where the questions are. A&M lost all four starters on the defensive line, including two draft picks and a third that should have been. Unphased, Jimbo went ballistic on the recruiting phase, signing — not a typo — six of the top-nine consensus prep defensive linemen in the nation (you wonder why Saban is sick of recruiting against him?)! This is a high-ceiling group with a reasonable floor due to the dominance of the secondary. Where the group finishes will depend on how quickly new DC DJ Durkin can coach up that young defensive line.

Thor’s projected win total: 8.4
Las Vegas win total: 8.5
Thor’s bet: Pass

My numbers have A&M as the clear No. 3 team in the SEC. Unfortunately, my numbers peg A&M closer to the SEC’s third-tier (LSU, Tennessee, Mississippi) than its first (Bama and UGA). Meanwhile, while Alabama and Georgia both play relatively forgiving schedules, A&M has a gauntlet, Phil Steele’s No. 11 strength of schedule. Included in that is an Oct. 8 visit to Tuscaloosa. Jimbo might wake up that morning regretting his burn-the-bridge moment with Saban in June. Either way, this win total is too sharp to touch.

Tennessee Volunteers

Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 14 out of 131

Away
Home
Day
Spread
Win odds
Ball St.
Tennessee
Thur, Sep 1
-32
1
Tennessee
Pittsburgh
Sat, Sep 10
1.5
0.475
Akron
Tennessee
Sat, Sep 17
-33
1
Florida
Tennessee
Sat, Sep 24
-3.5
0.643
Tennessee
LSU
Sat, Oct 8
2.5
0.455
Alabama
Tennessee
Sat, Oct 15
16.5
0.002
UT-Martin
Tennessee
Sat. Oct 22
-43
1
Kentucky
Tennessee
Sat, Oct 29
-4
0.658
Tennessee
Georgia
Sat, Nov 5
15.5
0.037
Missouri
Tennessee
Sat, Nov 12
-16.5
0.998
Tennessee
South Carolina
Sat, Nov 19
-7.5
0.781
Tennessee
Vanderbilt
Sat, Nov 26
-25
1

 

HC Josh Heupel has long been criminally underrated, likely because he was scapegoated by his alma mater Oklahoma following a mostly-successful four-year run as OC. In the seven years since, Heupel got back on track with a one-year stop at Utah State, proved to be one of the game’s elite play-callers at Mizzou, went 28-8 as UCF’s HC and then took over a dumpster fire Tennessee program and surprisingly got it into a bowl game in Year 1.

Tennessee has drawn as much “sleeper” hype as any program this summer. That’s understandable. The program finally has stability heading into Year 2 of the Heupel era, and the team has ample experience back with 15 starters returning. Could Heupel lead the team to its first double-digit win campaign since 2007? He already has a downright scary offense. Eight starters return from a group that finished No. 7 SP+ last year, including QB Hendon Hooker, whom Heupel coaxed an incredible 31/3 TD/INT ratio out of last year. Tennessee’s skill talent is top 10 quality nationally.

Tennessee also had strong special teams play last year (No. 12 SP+) and will again. So much will come down to whether — and how much — the No. 47 SP+ defense that returns seven starters can improve. The only big loss was DB Alontae Taylor. Even without Taylor, it would be surprising if the defense allowed 273 YPG passing again. Another area that is bound to improve: Tennessee was awful in the red zone last year, finishing No. 119 in red zone TD rate. But keep in mind that Vols defenders weren’t used to Heupel’s breakneck offensive pace that often had them back on the field quickly — only two defenses in the nation saw an average of more plays per game than Tennessee’s. A deeper, more experienced, better-conditioned group should fare better at the end of drives in 2022.

Thor’s projected win total: 8.0
Las Vegas win total: 7.5
Thor’s bet: OVER

I’d go over at 7.5 but pass at 8. I love what Heupel is building, I like this roster, and the schedule features a soft four-game OOC slate. In SEC play, only two opponents show up on the schedule that Tennessee is reasonably unlikely to beat (Alabama and Georgia). I could see Tennessee finishing anywhere between 6-6 and 10-2, but I think the Vols get the eight regular season wins they need to cash over tickets.

LSU Tigers

Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 15 out of 131

Away
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Day
Spread
Win odds
Florida St.
LSU
Thur, Sep 1
-2
0.535
Southern
LSU
Sat, Sep 10
-43
1
Mississippi St.
LSU
Sat, Sep 17
-6
0.707
New Mexico
LSU
Sat, Sep 24
-39.5
1
LSU
Auburn
Sat, Oct 8
2
0.465
Tennessee
LSU
Sat, Oct 15
-2.5
0.545
LSU
Florida
Sat. Oct 22
1
0.488
Ole Miss
LSU
Sat, Oct 29
-3
0.594
Alabama
LSU
Sat, Nov 5
15.5
0.037
LSU
Arkansas
Sat, Nov 12
1
0.488
UAB
LSU
Sat, Nov 19
-15
0.956
Texas A&M
LSU
Sat, Nov 26
0
0.5

 

Brian Kelly. In Baton Rouge. A midwestern chameleon in one of CFB’s most culturally-unique areas. I have no idea how this is going to play out. But if you didn’t get excited when Kelly cosplayed his “Fam-mill-ee” southern drawl shortly after getting hired, you don’t have a pulse. Recently, Kelly’s QB derby was cut from a three-man race to two when Myles Brennan medically retired.

Garrett Nussmeier seemed to have the lead coming out of spring, but recent reports suggest Jayden Daniels has pulled ahead. This is as much an offensive philosophy question in Year 1 as it is a referendum on each player’s ability: Nussmeier will complete more passes without the mobility and Daniels will stress the defense in multiple ways if you can tolerate his shoddy accuracy. Really, the biggest addition on offense is WR Kayshon Boutte, who missed the last half of last season with an injury. Boutte has a 65-1036-13 receiving line in his last games (average of 7.2 catches, 115.1 yards, and 1.4 TD per game). I believe Boutte is the best receiver in America.

The defense returns five starters. Three front-seven defenders were picked in the mid-to-late rounds of this past NFL Draft. But I think LSU will be stronger up-front because they have one of the nation’s most feared edge-rushing duos returning in BJ Ojulari and Ali Gaye. The biggest questions come in the secondary, which lost top-three pick Derek Stingley, potential R1 draft prospect Eli Ricks (Alabama) and R3 nickel Cordale Flott. But that’s overstating things since Stingley and Ricks both missed the majority of last season with injury (combining for only one pass defensed). The injury issues allowed LSU’s young backups to get time, and the Tigers now return eight defensive backs who’ve started at least one game.

Thor’s projected win total: 7.3
Las Vegas win total: 7
Thor’s bet: Pass

I like this LSU team, and think they could be sneaky-scary if a few things break right. But Kelly has a treacherous Year 1 schedule to navigate. The opener against Florida State in New Orleans ain’t a picnic, and the Week 12 OOC against UAB isn’t the freebie that most other SEC programs scheduled for themselves. In SEC play, home games against Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi loom, as do road trips to Auburn, Florida, Arkansas and A&M. We’re too close to the margins to bet on this one.

Mississippi Rebels

Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 17 out of 131

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Day
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Win odds
Troy
Ole Miss
Sat, Sept 3
-18.5
1
Central Arkansas
Ole Miss
Sat, Sep 10
-42
1
Ole Miss
Georgia Tech
Sat, Sep 17
-13.5
0.9
Tulsa
Ole Miss
Sat, Sep 24
-22
1
Kentucky
Ole Miss
Sat, Oct 1
-4.5
0.673
Ole Miss
Vanderbilt
Sat, Oct 8
-24.5
1
Auburn
Ole Miss
Sat, Oct 15
-3.5
0.643
Ole Miss
LSU
Sat, Oct 22
3
0.406
Ole Miss
Texas A&M
Sat, Oct 29
5.5
0.311
Alabama
Ole Miss
Sat, Nov 12
15.5
0.037
Ole Miss
Arkansas
Sat, Nov 19
1
0.488
Mississippi St.
Ole Miss
Thur, Nov 24
-5.5
0.69

 

Not so long ago, Lane Kiffin was considered one of the most loathsome coaches in all of football, not liked by either college football or NFL fans. But after going through Nick Saban’s rehabilitation camp (as Bama OC), and after succeeding as FAU HC and now at Mississippi with a tweaked personality — still brash, but with silliness replacing smugness as Kiffin’s defining personality trait — he’s loved by most everyone not living in California or Knoxville. Last season, Kiffin got pelted by golf balls and batteries by Tennessee fans and stuck around the field for a post-game interview to crack jokes about it.

Whereas Kiffin was self-assured intractable (cocky) early in his coaching career, he’s now self-assured flexible (confident). An improviser and a problem-solver. Case in point: Kiffin broke through with a 10-3 record last season, but his team had six starters picked in April’s NFL Draft, including face-of-the-program QB Matt Corral and the team’s most-talented defender, R2 EDGE Sam Williams. So Kiffin made lemonade. In a historic offseason of player movement, Kiffin became The Portal King, signing 17 transfers, including nine rated as four-stars by 247Sports (the next-highest program in highest combined four and five-star transfer signings, USC, signed seven).

The Rebels have 12 returning starters, but the fate of the team lies in the hands of that No. 2 ranked portal crop (if you remove the players Lincoln Riley brought with him from Oklahoma, Mississippi would be No. 1). QB Jaxson Dart, ironically via USC, where he was displaced by the sudden arrival of Caleb Williams, was a fabulous signing to replace Corral. The RB room became one of the nation’s best with the signings of transfers Zach Evans and Ulysses Bentley, whose skillsets perfectly complement one another. This year’s offense should out-score last year’s output with a banged-up Corral. The defense has seven starters back, and seven more instant-impact transfers added. That unit should be a little better, with improved depth.

Thor’s projected win total: 8.2
Las Vegas win total: 7.5
Thor’s bet: OVER

Mississippi might have the easiest four-game OOC schedule in the conference. The Rebels are very likely to be 4-0 heading into October. Even with my numbers suggesting a modest 4.3 conference wins — going 4-4 — my projections remain bullish on this over. The Rebels are fortunate to avoid Georgia and Tennessee in cross-over play.

Auburn Tigers

Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 21 out of 131

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Day
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Win odds
Mercer
Auburn
Sat, Sept 3
-40.5
1
San Jose St.
Auburn
Sat, Sep 10
-22.5
1
Penn St.
Auburn
Sat, Sep 17
-1
0.513
Missouri
Auburn
Sat, Sep 24
-16.5
0.998
LSU
Auburn
Sat, Oct 1
-2
0.535
Auburn
Georgia
Sat, Oct 8
16.5
0.002
Auburn
Ole Miss
Sat, Oct 15
3.5
0.357
Arkansas
Auburn
Sat, Oct 29
-3.5
0.643
Auburn
Mississippi St.
Sat, Nov 5
1.5
0.475
Auburn
Texas A&M
Sat, Nov 12
6.5
0.277
Western Kentucky
Auburn
Sat, Nov 19
-16
0.981
Auburn
Alabama
Thur, Nov 24
22
0

 

How you see Auburn says more about you than Auburn. Similar to the situations at TCU and Penn State in other P5 conferences, Auburn is a team with several things going for it, and several things going against it. But the stakes are much higher at Auburn this year than in those other places.

The case for: You saw the vision during the 6-2 start last year. And this team is improved over that one. Auburn ranks middle-of-the-pack in returning production (13 returning starters), but only one departing player got picked in the NFL Draft. Last year’s rushing offense that ranked No. 3 EPA/rush gets star RB Tank Bigsby and four starting offensive linemen back. Last year’s defense finished No. 17 SP+. This year’s version has a legitimate chance to crack the top 10 with one of the nation’s best defensive lines.

The case against: Auburn will have a good rushing attack, and solid overall defense — nobody disputes this. The issue is everything else. The passing offense that finished No. 59 last year isn’t going to improve much, if at all. TJ Finley is the frontrunner to replace Bo Nix (Oregon). Finley provides better decision-making through the air (PFF big-time throw to turnover-worthy throw ratio of 4.0 to Nix’s 1.3), at the cost of accuracy (Finley had an adjusted accuracy rate of 60.7% last year to Nix’s 73.2%) and mobility (Nix is a threat to keep or scramble, Finley is not). If the passing offense doesn’t improve, the offense categorically can’t, because the running attack doesn’t have much room to improve. The defense is strong up front, but we don’t know how the secondary is going to look. And if this team starts going south, things are going to fall apart quickly. We know the boosters wanted HC Bryan Harsin out, and they’ll be happy to foot the bill to start the coaching search early this fall if given the opportunity.

Thor’s projected win total: 6.8
Las Vegas win total: 6.5
Thor’s bet: Pass

Add one more data point to The Case Against: Auburn faces Phil Steele’s No. 1 strength of schedule. Auburn will devour two cupcakes to start but then embark upon a 10-game gauntlet. The Penn State game is a coinflip proposition, and WKU can’t be considered a sure-win. Auburn is one of only two teams (Mississippi State is the other) who must play Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M. But Auburn is aided in having four likely home wins in the schedule, with only two likely losses (at Bama and at Georgia). The other six games have projected spreads under a touchdown either way (and Auburn is only a projected underdog in two, with one projected pick ‘em). If the Tigers take care of business in their four easiest games (ATL gives them a 98% chance of going 4-0 in those games), Auburn would only need to go 2-4 in the six toss-ups to go over (ATL projects 2.8 wins in those games). This number is too sharp to bet.

Florida Gators

Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 25 out of 131

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Day
Spread
Win odds
Utah
Florida
Sat, Sept 3
3
0.406
Kentucky
Florida
Sat, Sep 10
-3
0.594
South Florida
Florida
Sat, Sep 17
-21.5
1
Florida
Tennessee
Sat, Sep 24
3.5
0.357
Eastern Washington
Florida
Sat, Oct 1
-40.5
1
Missouri
Florida
Sat, Oct 8
-15.5
0.963
LSU
Florida
Sat, Oct 15
-1
0.513
Florida
Georgia
Sat, Oct 29
17.5
0
Florida
Texas A&M
Sat, Nov 5
7
0.248
South Carolina
Florida
Sat, Nov 12
-10
0.836
Florida
Vanderbilt
Sat, Nov 19
-23
1
Florida
Florida St.
Fri, Nov 25
2.5
0.455

 

The 2020 Florida Gators had one of the most fun passing offenses of the past five years in college football. The 2021 Florida Gators were one of the five-most dysfunctional programs in America. The wheels fell off quickly for Dan Mullen — underwhelming recruiting catching up to underwhelming player development, Mullen trying to outrun both with increasingly bizarre personnel decisions. First was the decision to bring back OL coach John Hevesy and DC Todd Grantham, both of whom had drawn intense criticism for worsening units.

Mullen was forced to fire both in early November in a last-ditch effort to hang on. Mullen didn’t appear to be fit to make decisions on Florida’s depth chart either, starting an inferior quarterback (Emory Jones over Anthony Richardson), and only giving RB Dameon Pierce, PFF’s No. 1 graded RB, 105 total touches on offense. New HC Billy Napier is an upgrade by merely not being Mullen. But Napier, a Nick Saban disciple, will also bring a sense of direction to a program that suddenly lost its rudder during the ugly end to Mullen’s reign (which included a 2-9 skid against P5 teams).

Richardson is his undisputed starter, and a great fit for Napier’s scheme, which makes good use of its quarterback’s legs even on passing concepts. Last year’s offensive line sagged to No. 80 in my rankings but will improve with four starters back, developing a new position coach. The defense, which was a beautiful mess in the final days of Grantham’s reign, should be far less susceptible to getting ripped for big plays. The biggest loss was CB Kaiir Elam, who was left stranded by Grantham more often than the cast of Lost and was a R1 pick in April. But the rest of the starters in the secondary return, so that unit should be in okay shape.

Thor’s projected win total: 7.4
Las Vegas win total: 7
Thor’s bet: Pass

The OOC slate includes two difficult matchups that I project Florida to be small underdogs in. In SEC play, Florida is only projected underdogs in three games, but all of them are brutal road trips — at Tennessee, at Georgia and at Texas A&M. This number has vacillated between 7 and 7.5 this summer. Either way, we’re right in line with my projections, so I’m passing.

Arkansas Razorbacks

Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 27 out of 131

Away
Home
Day
Spread
Win odds
Cincinnati
Arkansas
Sat, Sept 3
-3
0.594
South Carolina
Arkansas
Sat, Sep 10
-10.5
0.86
Missouri St.
Arkansas
Sat, Sep 17
-43
1
Arkansas
Texas A&M
Sat, Sep 24
5
0.319
Alabama
Arkansas
Sat, Oct 1
17
0
Arkansas
Mississippi St.
Sat, Oct 8
2
0.465
Arkansas
Brigham Young
Sat, Oct 15
2.5
0.455
Arkansas
Auburn
Sat, Oct 29
3.5
0.357
Liberty
Arkansas
Sat, Nov 5
-16.5
0.998
LSU
Arkansas
Sat, Nov 12
-1
0.513
Ole Miss
Arkansas
Sat, Nov 19
-1
0.513
Arkansas
Missouri
Fri, Nov 25
-10.5
0.86

 

I definitely thought Arkansas was making a mistake hiring HC Sam Pittman, and it became apparent quickly that I was definitely wrong. Pittman’s first team went 3-7 during the COVID season in 2020, but all 10 of those games were against SEC opponents. Arkansas was an underdog in all 10 games but was very close to going 6-4, with three losses by a field goal or less. Pittman’s second team took the step from competitive but overmatched to a legitimate contender, going 9-4.

The Hogs went 8-1 in home or neutral games, but a meager 1-3 in true road games. Of course, those games were at LSU, Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. This year’s team also profiles as a squad that should win all the games it’s supposed to while struggling when stepping up in competition. OC Kendal Briles’ offense returns seven starters, including the quarterback, a deep RB room and four starters along the offensive line. Arkansas signed Oklahoma transfer WR Jadon Hasselwood in an attempt to replace Trelon Burks’ production.

Only four starters return on defense. But of those who departed, only two were taken in the NFL Draft, both in the late rounds. Pittman took to the transfer portal to try to plug numerous holes. DC Barry Odom is very good at what he does, but it would be surprising if the defense didn’t take a small step back from last year’s No. 27 SP+ finish. The Hogs hope that any loss on defense is offset by gains made on offense.

Thor’s projected win total: 6.9
Las Vegas win total: 7.5
Thor’s bet: UNDER

The Hogs have a 10-2 ceiling this year, with only one brutal road trip (Texas A&M) and one brutal home game (Alabama). But the floor is 4-8. With six different games on the schedule featuring projected spreads of 3.5 or less either way, Pittman’s in-game meddle will be put to great use this fall. I’m going to follow my numbers’ conviction on the under due to my questions about the defense.

Kentucky Wildcats

Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 30 out of 131

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Win odds
Miami (OH)
Kentucky
Sat, Sept 3
-17.5
1
Kentucky
Florida
Sat, Sep 10
3
0.406
Youngstown St.
Kentucky
Sat, Sep 17
-40.5
1
Northern Illinois
Kentucky
Sat, Sep 24
-20.5
1
Kentucky
Ole Miss
Sat, Oct 1
4.5
0.327
South Carolina
Kentucky
Sat, Oct 8
-9
0.807
Mississippi St.
Kentucky
Sat, Oct 15
-3
0.594
Kentucky
Tennessee
Sat, Oct 29
4
0.342
Kentucky
Missouri
Sat, Nov 5
-10
0.836
Vanderbilt
Kentucky
Sat, Nov 12
-26.5
1
Georgia
Kentucky
Sat, Nov 19
13.5
0.1
Louisville
Kentucky
Sat, Nov 26
-1.5
0.525

 

Kentucky was a much different team last year than it had been in previous seasons. Notably more explosive, with a passing game that actually scared opponents, the Wildcats finished No. 21 SP+ offensively. The trade-off was that Kentucky was much more reckless with the ball, finishing No. 126 with a -11 turnover rate. QB Will Levis and his 13 INT get most of the blame for that (to be fair Levis is also responsible for the enormous leap the passing offense took). But the truth is that bad luck also played a big part.

Kentucky lost a larger percentage of its fumbles than random chance would dictate (10 total, to place it near the top of the nation in lost fumbles), and a larger percentage of Levis’ iffy passes were picked off. Levis threw 13 INT with a 2.6% PFF turnover-worthy throw rate, whereas, for example, Hendon Hooker threw only three INT with a 2.1% TWT rate (on 30 fewer attempts). Per SP+, Kentucky lost an average of 3.7 points every game to bad turnover luck alone (those four points would have come in handy in the 45-42 loss to Tennessee, amirite?).

Kentucky managed to go 10-3 anyway. The good news, flipping the page to this year, is that a normalization of luck on the turnover front alone is going to instantly make this team a little better. Last year’s offensive line ranked No. 3 nationally in my rankings, but that unit lost three starters who were taken in April’s draft. Fortunately, a deep stable of backs returns and Levis should be even better in 2022. The losses of WR Wan’Dale Robinson and EDGE Josh Pascual must be addressed. But the defense should remain solid. For all the differences in last year’s team, one remained: The intense desire to control the clock and slow the game (No. 11 in time of possession), which plays into the hands of the always well-coached, always physical Wildcats defense.

Thor’s projected win total: 7.9
Las Vegas win total: 8
Thor’s bet: Pass

Kentucky is fortunate to play eight home games. None of the four road games are unwinnable, and the OOC slate is decidedly on the easier side in comparison to UK’s conference mates. My numbers see an 8-4 team, and that’s exactly what I see. So does, apparently, Vegas. Pass.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 33 out of 131

Away
Home
Day
Spread
Win odds
Memphis
Mississippi St.
Sat, Sept 3
-14
0.924
Mississippi St.
Arizona
Sat, Sep 10
-13.5
0.9
Mississippi St.
LSU
Sat, Sep 17
6
0.294
Bowling Green
Mississippi St.
Sat, Sep 24
-28
1
Texas A&M
Mississippi St.
Sat, Oct 1
3
0.406
Arkansas
Mississippi St.
Sat, Oct 8
-2
0.535
Mississippi St.
Kentucky
Sat, Oct 15
3
0.406
Alabama
Mississippi St.
Sat, Oct 22
18
0
Mississippi St.
Auburn
Sat, Nov 5
5
0.319
Georgia
Mississippi St.
Sat, Nov 12
13.5
0.1
ETSU
Mississippi St.
Sat, Nov 19
-44
1
Mississippi St.
Ole Miss
Thur, Nov 24
5.5
0.311

 

HC Mike Leach bounced back from a rough 4-7 Year 1 to go 7-6 last season. At Texas Tech, Leach jumped from seven wins in each of his first two years to 9-5 in Year 3 (beginning a streak of eight straight seasons of eight wins or more until his exit). At Washington State, Leach went 12-25 in his first three years before a 9-4 breakthrough in Year 4 (won eight games or more in four of his last five seasons). Based on Leach’s history, Mississippi State will either take a tangible step forward this coming season or in 2023. A few different metrics would suggest this could be the year.

The Bulldogs return 17 starters (tied for No. 7 nationally) and rank No. 8 on Phil Steele’s experience chart. On offense, most of the same cast of characters is back, with the exception of the starting offensive tackles, including top-10 overall pick Charles Cross. That’s probably less concerning for the Bulldogs than it would otherwise be for most teams. Leach’s system is designed to neutralize line-of-scrimmage play, with bloated splits between his linemen and ranking near the top of the country in quickest average pass release time every year. The offense was top 10 in the nation in efficiency, but bottom 10 in explosiveness. The ceiling of the group would rise if QB Will Rogers can threaten deep. Wasn’t willing to last year. We’ll see.

While the offense returns eight starters, the defense returns nine. MSU ranked No. 34 in SP+ defense last year, only eight spots below where the offense finished. The defense had a similar ethos to the offense. It was a very efficient group that kept opposing attacks off schedule, but it had an Achillie’s heel of allowing too many explosive plays. With a more experienced group, you’d hope to see improvement in that area. It would help if the enormous discrepancy between MSU explosive plays and MSU explosive plays allowed tightened this fall.

Thor’s projected win total: 6.2
Las Vegas win total: 6.5
Thor’s bet: Pass

Leach’s breakthrough may have to wait until next year. But I don’t see Mississippi State missing a bowl, either. Qualitatively, this MSU team is better than last year’s incarnation. But the schedule sets a hard ceiling on the upside of this team. As mentioned above, MSU is one of only two teams that must play Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M. Road trips to LSU, Kentucky, Auburn and Mississippi ain’t picnics, either. I think Leach goes either 6-6 or 7-5 this fall. We’re too close to the margins to bet on this one.

South Carolina Gamecocks

Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 50 out of 131

Away
Home
Day
Spread
Win odds
Georgia St.
South Carolina
Sat, Sept 3
-10
0.836
South Carolina
Arkansas
Sat, Sep 10
10.5
0.14
Georgia
South Carolina
Sat, Sep 17
20.5
0
Charlotte
South Carolina
Sat, Sep 24
-19.5
1
South Carolina St.
South Carolina
Sat, Oct 1
-33
1
South Carolina
Kentucky
Sat, Oct 8
9
0.193
Texas A&M
South Carolina
Sat, Oct 22
10
0.164
Missouri
South Carolina
Sat, Oct 29
-7.5
0.781
South Carolina
Vanderbilt
Sat, Nov 5
-15
0.956
South Carolina
Florida
Sat, Nov 12
10
0.164
Tennessee
South Carolina
Sat, Nov 19
7.5
0.219
South Carolina
Clemson
Thur, Nov 24
20.5
0

 

HC Shane Beamer started quicker than anyone — looking at you Dennis Dodd! — thought possible. Picked to finish last in the SEC East, South Carolina went 7-6 and upset UNC in the bowl game. Beamer got a mayo bath and then viciously Twitter dunked on Dodd, who had curmudgeonly spent his afternoon arguing the Mayo Bowl shouldn’t exist and mocking Beamer for the mayo bath before the rim shattered above his head.

This year’s roster returns a solid 13 starters. The bigger news was the enormous haul Beamer signed in the transfer portal. QB Spencer Rattler and TE Austin Stogner kicked off that party, coming over during the mass defection from Oklahoma following Lincoln Riley’s departure. South Carolina also grabbed a starting-caliber RB (Christian Beal-Smith), two starting-caliber WR (Antwane Wells and Corey Rucker) and a pair of projected starters on defense (DL Terrell Dawkins and S Devonni Reed). South Carolina’s toothless passing offense now has real bite. And the backfield should be more productive with the addition of Beal-Smith and the return to health of RB MarShawn Lloyd (slowed off recovery from an ACL injury in 2021, just as Kevin Harris was hobbled by a back injury).

While last year’s offense finished only No. 86 SP+, the defense finished a more respectable No. 49. That group limited explosive runs, but was consistently nicked, suppressing short completions while getting ripped over the top. South Carolina was able to remain competitive by being stout in the red zone and fielding a top-10 special teams unit. With the additions on defense, a top-40 finish this fall is possible.

Thor’s projected win total: 5.5
Las Vegas win total: 6
Thor’s bet: Pass

South Carolina’s band of outcomes is much smaller than a lot of comparable P5 teams — odds are heavy that they’ll finish between 5-7 and 7-5. I tend to think a 6-6 season is coming, while my numbers are just a tick below that. Against this number, I’m going to pass.

Missouri Tigers

Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 69 out of 131

Away
Home
Day
Spread
Win odds
Louisiana Tech
Missouri
Thur, Sep 1
-11.5
0.882
Missouri
Kansas St.
Sat, Sep 10
10
0.164
Abilene Christian
Missouri
Sat, Sep 17
-28
1
Missouri
Auburn
Sat, Sep 24
16.5
0.002
Georgia
Missouri
Sat, Oct 1
26
0
Missouri
Florida
Sat, Oct 8
15.5
0.037
Vanderbilt
Missouri
Sat, Oct 22
-14.5
0.949
Missouri
South Carolina
Sat, Oct 29
7.5
0.219
Kentucky
Missouri
Sat, Nov 5
10
0.164
Missouri
Tennessee
Sat, Nov 12
16.5
0.002
New Mexico St.
Missouri
Sat, Nov 19
-24
1
Arkansas
Missouri
Thur, Nov 24
10.5
0.14

 

Missouri returns 14 starters from last year’s 6-7 outfit. The 2021 Tigers were average on offense (No. 52 SP+) and really good on special teams (No. 11), but awful on defense (No. 97). The offense swaps out QB Connor Bazelak (Indiana) for Brady Cook. In a small sample, Cook was more accurate but took more sacks than Bazelak last season.

Last year’s passing offense stunk — pressure is on Cook and five-star WR Luther Burden to turn that around. The biggest loss on that side of the ball is RB Tyler Badie. For Mizzou to keep running even close to as they did last season, Stanford transfer Nathaniel Peat is going to have to start quickly. Expect a small portion of Badie’s usage to be converted into manufactured Burden touches.

Mizzou finished outside the top 100 in both rushing and passing YPA allowed last fall. New DC Blake Baker will not only have to address those treetop issues but sort out a two-deep that is chock-full of new transfers signed by HC Eli Drinkwitz in an attempt to stop the bleeding. There are way more questions on this side of the ball than answers, a potentially ominous sign heading into the season.

Thor’s projected win total: 4.6
Las Vegas win total: 5.5
Thor’s bet: UNDER

Missouri has high-upside newcomers you can dream of. But the schedule may prevent Drinkwitz from the breakthrough season he craves. Mizzou scheduled itself three wins in OOC play, and it probably can count on a fourth with the home date against Vanderbilt. My numbers project Mizzou as at least 7.5-point underdogs in the other eight games, including a double-digit ‘dog in seven. This looks like a 4-8 or 5-7 team. Both outcomes cash under tickets.

Vanderbilt Commodores

Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 116 out of 131

Away
Home
Day
Spread
Win odds
Vanderbilt
Hawaii
Thur, Sep 1
2
0.465
Elon
Vanderbilt
Sat, Sep 10
-17
1
Wake Forest
Vanderbilt
Sat, Sep 17
16
0.019
Vanderbilt
Northern Illinois
Sat, Sep 24
9
0.193
Vanderbilt
Alabama
Sat, Oct 1
47.5
0
Ole Miss
Vanderbilt
Sat, Oct 8
24.5
0
Vanderbilt
Georgia
Sat, Oct 22
42.5
0
Vanderbilt
Missouri
Sat, Oct 29
14.5
0.051
South Carolina
Vanderbilt
Sat, Nov 5
15
0.044
Vanderbilt
Kentucky
Sat, Nov 12
26.5
0
Florida
Vanderbilt
Sat, Nov 19
23
0
Tennessee
Vanderbilt
Fri, Nov 25
25
0

 

Vanderbilt went 2-10 last season with wins over Colorado State and UConn, and a loss to an FCS team. Per SP+, the offense was a bottom-10 national unit, the defense was bottom-15 and the special teams was bottom-25. The offense and defense were both inefficient while struggling with explosiveness. Each struggled mightily in the red zone. The thing you can tentatively hang your hat on offensively is the return of RB Re’Mahn Davis.

Expected to be last year’s bellcow, Davis went down early with a season-ending injury. The Temple transfer is a legitimate NFL talent. If he can stay healthy, he’s going to help the efficiency of both the running and passing attacks, which would hopefully keep the ball in Vandy’s possession longer, aiding the beleaguered defense. Though Davis flashes undeniable bellcow traits that this offense desperately needs, durability has been his bugaboo, so carving 250+ touches into stone for him would be a mistake. The passing attack has a few different interesting outside weapons, but unless QBs Mike Wright or Ken Seals markedly improve, they’ll be wasted again.

The defense that gave up nearly seven yards per play while averaging only 0.75 sacks per game last year returns seven starters, so you’d figure it’ll be a little better. But as with the offense, this unit’s defining characteristic is its lack of talent. And while last year’s defense stunk, it played way up on third downs and in the red zone. If Vandy’s relative defensive success in situational spots sags any, the overall quality of the defense would need to improve just to offset it.

Thor’s projected win total: 1.8
Las Vegas win total: 2.5
Thor’s bet: UNDER

I’m a contrarian bettor with an enormous soft spot for sad-sack programs (I’m a Kansas grad!). So let me address my contrarians and empaths: Buying a Vandy over ticket this summer is the wrong spot to be a hero. Look, the first two games are manageable, and the ‘Dores have, according to my numbers, roughly a 50/50 shot to emerge from them 2-0. The issue is the last 10 games. My numbers project Vandy as at least nine-point ‘dogs in each, and at least 14.5-point underdogs in nine of them. I think there’s a better chance that Vandy finishes 1-11 than 3-9.

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Author: Robert Miller