Tuesday, September 27, 2022

SEC college football picks, odds in Week 4: Tennessee, Arkansas cover spreads in crucial rivalry games

The final Saturday in September includes some scintillating matchups in the SEC that are bound to have conference and division title ramifications down the road. In one of the headlining games of Week 4, No. 20 Florida heads to Rocky Top to take on No. 11 Tennessee in the SEC on CBS Game of the Week. The two rivals are looking to vault back into the national picture, and there’s no better place to make a statement than in front of more than 100,000 fans inside Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Elsewhere, No. 10 Arkansas and No. 23 Texas A&M tee it up at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in an old Southwest Conference rivalry game that was rekindled in the SEC when the Aggies joined the conference in 2012. 

Let’s take a spin around the conference and makes some picks for the games featuring SEC teams in Week 4.

Appetizer: Styles make fights

The rivalry between the Gators and Volunteers will be decided by how the game is actually played. The Volunteers offense is build to crank up the tempo, wear down a defense and force every game into a shootout. Florida, on the other hand, is the second-best rushing team in the country in terms of yards per attempt (6.42), and has a quarterback in Anthony Richardson who hasn’t tossed a touchdown pass yet this season. Richardson has, however, scored three times on the ground and is averaging 5.58 yards per carry (including sack yardage).

What has flown under the radar is the work of Tennessee’s defense this season. The Vols rank third in the SEC in tackles for loss per game (7.33) and sacks per game (2.67). That success will be tested against a Gators squad that ranks second in the SEC in tackles for loss allowed (8) and sacks allowed (2). 

If Tennessee dictates style, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Richardson and Co. make this much of a fight. 

Main course: Are the Aggies back?

The answer is an emphatic “no.” Last Saturday’s win over No. 25 Miami was nice, but most of the problems that existed prior to the quarterback change from Haynes King to Max Johnson still exist despite the win over the Hurricanes. The Aggies are tied with Navy for the fewest red zone trips in the country (3). That’s right, Iowa’s offense — which has been the punchline to endless jokes across the country — has been to the red zone more (4) than Texas A&M. If there is an ounce of good news baked into that stat it’s that the offense has cashed in all three of those visits into touchdowns.

The obvious rebuttal from Aggie defenders is that it has scored from outside of the red zone. That is true. It has a total of five touchdowns from outside the go zone, bringing its grand total to … wait for it … eight. That’s good enough to rank last in the SEC and No. 102 in the country, tied with several teams including noted offense juggernaut UConn.

Texas A&M got a win over a ranked team last weekend and Johnson didn’t turn the ball over. That’s great. But all it did was prevent this season from spiraling into a total disaster. 

Dessert: Stetson Bennett for Heisman

The Georgia quarterback is (+1200) at Caesars Sportsbook to win college football‘s most prestigious individual award, and that is, by far, the best value bet on the board. Bennett has five touchdowns, zero interceptions and has the second-best passer rating in the SEC at 183.48. He is fifth nationally and No. 1 in the SEC in completion percentage on passing downs (73.1%), and ranks eighth nationally in yards per attempt (11.13) when the Bulldogs are 7 or more yards away from a first down. 

The most important stat for Bennett, however, is that he’s completed 0.0% of his passes in the fourth quarter — and that’s because he hasn’t attempted one. He might throw one this week against Kent State, but it’s unlikely that it will mean an awful lot. Bennett isn’t a game manager. He’s a difference-maker. More importantly, though, is that offensive coordinator Todd Monken has made a concerted effort to run the offense through his veteran quarterback.

Picks

Straight up: 29-7 | Against the spread: 14-16-1

*Previous picks were made on Instagram since SEC Smothered & Covered starts in Week 3

Kent State at No. 1 Georgia

The trend of Bennett not attempting a pass in the fourth quarter will continue in what will be a blowout win over the Golden Flashes. Coach Kirby Smart will call off the dogs early knowing that the meat of the SEC schedule is right around the corner. He knows that championship-level depth is required to win a national title, and he’ll use this opportunity to build even more depth. That will be enough to keep the game within 45 points. Pick: Kent State (+46)

Missouri at Auburn

Featured Game | Auburn Tigers vs. Missouri Tigers

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Penn State’s defensive front dominated Auburn’s offensive line last weekend, which played a big part in the blowout over the Tigers. Missouri can’t really do that, and that will be a big factor in this matchup. It’s no secret that Auburn’s quarterback position is a mess. TJ Finley is banged up, Robby Ashford isn’t consistent in the passing game and Zach Calzada can’t seem to find the field. Those issues, though, will force coach Bryan Harsin to get running backs Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter into the game plan in a wide variety of ways. That’ll be enough to get a win, and I’ll reluctantly pick Auburn to cover as well. Pick: Auburn (-7)

Bowling Green at Mississippi State

Just when I start to buy Bulldogs stock, they go to Death Valley and fall to underdog LSU. I’m going to buy more against Bowling Green, though. Quarterback Will Rogers will light up a pass defense that ranks last in the MAC (345.7 yards per game) and has let opposing quarterbacks complete 71.2% of his passes. The big spread scares me a bit, but not enough to walk the plank on Mike Leach’s Bulldogs. Pick: Mississippi State (-30)

No. 20 Florida at No. 11 Tennessee

Featured Game | Tennessee Volunteers vs. Florida Gators

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It is impossible to trust Richardson in a shootout, and that’s exactly what Tennessee’s offense — led by quarterback Hendon Hooker — will do on Saturday afternoon. The underrated Volunteers defense will create enough havoc plays to keep the Gators off schedule, which will spell disaster for a Gators offense that isn’t a threat through the air at all. The party on Rocky Top after beating Florida for the first time since 2016 will be legendary. Pick: Tennessee (-10.5)

Tulsa at No. 16 Ole Miss

Featured Game | Ole Miss Rebels vs. Tulsa Golden Hurricane

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Are you buying into the Rebels yet? You should. Coach Lane Kiffin has proven through three games that the foundation of the offense is its stellar run game led by Zach Evans and Quinshon Judkins, and Tulsa’s porous rush defense (159 yards per game) will have an incredibly difficult time slowing down this freight train. That, coupled with a wildly underrated defense, will be more than enough for Kiffin’s crew to cruise. Pick Ole Miss (-21)

Northern Illinois at No. 8 Kentucky

Featured Game | Kentucky Wildcats vs. Northern Illinois Huskies

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This game screams “backdoor cover.” Kentucky quarterback Will Levis has combined with freshman Dane Key to create one of the most explosive offenses in recent memory in Lexington, Kentucky, and coach Mark Stoops knows that will be a key to his success moving forward. Because of that, expect Stoops to put this one in cruise control early in the second half. After all, he knows a showdown at Ole Miss is looming next week and will want his team to be at 100% for next week’s big game. Pick: Northern Illinois (+25.5)

No. 10 Arkansas at No. 23 Texas A&M

Featured Game | Texas A&M Aggies vs. Arkansas Razorbacks

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Arkansas ranks third in the SEC in third-down conversions (48.89%), which means that it can replicate the same game plan that Appalachian State used against the Aggies two weeks ago and own the time of possession battle. However, it’ll be able to execute better with the SEC’s leading rusher, Raheim Sanders (146.67 yards per game), and dual-threat bruiser KJ Jefferson at quarterback. The Aggies won’t be able to cash in the few scoring opportunities that it gets, and the Razorbacks will win this one outright. Pick: Arkansas (+2.5)

Vanderbilt at No. 2 Alabama

The Crimson Tide haven’t figured out how to stretch the field deep on a consistent basis, and the Commodores will provide the perfect tune-up before they reach the meat of the SEC schedule. The ‘Dores are giving up 274 yards per game through the air, so expect Young to come out hot and build a big lead. Vandy has enough offensive weapons to keep this one within 40 points, though, even if we have to sweat out a potential backdoor cover. Pick: Vanderbilt (+40.5)

New Mexico at LSU

I’m still not completely sold on LSU’s offensive line, but it certainly looked better last week against Mississippi State. New Mexico is averaging 2.67 sacks per game, and that’ll be good enough force LSU behind the sticks and into punting situations more than expected. Plus, expect more from Tigers running back John Emery Jr. after his first game in nearly two years last week. He’ll have success but also drain the clock and prevent his team from covering. Pick: New Mexico (+31)

Charlotte at South Carolina

Featured Game | South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Charlotte 49ers

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Everything went wrong for the Gamecocks last week in the loss to Georgia, but Charlotte will provide the perfect opportunity to get right before the rest of the SEC schedule gets cranked up. The 49ers pass defense is atrocious (320.5 yards per game), and coach Shane Beamer will look to get quarterback Spencer Rattler as comfortable as possible before we switch the calendar to October. Pick: South Carolina (-22)

Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 4, and which Top 25 favorite will go down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned more than $3,300 in profit over the past six-plus seasons — and find out.

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