College football has reached Week 10 and the SEC Wizard is back to give you betting picks and tips!
Georgia-Auburn could be the most interesting and competitive SEC football game in the 2017 regular season. A trio of Week 11 matchups feature top 10 team vs. top 10 team, and this is the most intriguing.
Georgia (9-0) is an underdog for just the second time all season, and faces its biggest remaining threat to an unbeaten season. Auburn (7-2) can keep alive SEC Championship hopes by ending a 3-game losing streak in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.
Auburn welcomed transfer QB Jarrett Stidham from Baylor and hired offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey to win precisely this type of game. And Georgia has been preparing freshman Jake Fromm, knowing there would be a game the Bulldogs couldn’t win solely with its running backs. Both teams play excellent defense, and both hope to usurp the Alabama Crimson Tide as the SEC’s alpha program.
I can’t wait for this game. Finally, an SEC on CBS matchup worthy of that designation.
How Georgia can win: Stuff the middle with Trenton Thompson, Roquan Smith and others, forcing the game into the hands of Jarrett Stidham. Shred Auburn’s offensive tackles like Clemson and LSU did earlier this season. Get a lead, run the ball effectively on offense and avoid making Jake Fromm conduct game-winning drives against an elite defense in front of a raucous road crowd.
How Auburn can win: Be aggressive. That means throwing downfield to Darius Slayton, Will Hastings and Nate Craig-Myers. And avoiding a complete breakdown of pass protection in the process. Auburn’s defense still ranks among the top 10 nationally in many categories, but has shown some cracks in recent weeks. The Tigers need to stymie UGA’s excellent running game, force Jake Fromm to determine the outcome of the game and hope to expose the still-inexperienced QB.
Here are a few additional nuggets:
- Undefeated teams are 20-39-1 against the spread in November and December during the College Football Playoff era. That’s a bad trend for Georgia.
- Top 10 teams that are home underdogs, a rare combination, are 12-25 straight up and 18-18-1 against the spread. That’s a bad trend for Auburn.
- Georgia has won 9 of the last 11 in this series. Both of Auburn’s wins came at home, including the 2013 “Prayer at Jordan-Hare” and a 2010 duel between Cam Newton and Aaron Murray.
Georgia started the season 5-0 against the spread vs. FBS teams, and reached a remarkable +104.5 at one point against the spread, excluding the Samford game. But it’s possible that the market has finally corrected itself. Maybe even over-corrected. UGA is 1-2 against the number since Oct. 7, with the lone win coming against Florida as the Gators were preparing to fire Jim McElwain the next day.
The “over” also has hit in 3 of Georgia’s last 4 games.
According to every credible analytics number, Auburn is the second-best team that Georgia has faced all season, behind Notre Dame. Let’s use F+/-, which I view as the best college football analytics ranking. Georgia beat No. 2 Notre Dame on the road by 1 point and crushed No. 15 Mississippi State at home by 28. But both those teams are run-centric to an extreme, including at quarterback.
The next-best team that UGA has beaten? No. 58 South Carolina. Auburn is the first very good team Georgia has faced that possesses a legitimate pass offense.
- LB Natrez Patrick (marijuana-related suspension) is expected to play against Auburn after a 4-game absence. A starter before his suspension, Kirby Smart wouldn’t say whether Patrick would get his spot back right away.
- DB Rashad Roundtree (concussion) has missed the entire season.
- OL Pat Allen (leg) and DT DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle (back) are listed as questionable on a few injury websites.
After destroying Florida, 42-7, Georgia played a closer-than-expected game against South Carolina last week, clinching the SEC East. Kentucky is next, but this is the toughest game left for UGA in the regular season. Expect this team’s best effort.
Smart has turned this UGA program into a juggernaut. He’s recruiting as well as any SEC program. The defense is elite. The running game is as good as any team’s in the country. And the team is passing effectively as well. In other words, Georgia is balanced. And in position to contend for championships for years to come.
Fromm has thrown more than 15 passes in just 3 games, but that includes 2 of the last 3. He’ll make it 3 of 4 this week, as Georgia won’t be able to win this game by running the ball 50+ times. He’s also thrown for more than 201 yards just once. But he’s been scary efficient, and when he does throw, it’s usually for big yardage. He’s been very accurate downfield.
A big effort from Fromm in this game will eliminate any doubters and cement this team as a national championship contender. But it’s Auburn’s job to make Fromm win the game rather than manage it.
Auburn’s games have gone “over” the betting total 6 consecutive times. Auburn has scored 51, 49, 44, 52 and 42 points against SEC opponents in 5 of those 6 games. In the sixth, Auburn scored 23 first-half points at LSU and then didn’t score in the second half. So, excluding a single half — in which Auburn’s offense went into a conservative shell — the Tigers are averaging 47.5 points per game against SEC teams.
Just 7 FBS teams rank in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive points per possession (adjusted to remove points scored on defense and special teams): Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Washington, UCF … and Auburn.
And although the team’s offense has been explosive during SEC play, the defense has performed even better — holding Clemson to 14 points, Missouri to 14 points and Mississippi State to 10 points.
- The health of Auburn’s offensive line remained the biggest question mark as of Friday. Tackle Darius James and left guard Mike Horton played last week but left the game vs. Texas A&M due to lingering ankle injuries. Casey Dunn also has been dealing with a lingering injury. It’s unclear who will start at what positions, though Gus Malzahn said everyone should be available.
- Oft-injured RB Kamryn Pettway (shoulder) could be out the rest of the season.
Auburn beat Texas A&M comfortably last week off a bye, and gets Louisiana-Monroe next week. The Iron Bowl looms on the horizon, but the Tigers need this one badly.
Win out, and Auburn could sneak into the College Football Playoff. Lose to UGA and Bama and coach Gus Malzahn could be fired. That’s the type of range at stake. Expect a focused effort.
Malzahn’s two worst traits as a head coach, at least this year: 1) He gets too conservative after halftime leads and 2) He tries to prove he’s the smartest guy in the stadium and sometimes gets too cute. It cost Auburn the game against LSU — otherwise this team is 8-1 right now.
Auburn isn’t going to get a three-score lead against Georgia on Saturday. So we should get Aggressive Auburn for 60 minutes. And Aggressive Auburn is very, very good.
If Malzahn loses this one, though, his job is very much in jeopardy.
The hype around Stidham before the season probably was unfair. His offensive tackles aren’t very good at protecting him. His receivers haven’t been as good as their star ratings suggested they should be. But Stidham is very good when he gets a clean pocket. He’s as accurate as any quarterback in the SEC in those situations. And Georgia’s secondary should give him some opportunities to make plays downfield.
Bet: Auburn +2.5.
Score: Auburn 27, Georgia 24
I’ve felt that Auburn has been underrated by the market, the media and the general public almost all season. And thanks to some terrible coaching in the second half in Baton Rouge, this team remains a clear and distant third in most folks’ SEC power rankings.
The Tigers could very well finish 8-4 — with losses to as many as 3 College Football Playoff teams.
Yes, Georgia beat Notre Dame and Mississippi State. But this is the best, most balanced SEC team UGA will face all season, at least until a potential SEC Championship Game matchup with Alabama.
I think the markets are overvaluing Georgia right now because of the 0 in the loss column. (See: Last week, when Georgia didn’t come close to covering as a 24-point favorite against South Carolina.)
I also like the “over” in this matchup, which has hit in 6 consecutive Auburn games and in 3 of Georgia’s last 4 games, as noted above.
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