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What bettors can expect from 2020 SEC football season

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The first games are still almost two weeks away, but it’s not too early for a betting breakdown of the Southeastern Conference.

The favorites

Alabama, Florida

After taking a rare back seat in the conference last year and losing for the third time in four tries at Auburn, Nick Saban was in a bad mood even before the pandemic hit. Part of that was because of the losses and part because his defense didn’t play up to normal standards, ranking outside the top five in the SEC for the first time in over a decade. Injuries were somewhat to blame, however, so expect a quick recovery to normal Alabama levels. The offense should be fine post-Tua Tagovailoa with sophomore QB Mac Jones tossing 14 TD passes with just three picks in a test run late last season, and punishing RB Najee Harris rates as a peripheral Heisman threat.

We suspect Florida will emerge from the East. Dan Mullen was much more comfortable with Kyle Trask than Feleipe Franks at quarterback last year, and Georgia’s late-summer quarterback issues make it more likely that the Gators will get to Atlanta.

Live ’dog

Kentucky

We admire coaches who can think on their feet and change plans midstream. So it was last season with Kentucky. Mark Stoops junked his normal offense by midseason because injuries had left converted WR Lynn Bowden as the best remaining option at QB.

By the end of the campaign, the Wildcats were one of the hottest teams in the SEC and Bowden was almost unstoppable. He rushed for nearly 1,500 yards in not much more than half a season and even passed for the winning TD in the Belk Bowl vs. Virginia Tech. Bowden is now in the NFL, and Stoops might have to think of something different, but he has a real defense and several eager QB candidates, some with experience. Don’t underestimate this guy.

Mark Stoops
Mark StoopsAP

Dead money

Vanderbilt

It might surprise some that Vanderbilt has never had a winless season. But now the Commodores meet “Football 2020,” with SEC games only, and the prospect of the big doughnut looms. It has become increasingly apparent that well-meaning and likable coach Derek Mason is in over his head, and the support base is maintaining a steady beat on the war drums. Mason is still getting protection from the administration, and new AD Candice Lee seems in no hurry to pressure her football coach.

Mason, whose team stayed competitive for a couple of years, has dropped 10 of his last 13 vs. the number, and prospects for improvement on last year’s 3-9 straight-up and spread marks appear dim, especially as Mason’s once-respectable defense was overrun in 2019. Changing coordinators will not likely pull Vandy out of its death spiral.

Big games on the board

Georgia at Alabama, Oct. 17

Georgia is making its first visit to Tuscaloosa since 2007, and it’s a homecoming of sorts for coach Kirby Smart, who was Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator before moving to Athens.

Georgia vs. Florida (at Jacksonville), Nov. 7

The SEC East usually gets decided in what used to be called the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Imagine this game with no tailgating allowed in November.

Alabama at LSU, Nov. 14

How many more key LSU players might opt out before we get to November?

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