We are in the home stretch of the college football regular season, and we still have a ton to sift out at the top of the SEC.
Alabama continues its climb up the rankings after taking an early season loss but now faces an LSU team that has a Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback Jayden Daniels who engineered an upset over the Crimson Tide last season. Meanwhile, Georgia looked at its best on Saturday against Florida, but now faces its toughest opponent of the season when Missouri comes to Athens, a team that nearly defeated the eventual National Champions in Columbia last year.
These are two massive games with not only SEC Championship game implications, but National Championship ones as well. Here is how I'm eyeing these two with wagers on both games early in the week:
LSU vs. Alabama Prediction and Pick
LSU has built up a ton of momentum heading into this matchup against Alabama, one that may determine the SEC West. The team has been explosive on offense behind the third choice to win the Heisman Trophy in Daniels, but the defense continues to be a disaster.
In LSU's two losses this season, the team allowed more than 40 points to Florida State and Ole Miss. The team also allowed more than 30 to Arkansas and Missouri. The defense is an eyesore and has been gashed by any team with a pulse on that side of the ball.
Now, the team faces Alabama, a team that I had questions for early in the season, but have quietly turned it around on offense as Jalen Milroe continues to grow into his role as the starting quarterback of the Crimson Tide.
Alabama's run game continues to be a concern, the unit is averaging fewer than four yards per carry and is 126th in sacks allowed, but the team has proven to be dangerous in the passing game, top 10 in yards per pass attempt, and explosive passing offense.
Milroe has been excellent in terms of finding the likes of Isaiah Bond and Jermaine Burton downfield. According to Pro Football Focus, Milroe has completed 60% of his passes that have traveled more than 20 yards per attempt with 17 big-time throws and zero turnover-worthy plays.
So, while LSU's offense is exciting and makes chunk plays, I'm incredibly concerned about the team's ability to limit chunk plays through the air. LSU is 119th in explosive pass defense and 98th in sacks.
Meanwhile, Alabama grades out as the best coverage unit in college football this season per PFF. While Alabama got beat deep against Texas, the team has shut down the likes of Ole Miss, who bolster a potent passing game as well.
Further, Alabama is far ahead of the Tigers in other key metrics including special teams grading and tackling. According to PFF, Alabama is fifth in special teams grading while LSU is 87th, a hidden edge that could determine the game with a spread this close.
As we continue to harp on the difference between the two defenses, LSU is 47th in tackling this season while Alabama is seventh. The Crimson Tide are still prone to giving up chunk plays, bottom half of the country in limiting explosive plays, but the team has been nails on a down-to-down basis, ranking top 10 in success rate and 13th in points per drive.
After being skeptical of the Alabama passing game early on, this unit has improved quite a bit against strong defenses like Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Tennessee, hitting timely deep shots at a high clip. Meanwhile, LSU's defense will be the worst on the field by a wide margin, I'm not understanding the bullishness on the defense whatsoever.
I make this game Alabama -5.5 and will lay the field goal with the better defense at home.
PICK: Alabama -3
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Missouri vs. Georgia Prediction and Pick
Georgia came out of its BYE week to dismantle Florida 49-20, setting the tone for the second half of the season despite not having its top pass catcher Brock Bowers for the foreseeable future.
However, I believe the Tigers can help get this total OVER on Saturday afternoon between the hedges in what will be the best offense the Bulldogs have seen to date. Missouri has taken a significant step forward in 2023 with the emergence of wide receiver Luther Burden and fully healthy quarterback Brady Cook.
The Tigers will be able to stretch the Bulldogs' defense like no team has been able to do this season. Not only is Missouri efficient passing the ball, seventh in passing success rate, but the team is top 10 in yards per pass attempt. The team will be able to force defenders out of the box and open up the team's ground game as well.
Georgia's defense has plenty of talent, but this is not the lockdown unit that we have come to expect in 2023. The defense is outside the top 100 in sacks and is allowing opponents to score a touchdown on 76% of opponents' trips inside the red zone, the 122nd-best mark in the country.
Missouri is rightfully the underdog, but I believe the team is equipped to compete in this one. With the ability to stretch the Bulldogs' defense and convert from in close (Missouri is top 30 in red zone touchdown percentage on offense), the Tigers can do their share to get over the total.
With that being said, the Bulldogs will also find some success as well. Georgia showcased last week that it can hit chunk plays through the air without Bowers, and it helps that Ladd McConkey looks fully healthy. The Mizzou defense is middling for SEC standards this season and is below the national average in terms of points per drive allowed.
Carson Beck may not get the praise he likely deserves, but he has been putting totogethergetehr a fantastic season around a banged-up skill position group for the Bulldogs. Georgia is sixth in yards per play, sixth in completion percentage, and 13th in yards per pass attempt this season. The team has been prone to some slow starts at times, but this offense is among the best in the country.
Georgia's defense isn't what it was in the prior two seasons, but the offense hasn't dropped off like some had thought when the team lost quarterback Stetson Bennett, offensive coordinator Todd Monken, and now Bowers to injury. To me, this game reads as an over matchup between two of the best offenses in the country with Georgia breaking into the 30's with Missouri not too far behind.
PICK: OVER 55.5
Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.
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