Alabama’s Nick Saban once again has a stacked deck in his favor.
Don’t expect a change at the top in Southeastern Conference football this fall, especially in the SEC West where Alabama looks dominant again.
The defending BCS national champions return Heisman Trophy running back Mark Ingram, quarterback Greg McElroy and nine starters from a defense that was second in the nation in rushing defense and 10th versus the pass. The Crimson Tide also has a soft schedule with no games against Florida, the heavy favorite in the SEC East, and Georgia.
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So it’s no surprise Alabama is even money to capture the SEC championship and 1/2 to win the SEC West Division, according to current football betting odds at TheGreek.com. Arkansas has the next lowest odds of winning the SEC West at 3/1.
Following the Razorbacks are Auburn and LSU, each at 5/1. Mississippi State is next at 12/1. Mississippi has the longest odds of taking the SEC West at 15/1.
Alabama completed a perfect 14-0 season withe win over Texas in the BCS title tilt. The Crimson Tide was 9-5 ATS, which also happened to be the best spread mark of any SEC school.
The key for Arkansas is quarterback Ryan Mallett, who led the SEC in passing with 3,627 yards and 30 touchdowns a year ago. Both were Arkansas school records. The Michigan transfer helped lead the Razorbacks to an SEC-best 37 points per game scoring average.
Mallett, though, is recovering from surgery after suffering a broken foot that occurred in February during a conditioning drill. He’s expected to be ready for the start of preseason practice in August.
The Razorbacks finished last year on a 5-1-1 ATS run and return 16 starters.
LSU won the 2007 national title. However, the Tigers have lost nine games during the past two seasons. They were 5-8 ATS last year, the worst spread mark of any SEC West team. The Tigers were 112th in total offense and their defense has only four returning starters. Cornerback Patrick Peterson is a star, but the Tigers need to shore up their pass rush, which ranked 87th in sacks.
Auburn started out 5-0 under its new coach, Gene Chizik, but finished 8-5. The Tigers were 6-6 ATS, but failed to cover in five of their last seven games.
Under offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, the Tigers increased their scoring from 17.3 points in 2008 to 32.9 points last year with a spread attack. The Tigers were very balanced averaging 218.5 yards passing and 213.8 yards rushing. They were the top ‘over’ team in the SEC West with an 8-3-2 ‘over’ mark.
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Cameron Newton was named Auburn’s new starting quarterback following spring practice. He was the No. 1 overall junior college prospect last year, according to Rivals.com, after transferring from Florida.
Mississippi State showed improvement under new coach Dan Mullen in '09. The Bulldogs went 5-7, including 6-5 ATS. All seven of their losses were to bowl teams. Mississippi State ranked 115th in the nation two years ago in scoring and 113th in total offense. Mullen brought in a Triple Option attack and the Bulldogs averaged 25.6 points, which ranked them 72nd, and 371.9 yards per game, which was No. 65.
Ole Miss rose as high as No. 4 in the national rankings last year under Houston Nutt. The Rebels finished 9-4, 7-6 ATS. They were the only team to beat Florida, while also knocking off LSU, Tennessee and Arkansas.The Rebels capped their season by beating No. 18 Oklahoma State, 21-7, in the Cotton Bowl to finish on a six-game winning streak.
Yet the Rebels have the longest odds of any team to win the SEC West. Oddsmakers realize Mississippi returns only three starters on offense. Quarterback Jevan Snead left early for the NFL. The Rebels also lost star wide receiver/running back Dexter McCluster, the lone player in SEC history to rush for more than 1,000 yards and have 500 receiving yards in a single season.