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Evaluating SEC's bowl chances

Thanks to intense TV coverage through the regular season, Southeastern Conference teams are consistently in the bowl spotlight. Some bettors believe this creates inflated point spreads worth fading. That approach worked last postseason, when the SEC went 5-7 ATS (including two non-covers from Alabama in the national playoffs). 


Will it work again? That’s an important question with seven SEC teams about to take the field in the next few days. Two are in action Monday. Smart handicappers will evaluate the league on the fly, factoring in current performances with prior bowl results involving LSU and Texas A&M. 


For evaluating Monday’s appearances, let’s dig a bit deeper in the Music City and Orange bowls, where SEC teams are favored.


— Mississippi State (-4) vs. Louisville (4 p.m., ESPN)

Mississippi State: No. 66 offense, No. 67 defense, No. 9 schedule, 2 turnover margin

Louisville: No. 35 offense, No. 107 defense, No. 42 schedule, -2 turnover margin


Total offense and defense rankings are from the regular season. You’ll recall from prior previews that strength-of-schedule rankings are from Jeff Sagarin’s computer ratings at USA Today. 


It’s scary to ponder how poorly Louisville’s defense would grade if it had faced Mississippi State’s brutal schedule. This point spread bounced between -3.5 and -4.5 through the long lead-in. Sharps like the dog at 4 or better. Were the line to fall to the key number of 3, cover percentages would flip to the favorite. 


Mississippi State is not an impressive SEC entry, going bowling only because of a late non-conference win over Abilene Christian and a lucky rivalry victory over Ole Miss. Should the Bulldogs crush the Cardinals, it would be an indicator for additional SEC success. 


— Florida (-14.5) vs. Virginia (8 p.m., ESPN)

Florida: No. 54 offense, No. 10 defense, No. 29 schedule, 5 turnover margin

Virginia: No. 82 offense, No. 41 defense, No. 59 schedule, -3 turnover margin


If you focus on Virginia’s poor offense facing Florida’s stellar defense, then adjust for schedule strength, it’s easy to see this underdog getting squashed. But a point spread near two touchdowns is very high for a favorite lacking an explosive offense. 


This number spent the holidays flipping between Florida -14 and -14.5. Clearly, respected dog money was taking the hook. Florida is supposed to dominate. If it doesn’t, that would suggest other upcoming SEC favorites might be overpriced as well.


Here are the other five other SEC teams in action this week (listed first in each matchup). Only Kentucky has been an underdog through early betting. 


— Tuesday: Kentucky vs. Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl 


— Wednesday: Alabama vs. Michigan in the Citrus Bowl, Auburn vs. Minnesota in the Outback Bowl, Georgia vs. Baylor in the Sugar Bowl. 


— Thursday: Tennessee vs. Indiana in the Gator Bowl.


Those three New Year’s Day games should see all three SEC entries closing as nearly touchdown favorites. The ultimate success or failure of your entire bowl betting slate may be keyed by your Wednesday picks. Between now and then, learn what you can about the market’s read on the SEC.

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