The 2017 college football season is less than three months away with media days starting in mid-July to kick-start prediction season among college football writers and analysts. The sportsbooks, however, don't wait for expert picks or preseason previews to start setting the expectations for the fall, releasing title odds and win totals throughout the offseason.
We're going to be making individual team picks for all of the Power Five conferences using the full 130-team FBS list. Today, we turn our focus to the SEC.
Alabama -- 10.5 (Over): There are only two games on the schedule that would be potential losses for an Alabama team that returns the SEC Offensive Player of the Year and continues to field the most talented roster in football: the season-opener against Florida State in Atlanta and the season finale at Auburn. The only other games away from Tuscaloosa on the 2017 schedule are at Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and Mississippi State. I don't know if the 2017 Tide will be the title redemption team for which the fans are hoping, but the road to the College Football Playoff is about as favorable as its going to get in the SEC West.
Auburn -- 9 (Over): The prime contender to Alabama, Auburn has its hopes in the hands of quarterback Jarrett Stidham and a new offensive coordinator. Everything else is set in place for a successful season, and when Gus Malzahn has had a full season of good quarterback play, the results speak for themselves. Betting on 10 wins might be considered a reach with an early season test at Clemson and the LSU game in Baton Rouge this year, but I think Auburn can knock off the defending champs in Death Valley and like the 2013 vibes that surround a transfer quarterback facing Georgia and Alabama at home in late November.
Georgia -- 9 (Push): The Bulldogs are going to be a popular pick to win the SEC East in 2017 with the trio of Jacob Eason, Nick Chubb and Sony Michele rivaling Alabama or Auburn for best offensive backfield in the league. The under pick here is actually based on the nonconference slate as Notre Dame and Georgia Tech pose a threat to knocking Georgia's win total down without impacting their conference title chances. Even if Georgia has one of the better rosters in the league, you can bet on at least two conference losses, but with the right tiebreakers it's possible they'll be back in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2012.
LSU -- 9 (Push): I think Derrius Guice might be the best individual performer in the SEC next season. The Tigers will be very good on both sides of the ball, but the schedule doesn't set up well for 10 wins to be a smart bet, starting with the season opener against a strong BYU team. Alabama and Auburn are going to present the toughest challenges in the division, and both the Florida and Tennessee games are going to be on the road. I'm predicting three losses coming from that stretch of four games, which would make for a disappointing season unless the one win is Nov. 4 in Tuscaloosa.
Florida -- 8 (Over): The Gators' season hinges on its health in October with LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia representing three of the toughest SEC games on an already difficult schedule. Jim McElwain has guided the last two Florida teams to division titles through seemingly never-ending attrition, but nine wins won't happen without the best version of the 2017 roster being on the field for that middle stretch of the season. I do think Florida will beat Michigan in Jerry World to kick off the year, but I'm also picking the Gators to lose to Florida State in the regular-season finale with two SEC losses in between. If it's the right losses, Florida will be back in the SEC Championship Game for a third straight season.
Tennessee -- 7.5 (Over): It wasn't until I saw the conference title odds for Tennessee that I started to consider the universe serving up SEC fans with an unexpected twist: turning the "Champions of Life" jokes around as the Vols put together their most successful season under Butch Jones. But consider that while Josh Dobbs, Cameron Sutton and Jaylen Reeves-Maybin are all gone, there is still much of the core of two strong recruiting classes and a ton of them have gotten experience thanks to the injuries that have derailed the last two runs at an SEC East crown. I'm not picking the Vols to win the division, but if they do, it will be a much-needed win for Jones.
Texas A&M -- 7.5 (Under): The Aggies have too much pride and talent for the bottom to fall out, but not enough proven pieces to feel confident picking them to stand on the same tier as Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the SEC West. There's a lot of pressure on Kevin Sumlin to break the trend of 8-win seasons that has lingered since Johnny Manziel left College Station, and if the Aggies don't win at UCLA in the season opener, the math doesn't favor an improvement on that win total.
Kentucky -- 7 (Push): This is the "let's get weird" pick of the offseason, where there's a strange optimism about the upcoming season of Kentucky football. It's not strange to be optimistic, just uncommon to be optimistic about Kentucky football in June. The Wildcats finally broke through with a bowl bid just last year and now the oddsmakers are setting the over/under at 7? The key stretch for Kentucky hitting seven wins starts in late October at Mississippi State in what is sure to be a high-scoring shootout against Nick Fitzgerald and Co. The next two weeks bring Tennessee and Ole Miss to Lexington, and if the Wildcats can get two wins in those three games, I think they get to 7 wins.
Arkansas -- 6 (Push): Losing Rawleigh Williams III was probably more devastating for the player and his football family than it was for Arkansas' on-field future, because I'm just as confident that Devwah Whaley can step into the backfield next to Austin Allen and be one of the most productive running backs in the league. However, Arkansas has taken a step back on defense in recent years, and if there's not an improvement on that side of the ball, it will be fighting for bowl eligibility in November.
Missouri -- 6 (Under): I would love to be proven wrong, but I'm just not sold on Missouri as a bowl team in 2017. Having Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and even Alabama (at times), speeding up the offense has taken away the unique aspect of an up-tempo attack. No one in the SEC put up more yards per game (500.5) or ran more plays (80.4 per game) than Missouri, but if that offense doesn't find the end zone in scoring opportunities -- Mizzou ranked No. 52 nationally in points per trip Inside the 40 (per Football Study Hall) -- then the advantage of going fast is lost.
Vanderbilt -- 6 (Over): Did you know that Ralph Webb could go down as one of the most productive running backs in SEC history? He's not going to touch any of Herschel Walker's records, but even a 1,000-yard season would put him ahead of Bo Jackson on the league's career rushing list and 1,300 yards would make him No. 2 all-time. The Commodores have just started to settle in to the Derek Mason era, and I think they will be a team that will be bowl eligibility as long as there is an All-SEC caliber option on offense, and Webb is that player.
Ole Miss -- 5.5 (Under): Being ineligible for a bowl because of self-imposed sanctions makes motivation difficult come November when you're a team that is going to be right on the cut line anyway. Shea Patterson is going to put up big numbers in a few games, but the Egg Bowl will be the Rebels' Super Bowl and I don't know if there's going to be a ton of advantages for this team in a division where the margin for error is already razor thin given the caliber of competition.
Mississippi State -- 5 (Over): The Bulldogs are definitely going to be putting up big numbers in year two with Nick Fitzgerald at quarterback, but it's reasonable to question both a) how many teams they are going to be able to outscore and b) whether the run-pass option offense which has become commonplace in college football will work against the best defenses in the nation. I say Mississippi State finds a way to six wins but probably not much more than that.
South Carolina -- 5 (Over): Will Muschamp has a realistic understanding of what it will take to build South Carolina into an SEC East contender. He's not out here promising titles just yet, but five wins is way too low for a team that has a quarterback with the talent of Jake Bentley. Whether this team ends up in a bowl game in 2017 will depend on a few games, starting with the season opener against NC State. That plus the Kentucky game at home on Sept. 16 and the Vanderbilt game (also at home) in late October seem like the contests that will decide this over/under, and I think Coach Boom is able to get two of those and make the postseason with six wins.