A Look at Texas and Georgia Football
CHARLIE STRONG FACES THE PRESSURE AT TEXAS
The pressure is on Texas head coach Charlie Strong. The Longhorn head coach has been sub-.500 in each of his first two seasons with a combined record of 11-14. To say that won't cut it in Austin is the understatement of the century. Texas has gotten some love as a possible sleeper, as they gathered up players in the aftermath of the scandal at Baylor. But the market is still cool to the Longhorns - the Over/Under on wins is a modest 6.5 with the price a clean (-110) either way.
There's good reason to be cautious about Texas. The non-conference schedule includes Notre Dame again, along with a road trip to Cal. The defensive line has to be entirely replaced and there are three underclassmen expected to start on the offensive front. There's serious question marks at quarterback. And at the end of the day, to bet the Longhorns to win seven games is to bet on something that hasn't yet happened in the Strong era.
That's a compelling case to either take the Under or stay away entirely, but there's a more optimistic view that also needs to be aired. Let's start with the overall talent on hand. The entire Texas roster is comprised of recruiting classes that rank at least in the Top 20 nationally. Strong's two most recent classes each ranked in the Top 10.
In another era, having twelve projected starters that are freshman or sophomores would have been the death knell for a season. But not so anymore, where instant impact is the name of the game. And one of those instant impact players could be quarterback Shane Buechele, a 4-star recruit.
Buechele, or whomever gets the nod at quarterback, will be supported by a running game that ranked 17th in the country a year ago. And while the Texas defense was awful last season, this is an area that has historically been a Strong specialty - from his background as a coordinator to his final two seasons at Louisville (2012-13) where he won 23 games.
It's hard to imagine a coach with this pedigree having such poor defensive play two straight years. And one of the most notable games of last season came in October when a reeling Longhorn team, with rumors about Strong's future already starting to swirl, showed up in Dallas to upset Playoff-bound Oklahoma 24-17. The takeaway is that the coach's players were prepared to fight for him.
So can they fight their way to seven wins? Getting another win over OU will be pretty tough, as will the road trip to Oklahoma State. The home game with Notre Dame to open the season on the Sunday prior to Labor Day is intriguing, but you want to find seven wins without looking at this one.
Pencil in wins over UTEP, Iowa State and Kansas. You can be further hopeful of Texas beating West Virginia at home and the home game against Baylor looks much more winnable than it did a few months ago. That gets us to five wins, with road trips to Kansas State and Texas Tech still looming, along with a home date against TCU. Win two of those three and there's your seven. Win one and you can get a bowl bid at 6-6 for another chance at a seventh win. And all of this assumes losses to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Notre Dame - if you think Texas can steal a win from this group, then their chances really look good.
We won't say that Texas Over 6.5 (-110) is the bet you have to rush out to make. But all things being equal, they look a bit more likely to be Over than Under. Their coach's future depends on at least that much.
WILL KIRBY SMART WIN BIG AT GEORGIA?
Kirby Smart was one of the hot hires in college football, coming off his tenure as Nick Saban's defensive coordinator at Alabama. It was Georgia who landed Smart and in the cutthroat world of the SEC there won't be any grace period for the new head coach. What's the ceiling for this year's Bulldogs?
There's some optimism in the betting market, although the enthusiasm for SEC East rival Tennessee is keeping that somewhat tempered. Georgia gets 2-1 odds to win a division title, trailing the Vols who were the 4-5 favorite. Yet the Bulldogs are ahead of defending division champ Florida, who is priced at 9-2.
The East is the weaker side of this conference, so it's no surprise that Georgia's price to win the overall SEC title jumps up to 9-1, but that still puts them fourth behind Tennessee, Alabama and LSU. The Over/Under for total wins is 8.5, with the price (-110) in both directions.
Any case for Dawg optimism has to rely on Smart's ability to rebuild the defense. Georgia's D was a Top 10 unit nationally last year and eight starters have to be replaced. The rebuilding starts with defensive tackle Trenton Thompson, a sophomore who was one of the nation's top recruits two years ago and played well in a reserve role last year. If he can be a disruptive force in the middle against those power SEC running games, it will go a long way to helping Smart get the rest of the defense up to speed.
Georgia was offensively challenged last year, ranking only 85th in the country in points scored and it's the reason they were unable to win this division. Nick Chubb, a Heisman contender at running back before a knee injury last year, is back. He averaged 8.1 yards per carry and is good as there is, but even if he's not at full health, Sony Michel did a terrific job stepping in. An offensive line with three returning starters looks to be in good shape.
Quarterback is the issue here. Greyson Lambert is a reliable senior starter, but he's not a playmaker. If Georgia had a great defense again, that might not be an issue. If this was a place that could content itself with having a winning season and making a bowl, that might not be an issue. But this is a program that chased out Mark Richt in favor of Smart because they expect to win big...so quarterback is an issue.
And there may be an answer on the way. Freshman Jacob Eason was considered one of the top high school players - not just quarterbacks, but all players - in the country last year by recruiting services. An early enrollee, he showed up for spring practice and then electrified the fan base with a great performance in the spring game. It's tough to think he's not going to start and probably sooner than later.
So what is the best wagering strategy for this team that's a combustible mix of potential and question marks? The 2-1 price to win the SEC East doesn't seem worth it, not with defense and quarterback as question marks. If you don't believe in Tennessee, then Florida at 9-2 is a safer bet.
But what if we go one step further and talk about winning the SEC overall? If Eason proves to be the next Jameis Winston in terms of freshman impact and Smart showcases his defensive expertise, then the Bulldogs - who consistently pull in Top 10 recruiting classes - are the Eastern Division team with the best chance of upending the winner of the powerful West in the conference championship game.
Once we get a chance to evaluate Georgia in live game action against North Carolina on September 3 in Atlanta, our view may change. Right now though, this looks like a team to either bet boldly or not at all.
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