It seemed Alabama’s greatness could no longer surprise. It could only continue to amaze.
The Crimson Tide entered the season with an unprecedented five national championships in the past nine years, a coach already considered the greatest in college football history and another busload of five-star recruits.
Then, Nick Saban started a first-round talent at quarterback for the first time and added his greatest offense to the sport’s greatest dynasty, casting an even larger shadow across the SEC.
What’s forgotten is that Alabama didn’t even win the SEC last season. Georgia did. And in January, Saban protégé Kirby Smart was three downs from toppling the Tide and claiming the national championship. Through six weeks, the No. 2 Bulldogs have quietly solidified their staying power, winning by an average of nearly 30 points per game, and carving a seemingly inevitable path to an SEC title-game rematch against Alabama in Atlanta.
If both remain undefeated heading into the conference championship, could the SEC get two teams into the playoff again? Well, the SEC currently has eight of the top 24 teams, strengthening its perception as the nation’s toughest league.
The Bulldogs face four of those teams in their next four games, beginning at No. 13 LSU, and following with No. 14 Florida, No. 18 Kentucky and No. 21 Auburn.
If Georgia runs that gauntlet, and reaches the SEC Championship, the Bulldogs will deserve a playoff bid, regardless of what happens in the conference title game. But it isn’t going to be easy. And it probably isn’t going to happen.
If LSU (+7¹/₂) ends the suspense in Death Valley, don’t be surprised.
Texas Tech (+7¹/₂) over TCU: Texas Tech, with the nation’s seventh-highest scoring offense (48.4 points), is always up for a shootout. The Horned Frogs aren’t prepared on either end.
TULSA (+7) over South Florida: The Bulls are ranked 23rd in the nation after beating Elon, Georgia Tech, Illinois, East Carolina and Massachusetts. Far more than 23 teams would be undefeated with that start to the season.
Minnesota (+30) over OHIO STATE: Buckeyes quarterback Dwayne Haskins has been a casualty of the latest Alabama juggernaut, but maintains as good a chance as Tua Tagovailoa to claim the Heisman Trophy. Haskins (9/2) is far more likely to remain in games longer than his counterpart, and add to his already impressive numbers (25 touchdowns, four interceptions, 71.7 completion percentage).
AUBURN (-15½) over Tennessee: There is no greater value than jumping on a good team after a bad week. Feel free to parlay with the under (47).
Florida (-7) over VANDERBILT: The Gators’ elite defense may not even allow double-digits to a team which lost its first two SEC games by an average of 25.5 points. Another under (50) should work, too.
NOTRE DAME (-20¹/₂) over Pittsburgh: Some people are waiting for the Fighting Irish to stumble down the stretch and fall from playoff contention, as they did last year and in 2015. Some of the same people conveniently forget Notre Dame is one of only nine teams to make the national championship game this decade. The rest must not have seen Ian Book yet.
Washington (-3) over OREGON: The Pac-12’s most consistent and talented team of the past three years will be ready for its biggest remaining regular-season game. Clearly, the Huskies — who just beat winless UCLA by a touchdown — have been preparing for it for the past two weeks.
Michigan State (+13½) over PENN STATE: Logic says the Nittany Lions will seize the chance to release two weeks of frustration following their meltdown against Ohio State. But college football isn’t governed by reason, as the Spartans’ upset last season of Penn State — also coming off a last-minute loss to Ohio State — demonstrated.
Central Florida (-4¹/₂) over MEMPHIS: I absolutely detest joining forces with 70-something percent of public bettors. I hate knowingly picking a vastly inferior team far more.
Baylor (+14) over TEXAS: Against three ranked opponents (USC, TCU, Oklahoma), the Longhorns have revived an enthusiasm in Austin that hasn’t been seen since Colt McCoy was under center. Against three unranked opponents (Maryland, Tulsa, Kansas State), the Longhorns have gone 1-2 and produced a combined plus-seven point differential. Expect another letdown after the emotional upset of the Sooners.
Missouri (+28) over ALABAMA: The Crimson Tide are in position to challenge the sport’s all-time single-season scoring mark (they’re currently averaging 56 points per game), but the Tigers, with soon-to-be first-round pick Drew Lock, and an offense averaging 36 points per game, will present Alabama’s surprisingly lesser half — defense! — with its toughest task of the season.
IOWA STATE (+6¹/₂) over West Virginia: The Mountaineers have earned a lot of field cred despite holding no wins over teams that are currently ranked or receiving votes. If West Virginia is the nation’s sixth-best team, Dana Holgorson has the country’s sixth most popular name for boys.
Wisconsin (+8) over MICHIGAN: The defensive powers have combined to average 27.5 points in their meetings the past two seasons. Take the points in another intriguing and low-scoring battle.
USC (-7) over Colorado: The Buffaloes have built the Pac-12’s only undefeated record by beating teams that are a combined 5-22. Colorado will fall further into the shadows in its second road game, having trailed winless Nebraska in the final minutes of its only previous game away from home this season.
Best bets: Texas Tech, Auburn, Washington
This season (best bets): 45-55-1 (9-9)
2014-17 record: 518-471-10