In the first Pigskin Profit of the season, I picked Georgia — ranked behind Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State — to win the national championship, but I didn’t expect the Bulldogs to become the betting favorite so soon, if ever. I certainly wouldn’t have expected it with Kirby Smart starting his backup quarterback in half of the games.
But because Smart, the former Alabama defensive coordinator, has constructed another all-time defense, he could turn to almost anyone under center. The Bulldogs are No. 1 in the regular season for the first time in 39 years because they’re giving up 5.5 points per game, and they have allowed as many touchdowns this season as their defense has scored.
Naturally, the bandwagon has filled up fast, marking Georgia as the team to beat. It’s true, but it’s also unclear how much more likely it is today that Georgia will win the national title than it seemed to be seven weeks ago. It’s unclear when oft-injured starting quarterback JT Daniels will return, and it’s uncertain how long the Bulldogs can count on former walk-on Stetson Bennett to manage games.
Bennett has played well this season, but he hasn’t been asked to do much. He played in mismatches against Vanderbilt and UAB, and he threw 11 passes against Arkansas. Last week, he was impressive in a win at No. 18 Auburn, mirroring his strong effort in a win last season over Auburn (which was No. 7 at the time of that game), when the former fourth-stringer seized the starting job.
But two weeks after last year’s win over Auburn, Bennett was intercepted three times against Alabama. Then, he threw for 131 yards and two interceptions in a 14-3 win over Kentucky, went 5-for-16 passes for 78 yards against Florida and returned to the bench.
The ground game can carry Georgia’s offense most weeks but won’t roll over Kentucky (+21.5), which has earned its first 6-0 start since 1950 behind the nation’s 15th-ranked defense and is two weeks removed from holding the more dynamic Florida offense to 13 points. The Wildcats aren’t ready to trade punches with the nation’s best, but Bennett’s low ceiling will leave his defense shouldering more weight than usual.
Rutgers (-2) over NORTHWESTERN
The Scarlet Knights nearly silenced the Big House, when they beat the spread for the seventh straight time away from home. A trip to mild-mannered Ryan Field and a meeting with one of the nation’s worst offenses will end Rutgers’ recent schneid.
CINCINNATI (-21) over Central Florida
I refuse to buy into the growing belief that the No. 3 Bearcats can reach the playoff. The close-minded committee will only view Cincinnati’s AAC schedule in two ways: 1) Blowouts mean the Bearcats don’t play anyone decent. 2) Close games mean they would struggle in a tougher league.
Michigan State (-4.5) over INDIANA
The Spartans have played three Power Five opponents on the road, winning by an average of 18.7 points. The Hoosiers have played three ranked opponents, losing by an average of 22 points. Good enough?
TEXAS (-5.5) over Oklahoma State
Las Vegas has it right. The Cowboys’ undefeated record carries as much credence as Barry Bonds’ home run record. At this point last season, Oklahoma State lost its perfect mark in a meeting with Texas, when Mike Gundy’s supposedly improved defense gave up 41 points at home to the Longhorns. The Cowboys’ defense, ranked 14th this season, will also be revealed as an imposter, playing the best offense it has faced all year.
ARKANSAS (-4.5) over Auburn
I can’t bet against Bo Nix forever, so I must cherish these moments. His magnificent road performance against LSU was a blip, an outlier against an overrated opponent. Nix’s career on the road (as many touchdowns as interceptions, a 5-6 record, a 1-5 record against the spread in the past six games as an underdog) is comfort food.
Florida (-11) over LSU
Ed Orgeron should start updating his LinkedIn profile. The Tigers won’t be able to surprise the Gators after last year’s upset win at Florida.
MISSOURI (+9) over Texas A&M
A letdown is inevitable for the Aggies after the emotional home upset victory over Alabama. Texas A&M, which averaged 14 points in its previous three games against Power Five opponents, will take two steps back in its first true road game.
Purdue (+11.5) over IOWA
The Hawkeyes’ defense will keep the No. 2 team undefeated until the Big Ten title game, but a soft schedule in the West division won’t always be a smooth ride. Iowa’s incredible turnover rate can’t be sustained, and its 110th-ranked offense will look the part against the nation’s 15th-ranked defense.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (+17) over Alabama
Logic says the Crimson Tide won’t lower their guard again, but what if the defending champs aren’t built like their predecessors? What if it’s no coincidence that an inexperienced roster has struggled in its two true road games? What if this team is like the 2014 version, which followed a loss at Mississippi with a 14-13 win over mediocre Arkansas? Another setback won’t come here, but last week’s loss probably won’t be the last of the season.
Tcu (+13.5) over OKLAHOMA
I can’t help but wonder which one of the vehicles Spencer Rattler received in his NIL deal — the 2021 Dodge Ram TRX or the 2021 Dodge Charger Scat Pack — the preseason Heisman Trophy favorite will drive to his new school.
Mississippi (-2.5) over TENNESSEE
Rebels coach Lane Kiffin returns to Knoxville for the first time since ditching the Volunteers in 2010, prompting the first Neyland Stadium sellout in four years. It makes sense that fans are still enraged. That was one of the last times the program was relevant.
Best bets: Syracuse, Arkansas, TCU
This season (best bets): 38-50-2 (11-7)
2014-20 record: 904-866-15