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Tuesday FEPO: The SEC and the myth (?) of homefield advantage

Vegas is strangely optimistic about the odds of the SEC's home teams this week, and it's up to Luke and Jon to decide if the favorites are deserving.

I don't really see a lot to be afraid of here.
I don't really see a lot to be afraid of here.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

When I started looking at games for this week, I had absolutely no intention of making it all SEC games. An incredibly weak three-game Big 12 slate didn't help, but there were still some other semi-interesting games, including Clemson at Georgia Tech in an epic battle for third place in the ACC.

But then in a couple of the more interesting SEC games, I saw a bizarre trend developing. By the time I discovered it basically held true for all 6 games (Kentucky at Tennessee), I was left quite confused.

As it turns out, the home team is favored in each game, even though the away team is either ranked higher and/or has a better record in five of six games. We'll talk about the lone exception below, but here's the crazy part: SEC teams are barely over .500 in home conference games this year at 22-21, by my count. Why so much faith in them, Vegas?

Anyway, since Alabama undeservedly got credit for covering a 6.5-point spread by virtue of having the good fortune to get the ball first in overtime, Jon moved back in front by going 6-4 to improve to 53-47 overall. I went 4-6 and dropped to 51-49.

Sat, Nov 15, 2014
South Carolina +6.5
11:00 AM CT
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville FL

LT: We begin with the exception to the rule, but you can see why it barely counts. Florida has not been decisively better than South Carolina by any measure, and the Gators have been just downright awful when at their worst. South Carolina has been only kind of bad, and at least their offense has shown up every week. Maybe Florida wins this game, but I don't think they'll score enough to keep the Gamecocks from covering that spread.

JM: Before we get to my pick, let's just be perfectly clear here: being forced to watch this game should qualify as assault. If prisoners only had access to the SEC Network, there would be an Eighth Amendment action filed. Every SEC fan east of US 221 should be placed in protective custody and have an intervention. That said, I think Florida actually covers. I don't know why. I just have this horrible vision of Florida being the worst seven-win SEC team ever.

Sat, Nov 15, 2014
Mississippi State +7
2:30 PM CT
Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa AL

LT: We move on to a line based purely on reputation, or possibly a fear of the wrath of Nick Saban. By any measure not including defense (especially pass defense) on the actual football field, the Bulldogs have been the better team this season. Alabama has been good at home, but that's more of a reflection of who they've played rather than some mystical power in Tuscaloosa. Throw in the fact that Alabama is coming off a hard-fought rivalry win at LSU and doesn't have the explosive passing game to exploit a surprisingly weak Miss. St. secondary, and this one seems obvious. Bulldogs cover.

JM: Of course, there's another reason for this line. How many times now have we seen Mississippi State run into Alabama and have their season shot down in flames? This may well be the year that doesn't happen, but we've also seen Alabama look entirely mortal through October and then stomp on the gas in November. Bama covers.

LT: I'd like to thank Jon for proving my point by using a defense entirely built on reputation of past seasons, which has very little relevance to this year's team, because Mississippi State hasn't been #1 in quite some time, if ever.

Sat, Nov 15, 2014
Auburn +2.5
6:15 PM CT
Sanford Stadium, Athens GA

LT: I don't understand how this is a real line. True, these teams have the same record (7-2) and the Tigers are coming off of a rather puzzling loss to Texas A&M while Georgia's offense exploded at Kentucky. But have we already forgotten the Bulldogs also lost by 18 points to Florida? Their best win is probably the one in the season opener over Clemson, a team that may or may not actually be good. It's clear to anyone who has watched these teams play that Auburn is the superior squad. They've also won at Kansas State and Ole Miss this season. Tigers cover.

JM: Here I'll agree with you. The line would make a lot more sense if it was reversed; I do see this being a close game, but Georgia's strength on offense is Auburn's strength on defense. That's a bad recipe. Auburn covers.

Sat, Nov 15, 2014
Missouri +5.5
Texas A&M
6:30 PM CT
Kyle Field, College Station TX

LT: I really, really hate that this is the one game where I'm taking the road team. I do. If Mizzou somehow ends up as the only SEC road team to cover, I quit FEPO. That is not a joke. Let me be clear in saying that I'm still offended by this line. If Mizzou cornerback Kenya Dennis had simply not committed pass interference against Indiana on 4th and 6, the Tigers would probably be a top 10 team and favored by a touchdown in this game. That's ridiculous and unfair and football sucks.

However, now that true freshman Kyle Allen has a couple games and a big win under his belt, Texas A&M has two different quarterbacks who are eligible to play and capable of destroying a Missouri secondary that will be missing two of its starters, though senior safety Braylon Webb will play the second half. Unless Maty Mauk suddenly finds the ability to throw again and the Tigers' defensive line goes into beast mode for 60 minutes (two things that are entirely possible, especially if you're looking through black-and-gold tinted glasses) this one's not going to end well. My only solace is that in other games I thought Mizzou could lose (South Carolina, Florida) they managed to come through, and I had a lot more confidence heading into the two losses. Texas A&M covers and ends the Tigers' hard-to-believe-but-true 8-game road win streak.

JM: Well, I have nothing to add to this. Aggies cover.

Sat, Nov 15, 2014
LSU +2.5
7:00 PM CT
Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville AR

LT: Arkansas is going to win one of its last three SEC games. It might even be this one, and I really hope it's not Senior Day at Mizzou. The other game is home to Ole Miss, in case you were wondering. But for now, the fact of the matter is the Razorbacks' best win is either a 52-14 home blowout of 7-2 Northern Illinois or a 49-28 road rout of a Texas Tech team that has since proven itself to be terrible. No matter how many close losses they have, Arkansas doesn't deserve to be favored against a 7-3 team that beat Ole Miss and Wisconsin and has only lost to (current) Top 10 foes.

As for the matchup, it's rather tough to say which team has the statistical edge. LSU would seem to have the superior defense, but the Razorbacks have looked especially sharp the last two weeks. This one will almost certainly be close, so here's something to consider: LSU sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings has led 3 game-winning touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, including two with his team behind. Arkansas' Brandon Allen has led zero, and it's not because he hasn't had his chances. Tigers win.

JM: Okay, let's be honest: weird things do have a tendency to happen when Arkansas and LSU get together. But this Arkansas team just can't do anything but run. I might point out that this is also Alabama's issue right now, and LSU held them to one touchdown in regulation. This line is ridiculous. LSU wins.

Tomorrow: Who knows? Maybe Jon will pick five Conference USA games. Maybe he'll be a jerk and pick five Division II games. (He probably won't do either of these things.)