Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, July 14, 2016 at 10:54 AM
Let's face it, finding a darkhorse in the SEC race to invest in can be hard. Alabama rarely comes at a good price. Their SEC West rivals might be able to win head-to-head against the Tide, but then still lose out in the long division race (looking at you, Ole Miss). That means if you want to find a team you can bet on for the SEC title at a good price, you have to go East.
There's even more incentive to do that this season. Tennessee is the favorite in the SEC East, but this Vol team has not established a consistent track record. So it's just a question of finding one challenger, hoping they can win the weaker division, and then pull off one upset on a neutral field in the conference championship game.
Why not the team that's already at least proven they can win the Eastern Division? We refer of course to Florida, last year's SEC East champion and available at a healthy 12-1 to win the conference championship this season.
Florida has to reconstruct its offense, although that's not exactly a bad thing. The Gators ranked 100th in the nation in scoring offense a year ago, a reason they were beaten decisively by Florida State, Alabama and Michigan to close the year. Head coach Jim McElwain has an offensive background though - he was formerly Nick Saban's coordinator at Alabama - and he has talent.
In the recruiting years of 2013-14, the Gators pulled in national Top 10 classes. Those are the kids that are now the upperclassmen in this program. Returning starters are always important to look at, but the quality of talent that a coach is replacing players with is equally important. McElwain has some players to choose from in rebuilding his offense.
And the defense won't need a lot of help. Florida ranked 11th in the nation defensively, and the secondary should be even better this time around. Corner Jalen Tabor and safety Marcus Maye are both All-Americans. Up front, defensive tackle Caleb Brantley is one of the best in the business, giving Florida the ability to match up against the physical running attacks in this conference.
If you compare this team to Tennessee and Georgia, there's no reason not to give Florida a real chance to survive the SEC East race. The downside is that there's not a lot of time to evaluate. The Gators go to Knoxville on September 24 for a litmus test game against the Vols. If they lose that, it's going to be tough to rebound. If they win it, the price will be drastically reduced. That means college football bettors need to make their investing decisions based on three weeks of games that don't provide a real test.
The rewards making Florida a worthwhile play though. We don't suggest betting the Gators to win the SEC in a vacuum. You could pair them with a couple other challengers at good prices and hope one of them comes through. Or if you can find Alabama at 2-1, use the Tide as a break-even hedge and rely on Florida as the moneymaker. One way or another though, the Gators belong in your futures arsenal at the level of the conference championship.