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How Early SEC Points Spreads Have Changed

The sharps and bookies disagree on some things.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the Golden Nugget became the first Vegas sports book to put out some individual game lines. Once the bettors got a chance to put some money on those games, some of the lines changed to reflect large amounts of betting one way or the other.

There is a school of thought out there that point spread and betting analysis is the best and most honest way to approach breaking games down because the only motivation that exists for line makers and bettors it getting it right. They lose money when they get things wrong, after all.

This is not exactly correct. Sports books aren't trying to get things right; they're trying to induce the same amount of betting on both sides of a point spread. That's why lines move, after all. And as for the bettors, they're squishy human beings who can allow biases and sentimentality to cloud their judgment. That's less an issue with the sorts of folks who are betting on games in June, though, line moves happening right now are less likely to be a result of irrationality.

I took a look at the games involving SEC teams that moved to try to get an idea of where the bettors and book makers disagree. This is just one casino's lines, of course, so it doesn't represent all line makers' opinions. We're also months out from the season, so lots of things can change between now and then. Enough with the caveats. Let's go.

Game Initial Line Adjusted Line Change
Arkansas at LSU LSU -1.5 LSU -5 3.5
LSU at Ole Miss Pick Miss -3 3
Vanderbilt at Tennessee UT -17 UT -20 3
Georgia at Auburn Pick AU -2.5 2.5
Ole Miss at Auburn AU -4 AU -6 2
South Carolina at Georgia UGA -11 UGA -13 2
Mississippi State at Arkansas Ark -10 Ark -11 1
South Carolina at Texas A&M A&M -10 A&M -11 1
Texas A&M at Ole Miss Miss -4 Miss -5 1
Auburn at Texas A&M AU -1.5 AU -2 0.5
Florida State at Florida FSU -4 FSU -4.5 0.5
Alabama at Auburn Bama -3.5 Bama -2.5 -1
Alabama at Mississippi State Bama -9 Bama -8 -1
Alabama at Texas A&M Bama -7 Bama -6 -1
Arkansas at Alabama Bama -7.5 Bama -6.5 -1
Auburn at LSU LSU -4 LSU -3 -1
Mississippi State at Missouri MU -6 MU -5 -1
Ole Miss at MississippI State Miss -2 Miss -1 -1
Tennessee at Alabama Bama -10 Bama -9 -1
Wisconsin vs. Alabama Bama -10 Bama -9 -1
Oklahoma at Tennessee UT -3 UT -1 -2
South Carolina at Missouri MU -11 MU -9 -2
BYU at Missouri MU -12 MU -7.5 -4.5
Florida at Missouri MU -10 MU -5.5 -4.5
Auburn at Arkansas Ark -6.5 Ark -1.5 -5
Texas A&M at Arkansas Ark -6.5 Ark -1.5 -5
Tennessee at Florida UT -2.5 UF -3 -5.5

The changes were mostly minor. Just over half of them were either a move of a point or half a point. Those aren't major moves by any stretch.

Not surprisingly, 19 of the 27 games that saw lines move involved at least one SEC West team. The teams are bunched up together like I've never seen in a division before, and none of them are bad. Of the eight that didn't have a West team, three of them were East teams against non-conference opponents. There wasn't a lot of disagreement regarding the East.

That said, the few disagreements involving only East teams tended to be big ones. Half of them were moves of at least a field goal, and the only game in which the favorite changed was Tennessee going from a 2.5-point favorite at Florida to a three-point underdog.

So which teams were affected the most by the moves? Glad you asked.

Team Games Net Change NC per Game
Florida 3 9.5 3.17
Auburn 6 12 2
Texas A&M 5 5.5 1.10
Mississippi State 4 2 0.5
Ole Miss 4 1 0.25
Georgia 2 0.5 0.25
LSU 3 -0.5 -0.17
Tennessee 4 -3.5 -0.88
Alabama 6 -6 -1
South Carolina 3 -5 -1.67
Arkansas 5 -11.5 -2.3
Missouri 4 -12 -3
Vanderbilt 1 -3 -3
Kentucky 0 - -

The bettors were considerably higher on Florida and Auburn than the Golden Nugget was, while they were less excited about Missouri and Arkansas. Tennessee's standing is a little misleading given that they're boosted a lot by going from a 17-point favorite to a 20-point favorite against Vandy. Factor out that game, and the Vols had a net loss of 6.5 points in three games for an average loss of 2.17 per game.

I find this interesting because Tennessee and Arkansas are the teams that the preseason media are generally picking to be teams on the rise in each division. The Golden Nugget went along with that line of thinking as well. Tennessee was favored over Florida and was favored by more over Oklahoma to start out with. Arkansas was nearly a touchdown favorite over both Auburn and Texas A&M originally. The three largest line moves came against one of the two of them, and Arkansas lost over a field goal of ground to LSU too.

The moves against Missouri and South Carolina don't say much for the strength of the East division. The moves in Florida's favor don't really either, considering that they came at the expense of other East teams and not a West or non-conference team. Plus, the Gators are still favored to lose six of the seven games listed. Georgia is so far the unanimous East champion pick in the preseason consensus, and what we see here—combined with the fact that it's still a pick 'em with Alabama—indicates this is one place where media and Vegas sync up.

As for Alabama, the Tide lost one and only one point in every line of its that changed. I don't know how much to make of that, other than that there is a mild case of skittishness out there regarding this year's team. They're all small moves, but they're completely consistent.

Anyway, we'll see a lot more shuffling around of lines as more outlets put them out and the season gets closer. For now, the sharps are pumping the brakes on Arkansas and Tennessee hype, fading Missouri, and trying to take advantage of underestimation of Florida and Auburn.