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July 22, 2014

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Vegas oddsmakers chime in on SEC championship, national championship

Notre Dame not a popular choice to win national championship despite No. 1 ranking

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The sports book at Wynn Las Vegas is shown Wednesday, May 4, 2011.

College football’s true national championship comes 38 days early and 660 miles north of where it’s scheduled this year, at least according to the local sports betting market.

Sports bettors like the winner of Saturday’s SEC championship game in Atlanta between Alabama and Georgia to go on to beat Notre Dame Jan. 7 in the BCS national championship in Miami.

Wynn sports book was the first shop to post potential national championship lines more than a week ago and has gotten slammed with money on the two SEC teams ever since.

Alabama is up to a 10-point favorite over Notre Dame after opening at -9. Wynn originally listed Georgia as a 1-point favorite, but the Bulldogs now are giving the Irish 3.5 points.

“After talking to some of the people who bet a lot on football, they don’t think that team is for real,” Wynn race and sports director Johnny Avello said of Notre Dame. “That’s their opinion. A lot of people just don’t believe in them. That’s the problem.”

On the contrary, it’s hard to find any nonbelievers of the Crimson Tide. The public has backed Alabama all season, and it’s responded by going 6-5 against the spread.

Georgia sports the same mark against the Las Vegas number, but it wasn’t until recently that bettors really started taking notice of the SEC East Division champions.

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Georgia running back Todd Gurley gets around Florida linebacker Lerentee McCray for yardage during the first half Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, in Jacksonville, Fla.

The Bulldogs have covered in three straight lined contests behind consistent production from quarterback Aaron Murray, who could stake his claim to being the nation’s best player since the start of November. Murray has completed 73 percent of his passes, throwing for 13 touchdowns and no interceptions in the span.

Perhaps the junior is the biggest explanation for the line move in Georgia’s favor. After Alabama opened as a 7.5-point favorite in several sports books — and got as high as -8.5 — it has settled as a 7-point favorite.

Avello expects some buyback on the Crimson Tide with the favorite tied into the majority of parlays and teasers, but he also anticipates plenty of bets on Georgia to win the game straight up at +270 (risking $1 to win $2.70) on the money line.

All in all, Avello said it was too early to tell which side Wynn would need in the game. Another prominent local oddsmaker had a stronger opinion on where the money would come.

“Four days from now, we’ll be rooting for Georgia to upset the Alabama Crimson Tide,” William Hill sports books spokesman Jimmy Vaccaro predicted.

He’s not sure how to feel about it, as Vaccaro leans towards Alabama in the game. In fact, Vaccaro is even among the rare group who likes Notre Dame over Georgia in the potential national championship game.

Alabama ranks first in the nation in total defense. The Bulldogs struggled mightily the two times they faced comparable opposition, as Murray threw three interceptions in an ugly win against Florida and was non-existent in a 35-7 blowout loss at South Carolina.

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Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron (10) signals a play at the line of scrimmage during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The feeling is that players like linebacker C.J. Moseley and defensive lineman Jesse Williams could force Georgia into a slew of mistakes.

“But I’ve seen stranger things happen,” Vaccaro said. “I can’t say Georgia doesn’t have a chance to win the game.”

Although the underdog has only won the SEC championship game outright four times in the 20 years since the event’s inception, Avello gives the Bulldogs a great shot.

He pointed out that Georgia beat Ole Miss by a wider margin than Alabama and that both teams equally dominated downtrodden Auburn with shutout victories.

“I’m not taking anything away from (Alabama),” Avello said. “I think they are a really solid team with McCarron at quarterback and that defense, but this is a Georgia team that as of late is playing its best football.”

Either way, the majority of bettors believe one of these two teams will become the SEC’s seventh consecutive national champion.

Money indicates the Irish won’t put up a fight against the Crimson Tide or the Bulldogs.

“There will be some support on Notre Dame when the game gets here,” Avello said. “But leading up to the game, there won’t be much at all.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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  1. Go Bulldogs!