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SEC Primer: Week 11

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Georgia and LSU have a chance to wrap up their divisions Saturday. Get ready for a huge weekend in the SEC.

No more off weeks. For just the second time this season, all 14 SEC teams are playing conference games. Saturday will be a busy day, with top-10 teams on the road in all three television windows.

If favorites prevail, the SEC Championship Game matchup will be set, with LSU and Georgia doing battle in Atlanta for a fifth time in 20 years. However, Fayetteville and Starkville are tough places to play, and the Tigers and Bulldogs best not overlook their inconsistent but dangerous opponents.

Alabama hasn’t played a regular-season game with two or more losses since 2010, so it’s a throw of a dart predicting how the Crimson Tide will respond to a game in Oxford in which Ole Miss has everything to lose and Alabama may have absolutely nothing to lose if LSU wins earlier in the day.

I have a wedding to attend Saturday afternoon, so it stinks to be me, but for the rest of y’all, it should be a great day of SEC football. Let’s preview the slate of seven in Week 11 in the SEC.

 

This is a Big Week for:

Coach: Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss

Two former Nick Saban assistants in the league have now defeated the master, with Jimbo Fisher and Kirby Smart slaying the dragon last season. Can Kiffin become the third on Saturday with all the pressure shockingly on the apprentice? If so, the Rebels will remain in SEC and national title contention with two games to play.

 

Player: Raheim Sanders, RB, Arkansas

K.J. Jefferson is clearly not 100 percent, putting an extra burden on Sanders to make this Razorbacks offense go. LSU can be run on, and if Arkansas is to provide another big shake-up to the SEC West race, the SEC’s leading rusher will need a big day.

 

Unit: Tennessee Offensive Line

The Volunteers were overwhelmed in Athens last Saturday against Georgia. The offensive line was heavily penalized and could not keep Hendon Hooker upright. This week, Tennessee is back in the friendly confines of Neyland Stadium, but in comes a very good Missouri defense coming off of six sacks against Kentucky.

 

Trivia Time

1. In what season did Alabama last lose three SEC road games?

2. At what Division II school did both Kirby Smart and Mike Leach serve as an assistant?

3. How many yards did Missouri coordinator Josh Heupel’s offense have in the Tigers loss to Tennessee in Neyland Stadium in 2016 that set the record for most yards ever allowed by the Vols?

 

Game Predictions

Missouri (4-5, 2-4) at (5) Tennessee (8-1, 4-1), Noon ET (CBS)

Announcers: Tom McCarthy and Rick Neuheisel

Last Meeting: 2021 – Tennessee 62, Missouri 24

Current Streak: Tennessee - 3

Current Streak in Knoxville: Tennessee – 1

Line: Tennessee -20.5

Over/Under: 56.5

The Vols conclude their home schedule with a tricky game against a Missouri team that has lost four one-score games in conference play. Another tight game will be a tough ask for the Tigers with an offense that has shown no signs that it’s capable of getting in a shootout. Missouri’s defense is good, but it took until Georgia last week for anyone to slow down Hendon Hooker and the Volunteers. The Tigers have played very well under first-year coordinator Blake Baker, but the talent is nothing close to what the Bulldogs have. Tennessee’s College Football Playoff path is to keep winning and to keep winning big despite not having another marquee opponent. Josh Heupel knows the task at hand, and the foot won’t come off the gas even when the outcome is no longer in doubt.

Prediction: Tennessee 42, Missouri 17

 

(7) LSU (7-2, 5-1) at Arkansas (5-4, 2-3), Noon ET (ESPN)

Announcers: Joe Tessitore and Greg McElroy

Last Meeting: 2021 – Arkansas 16, LSU 13 (OT)

Current Streak: Arkansas – 1

Current Streak in Fayetteville: LSU – 3

Line: LSU -3

Over/Under: 62.5

LSU has won four of five meetings in Fayetteville since Arkansas moved its home games in the series back to campus from Little Rock. Making it five of six along with an Ole Miss loss to Alabama would give the Tigers the SEC West title, but the Razorbacks have nothing to lose now with their role for the next two weeks enshrined as spoiler with the Tigers and Rebels coming to town. K.J. Jefferson is not healthy, but it seems likely that he’ll at least give it a go. He may have to stay in the pocket more than usual, which does not bode well for a Hogs offense that doesn’t have a rhythmic passing game. LSU head coach Brian Kelly hasn’t lost a November game since 2017 going back to his time at Notre Dame. This time of year is when Kelly’s teams have shined. With Jefferson not himself, Kelly will have his team locked in and avoid a letdown to inch closer to Atlanta.

Prediction: LSU 34, Arkansas 24

 

Vanderbilt (3-6, 0-5) at (24) Kentucky (6-3, 3-3), Noon ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Dave Neal and Deuce McAllister

Last Meeting: 2021 – Kentucky 34, Vanderbilt 17

Current Streak: Kentucky – 6

Current Streak in Lexington: Kentucky – 4

Line: Kentucky -17.5

Over/Under: 47.5

A loss at Missouri last week would have officially rendered the 2022 season a disappointment for the Wildcats. Instead, Kentucky rallied for a win, and now it looks to ensure a sixth straight winning season in a non-COVID year against Vanderbilt, losers of 26 straight SEC games. Will Levis had one of his best games last week in Columbia, finally playing turnover-free football. Vanderbilt will likely use both Mike Wright and A.J. Swann again at quarterback, hoping the change of pace will keep the ‘Cats off guard. Kentucky has been a high-floor, low-ceiling team under Mark Stoops. The Wildcats take care of their business (unless Levis is hurt), and even in what could be a sleepy atmosphere on a cold day in Lexington, they won’t let Vanderbilt start believing that Saturday could be the day to finally end the streak.

Prediction: Kentucky 34, Vanderbilt 13

 

(9) Alabama (7-2, 4-2) at (11) Ole Miss (8-1, 4-1), 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)

Announcers: Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson

Last Meeting: 2021 – Alabama 42, Ole Miss 21

Current Streak: Alabama – 6

Current Streak in Oxford: Alabama – 3

Line: Alabama -11.5

Over/Under: 64.5

While it’s been a disappointment, Alabama has had to play an absolutely gauntlet of road games this season. Ole Miss will be the fourth team currently ranked in the top 18 to host the Crimson Tide this season. Tennessee and LSU both took down Nick Saban’s team, and Texas fell by a single point. Lane Kiffin and the Rebels, despite being a surprising double-digit underdog, should expect to win this game. The matchups are a little more favorable for Alabama this week, but Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart is a dangerous runner who can make plays with his feet in the way Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker and LSU’s Jayden Daniels did. Bryce Young has willed the Crimson Tide offense this season, but the explosive scores really haven’t been there, and finishing drives has been a bit of a problem. If Ole Miss can keep a lid on things defensively, I think this is its game to win. It’s crazy to say, but I just can’t pick Alabama on the road against a quality opponent right now.

Prediction: Ole Miss 36, Alabama 31

 

South Carolina (6-3, 3-3) at Florida (5-4, 2-4), 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Matt Stinchcomb

Last Meeting: 2021 – South Carolina 40, Florida 17

Current Streak: South Carolina – 1

Current Streak in Gainesville: Florida – 3

Line: Florida -8.5

Over/Under: 58.5

Both teams took advantage of bad defenses last week in road victories, and now the Gamecocks and Gators meet with the winner likely to post a respectable .500 SEC season. This game could go in a variety of ways with quarterbacks Spencer Rattler and Anthony Richardson having high upsides but marred by inconsistent play. Both teams should be able to run the ball well, but Florida has done a much better job of protecting the football with just half the turnovers (10) of South Carolina (20). I’m not going to put much stock in the win over Vanderbilt, even though South Carolina had full control of the game. Florida will continue its success on the ground with 250 yards on its Senior Day and clinch bowl eligibility.

Prediction: Florida 41, South Carolina 27

 

(1) Georgia (9-0, 6-0) at Mississippi State (6-3, 3-3), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Announcers: Sean McDonough and Todd Blackledge

Last Meeting: 2020 - Mississippi State 24, Georgia 31

Current Streak: Georgia - 3

Current Streak in Starkville: Mississippi State - 1

Line: Georgia -16.5

Over/Under: 53.5

I’ve seen this game before. In three game against Alabama under Leach, Mississippi State has scored just 15 points. Georgia tackled extremely well against Tennessee, and talented players playing fundamental defense generally leads to success against this version of the Air Raid. Georgia hasn’t played a road game in six weeks, so there might be some clunkiness early on in cowbell-filled Davis Wade Stadium, but the offense will eventually wake up and pull away to get Georgia to 10-0 without much of a struggle.

Prediction: Georgia 31, Mississippi State 10

 

Texas A&M (3-6, 1-5) at Auburn (3-6, 1-5), 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic

Last Meeting: 2021 – Texas A&M 20, Auburn 3

Current Streak: Texas A&M – 2

Current Streak in Auburn: Texas A&M – 1

Line: Auburn -1.5

Over/Under: 58.5

Last year’s game between the Aggies and Tigers had Sugar Bowl implications. This year’s game is to avoid finishing last in the SEC West, with neither team having won a game since September 24. Despite the lack of stakes, this is still an interesting contest. Auburn players and fans are all in again under interim coach Cadillac Williams. The Tigers fought hard last week to rally back against Mississippi State before falling in overtime, while Texas A&M should get back true freshman quarterback Connor Weigman for his second career start after he missed last week’s loss to Florida with the flu. This feels like a game that will be determined by emotion. I haven’t seen much of that from the Aggies of late, but Auburn showed plenty of it in Williams’ first game last week. Texas A&M is the better team, but Auburn will find a way to get a victory on Saturday night.

Prediction: Auburn 24, Texas A&M 20

 

Best Bets

Last Week: 3-2

Season: 31-19

 

Notre Dame -15.5 vs. Navy

Penn State -10.5 vs. Maryland

Boston College +19.5 at N.C. State

Minnesota -17.5 vs. Northwestern

Oregon State -13.5 vs. California

 

The Best Game I’ve Ever Watched On November 12

Nov. 12, 1994: (2) Penn State 35, Illinois 31

Penn State was still in its Big Ten infancy in 1994, but the Nittany Lions had emerged as the class of the league in just their second season with a road win at Michigan and a 63-14 thrashing of Ohio State. A potent offense led by quarterback Kerry Collins, running back Ki-Jana Carter, and wide receiver Bobby Engram had Penn State rolling. Joe Paterno’s team had surged to No. 1 after the win over the Buckeyes, but some garbage time touchdowns by Indiana a week later were enough for the voters to drop them behind Nebraska. Such was life in the pre-BCS era.

Penn State had two more games to play and could clinch the Big Ten title and first Rose Bowl appearance with a win at Illinois. The 6-3 Illini had a feisty defense under Lou Tepper with standouts Dana Howard, Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice, allowing more than 20 points only once in nine games.

ABC aired the contest in Champaign to much of the nation, and an upset watch was quickly on. Two turnovers and an ugly punt set Illinois up with great field position on its first three drives. The Illini maximized every single one, giving its elite defense a 21-0 lead. Penn State was shaken, but not rattled.

A 99-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter calmed things down for Penn State. Momentum really began to swing when Phil Yeboah-Kodie blocked an Illini punt, which the Nittany Lions converted into points in just one play after Collins found Freddie Scott for a touchdown.

Johnny Johnson and the Illinois offense regained control just before halftime with a touchdown drive to extend the lead back to 14 points. A Carter touchdown run narrowed the lead to 28-21 in the third quarter, but Illinois got a field goal and a stop to take a 31-21 lead with the ball in the fourth quarter.

A must-score drive for the Nittany Lions almost ended without points, but Carter converted a fourth down, and a five-yard touchdown run by Bryan Milne brought Penn State as close as it had been since it was 0-0 at 31-28. After a great punt, Penn State was backed up at its own four-yard line with six minutes to go and rain falling in Memorial Stadium.

Collins calmly guided the Nittany Lions down the field, using Carter, Milne, Scott, Engram and tight end Kyle Brady. Milne got the go-ahead score, plunging in from two yards out with a minute to play to put Penn State ahead for the first time, 35-31.

Illinois got within range for a throw to the end zone, but Johnson’s desperation heave as time expired was intercepted by safety Kim Herring, sealing the comeback victory and setting off a celebration with roses.

Alas, Penn State was never able to recover from the Indiana game, as Nebraska never relinquished the No. 1 slot in either poll, finishing 13-0 with an Orange Bowl win over No. 3 Miami (FL). Penn State routed Oregon in Pasadena, 38-20, to complete a perfect season, but voters awarded Tom Osborne his first national and denied Paterno his third.

 

Trivia Answers

1. 2006 (Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, LSU)

2. Valdosta State

3. 740

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.