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SEC Primer: Week 8

By Matt Smith
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Matt Smith previews Week 8 in the SEC

Well, we’ve finally got a pulse on the SEC. I think. Tennessee is for real, but Mississippi State is not. LSU still has a high upside, while Florida has a pretty low floor. Arkansas and Kentucky can be pretty darn good when their quarterbacks are healthy. The best news from Week 7? The SEC Championship Game will now not simply be for CFP seeding unless Ole Miss can run a five-game gauntlet to close the season 12-0.

This week’s slate is small, as five teams will take a week off, but all four conference games are intriguing in their own right. For the second time in their last five visits to Baton Rouge, Ole Miss is undefeated and dreaming of something special. Alabama plays Mississippi State after a loss for the third time in their last four meetings. Vanderbilt has a legitimate shot to snap a three-year SEC losing streak. Texas A&M is a loss at South Carolina away from needing to declare the 2022 season a disaster.

Let’s preview an SEC Saturday that is small in size but could still pack a pretty large punch in creating the story of the 2022 season.


This is a Big Week for:

Coach: Clark Lea, Vanderbilt

After 24 straight SEC losses, Vanderbilt has a legitimate chance for a conference win on Saturday at Missouri in a battle of teams 0-3 in league play. His job is nowhere close to being at risk, but in order to continue to sell his program as that one can again be respectable, he needs some tangible results.

Player: Jaxson Dart, QB, Ole Miss

Ole Miss has been blessed with a schedule so far that has included five home games and two road games at stadiums that visiting fanbases usually take over. Dart will experience hostility for the first time as the Rebels starter on Saturday afternoon at LSU.

Unit: Mississippi State Wide Receivers

Alabama’s defense has shut down Mississippi State in two meetings since Mike Leach brought the Air Raid to Starkville, allowing just nine points in two meetings. This Crimson Tide secondary is highly suspect, however, and the Bulldogs do possess a deep group of wideouts that had their way against a very good Texas A&M defense earlier this month.


Trivia Time

1. Whose pass scored Mississippi State’s most recent touchdown in Bryant-Denny Stadium?

2. Who did Vanderbilt’s last SEC road win come against?

3. When did Ole Miss’ last multi-year winning streak against LSU take place?


Game Predictions

Tennessee-Martin (4-2) at (3) Tennessee (6-0, 3-0), Noon ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Matt Stinchcomb

Series History: Tennessee leads 1-0

Last Meeting: 2010 – Tennessee 50, Tennessee-Martin 0

Line: N/A

Over/Under: N/A

For the second straight Saturday, a member of the Simpson family will be in Neyland Stadium. No, not Homer or Bart, but Jason, the long-time head coach in Martin, takes his Skyhawks to Knoxville a week after son and Alabama backup quarterback, Ty, was there. The atmosphere on Rocky Top will be vastly different than a week ago, as the unbeaten Vols enjoy a perfect opponent in a hangover spot. Obviously this game won’t be competitive, but the Skyhawks have scored 40 points in four of six games, so I’ll say they put up a few points.

Prediction: Tennessee 56, Tennessee-Martin 21


(7) Ole Miss (7-0, 3-0) at LSU (5-2, 3-1), 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)

Announcers: Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson

Last Meeting: 2021 – Ole Miss 31, LSU 17

Current Streak: Ole Miss – 1

Current Streak in Baton Rouge: LSU – 6

Line: LSU -2.5

Over/Under: 66

The game of the day in the SEC matches an unbeaten but largely untested Rebels team against an LSU squad that couldn’t have looked more different from the 27-point loss to Tennessee two weeks ago to a dominant win at Florida last Saturday night. Perhaps only Michigan has a better running game in the country than Ole Miss, and LSU has allowed more than 200 yards on the ground in each of the past two weeks. The Rebels defense showed come cracks last week with Auburn having its way running the football. LSU can do the same, but I fear the Tigers may not stay committed to the ground game, instead choosing to test a quality Ole Miss secondary. Baton Rouge is a bear, but this Ole Miss team is up to the task and will move to 8-0.

Prediction: Ole Miss 32, LSU 27


Vanderbilt (3-4, 0-3) at Missouri (2-4, 0-3), 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Dave Neal and Deuce McAllister

Last Meeting: 2021 – Missouri 37, Vanderbilt 28

Current Streak: Missouri – 2

Current Streak in Columbia: Missouri – 4

Line: Missouri -14

Over/Under: 52.5

Is this the week for the Commodores? After 24 straight SEC losses, Vanderbilt has a legitimate chance to end the losing streak. Missouri is also winless in the league this season, but all three losses have come by a touchdown or less, while Vanderbilt has been outscored 162-31. The Tigers will move the football, but finishing drives has been their issue so far this season with just 56 percent of red zone trips ending in touchdowns. The Missouri defense has been pretty solid, so I don’t see the Commodores being able to keep up with the points the Tigers will put up on a bad Vanderbilt defense, even if the red zone struggles persist.

Prediction: Missouri 40, Vanderbilt 24


(24) Mississippi State (5-2, 2-2) at (6) Alabama (6-1, 3-1), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Announcers: Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit

Last Meeting: 2021 – Alabama 49, Mississippi State 9

Current Streak: Alabama – 14

Current Streak in Tuscaloosa: Alabama – 7

Line: Alabama -21

Over/Under: 61

As you noticed from the trivia question above, Mississippi State’s offense has not fared well of late in Tuscaloosa. It’s a system offense that does what it does, but athletic defenses that remain disciplined generally can slow the Bulldogs down. Discipline has been a problem for all aspects of this Alabama team this season, but the Crimson Tide are coming off a loss. Occasionally some issues carry over to the next week, but usually Nick Saban teams deliver a dominant performance in rebound spots. I foresee that happening again on Saturday night.

Prediction: Alabama 38, Mississippi State 10


Texas A&M (3-3, 1-2) at South Carolina (4-2, 1-2), 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic

Last Meeting: 2021 – Texas A&M 44, South Carolina 14

Current Streak: Texas A&M – 8

Current Streak in Columbia: Texas A&M – 4

Line: Texas A&M -3

Over/Under: 45

This one is interesting. South Carolina probably isn’t as good as its 5-2 record, benefitting from Will Levis’ absence in the win at Kentucky two weeks ago. Texas A&M has a higher ceiling than its 4-3 mark suggests, but the offense isn’t necessarily fixed just because of the gritty effort put forth in the narrow loss at Alabama. The Aggies are starting to lean more on some of their 5-star freshmen, which is why a late-season surge could be coming, but South Carolina is at home and has the better quarterback. I will say those two elements are just enough to shockingly get the Gamecocks bowl-eligible in October, as the heat will be turned up even more on Jimbo Fisher after another bad loss.

Prediction: South Carolina 24, Texas A&M 23


Best Bets

Last Week: 3-2

Season: 23-12

Army -7 vs. Louisiana-Monroe

UCLA +6.5 at Oregon

Oklahoma State +6.5 vs. Texas

Penn State -5 vs. Minnesota

Pittsburgh +3 at Louisville


The Best Game I’ve Ever Watched On October 22:

Oct. 22, 2011: (16) Michigan State 37, (6) Wisconsin 31

It was the biggest game of the Big Ten season, but it did not involve Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State. That was Big Ten football in 2011, the first year for the league with divisional play. Wisconsin had remained perfect until its late October trip to East Lansing behind graduate transfer quarterback Russell Wilson, while Michigan State had yet to lose a Big Ten game. Kirk Cousins and the Spartans did drop a non-conference game to Notre Dame, so BCS Championship Game hopes were slim.

ESPN sent College GameDay to the banks of the Red Cedar, trumping rivalry matchups such as Tennessee-Alabama, USC-Notre Dame and Auburn-LSU. With Ohio State struggling in Wisconsin’s half of the division, and Michigan State having just defeated rival Michigan, it was thought that this might be the first of two matchups between the teams with the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game looming.

The first quarter was all Wisconsin, as the Badgers sandwiched a touchdown pass from Wilson and scoring run from Montee Ball around a Michigan State fumble on their first offensive snap to build a 14-0 lead, stunning a packed house in Spartan Stadium.

If Wisconsin’s first quarter was controlling, Michigan State’s second quarter was dominant. It began with an intentional grounding penalty on Wilson in the end zone to get Sparty on the board. What followed were scoring drives of 72 and 80 yards to give Michigan State a 16-14 lead. Finally, just before halftime, Wisconsin was backed up again and couldn’t avoid trouble.  The Spartans blocked a punt, and Kyler Elsworth fell on the ball in the end zone for a third touchdown of the quarter.

The third quarter was a snoozer. The only points came on a short Wisconsin field goal to cut the lead to 23-17 midway through the quarter. That score held until just 11 minutes remained, but what ensued was complete madness.

Michigan State put itself in a great position with a Cousins to Keyshawn Martin touchdown pass. After the two-point conversion, the Spartans had a 31-17 lead and had allowed just three points in the prior 43 minutes of game time.

A pair of punts ensued, but Jared Abbrederis gave the Badgers a spark with a 33-yard return to set Wilson up in Michigan State territory. It took Wilson just three plays to get to the end zone, as he and Ball produced runs of 22 and 21 yards respectively to cut the lead in half.

Michigan State had two chances to run out the clock surrounding an Isaiah Lewis interception of Wilson, but the offense couldn’t slam the door shut. Wilson had one more chance with four minutes to go, but had to go 87 yards.

Ball got things started with a pair of first-down runs, and then Wilson did the rest, completing four straight passes for 72 yards, capped by a two-yard toss to Ball to tie the game with 90 seconds remaining.

Cousins overcame a 2nd and 20, but time was running out with the Spartans not yet in field goal range. With four seconds left from the Badgers 44-yard line, Cousins let a Hail Mary fly. The ball landed in the arms of former quarterback Keith Nichol at the goal line. Nichol fought multiple Wisconsin defenders to get the ball across the line, but he was ruled short.

A replay review ensued, and it looked like the ball had just barely crossed the line, but was it conclusive enough to overturn the play? Big Ten officials deemed that it was, overturning the play and sending East Lansing into a frenzy.

Wisconsin would suffer heartbreak again a week later after allowing another late long touchdown pass against Ohio State, but would get revenge in the Big Ten Championship Game with a completed comeback in a 42-39 win over the Spartans. Oregon would knock off the Badgers in a thrilling Rose Bowl. At 10-3, Michigan State went to the Outback Bowl, where it prevailed in an overtime battle with Georgia to send Cousins and a decorated senior class out with their first bowl win.


Trivia Answers

1. Dak Prescott (2014)

2. Arkansas (2018)

3. 2008-2009

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.