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Week Eleven SEC Primer

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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For the only time this season in the SEC, all 14 teams are playing conference games.

For the only time this season in the SEC, all 14 teams are playing conference games. Only two of those games are projected by Las Vegas to be decided by single digits, but both division champions and College Football Playoff contenders do face one of their stiffest respective challenges of the season on Saturday

Seven teams have already clinched bowl eligibility, while Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas A&M can all get there this week, already topping last season when just nine conference teams played in the postseason. Arkansas and Ole Miss will not play in bowls, while Tennessee and Vanderbilt need two wins in their final three games to get there.

It’s the meatiest week of the conference schedule before a slew of non-league games next week and on Rivalry Weekend. There’s bound to be some unexpected twists and turns, even with the SEC Championship Game matchup already decided.

Let’s preview Week 11 in the SEC.

5 Things I Want to Know

1. Will Mississippi State’s front seven cause problems for Alabama?

This game could feature a first in terms of two teams’ defensive lines. Alabama’s, however, is overshadowed by its prolific offense that is threatening to average 50 points per game. For the 6-3 Bulldogs, their defensive front is the heart and soul of their team. While LSU didn’t threaten the Crimson Tide, the Tigers did slow down their offense. Mississippi State’s defense is statistically even better than LSU’s, having held its last five opponents to a total of just 57 points. The Bulldogs don’t have the athletes in the secondary that LSU does, which is their biggest concern heading to Tuscaloosa.

2. Can Auburn stop the run?

Lost in the Tigers’ fourth-quarter rally last week against Texas A&M was that the Aggies gashed a stout Auburn run defense. Georgia’s ground game is as good as any in the SEC right now, and that’s pretty terrifying for Auburn fans with this week’s renewal of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. Jake Fromm has been locked in the past two weeks. If he again has the help of a productive rushing attack, it could be yet another long night for the Tigers in Sanford Stadium.

3. Can Florida regroup before the season turns into a disappointment?

New Year’s Six bowl hopes are gone after last week’s debacle against Missouri, but now, 6-3 Florida is a loss away from this once-promising season probably not even being considered successful. Even after going 4-7 last year, an 8-4 season, when two of the Gators’ three main rivals are a complete mess, is nothing special. There’s not much to sell in terms of the big picture for Dan Mullen, but a third straight loss would waste all of the goodwill he had built from the early-season upsets of Mississippi State and LSU.

4. Will LSU have a hangover in Fayetteville?

The low in Fayetteville early Saturday morning is projected to be in the teens. LSU has had issues before going to crisp northwest Arkansas the week after losing to Alabama and being knocked out of the SEC title race, most notably in 2014 when they were shut out, 17-0. This is a bad Razorbacks team, so even a C-game from LSU should be enough to win, but this has the potential to be a very ugly game. Hogs’ defensive coordinator John Chavis knows LSU well, so points may be at a premium.

5. Is Missouri primed for another dominant November?

The Tigers started 0-4 in the SEC last year as well, but ran off four straight wins in November, three in dominant fashion, to finish 7-5. That appears to be the script again this year, as Missouri got its first SEC win last week with an early-November blowout of Florida for the second consecutive season. The schedule is quite cushy down the stretch, starting with Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon in Columbia. The Commodores have hung tough with some pretty good teams, so this won’t be a cakewalk. If it is, then that should tell us that the Tigers are about to close in dominating fashion once again.

Trivia Time (answers below):
1. In addition to Auburn-Georgia, what other southern FBS rivalry also played its 123rd game this season?

2. What was the final score of Mississippi State’s only win in 25 games against Bear Bryant-coached Alabama teams in 1980 when the Crimson Tide were ranked No. 1?

3. What was Steve Spurrier’s record as a head coach in 20 Florida-South Carolina games?

Previews and Predictions
Last Week: 6-1 SU, 5-1-1 ATS; YTD: 68-18 SU, 40-38-1 ATS

Ole Miss at Texas A&M (-13), Noon ET (CBS)

Announcers: Carter Blackburn, Aaron Taylor and Rick Neuheisel

The Rebels are unbeaten in SEC games at Kyle Field, but making it three straight will be a tall task against an angry Aggies team stewing from a collapse last week at Auburn. Texas A&M’s success in the running game against Auburn is concerning for Ole Miss, as the Rebels rank last in the SEC in both yards per carry allowed and rushing yards per game allowed. The visitors should have some success through the air, but Texas A&M’s defense won’t allow Ole Miss to be balanced enough to pull off an upset.

Prediction: Texas A&M 35, Ole Miss 27

South Carolina at (16) Florida (-6), Noon ET (ESPN)

Announcers: Dave Pasch, Greg McElroy and Tom Luginbill

South Carolina comes to Gainesville as a confident team, winning its last two games by a combined seven points and sporting a 3-1 mark in one-score games, as this one very well could be. Florida’s passing game has hit the skids the past couple weeks, but it may not matter against a South Carolina run defense that has been porous this season, allowing 237 yards to Ole Miss, 271 to Georgia, and 286 to Missouri. The Gamecocks will be a trendy upset pick this week with Florida’s struggles the past two times out, but I think the Gators get right and win for the first time in four weeks.

Prediction: Florida 27, South Carolina 17

Vanderbilt at Missouri (-17), Noon ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Dave Neal and D.J. Shockley

A battle of black and gold teams got a bit more interesting with both teams recording impressive conference road wins in their most recent games. Vanderbilt has struggled to stop the run this season, while Missouri has had its way in the ground game outside of games with elite Alabama and Kentucky defenses. This game should be pretty high-scoring, but the Tigers will ultimately have too much balance with the ground attack and Drew Lock’s arm. They’ll control the clock in the second half to lock up a bowl bid.

Prediction: Missouri 38, Vanderbilt 27

(16) Mississippi State at (1) Alabama (-23.5), 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)

Announcers: Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson

This should be an interesting chess match between Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and Bulldogs defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, directors of two of the best units in college football. Alabama likely will have too many available counter-moves for Mississippi State to keep this offense much under 30 points. While Nick Fitzgerald played one of the better games of his career last year against the Crimson Tide, he’s simply going to have to do too much in the passing game for this game to be competitive in the second half. Take the points, but it will be another week without any real game pressure for Alabama.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Mississippi State 13

(11) Kentucky (-5.5) at Tennessee, 3:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Matt Stinchcomb

I wasn’t alive the last time Kentucky won in Knoxville (Nov. 24, 1984), but 34 years of misery on Rocky Top figures to end on Saturday afternoon. The line of scrimmage is a complete mismatch, which will require the skill position players of Tennessee to play their best game of the year. It’s hard to lay more than a field goal with Kentucky given its offensive limitations, but I will reluctantly do it here as Kentucky passes perhaps its biggest hurdle en route to a New Year’s Six Bowl.

Prediction: Kentucky 24, Tennessee 13

(24) Auburn at (5) Georgia (-14), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Announcers: Sean McDonough and Todd Blackledge

Auburn may have found their passing game last week in its rally past Texas A&M. On the other hand, it may have just been anomaly with the Tigers having to throw their way back in the game with time of the essence. Georgia’s front seven showed its vulnerability against LSU and for a half against Florida, but Auburn is simply not physical enough at the line of scrimmage to sustain drives against the Bulldogs without Jarrett Stidham being on fire. Expect a fast start from Georgia, but Auburn will settle down and keep this game from getting out of hand.

Prediction: Georgia 31, Auburn 16

(7) LSU (-13.5) at Arkansas 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers, and Cole Cubelic

This may be the most unpredictable series in the SEC. Arkansas has a history of big upsets of highly-ranked LSU teams, but this group of Razorbacks may simply not be capable of knocking off a disappointed and cold Tigers team even on their best day. The good news for the Hogs is that it’s difficult to envision LSU pulling away from any team right now without some very short fields or defensive touchdowns. This one won’t be pretty, but LSU should be able to run the ball well enough to shorten the game and get out of the chilly conditions victorious.

Prediction: LSU 27, Arkansas 10

Best Bets

Last Week: 3-1-1; YTD: 26-22-2

Syracuse -20.5 vs. Louisville

Oregon +3.5 at Utah

Oklahoma State +21 at Oklahoma

UMass +14 vs. BYU

Coastal Carolina +6.5 vs. Arkansas State

Trivia Answers
1. North Carolina-Virginia
2. Mississippi State 6, Alabama 3
3. 15-5 (10-0 at Florida, 5-5 at South Carolina)

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.