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Week Eleven SEC Primer

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Previewing week eleven in the SEC with Matt Smith.

A week of much-needed clarity has arrived, as title races and bowl hopes will come into focus.

The SEC West has three, and potentially four, division title contenders, but Saturday night could end with Alabama having the division in control. For South Carolina, Missouri and LSU, a bowl trip likely requires victory this weekend.

Eight games are on the docket this weekend, six of those being conference games. Four of the six league games have point spreads under six points. It should be a highly competitive weekend here in the South, so let me help you prepare for the start of crunch time in the SEC.

This is a Big Week for:
Coach: Shane Beamer, South Carolina
The Gamecocks closed the non-Tigers portion of their schedule at 5-4 after upsetting Florida. They’ll need one win in three games against Tigers, but their best chance by far is Saturday at Missouri, with both Auburn and Clemson looking perhaps too formidable for a talent-challenged South Carolina team. Beamer has at least met all expectations for Year 1 with five wins, and now has a chance to exceed them. The prestige of going to a bowl dwindles with each passing year, but Arkansas celebrated their sixth win hard last Saturday, and Beamer’s team should replicate that party with a win in the Show Me State on Saturday afternoon.

Player: Max Johnson, QB, LSU
Johnson’s hold on the Tigers starting job is tenuous, and not just for 2022. Head coach Ed Orgeron said this week that both Johnson and Garrett Nussmeier will play against Arkansas after Johnson struggled with pressure from Alabama last week. With a new staff coming in in the next 30 days, the rest of November is an audition for Johnson. Will he be the presumptive starter for 2022? Or will a replacement or competitor be brought in? Johnson’s distant future will be determined by the immediate future.

Unit: Ole Miss Offensive Line
No unit played better football last Saturday than the Texas A&M defense, which physically dominated a solid Auburn team in a 20-3 win. Next up for Mike Elko’s group is Ole Miss, who presents one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Matt Corral, but a banged-up offensive line protecting a bumped and bruised Corral. With time, Corral is the best quarterback in college football. Without it, the Aggies could deliver another stellar performance and knock the Rebels out of New Year’s Six bowl hopes.

Trivia Time
1. What future two-time Super Bowl champion did Herschel Walker famously run over in his first college game in the 1980 Georgia-Tennessee game?
2. Who was the last first-year South Carolina head coach to not qualify for a bowl game?
3. Mississippi State’s Will Rogers has completed 75.2 percent of his passes this season. Who holds the SEC record for season completion percentage?

Game Predictions
Mississippi State (5-4, 3-3) at Auburn (6-3, 3-2), Noon ET (ESPN)
Announcers: Bob Wischusen and Jordan Rodgers
Last Meeting: 2020 – Auburn 24, Mississippi State 10
Current Streak: Auburn – 2
Current Streak in Auburn: Auburn – 2
Line: Auburn -5.5
Over/Under: 50
This series has been pretty blah since the No. 2 vs. No. 3 clash won by Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs back in 2014. That has a chance to change on Saturday when Will Rogers and a red-hot Mississippi State offense battles an Auburn defense that has played very well for coordinator Derek Mason. As the head coach at Vanderbilt last year, Mason saw Mike Leach’s offense in 2020, but he now has far better players, and we’ve seen the Bullies move the ball well against defenses that shut them down last season. After the last poor performance from Bo Nix, a September squeaker against Georgia State, he rallied and played beautifully in Auburn’s win at LSU. I expect a similar effort from Nix in this game after Texas A&M shut him down a week ago. It takes a lot for me to pick against the Tigers in Jordan-Hare Stadium, and I won’t be doing it here.
Prediction: Auburn 28, Mississippi State 20 (Auburn/under)

New Mexico State (1-8) at (2) Alabama (8-1, 5-1), Noon ET (SECN)
Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Matt Stinchcomb
Series History: Alabama leads, 1-0
Last Meeting: 2019 – Alabama 62, New Mexico State 10
Line: Alabama -52
Over/Under: 67.5
Can a second team named the Aggies take down Alabama in the same season? I jest, of course, as New Mexico State makes the first of two straight trips to SEC country (it’ll play at Kentucky next week) sporting a five-game losing streak and just a single win, coming over South Carolina State of the FCS. Only four FBS teams are allowing more yards per play than the Aggies, so Alabama’s running game efficiency should have no issues regaining its form after a miserable day against LSU. The Crimson Tide can, of course, name their score, but this a better opportunity than it normally is for Alabama given the need to get some things figured out before a tough close to the season.
Prediction: Alabama 59, New Mexico State 10 (New Mexico State/over)

Samford (4-5) at Florida (4-5, 2-5), Noon ET (ESPN+)
Announcers: Mike Couzens and Dustin Fox
Series History: Florida leads, 2-0
Last Meeting: 1922 – Florida 57, Samford 0
Line: N/A
Over/Under: N/A
Florida returns home for the first time in five weeks to what will likely be a very sparse crowd in The Swamp, given the Gators haven’t won since that most recent home game back on Oct. 9. Samford is a middle-of-the-road FCS team that shouldn’t offer much of a threat, but they can put some points on the board. Florida has parted ways with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, with linebacker coach Christian Robinson elevated to the interim coordinator role. Dan Mullen’s future in Gainesville likely will be less about wins and losses and more about his willingness to want to turn the program around, but another poor performance could seal his fate.
Prediction: Florida 38, Samford 14

(1) Georgia (9-0, 7-0) at Tennessee (5-4, 3-3), 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Announcers: Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson
Last Meeting: 2020 – Georgia 44, Tennessee 21
Current Streak: Georgia – 4
Current Streak in Knoxville: Georgia – 2
Line: Georgia -20.5
Over/Under: 56
A soft November schedule delivers Georgia only one legitimate test. It comes on Saturday in Knoxville against a Tennessee team with perhaps the league’s best offense. The strength-on-strength matchup has been rare this season for Georgia, with a schedule mostly loaded with capable defenses but struggling offenses. That in and of itself makes this game intriguing, even if the Vols do run out of gas by halftime. If you’re trying to construct a road map for Georgia losing at some point this season, seeing how head coach Josh Heupel and quarterback Hendon Hooker attack this Georgia secondary could be fruitful for the Alabamas and Ohio States of the world. Expect a punch or two to land, but there’s no tangible evidence to doubt the Bulldogs defense over 60 minute.
Prediction: Georgia 41, Tennessee 17 (Georgia/over)

South Carolina (5-4, 2-4) at Missouri (4-5, 1-4), 4 p.m. ET (SECN)
Announcers: Dave Neal and Deuce McAllister
Last Meeting: 2020 – Missouri 17, South Carolina 10
Current Streak: Missouri - 2
Current Streak in Columbia, Mo.: Missouri – 2
Line: Missouri -1
Over/Under: 55
Bowl hopes are on the line in Columbia, with the Gamecocks trying to get to six wins, and the Tigers trying to get in position to get to six wins themselves next week against reeling Florida. With both teams dealing with quarterback injuries, this game is challenging to assess. Starters Zeb Noland and Connor Bazelak both missed last week’s games, but neither has been ruled out for Saturday afternoon. With the uncertainty on offense, I’ll turn to the defense to try to find a lean, and that favors the Gamecocks. I think Missouri can get to 30 points against the South Carolina defense, but I know the Gamecocks can do it to the Tigers defense. South Carolina will get to have a party on Saturday night after registering a remarkable sixth win of the season.
Prediction: South Carolina 31, Missouri 27 (South Carolina/over)

(11) Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2) at (12) Ole Miss (7-2, 3-2), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Announcers: Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit
Last Meeting: 2019 – Texas A&M 24, Ole Miss 15
Current Streak: Texas A&M – 2
Current Streak in Oxford: Texas A&M – 2
Line: Texas A&M -2.5
Over/Under: 55.5
The game of the day in the SEC and probably nationally as well takes place under the lights of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, a venue in which Texas A&M has won four of five SEC games. Both quarterbacks are banged up, but it will take a body cast to get either Zach Calzada or Matt Corral off the field, so both will be out there for this clash. What can Corral and Lane Kiffin do that Auburn could not against a very good Aggies defense? Corral’s deep ball was off against Auburn and not heavily used against Liberty, but that must be different on Saturday night. Auburn couldn’t stretch the field in College Station, and managed only a field goal in 60 minutes against Mike Elko’s unit. On the other side of the ball, the Ole Miss defense has exceeded expectations every week since allowing 51 to Arkansas, but the Texas A&M passing game has evolved with the emergence of tight end Jalen Wydermyer and return of wide receiver Caleb Chapman. My head says Texas A&M, but my gut says Corral has one more brilliant performance left in front of his home fans before heading to the NFL.
Prediction: Ole Miss 30, Texas A&M 27 (Ole Miss/over)

Kentucky (6-3, 4-3) at Vanderbilt (2-7, 0-5), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Announcers: Anish Shroff and Mike Golic Jr.
Last Meeting: 2020 – Kentucky 38, Vanderbilt 35
Current Streak: Kentucky – 5
Current Streak in Nashville: Kentucky – 2
Line: Kentucky -21
Over/Under: 52.5
Like Florida, Kentucky has also gone more than a month without tasting victory, coming up empty in its last three games. Vanderbilt should help the Wildcats stop their bleeding, but as we saw last week when South Carolina, who beat the Commodores by just a single point, hammered Florida, 40-17, anything is possible in this league. Vanderbilt is rested after an idle week, while Kentucky’s defense is quasi-rested after being on the field for less than 14 minutes last week against Tennessee. Throwing has been the key to success against Kentucky, and the Commodores lack any semblance of a passing game after the turn to quarterback Mike Wright, who is more of a running threat. If the Wildcats don’t again succumb to the turnover bug that they have struggled to shake, they should pull away and cover a hefty line.
Prediction: Kentucky 38, Vanderbilt 16 (Kentucky/over)

(23) Arkansas (6-3, 2-3) at LSU (4-5, 2-4), 7:30 p.m. ET (SECN)
Announcers: Tom Hart and Cole Cubelic
Last Meeting: 2020 – LSU 27, Arkansas 24
Current Streak: LSU – 5
Current Streak in Baton Rouge: LSU – 2
Line: Arkansas -2.5
Over/Under: 59
After being a 42-point underdog the last time it came to Baton Rouge in 2019, Arkansas is now a slight favorite at LSU. The Razorbacks got a critical win last week against Mississippi State to keep a .500 SEC season in play, but the offense was all over the map against the Bulldogs. For LSU, the Tigers may have spent all of their emotional energy in last week’s narrow defeat at Alabama, but a good atmosphere under the lights of Tiger Stadium could have them again dialed in in the Battle for the Boot – the ugliest trophy in the SEC. Arkansas needed to get back to winning last week after three straight SEC losses, and I think closing that game strong will pay dividends this week in another close game.
Prediction: Arkansas 27, LSU 24 (Arkansas/under)

Best Bets
Last Week: 4-1
Season: 29-20-1
Boston College +2 at Georgia Tech
SMU -7 vs. UCF
Rutgers +7 at Indiana
Syracuse +3 at Louisville
UAB +5 at Marshall

The Best Game I’ve Ever Watched On November 13:
Nov. 13, 1993: No. 2 Notre Dame 31, No. 1 Florida State 24
Prior to the start of the BCS in 1998, it was not an annual occurrence for the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the polls to meet on the field. That was one of many factors contributing to the immense hype surrounding the showdown between top-ranked Florida State and second-ranked Notre Dame in 1993.

The game also featured the nouveau riche of college football – a Seminoles program under Bobby Bowden that had been flirting with national championships since the mid- ‘80s, but had yet to finish the deal – against the most historical brand in the sport, the Fighting Irish. Florida State was the preseason No. 1 team and consensus national title pick, while Notre Dame was expected to dip without offensive stars Rick Mirer, Jerome Bettis and Reggie Brooks, but had navigated an always tricky schedule to get to 9-0.

An up-and-coming pregame show, ESPN’s College GameDay, even ventured outside of Bristol for the first time to air their 60-minute Saturday morning show live from Notre Dame’s basketball arena adjacent to Notre Dame Stadium. NBC, in its third season as the exclusive rights holder for Notre Dame home games, produced perhaps the greatest intro to a sporting event we’ve ever seen.

With all of the pageantry and buildup, the game itself still needed to deliver, and it did just that. An early Florida State touchdown was countered by 24-0 Irish run, as the Irish ground game dominated the Seminoles. Notre Dame controlled much of the game, holding a 31-17 late in the fourth quarter when Charlie Ward and the Seminoles got the ball around midfield. It took Ward less than two minutes to cut the deficit in half, as Kez McCorvey hauled in a deflected pass in the back of the end zone to pull Florida State within 31-24.

A stop gave Ward the ball back with a chance to win or tie, but the Seminoles had to go 69 yards in 51 seconds. They got to the 14-yard line with time left for one play. Ward rolled to his left, hoping a receiver would break open. His pass was knocked down near the goal line by the Irish’s Shawn Wooden, and Notre Dame held on, 31-24.

The Irish vaulted to No. 1, but their stay would be brief, as Boston College shocked Notre Dame a week later, 41-39, on a last-second field goal. Florida State went to the Orange Bowl, where a late field goal propelled it to an 18-16 win over unbeaten Nebraska. Notre Dame defeated Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, but with the timing of losses being a major factor in the pre-BCS era, Florida State overcame its head-to-head loss and was unanimously declared the national champions for 1993.

Tuesday’s Projected Top 10
1. Georgia (1)
2. Alabama (2)
3. Oregon (3)
4. Ohio State (4)
5. Cincinnati (5)
6. Michigan State (7)
7. Notre Dame (9)
8. Oklahoma State (10)
9. Ole Miss (15)
10. Wake Forest (12)
Dropped out: (6) Michigan, (8) Oklahoma

Trivia Answers
1. Bill Bates
2. Lou Holtz (0-11, 1999)
3. Mac Jones (77.4%, 2020)

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.