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Week Five SEC Primer

By Matt Smith
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Burning questions, game previews, trivia, and more to get you ready for this week's SEC slate.

Well, at least it’s college football.

While the positives of a double-idle week season outweigh the negatives, one of the downsides is that some weeks provide uninspiring slates of games. This weekend would be one of those in the SEC. Georgia, LSU and Missouri are all off, while Alabama, Florida and Texas A&M are all favored by 23 points or more.

Mississippi State does have a chance to catch Auburn in a sandwich game, and Kentucky and South Carolina will play in game that both teams absolutely have to have to prevent their seasons from completely falling apart. That’s about it.

We’re unlikely to see much of an expectation shift this weekend, but there’s always a chance for a big surprise in this sport. Let’s hit the key topics of Week 5 in the SEC.

5 Things I Want to Know on Sunday Morning

1. Has Chad Morris lost his team already?

Despite multiple losses to FCS teams this decade, perhaps no defeat by an SEC team was as embarrassing as Arkansas falling to San Jose State last Saturday night, 31-24. The Hogs fell to 2-2 on the year, and are now 2-12 against FBS opponents under Morris. Despite a pillow-soft non-conference schedule this year, the Hogs now to appear have an absolute ceiling of 4-8. The chance to defeat “rival” Texas A&M for the first time in six years after so many near-misses in recent years should provide some inspiration this week, but this team doesn’t appear on the brink of a breakthrough like Bret Bielema’s team did at this time in his second year in Fayetteville.

2. Is there any hope for the Kentucky offense?

The Wildcats were serviceable last week in a loss to Mississippi State, but the red zone prevented hopes of a mild upset. Kentucky scored just one touchdown and one field goal in four trips inside the Bulldogs’ 20-yard line. Sawyer Smith finished just 15-of-41, and is one incompletion away from having his completion percentage dip to 50 percent for the season. The ‘Cats should be able to run with some success on Saturday night at South Carolina, but they’ll need to start finishing drives to right the ship after consecutive losses.

3. Is the Alabama running game still MIA?

It’s taken five years, but the Alabama offensive identity may have finally completed its transformation from ground-and-pound to an aerial assault. This weekend’s visit from Ole Miss should only add to the Crimson Tide’s prolific passing numbers, as the Rebels have allowed five passing plays of 40 yards or longer this season. Alabama will get guard Deonte Brown back from a six-game suspension, which should add fuel to a running game that hasn’t found its groove this season. The Tide can throw the ball to a blowout win on Saturday, but it will be interesting to see how much they deploy the ground game and how successful it can be.

4. Has Tommy Stevens been Wally Pipp-ed?

Joe Moorhead continues to keep the status of Stevens close to the vest. The Bulldogs starting quarterback was injured three weeks ago and has missed the last game-and-a-half. True freshman Garrett Shrader was excellent last week against Kentucky, missing on just five of 22 pass attempts and running for 125 yards. The quarterback run game helped Mississippi State defeat Auburn last year, and the Bulldogs will need it again on Saturday night in Jordan-Hare Stadium to combat the Tigers’ stout front. Even if Stevens can play, Shrader might be the better option, both short term and long term.

5. Can a top running back succeed against the Auburn front?

Speaking of how Mississippi State can move the ball against Auburn, Saturday’s game also matches the SEC’s leading rusher in Hill against a Tigers defense that held Oregon and Texas A&M to a combined 146 yards on the ground. Hill is the best back Auburn has seen this year, averaging more than six yards per carry despite a busy workload. Only three running backs in the country have more carries this season than Hill’s 91.

Trivia Time (answers below):
1. Joe Moorhead got his first SEC win against Gus Malzahn. What head coach did Malzahn’s first SEC win come against?
2. What two teams have beaten Alabama in consecutive seasons during the 2010s?
3. Who was the South Carolina starting quarterback the last time it beat Kentucky?

Previews and Predictions

(23) Texas A&M (-23.5) vs. Arkansas (Arlington), Noon ET (ESPN)
Announcers: Mark Jones and Dusty Dvoracek

This game will hopefully return to campus sites eventually, but for five more years at least, it will remain at AT&T Stadium. Four of the five meetings in Arlington have been Aggies wins by exactly seven points, including last year when the Razorbacks were three-touchdown underdogs. Arkansas hopes for a repeat of its defensive performance a year ago, when it held Texas A&M to just 377 yards. Unfortunately for Woo Pig people, this Arkansas team might actually be worse than the one that went 2-10 last season. After a disappointing 2-2 start, I expect the Aggies to be locked in and take some confidence into their idle week before Alabama rolls into College Station.

Prediction: Texas A&M 45, Arkansas 17

Northern Illinois at Vanderbilt (-6.5), Noon ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Dave Neal and D.J. Shockley

Vanderbilt is 0-3, it’s a Group of Five opponent, the temperature is going to be in the mid-90s, and it’s an 11 a.m. kickoff. That adds up to a half-empty stadium for what should be the Commodores first win of the season. Vanderbilt’s defense has been picked apart in its past two games, blowout losses to Purdue and LSU. The Huskies have a capable passer in Cal transfer Ross Bowers, who completed 20 of 29 passes for 229 yards two weeks ago against a top-15 Utah team. The ground game is a problem, however, and that’s all that will prevent an upset. Vanderbilt won’t look very good, but it’ll do just enough to earn its first win of the season.

Prediction: Vanderbilt 28, Northern Illinois 21

Ole Miss at (2) Alabama (-38), 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Announcers: Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson

With Matt Corral nursing a rib injury, true freshman quarterback John Rhys Plumlee could be in line to make his first career start on Saturday against mighty Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Crimson Tide have won the last two meetings by a combined 118 points after losing twice and having to rally from a 21-point deficit to win in the prior three meetings. Alabama is battling the injury bug in its front seven, which could allow a diverse Rebels rushing attack with Scottie Phillips, Snoop Conner and Jerrion Ealy to have some success. Tua Tagovailoa and the Crimson Tide passing game will have far more success.

Prediction: Alabama 49, Ole Miss 14

Towson at (9) Florida (-36.5), 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Matt Stinchcomb

The Gators are about to enter the meat of their schedule with Auburn, LSU, and Georgia all ahead, but first comes a final tune-up against the Tigers (Florida will face a team called the Tigers each of the next three weeks). It’s hard to know what to make of Florida. The Gators have limped by two average Power Five teams in Kentucky and Miami (FL), and hammered a bad one in Tennessee. We won’t learn much this week, as the banged-up Gators will be using this week to mend before returning to SEC play. Towson comes in at 3-1, having defeated The Citadel, which won at Georgia Tech two weeks ago, in the season opener.

Prediction: Florida 38, Towson 7

Mississippi State at (7) Auburn (-10), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Announcers: Sean McDonough and Todd Blackledge

I’ll always side with the great defensive front against the great running back, giving me pause that Mississippi State can keep this game close. The uncertainty at quarterback for the Bulldogs doesn’t help matters, but I’m not sure it will make a difference who plays. Mississippi State’s defense was able to feast on an anemic Kentucky passing game this week, but Auburn, despite preferring to do most of its work on the ground, can burn teams deep with Bo Nix’s arm strength. Expect a bit of a slog with some sloppy play, but a few big plays will tip the scales in favor of Auburn.

Prediction: Auburn 27, Mississippi State 14

Kentucky at South Carolina (-3), 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers, and Cole Cubelic

Anxiety is high on both sides heading into Saturday night’s game in Columbia. The loser will fall to 0-3 in conference play, with both teams having two of the top three teams in the division still to play. Kentucky’s defense has been a disappointment this season, currently ranking 13th in the league at 6.17 yards per play, despite facing backup quarterbacks the past two weeks. Oddly, South Carolina ran the ball well against Alabama, but it could do nothing on the ground last week at Missouri, finishing with just 16 yards. This game is impossible to call, so I’ll lean on the philosophy of “don’t screw with a streak”. The Wildcats make it six in a row in the series.

Prediction: Kentucky 23, South Carolina 20

Best Bets
Last Week: 3-2, +3 Musburgers
YTD: 7-12-1, -12 Musburgers

Toledo +2.5 vs. BYU – 5 Musburgers
Michigan -28 vs. Rutgers – 4 Musburgers
Oklahoma State -4 vs. Kansas State – 3 Musburgers
N.C. State + 6.5 at Florida State – 2 Musburgers
Liberty -7 vs. New Mexico – 1 Musburger

Trivia Answers
1. Dan Mullen
2. LSU (2010-11) and Ole Miss (2014-15)
3. Connor Shaw (2013)

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.