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Week Ten SEC Primer

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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They remember November, and hopefully we’ll all remember the first November Saturday of SEC football in 2018.

As the mediocre SEC head coach Houston Dale Nutt once said, “They remember November.”

For all his rocky moments as an SEC head coach, Nutt is 100 percent correct. Fast starts to a season mean nothing if accompanied by a poor finish.

This Saturday is the first one of the month that matters most in this wild and crazy sport, and the SEC couldn’t ask for a better lineup. The SEC East champion will be decided Saturday afternoon, not in Athens or Gainesville or Knoxville, but in Lexington, Kentucky. Once the sun sets, the biggest game of the season will take place in Baton Rouge. If Alabama defeats LSU, we’ll know the SEC Championship Game matchup 28 days ahead of the game.

On the undercard, South Carolina and Missouri could use road wins to increase their bowl chances, while Mississippi State steps outside of SEC play for a potentially dangerous non-conference game.

They remember November, and hopefully we’ll all remember the first November Saturday of SEC football in 2018.

5 Things I Want to Know

1. Is LSU’s defense great or just very good?

Alabama’s offense can hang 40 points on a very good defense, as it did to Texas A&M in September with a 45-point performance. The thinking is that LSU is a step above what the Aggies had to offer, and that’s there’s a chance that the Tigers can hold the Crimson Tide to under 30. That would be more than 10 points above LSU’s season average, but that would still constitute success and give the Tigers’ offense at least a chance to make this game competitive.

2. How will Alabama handle game pressure?

The Crimson Tide have trailed for three plays this season, all after Ole Miss’ first-play touchdown in Week 3. They’ve yet to be in a competitive game after the first quarter. LSU has been in close games going back to the Week 3 comeback win at Auburn, and has handled the big moments incredibly well outside of the fourth quarter at Florida. This somewhat mirrors the 2013 Auburn-Florida State BCS National Championship Game (more on that shortly), when the unbeaten and untested Seminoles appeared rattled early by a Tigers team that had been playing competitive games for two months before rallying for a late win. Could Alabama find itself in a similar spot on Saturday night?

3. Will Kentucky embrace the moment?

Saturday’s SEC East championship game between Georgia and Kentucky is arguably the biggest football game in Wildcats history, and is probably the biggest Kentucky sporting event ever to be played in Lexington. Are the ‘Cats ready to face a Bulldogs team that has been on the big stage countless times over the past two seasons? Kentucky’s no-frills, ugly-it-up style of football would seemingly make it less susceptible to wilting under the bright lights, but this is uncharted territory for Mark Stoops’ program. It’s difficult to be confident in what to expect from the Wildcats.

4. Can Fisher-Malzahn II match Fisher-Malzahn I?

As mentioned above, the only previous meeting between Jimbo Fisher Gus Malzahn was Florida State’s 34-31 comeback win over Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game to close the 2013 season. The two handsomely-paid head coaches will meet again on Saturday on The Plains when Texas A&M visits Auburn. Both teams are 5-3 and sport excellent defenses, but only the Aggies maintain very slim New Year’s Six Bowl hopes with the Tigers still having to visit Georgia and Alabama. 34-31 seems way too high-scoring this time around, but the margin of victory might repeat itself.

5. Will Florida let Georgia beat it twice?

The Gators shouldn’t be all that down. A New Year’s Six bowl is still within reach for Florida, as they enter a three-game homestand on Saturday against Missouri before closing with a Florida State team in shambles. Yes, the Cocktail Party was there to be won without three turnovers, but the Gators went toe-to-toe with the defending SEC champions. Missouri also limps into this game after melting down in last-second home loss to Kentucky a week ago. If Florida plays like it did last week over the next four games and cleans up the tragic mistakes, the Gators should go 10-2 without much trouble.

Trivia Time (answers below):
1. What Alabama head coach defeated Nick Saban in Tiger Stadium?

2. What three other SEC schools besides Kentucky have never played in an SEC Championship Game?

3. What Auburn great closed his college career with a loss to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl?

Previews and Predictions
Last Week: 3-2 SU, 2-3 ATS; YTD: 60-17 SU, 35-37 ATS

(20) Texas A&M at Auburn (-4), Noon ET (ESPN)

Announcers: Bob Wischusen and Brock Huard

I just don’t believe that win over an Ole Miss team with a pathetic defense has fixed the numerous issues we saw from Auburn during late September and early October. Yes, the Tigers are rested coming off of an idle week, and the Aggies are playing their third straight road game, but I have much more confidence in Texas A&M right now. The road team is 6-0 in this series since it became a conference game, and the underdog is 4-2 straight up. That bodes well for Texas A&M, who will win in Jordan-Hare Stadium for the fourth straight time and leave the preseason top-10 Tigers team destined for 6-6.

Prediction: Texas A&M 24, Auburn 20

South Carolina at Ole Miss (E), Noon ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Matt Stinchcomb

This would have been an interesting game in mid-September, but now the rare meeting between the 4-3 Gamecocks and 5-3 Rebels is flying under the radar on a busy SEC Saturday. The Gamecocks may need this game to maintain bowl hopes, dependent on whether or not they re-schedule a 12th game that was lost due to Hurricane Florence. I like the matchup for South Carolina, who has taken advantage of the bad run defenses of Tennessee and Vanderbilt in two of its three SEC wins. The Gamecocks will control the clock and get a nice road win in front of a sleepy late-morning crowd in Oxford.

Prediction: South Carolina 34, Ole Miss 24

(6) Georgia (-8.5) at (9) Kentucky, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)

Announcers: Carter Blackburn, Aaron Taylor, and Rick Neuheisel

Kentucky’s blueprint to victory involves taking an early lead behind a raucous home crowd and then turning the game over to its defense. The Wildcats passing game may have found some confidence late last week against Missouri, so expect Kentucky to come out throwing. While the ‘Cats may try to win this game 14-7, I just don’t believe they can hold the Georgia offense down for 60 minutes. The Bulldogs will trail in the second half, but Jake Fromm will again step up in the big moments to help clinch a second straight SEC East title for the ‘Dawgs.

Prediction: Georgia 24, Kentucky 14

Missouri at (11) Florida (-6), 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Tom Hart Jordan Rodgers, and Cole Cubelic

After a collapse of epic proportions in which he and the Missouri didn’t pick up a first down in the second half, Drew Lock gets one more chance to defeat a ranked opponent before the Tigers’ schedule gets quite easy down the home stretch. Third downs were also Florida’s bugaboo last week, as Georgia scored all four of its touchdowns on third down. Defensively, Missouri has been better than expected at stopping the run, which should bode well against a Gators offense that still lacks balance. I picked Missouri to win this game before the season, and something tells me the Tigers are long overdue for a victory of consequence.

Prediction: Missouri 27, Florida 24

Charlotte at Tennessee (-21), 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network Alternate)

Announcers: Mike Morgan and Barrett Jones

Did you know both Jon Gruden and Tennessee are playing the 49ers this week? The 49ers coming into Neyland Stadium on Saturday are a surprising 4-4 after a miserable 1-11 2017 season. Does that mean they’re good enough to scare 4-5 Tennessee? Nope. The Volunteers aren’t a very good team and have been prone to dumb mistakes, but they’ve maintained their focus through a bumpy ride and enter November with legitimate bowl hopes. A pesky Charlotte defense will keep the heavy underdogs in it for a half, but there won’t be much game pressure on the Vols after halftime.

Prediction: Tennessee 35, Charlotte 17

Louisiana Tech at Mississippi State (-23.5), 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Dave Neal and D.J. Shockley

Despite playing a road game against a Power Five opponent (Kansas State), the red and blue Bulldogs will present the stiffest non-conference test of the season for the maroon and white Bulldogs. It’s a bit of a trap game for Mississippi State after last week’s critical win over Texas A&M and with Alabama on deck. Skip Holtz’s team hung with LSU earlier this season, having been within three points in the fourth quarter in Tiger Stadium. I can’t see Mississippi State scoring enough to ever pull away in this game, but the defense will shine again and lock up a bowl bid.

Prediction: Mississippi State 24, Louisiana Tech 13

(1) Alabama (-14.5) at (3) LSU, 8 p.m. ET (CBS)

Announcers: Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson

We want this to be the best game of the season so far, but can LSU really hang with Goliath? The Tigers are going to have to make some big plays in the passing game, and against Alabama, that means contested catches, not simply scheming guys open. That’s not happening. On the other side of the ball, Tua Tagovailoa will finally throw his first interception of the season, but it won’t matter, as he’ll shake off his first mistake of the season to clinch both the Heisman Trophy for himself and the SEC West for his team.

Prediction: Alabama 38, LSU 17

Best Bets

Last Week: 5-0; YTD: 23-21-1

Iowa +3 at Purdue

Arizona State +7 vs. Utah

Stanford +10 at Washington

Texas A&M +4 at Auburn

Wake Forest +6.5 vs. Syracuse

Trivia Answers
1. Dennis Franchione (2002)
2. Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt
3. Bo Jackson

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.