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Week Ten SEC Primer

By Matt Smith
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Matt Smith previews week ten in the SEC.

They remember November, as the great philosopher Houston Dale Nutt once proclaimed. As much as we like to poke fun at the former SEC head coach, he’s not wrong. Warm-weather darlings such as Lane Kiffin and Mark Stoops can lose all of the goodwill they built up with a late-season faceplant, while the likes of Jimbo Fisher and Mike Leach can render early-season struggles forgotten with continued quality play.

After a run of idle weeks, 13 SEC teams are in action this week, with Vanderbilt off and Ole Miss stepping out of conference for the final time to host former Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze and Liberty. The viewing schedule is less than ideal with the top two games concurrent, but it’s a busy slate to kick off the regular season’s final month.

Like Nutt in 2008, we strive for a memorable November, so let’s get started.

This is a Big Week for:
Coach: Dan Mullen, Florida
It’s getting weird in Gainesville, as Mullen has dug in on his program not having been lapped by Georgia. It’s a fair point, given we’re fewer than 365 days from the Gators defeating the Bulldogs by 16 points, but last Saturday’s 34-7 loss coupled with a significant recruiting gap gives that line of thinking some credence. Changes are coming, but Mullen should be able to avoid one being the head coach, thanks to a soft November schedule. With that schedule comes the added burden of any loss being unacceptable and perhaps the nail in the coffin, including Saturday night at South Carolina against a bad team.

Player: Chris Rodriguez, RB, Kentucky
Mississippi State completely shut down the Kentucky ground game last Saturday night, holding Rodriguez to just 34 yards on eight carries. Stacking that performance on top of just seven yards at Georgia, and it’s been a minute since we’ve seen Rodriguez go off. Tennessee’s run defense isn’t awful, but it’s a step down from either pack of Bulldogs. The Wildcats’ once-special season is teetering right now, and it’s up to Rodriguez and the Kentucky rushing game to regain the team’s identity in a most crucial game on Saturday night in Lexington.

Unit: Texas A&M Linebackers
Perhaps no SEC player has turned his individual season around more than Auburn quarterback Bo Nix. Much of Nix’s October surprise has been the inability of opposing defenses to get him to the ground. Whether it’s with his arm or his legs, Nix has a magical element to his game that has sparked Auburn to the brink of the Top 10. The Tigers will get there with a win in College Station, but the Aggies are very capable of spoiling the day if they can productively account for Nix’s sorcery. Linebackers Aaron Hansford and Antonio White Jr., who will be tasked to prevent Nix from turning unsuccessful plays into successful plays, will have the heaviest burden on Saturday afternoon.

Trivia Time
1. What was the highest AP ranking Ole Miss achieved under Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss?
2. When was the last year that the Alabama-LSU game did not air on CBS?
3. How many times has Auburn lost in Kyle Field?

Game Predictions
Missouri (4-4, 1-3) at (1) Georgia (8-0, 6-0), Noon ET (ESPN)
Announcers: Joe Tessitore and Greg McElroy
Last Meeting: 2020 – Georgia 49, Missouri 14
Current Streak: Georgia – 7
Current Streak in Athens: Georgia – 3
Line: Georgia -38
Over/Under: 59.5
Georgia conquered the toughest portion of its schedule with little pushback and now enters November with a cushy four-game finish, starting Saturday at high noon in Athens. Georgia has dominated this series since the Tigers joined the league, as the Bulldogs are the only SEC East team that Missouri hasn’t beaten at least three times (1-8). The Tigers ended a five-game SEC losing streak last week at Vanderbilt, but really showed nothing to suggest that they had improved much after their idle week. Georgia has had two College GameDay games and two rivalry games over the past five weeks, so an emotional dip wouldn’t be surprising on Saturday, but Missouri’s defense is so bad that it might not even be noticed if it happens.
Prediction: Georgia 49, Missouri 9 (Georgia/under)

Liberty (7-2) at (16) Ole Miss (6-2, 3-2) Noon ET (SECN)
Announcers: Dave Neal and Deuce McAllister
Series History: First Meeting
Line: Ole Miss -9
Over/Under: 67.5
We have a rare SEC non-conference game in the first three weeks of November that actually has some juice, as Hugh Freeze returns to Oxford to face his former team in a battle of potentially the first two quarterbacks taken in the 2022 NFL Draft in the Flames’ Malik Willis and the Rebels’ Matt Corral. This needs to be a run-heavy game for a banged-up Ole Miss team. Ideally, a gimpy Corral doesn’t throw more than 25 passes, with two-thirds of the plays being runs from Snoop Conner, Henry Parrish and Jerrion Ealy. Liberty has only played one Power Five team this season, dropping a 24-21 game at Syracuse in September. This is a major step up, and despite the buzz around Freeze and Willis, this is a mismatch. The need for Lane Kiffin to limit snap counts for certain players will probably prevent the score from getting totally out of hand, but Freeze’s homecoming won’t be a pleasant one.
Prediction: Ole Miss 45, Liberty 20 (Ole Miss/under)

(13) Auburn (6-2, 3-1) at (14) Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2), 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Announcers: Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson
Last Meeting: 2020 – Texas A&M 31, Auburn 20
Current Streak: Texas A&M – 1
Current Streak in College Station: Auburn – 4
Line: Texas A&M -4.5
Over/Under: 50
The game of the day takes places in Kyle Field, as Auburn hope to all but lock up a winner-take-all Iron Bowl for the SEC West title for the third time in nine years. Texas A&M has been off the radar since defeating Alabama, while Auburn is becoming a weekly participant in a spotlight game with a rigorous midseason schedule. The two quarterbacks could not be more different, as the Tigers’ Bo Nix is at his best outside of the pocket, while the Aggies’ Zach Calzada’s biggest strength is within the tackle box. These are two fundamentally sound teams that don’t have a true game-wrecker like Alabama’s Will Anderson or one of about seven Georgia defenders. Because of that, I don’t see either team running away from the other. If there’s a big mistake to be made late in the game, I think it comes from Auburn. I’ll ride with a rested, confident and surging Aggies team to record another statement home win.
Prediction: Texas A&M 27, Auburn 20 (Texas A&M/under)

(17) Mississippi State (5-3, 3-2) at Arkansas (5-3, 1-3), 4 p.m. ET (SECN)
Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic
Last Meeting: 2020 – Arkansas 17, Mississippi State 10
Current Streak: Arkansas – 1
Current Streak in Fayetteville: Mississippi State – 4
Line: Arkansas -5
Over/Under: 55.5
I do not envision a repeat of the 2020 game in Starkville, won by Arkansas, 17-10. Mississippi State’s offensive growth have been able to threaten all but the most athletic defenses on its schedule. Arkansas, while fundamentally sound and well-coached, is not that. The Razorbacks are rested, but the offense must be more consistent than it was against Auburn in Arkansas’ last SEC game three weeks ago. Mississippi State stops the run and forces turnovers, but it can be beaten in the passing game. That places the burden on quarterback K.J. Jefferson and wide receiver Treylon Burks to be the biggest playmakers on Saturday, as they have been for most of the season, and as they will be against the Bulldogs to get the Hogs to bowl eligibility.
Prediction: Arkansas 34, Mississippi State 27 (Arkansas/over)

LSU (4-4, 2-3) at (2) Alabama (7-1, 4-1) 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Announcers: Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit
Last Meeting: 2020 – Alabama 55, LSU 17
Current Streak: Alabama – 1
Current Streak in Tuscaloosa: LSU – 1
Line: Alabama -29
Over/Under: 66
The once-biggest game of the SEC season has become an afterthought, as LSU returns from its off week to play out the string in Ed Orgeron’s final four games as head coach. Alabama alternated dominant performances with shaky performances during a 3-1 October, but also had an idle week of its own to shore some things up. The offense is trending in the right direction, but the defense has been susceptible to coverage breakdowns. Does LSU have the horses to take advantage now that Kayshon Boutte’s season is over? Unless Max Johnson has a Zach Calzada-esque performance against the Tide, it’s hard to see this game not being over by halftime. Nick Saban remembers the last meeting between these two in Tuscaloosa, and despite Orgeron being on its way out, I’m not expecting much mercy from the greatest of all time.
Prediction: Alabama 49, LSU 14 (Alabama/under)

Tennessee (4-4, 2-3) at (18) Kentucky (6-2, 4-2), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Announcers: Beth Mowins and Kirk Morrison
Last Meeting: 2020 – Kentucky 37, Tennessee 7
Current Streak: Kentucky – 1
Current Streak in Lexington: Tennessee – 1
Line: Kentucky -2.5
Over/Under: 57.5
Rarely in this series has all the pressure been on the Wildcats, but that is the case on Saturday night in chilly Lexington. Tennessee’s bowl bid is virtually clinched with two easy games to close, so this is a bit of a free shot. After two straight losses, Kentucky must right the ship, even if it’s too little, too late to get back in the New Year’s Six bowl picture. To start, the Wildcats have to get out of their own way. In the SEC, only South Carolina has more turnovers than Kentucky’s 16. The matchups seem to favor Tennessee, as Kentucky’s pass defense has been vulnerable, including last week when Mississippi State’s Will Rogers set the SEC single-game completion percentage record. My reliance on history in predicting games is fickle, and can often be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I’m going to call for the Wildcats to do what they have often done when they have a good team that should beat Tennessee: Lose.
Prediction: Tennessee 28, Kentucky 24 (Tennessee/under)

Florida (4-4, 2-4) at South Carolina (4-4, 1-4), 7:30 p.m. ET (SECN)
Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Matt Stinchcomb
Last Meeting: 2020 – Florida 38, South Carolina 24
Current Streak: Florida – 3
Current Streak in Columbia: Florida – 1
Line: Florida -19
Over/Under: 52.5
Where are things in Gainesville right now? Is Florida broken? Or are they just a decent team that ran into the two best teams in the country and gave away a game at Kentucky on special teams? If it’s the latter, Florida will crush a bad South Carolina team on Saturday night in Williams-Brice Stadium. If it’s the former, a team and fanbase that haven’t quit on the season could be in line to witness a major upset. Lost in the mess coming out of the Cocktail Party was that Florida’s defense played pretty well. South Carolina’s offense is a mess, as the Gamecocks have yet to top 23 points against any FBS opponent this season. It could be ugly, but I don’t see how South Carolina scores enough to steal this game. That said, I’ll begrudgingly take the points and likely hate myself for doing so by late Saturday night.
Prediction: Florida 28, South Carolina 13 (South Carolina/under)

Best Bets
Last Week: 2-2-1
Season: 25-19-1
Ole Miss -9 vs. Liberty
Northwestern +12 vs. Iowa
Michigan -19.5 vs. Indiana
Baylor -6.5 at TCU
Wisconsin -12 at Rutgers

The Best Game I’ve Ever Watched On November 6:
Nov. 6, 2010: No. 12 LSU 24, No. 6 Alabama 21
Guts and grass. That’s what the 2010 tilt between No. 6 Alabama and No. 12 LSU in Tiger Stadium is remembered for, as Les Miles and the Tigers slammed the door on the Crimson Tide’s two-year reign over the SEC West.

The first half saw just ten total points, as Alabama countered an LSU field goal with a short touchdown pass from Greg McElroy to Trent Richardson to take a 7-3 lead at intermission.

The second half was when things got wild, as the third quarter featured a pair of lead changes, highlighted by a 75-yard alliterative touchdown pass from Jordan Jefferson to Reuben Randle to put LSU ahead 10-7, but Mark Ingram’s short touchdown run gave the visitors a 14-10 lead with 15 minutes to play.

A short LSU field goal cut the Alabama lead to 14-13, and after a stop, LSU faced a crucial 4th and 1 at the Alabama 26-yard line with nine minutes to play. Miles passed on a mid-distance go-ahead field goal attempt, instead calling a reverse to DeAngelo Peterson that went for 23 yards. LSU punched it in three plays later to take a 19-14 lead. Prior to a critical two-point conversion attempt, Miles bent down and grabbed a few blades of Tiger Stadium and memorably enjoyed a snack. LSU got the two-point conversion to take a 21-14 lead.

Two plays into Alabama’s ensuing drive, Drake Nevis sacked Greg McElroy, forcing a fumble that LSU recovered. A third field goal from Josh Jasper gave LSU a two-score lead, but Alabama countered with a McElroy touchdown pass to Julio Jones to reduce the deficit to three. It looked like the Crimson Tide would get the ball back with a shot to win or force overtime, but Jarrett Lee found Randle for 47 yards on 3rd and 13, and LSU ran all but the final 18 seconds off the clock.

Alabama would go on to finish a disappointing 10-3 after another heartbreaking loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl. LSU narrowly missed out on a BCS bowl due to a loss at Arkansas, instead going to the Cotton Bowl, where it defeated soon-to-be rival Texas A&M to finish 11-2.

Tuesday’s Projected Top 10
1. Georgia (1)
2. Alabama (2)
3. Michigan State (3)
4. Oregon (4)
5. Ohio State (5)
6. Cincinnati (6)
7. Michigan (7)
8. Oklahoma (8)
9. Notre Dame (10)
10. Oklahoma State (11)
Dropped out: (9) Wake Forest

Trivia Answers
1. No. 3 (2014 and 2015)
2. 2006 (ESPN)
3. Zero (4-0)

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.