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SEC Week Eight Primer

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

SEC Week 8 Primer

This was supposed to be the first Saturday since Oct. 10 with all 14 SEC teams in actions, but COVID concerns have forced multiple games to shift dates.

As for games that will be played as scheduled, major intrigue is lacking. Arkansas has the best (and only) chance to shake up the conference title and playoff races in Saturday’s tilt at Florida, but it’s a bit of a stretch to see either the sixth-ranked Gators falling, even in a letdown spot.

South Carolina and Ole Miss appear to be trending in opposite directions, but the Gamecocks have an opportunity to right the ship on Saturday night in Oxford. Up the road in Lexington, Kentucky hopes to make it five straight wins over Vanderbilt and inch back closer to .500.

It’s been a topsy-turvy week in the SEC, but the show must go on, and it will go on. Let’s look at Week 8 around the conference.

Southern Storylines
Going Viral
By Wednesday afternoon, the SEC schedule was downsized from seven games to three. Auburn’s visit to Mississippi State and Texas A&M’s first trip to Tennessee will now be played on Dec. 12. Alabama at LSU’s fate as well as Georgia at Missouri’s are uncertain due to both groups of Tigers having games already scheduled for Dec. 12 against Florida and Vanderbilt respectively. We’ll get to workarounds in a second, but the SEC is still only sitting with one game that may be unable to be played. With 70 games on the original schedule, the SEC playing 68 or 69 of them would be a major success given everything working against it.

How can the schedule be reworked? Assuming the SEC Championship Game will remain on Dec. 19, the goal is to make sure Alabama and Florida, the likely participants in the game, have their 10 games completed by Dec. 12. Two approaches are to have LSU play Alabama next week instead of Arkansas, with LSU’s trip to Fayetteville moving to Dec. 19. Kentucky-Alabama would then move from Nov. 21 to Dec. 12. A similar plan would have Alabama-LSU slot in on Dec. 5, with Alabama-Arkansas moving back a week to Dec. 12. Ole Miss-LSU would move from Dec. 5 to Dec. 19. The issue there is the league may want to reserve Dec. 19 for Ole Miss-Texas A&M, which is at risk for next week due to the Aggies’ COVID issues. Georgia-Missouri can likely be played on Dec. 19, but in order to protect against Georgia sneaking into the SEC Championship Game, that game could land on Dec. 12, with Vanderbilt-Missouri sliding back to Dec. 19. It gets a little messy, but flexibility is mandatory to survive 2020, and the SEC has maintained that thanks to its built-in idle weeks.

Coming Home
Florida and Arkansas weren’t scheduled to play in 2020, so when Feleipe Franks transferred from the former to the latter after being Wally Pipped by Kyle Trask last season, Franks figured he would not be having a reunion with his former team. However, the Gators and Razorbacks were paired up when the league went from eight games to 10 games, and Franks will return to his old stomping grounds this weekend with a chance to ruin Florida’s playoff chances. Franks left on good terms, Trask is having an All-American-caliber season, and Franks is guiding the most pleasant surprise in all of college football. Things have worked out well for all parties, and it should be a pleasant homecoming for Franks on Saturday night, even with Razorbacks head coach Sam Pittman unable to make the trip due to a positive COVID test on Monday.

Corralling the Rebels
Allowing 100 points in four games is average. Allowing 100 points in three games is pretty bad. Allowing 100 points is two games is embarrassing. That’s where South Carolina finds itself after 52-24 and 48-3 losses to LSU and Texas A&M respectively in its last two games. Can the Gamecocks defense regroup for Saturday’s game at Ole Miss? The Rebels are averaging nearly 550 yards per game, and that number could go up after facing this South Carolina defense. Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral has been turnover-plagued this season, and it was takeaways that propelled the Gamecocks to its upset of Auburn a month ago.

Bluegrass Blues
Kentucky had high hopes for the 2020 season, but with games remaining at Alabama and at Florida, the 2-4 Wildcats are now unlikely to reach the .500 mark in SEC play for just the third time this century. A 4-6 finish would by no means be a disaster, but a home loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday would be. Kentucky’s offense has been lifeless in the Wildcats past two games, but the SEC’s second-worst defense could be just what the doctor ordered.

Trivia Time (answers below):
1. What former 5-star quarterback transferred from Florida and defeated the Gators as Miami’s quarterback?
2. In what two years did Arkansas and Florida meet in the SEC Championship Game?
3. Who was the last SEC team go winless in an entire season?

Previews and Predictions
Vanderbilt at Kentucky (-17), Noon ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Dave Neal and D.J. Shockley
Ken Seals is a combustible young quarterback for the Commodores, being forced to play much too soon while also showing some promise for the future. What does that bode for Saturday’s trip to Lexington? Probably an interception returned for a touchdown, as Kentucky trails only Arkansas in the SEC with 11 interceptions, with three being brought back for six points. Vanderbilt’s defense isn’t forcing takeaways nor stopping the run, which are the best paths to shutting down this Kentucky offense. It’s a big number for an offense that lacks explosiveness, but I’ll begrudgingly lay the points and take the Wildcats to win comfortably. Prediction: Kentucky 31, Vanderbilt 10

Arkansas at (6) Florida (-17.5), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Announcers: Bob Wischusen and Dan Orlovsky
It’s a bit of a letdown spot for the Gators after dismissing Georgia last week, but the return of Feleipe Franks may bode well, as Florida will want to be at its best against a former teammate. The Gators defense has done a 180-degree turn since losing to Texas A&M, allowing just five third-down conversions in 28 attempts by Missouri and Georgia in the last two weeks. With as well as Kyle Trask and the Gators offense is playing, even if star tight end Kyle Pitts is unavailable, just getting off the field on third downs should be plenty for Florida to extend its two-year home winning streak. The Hogs defense was worked over by Texas A&M before the offense managed some late scores to make the final score more respectable. This game feels like it will follow a similar script. Prediction: Florida 44, Arkansas 21

South Carolina at Ole Miss (-11), 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Announcers; Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic
This game seemed a lot more appealing a few weeks ago prior to the Gamecocks getting demolished by a combined 100-27 in losses to LSU and Texas A&M. If they’re not forcing turnovers, this South Carolina defense is pretty bad. Ole Miss is certainly capable of being charitable with the football, but Matt Corral is coming off of an interception-free game two weeks ago against Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks have a chance, but the running game has to be better than it was a week ago when it ran for just 50 yards. If South Carolina has the ball for 35 minutes or more, it can steal a road win in Oxford. It won’t quite get there. Prediction: Ole Miss 45, South Carolina 31

Best Bets
Last Week: 1-4, -6 Musburgers
Season: 14-18-1, -5 Musburgers
Houston -14.5 vs. USF – 5 Musburgers
Purdue +3 vs. Northwestern – 4 Musburgers
Michigan +4 vs. Wisconsin – 3 Musburgers
UTSA -7 vs. UTEP – 2 Musburgers
USC -14 at Arizona – 1 Musburger

Trivia Answers
1. Brock Berlin (2003)
2. 1995 and 2006
3. South Carolina (0-11, 1999)

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.