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SEC Week Nine Primer

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

After COVID delivered a heavy shake-up to last week’s SEC schedule, the conference is back this week with close to a full slate, pending any last-minute changes. The Ole Miss-Texas A&M game will not be played this weekend, as contact tracing rules have sidelined too many asymptomatic players with negative tests for them to be able to meet the required minimums for player availability.

Alabama, Auburn and LSU all return to the field after being idle the past two Saturdays, with LSU having to make the trip to Fayetteville as just a slim favorite over Arkansas after being a six-touchdown favorite over the Razorbacks last season. That’s one of just two games in the league with a single-digit point-spread, with Missouri at South Carolina being the other.

The conference is still hoping to reach the finish line one month from Thursday with all 70 games plus the SEC Championship Game getting played, but that’s a dicey proposition right now. CBS has lost its SEC game both this week and last week, and would very much like the Alabama-LSU game currently in limbo to be played. Someone, whether it be a school or a media partner, may not be happy with the final outcome, whatever it may be.

Let’s look at where things stand in the SEC and look ahead to the six-pack of SEC games coming up this Saturday.

Southern Storylines
Can You Count to 70?
The race to complete all 70 games hit a major snag this week when the Ole Miss-Texas A&M game was postponed. The only plausible scenario I can lay out at this point is to play Ole Miss-Texas A&M and Alabama-LSU on Dec. 5, with Alabama-Arkansas moving back a week to Dec. 12, and Ole Miss-LSU and Texas A&M-Auburn both moving back a fortnight to Dec. 19. With Texas A&M still mathematically alive in the SEC West race until at least Dec. 5, there are some complicating factors here about scheduling a game for them on Dec. 19, but it is the easiest and likely only path for the league to get every game played.

We Meet Again
Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt has faced a Gus Malzahn Auburn offense at four different schools since 2013 – Florida State, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. His only defeat to Malzahn came in the 2017 Iron Bowl, with Pruitt coming out on top in the other five meetings, including a huge upset of the 15th-ranked Tigers in 2018 in his first season at Tennessee. The Tigers are sizable home favorites on Saturday night against a Volunteers team that hasn’t won a game in seven weeks, but one advantage working in the visitors’ favor is their head coach’s familiarity and track record when facing Malzahn.

Battle of the Bulldogs
Mississippi State and Georgia will meet on Saturday night in a game that on the surface lacks major intrigue. Even with Georgia playing its first regular-season game without viable national title hopes since 2016, ‘Dawgs fans will be tuned in to see a) who the starting quarterback is and b) if the team will don their hotly-debated black jerseys. This might finally be the week that Kirby Smart calls on USC transfer J.T. Daniels, whose status this season has been a mystery from both a medical and depth chart perspective. Daniels give Georgia the highest ceiling at quarterback, and after Stetson Bennett proved he wasn’t capable of matching Florida’s or Alabama’s offense, it’s probably time to give Daniels a shot. As for the jerseys, I’m just mad that we haven’t seen Georgia in red pants since the season opener against Arkansas.

Ironing Out
Alabama is No. 1, but it may have to shake off some rust this week against Kentucky before next week’s Iron Bowl against Auburn. The Crimson Tide have not yet played in November, and the Wildcats, despite not having nearly enough material to pull and upset, will bring a level of physicality that should force the Crimson Tide to be dialed in at the line of scrimmage. For all of you Heisman Trophy obsessors, Mac Jones needs a big week on the stat sheet to keep pace with Florida’s Kyle Trask, who threw six touchdown passes last week against Arkansas.

Carolina On Our Minds
It will be an abnormal coaching search season this year with the regular season going well into December, but there will be no less discussion and rampant speculation than usual. The South Carolina job is now open. I’ll be surprised if Louisiana’s Billy Napier isn’t the guy in the end. He has ties to the region and to the SEC, and he seemed to be waiting for the Gamecocks position to become available after not showing much interest in the Ole Miss and Mississippi State openings last season. A depleted Gamecocks roster, which is now down both starting cornerbacks after they opted-out following Will Muschamp’s firing, will attempt to snap a three-game losing streak on Saturday night against Missouri under interim coach Mike Bobo.

Trivia Time (answers below):
1. At what other two schools was Paul “Bear” Bryant the head coach besides Kentucky and Alabama?
2. Who was Vanderbilt’s head coach for its last home win against Florida?
3. Of Auburn and Tennessee, who has more wins against rival Alabama?

Previews and Predictions
(6) Florida (-31.5) at Vanderbilt, Noon ET (ESPN)
Announcers: Bob Wischusen and Dan Orlovsky
There’s not much intrigue to this one, other than keeping an eye on Kyle Trask’s stat line. The Gators offense is on fire right now and pointing towards a showdown with Alabama a month from now. Vanderbilt continues to play hard for Derek Mason, who will face a judgement day about his future in the coming weeks. There may be a payoff coming for the Commodores in the form of a victory, but it won’t be this week. Expect some garbage time points for Vanderbilt after a relatively short day of work for Trask. Prediction: Florida 55, Vanderbilt 21

LSU (-2.5) at Arkansas, Noon ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Matt Stinchcomb
The Battle for the Boot should be an actual battle this year, as one of these teams hopes to climb back to .500. The 2-3 Tigers will again go with T.J. Finley under center, as the freshman has had 21 days to put a disastrous afternoon at Auburn behind him. With contact tracing issues and some major off-field issues coming to light this week for head coach Ed Orgeron and the athletic department, it’s hard to know what the state of this locker room is right now. Is there enough competitive fire to finish the season strong? For 3-4 Arkansas, the team continues to get steady play under center from Feleipe Franks, while the defense must get back on track after Florida put up 63 points a week ago. Arkansas has some contact tracing issues of its own, which is likely why LSU is now favored after the Hogs opened as the favorite on Sunday. With Sam Pittman expected back on the sideline this week, I expect Arkansas to want this game more and ultimately get it. Prediction: Arkansas 27, LSU 21

Kentucky at (1) Alabama (-30.5), 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic
Kentucky now must turn the page after an emotional week and get ready for a brutal two weeks with road trips to Alabama and Florida. A one-dimensional offense like the Wildcats isn’t going to be any significant threat to the Crimson Tide defense, which shut out Mississippi State in its last game three weeks ago. I do expect some rust from Alabama, perhaps in the red zone, as Kentucky’s physicality is a legitimate test. I could foresee something like a 20-7 halftime lead for the Crimson Tide, with the Alabama offense then cranking into high gear after to halftime to run away from the ‘Cats. Prediction: Alabama 48, Kentucky 14

Tennessee at (23) Auburn (-10.5), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Announcers: Joe Tessitore and Greg McElroy
There’s an obvious path to victory for Tennessee, but the road to success has been a bumpy one for the Vols this year. Auburn’s run defense was pretty bad for the first five weeks before holding LSU to just 32 yards. Tennessee has a more capable downfield passing game, which should prevent Auburn from stacking the box. The Vols offensive line has been a disappointment, but it should win this battle of the trenches and pave the way for Ty Chandler and Eric Gray. The problem for the visitors will be stopping Tank Bigsby and the Tigers rushing attack. With the Vols managing just seven second-half points in their last four games, I’ll take the Tigers to take care of business in the second half and move to 5-2. Prediction: Auburn 34, Tennessee 20

Mississippi State at (13) Georgia (-25), 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Dave Neal and D.J. Shockley
Mississippi State was dealt another blow this week when defensive lineman Nathan Pickering opted out of the season. After a strong start to the season, Mississippi State’s rushing defense has fallen apart the past three games. Now comes one of the top rushing attacks in the SEC in Georgia, which has run the ball 40 times or more in each of its four victories. It’s a mystery who is playing quarterback for the home team, but it shouldn’t matter much on the scoreboard. The Georgia defense will get right after a disastrous day against Florida and overwhelm a Mississippi State offense that continues to look out of sync. Prediction: Georgia 31, Mississippi State 11

Missouri (-6.5) at South Carolina, 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network Alternate)
Announcers: Mike Morgan and Hutson Mason
After allowing 59 points and 708 yards to Ole Miss, South Carolina now will face Missouri without its top two cornerbacks. That doesn’t bode well against a Missouri offense that, while somewhat inconsistent, has been pretty explosive since making the move to Connor Bazelak under center in Week 2. Sometimes a team will get a jolt with an interim coach, but that’s generally when there was disdain for the fired coach. That was absolutely not the case at South Carolina, as Will Muschamp was beloved by his players. After being told all summer to stick together and embrace the extra demands of this 2020 season, South Carolina pulled the plug on Muschamp with a month to play. It’s hard for me to believe this Gamecocks team is dialed in, and I think it will show on Saturday night. Prediction: Missouri 29, South Carolina 20

Best Bets
Last Week: 2-3, -1 Musburgers
Season: 16-21-1, -6 Musburgers
Utah +3 vs. USC – 5 Musburgers
Troy -11.5 vs. Middle Tennessee – 4 Musburgers
Pittsburgh +3.5 vs. Virginia Tech – 3 Musburgers
Washington State +2 at Stanford – 2 Musburgers
Oregon State +3.5 vs. California – 1 Musburger

Trivia Answers
1. Maryland and Texas A&M
2. Watson Brown (1988)
3. Tied (37 wins each)

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.