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Week Eleven SEC Primer

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Looking ahead to week eleven in the SEC.

The Vitals

Florida at South Carolina, Noon ET (CBS)
Announcers: Carter Blackburn, Aaron Taylor and Rick Neuheisel

Arkansas at (24) LSU, Noon ET (ESPN)
Announcers: Jason Benetti and Kelly Stouffer

Louisiana-Lafayette at Ole Miss, Noon ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Dave Neal and Matt Stinchcomb

(1) Georgia at (10) Auburn, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)        
Announcers: Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson

Kentucky at Vanderbilt, 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Andre Ware

(2) Alabama at (16) Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Announcers: Dave Pasch, Greg McElroy and Tom Luginbill

New Mexico at Texas A&M, 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Announcers: Clay Matvick and Kirk Morrison

Tennessee at Missouri 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic

5 Things I Want to Know

1.     Will Auburn’s downfield passing game work?

Dissecting the numbers, there’s little separating No. 1 Georgia and No. 10 Auburn. Both shut down the run. Both are averaging well over six yards per play. Both are effective in the red zone. One category that is tilted in favor of the home team is explosive playing plays. Auburn has 14 passing plays of 40 yards or longer this season, while the Bulldogs have just seven. Jarrett Stidham threw the deep ball beautifully in last week’s win at Texas A&M. Given his team’s expected struggles on the ground against the ‘Dawgs, he’ll have to replicate that performance on Saturday.

2.     Can Mississippi State get a push?

The Bulldogs have yet to break through against Alabama under Dan Mullen. The downhill running game has simply been unable to get going against perennial stout Crimson Tide defensive fronts. After seeing LSU mostly neutralize Alabama in the trenches last week, it will be fascinating to see if Mississippi State can make some hay in the trenches. It still might not be enough to seriously threaten the Crimson Tide without a big passing day from Nick Fitzgerald, but it could be very telling for how Alabama will fare the rest of the season.

3.     Will LSU be sleepy?

No one in Baton Rouge is happy about the rare 11 a.m. local time kickoff on Saturday against Arkansas. Couple that with facing a team that has been successful on the bayou in recent years, and we could have a game much closer than expected. Arkansas hammered the Tigers, 38-10, two years ago in Baton Rouge, nearly stunned them in its winless 2013 SEC season, and famously upset the top-ranked Bayou Bengals in 2007. The Razorbacks will be up for this game. If LSU is as well, it’s probably a blowout, but far too often LSU has been caught napping in a situation like this.

4.     Does Florida care?

The easy answer is no after the 45-16 shellacking the Gators received last Saturday at Missouri. A bowl game seems like a long shot at this point, but you have to think the players are beyond tired of the criticism they’ve faced over the past month’s four-game losing streak. Saturday’s trip to South Carolina represents an opportunity for a win over a team with a good record (6-3) that may be overlooking Florida. Randy Shannon’s first week as an interim coach was a disaster. Week two can only get better.

5.      Will either winless team break through?

The state of Tennessee is home to both of the remaining winless teams in SEC play. One is sure to get a victory last season, as they play on Nov. 25 in Knoxville, but can Vanderbilt and Tennessee shed their zeros in the win column this weekend? The Commodores host Kentucky, who saw slim SEC East title hopes end last week with a last-second loss to Ole Miss. The Vols visit Missouri, but may be without starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. If only one team gets its first league win this weekend, it’s probably Vanderbilt.

Trivia Time (answers below):

1.     Georgia-Auburn is known as the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. What rivalry, with one more all-time meeting than Georgia-Auburn, is known as the South’s Oldest Rivalry?
2.     What was Bear Bryant’s record in 25 games against Mississippi State as head coach at Alabama?
3.     The states of Tennessee and Missouri are tied for the most states bordered. How many other states border each state?

Predictions

Last Week: 8-1 SU, 4-4-1 ATS
Season: 67-18 SU, 43-37-4 ATS

Florida at South Carolina (-6): This line seems low, given South Carolina made Georgia sweat for a little while last week, and the Gators were demolished at Missouri. The Gamecocks are at home, have the better quarterback, and want to win this game for their head coach after failing to get revenge for Will Muschamp last year in Gainesville. Florida will be up for the Florida State in two weeks, but for South Carolina? I don’t see a much more spirited effort than it gave a week ago. South Carolina 27, Florida 13.

Arkansas at LSU (-17): The Tigers overcame their annual post-Alabama hangover last year with a 38-10 rout of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Was that a one-year blip or a start of a trend? I’m going with the former here, as the Razorbacks will take advantage of a lethargic opponent and Tiger Stadium crowd to make this a game. Arkansas’ defensive line will wear down in the second half, however, as Derrius Guice tops 100 yards in the second half alone. LSU grinds out an ugly victory to get to seven wins for the 17th straight year. LSU 31, Arkansas 21.

Louisiana-Lafayette at Ole Miss (-20): The 4-4 Ragin’ Cajuns will likely have their bowl fate determined next week, but would love to lessen the significance of their final three Sun Belt games with a big upset in Oxford. For all the good he’s done in Lafayette, Mark Hudspeth doesn’t have a win over a Power Five opponent. He won’t get it this week, as the Ole Miss offense will continue its strong play of late behind Jordan Ta’amu and hang half a hundred on Hudspeth’s team. Ole Miss 51, Louisiana-Lafayette 21.

Georgia (-2.5) at Auburn: Having played road games at half-red Notre Dame and the only two winless teams in the SEC, Saturday’s trip to Auburn will be the first true hostile environment for Jake Fromm and the Bulldogs. The old football adage is that you need to pack your running game and defense when you go on the road, and Georgia will undoubtedly have both. The Tigers are equally impressive in those departments, but I can’t help but think Gus Malzahn is going to over-coach again in a big game. The ‘Dawgs stay perfect. Georgia 24, Auburn 20.

Kentucky at Vanderbilt (-2): This might be the hardest game of the week to predict. Kentucky ran out of miracles last week in a last-second loss to Ole Miss, while Vanderbilt snapped a five-game losing streak with a win against Western Kentucky. Wildcats quarterback Stephen Johnson doesn’t seem 100 percent, and Kentucky hasn’t topped 20 points in three meetings against Derek Mason teams. With the ‘Cats already bowl-eligible, I’ll take the Commodores to get within a win of that distinction as well. Vanderbilt 24, Kentucky 17.

Alabama (-14) at Mississippi State: I assumed this would just be the standard Alabama-Mississippi State game that, while never in doubt, would never get really out of hand. After Alabama’s injuries of a week ago and relative struggles at the line of scrimmage, I think the Bulldogs can actually make this a game into the fourth quarter. Talent will win out, as it usually does, but this will finally be the big scare that Alabama hasn’t gotten from an SEC opponent since the Ole Miss game in September 2016. Alabama 23, Mississippi State 17.

New Mexico at Texas A&M (-18): New Mexico head coach Bob Davie was the defensive coordinator of the great “Wrecking Crew” Aggies defenses of the early ‘90s. That’s about all I got on this game between two disappointing teams in the 3-6 Lobos and 5-4 Aggies. Texas A&M 42, New Mexico 21.

Tennessee at Missouri (-12): This line has seemed way too high all week, but with Volunteers quarterback Jarrett Guarantano a game-time decision with an ankle injury, it’s a fair number. The Vols have lost their last game against every SEC opponent except for the Tigers, whom they beat a year ago in Knoxville. Tennessee hasn’t quit, but neither has Missouri, and the Tigers are getting better with each passing week. Given the quarterback uncertainty, I’ll lay double digits on Missouri, something I never thought I’d say this season in an SEC game. Missouri 35, Tennessee 18.

Best Bets

Last Week: 2-3
Season: 27-21-2

South Carolina -6 vs. Florida
FIU -9.5 vs. Old Dominion
N.C. State -3 at Boston College
Iowa +12 at Wisconsin
Washington State -1 at Utah

Trivia Answers

1.     North Carolina-Virginia
2.     24-1
3.     Eight

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.