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Week Ten SEC Primer

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Matt Smith gets you ready for this week's SEC slate with burning questions, previews, predictions, best bets and more.

It’s November. It’s the month in which dreams are both realized and crushed.

November is for rivalry games and division championships, so it’s fitting that the SEC’s first big November showdown is a rivalry game that will likely decide the SEC East title. 7-1 Florida and 6-1 Georgia will renew acquaintances in Jacksonville. One will remain in control of its playoff destiny, while the other could be looking at a bowl game against Wake Forest.

The league’s top two teams are idle in preparation for next week’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown, but for some other SEC teams whose dreams have already been crushed, bowl eligibility is on the line on Saturday. 3-5 Tennessee and 3-5 Mississippi State cannot afford stumbles against UAB and Arkansas respectively. The loser of the Vanderbilt-South Carolina game in Columbia can also forget about their season carrying over into December.

Auburn returns home, where it will stay for the duration of the season, for the first time since September. The Tigers are out of the SEC West race, but still have a chance to have a great season if it can handle Ole Miss and set up huge opportunities against Georgia and Alabama later this month.

November is here, and the SEC gives us a palatable but not overly tasty slate of six games.

5 Things I Want to Know on Sunday Morning

1. Will Jake Fromm get back on track?

The Georgia quarterback played his worst game of the season last month in the Bulldogs’ lone loss of the season – a 23-20 home defeat to South Carolina. Fromm again struggled a week later in a win over Kentucky, but that game was played in heavy rain and wind. Now comes Florida. Georgia’s conference and national title hopes are on the line. Fromm was outstanding in last year’s win over Florida with nearly identical stakes, and he’s been a big-game player throughout his career.

2. How impactful will the return of Florida’s injured players be?

The Gators were without standout defensive ends Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga for their one defeat this season to LSU. They’ll be back this week just in time to face one of the nation’s best offensive lines against Georgia. Florida will also have wide receiver Kadarius Toney in the lineup for the first time since September. Wide receiver is not a position of weakness for Florida, but Toney has a unique skill set that could come in handy. At 7-1, Florida’s exactly where it wanted to be. Now, the Gators also in the best shape health-wise that they’ve been all season.

3. Could Tennessee sweep November?

Big plays carried Tennessee to a 20-point rout of South Carolina last week to improve to 3-5. Can the Vols now navigate a manageable November schedule without a loss? First up is UAB, a plucky, one-loss Conference USA team whose home is in the city where the SEC headquarters are located. The Blazers would love nothing more than to return to Birmingham with a win over an SEC opponent. Tennessee should win, but if they are able to dominate UAB, that might be a sign that a 7-5 finish after a 2-5 start isn’t a completely ridiculous proposition.

4. Will Auburn devour another sandwich?

Auburn’s schedule has been brutal this season, but the one positive has been the avoidance of big games in consecutive weeks. Between games with Texas A&M and Florida, the Tigers crushed Mississippi State, 56-23. Between Florida and LSU, Auburn again put up 50 points at Arkansas. After last week’s loss at LSU and with Georgia looming after an idle week, the Tigers welcome Ole Miss to The Plains. The Rebels are an inconsistent bunch, but have lost a number of one-score games, and probably should be better than their 3-5 record. Auburn has rendered the theory of sandwich games to be a myth so far this season, and it hopes to do so for a third time on Saturday night.

5. Can Arkansas put it all together?

The season finale in Little Rock against Missouri all of a sudden looks potentially winnable, but Arkansas’ home game with Mississippi State on Saturday appears to be its best chance at avoiding finishing the season on a 19-game losing streak in SEC play. The number stands at 16 right now, and a defeat to the Bulldogs would match the Razorbacks’ 17-game SEC losing streak from 2012-2014. The Hogs showed little life last week at Alabama, but have come close to wins against Texas A&M and Kentucky. Mississippi State must win this game to keep postseason hopes alive. One thing is for sure: Saturday will be a demoralizing day for the loser of this game.      

Trivia Time (answers below):
1. When was the last time the Florida-Georgia loser played in the SEC Championship Game?
2. Who did Mississippi State defeat in Joe Moorhead’s only SEC road win?
3. Who were the head coaches of the two SEC teams that UAB has defeated in its history?

Previews and Predictions

UTSA at Texas A&M (-38), Noon ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Dave Neal and D.J. Shockley

The Aggies play the middle game of a three-game homestand against UTSA. The 3-4 Roadrunners have wins over FCS Incarnate World as well as Rice and UTEP, but the Owls and Miners are a combined 1-14 on the season. UTSA’s four losses have all been by 18 points or more, so there isn’t much doubt about what this team one is: one Texas A&M should destroy. Kellen Mond and the Aggies offense came to life last week against Mississippi State with 49 points, but the defense is still very reliant on turnovers. They should get some on Saturday against a UTSA team that has 13 giveaways in just seven games. Not much more to say on this one.

Prediction: Texas A&M 49, UTSA 14

(8) Georgia (-6.5) vs. (6) Florida (Jacksonville), 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Announcers: Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson

It’s the game of the week not only in the SEC, but nationally as well, with none of the top five teams playing FBS opponents. Kirby Smart has owned Dan Mullen, not having lost to a team with Mullen as head coach in nine meetings, including last year’s 36-17 Georgia win over Florida. In those nine games, Mullen’s offenses are averaging just 8.9 points per game. Gators tight end Kyle Pitts is going to be a problem for Georgia, which struggled to contain Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet in the ‘Dawgs other big game this season. Georgia has an edge with Jake Fromm having seen Todd Grantham’s defense the past two seasons. Poise and pre-snap identification is critical against Florida, and Fromm, making his 36th straight start, can handle it. Georgia has more talent, but I trust Mullen and his staff more in a close game. Why is the line nearly a touchdown in favor of the Bulldogs, however? Never doubt Vegas.

Prediction: Georgia 30, Florida 23

Mississippi State (-7.5) at Arkansas, 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Matt Stinchcomb

From the game of the week to a battle of two highly disappointing teams. Both teams have been picked apart through the air this season, as they and Vanderbilt make up the bottom three teams in both yards allowed per pass attempt and pass defense efficiency. Arkansas still doesn’t know what it’s doing at quarterback, as any of four different players could see time. Mississippi State is comfortable with Garrett Shrader, but he’s completed just 50 percent of his passes over the last three weeks, all losses. Arkansas’ complete no-shows the past two weeks, albeit against Auburn and Alabama, make me think a win on Saturday is a bit too much to ask. It’ll be a game for three quarters before Mississippi State pulls away.

Prediction: Mississippi State 34, Arkansas 20

Ole Miss at (11) Auburn (-19), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Announcers: Sean McDonough and Todd Blackledge

Auburn has won three straight of five out of six in this SEC West quasi-rivalry. The Tigers aren’t going to the playoff, but could still have a magical season if they can win out and finish 10-2 against what might be the nation’s toughest schedule. That will require quarterback Bo Nix to shake off his October, in which he completed just 41 and 43 percent of his passes in losses to Florida and LSU. Big plays have doomed the 3-5 Rebels this season, as they’ve allowed an SEC-worst 11 plays of 40 yards or longer. Offensively, the Rebels are one-dimensional with John Rhys Plumlee under center, although Matt Corral could see action as well. If you can’t pass, you’re not moving the ball against this Auburn defense. This one will get ugly.

Prediction: Auburn 38, Ole Miss 13

UAB at Tennessee (-12), 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Announcers: Roy Philpott and Kelly Stouffer

6-1 UAB heads to Knoxville with the status of star running back Spencer Brown uncertain. Brown has missed the past two games with a leg injury, and the Blazers will need him to be able to have a chance to upset the Vols. Tennessee also has a mystery on offense, in its case at quarterback. Brian Maurer missed last week’s win over South Carolina with a concussion, while Jarrett Guarantano had surgery on his non-throwing hand earlier this week. Both are cleared, but it may be redshirt freshman J.T. Shrout making his second straight start. A few weeks ago, I’d have given UAB a chance in this game, but Tennessee is playing its best football of the season. The Vols will step on UAB early and then slowly squeeze the life out of them.

Prediction: Tennessee 34, UAB 13

Vanderbilt at South Carolina (-15), 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers, and Cole Cubelic

Like the Mississippi State-Arkansas game in the SEC West, the loser of Saturday night’s SEC East contest in Columbia can also officially declare its season a failure, even though both upset ranked opponents as three-touchdown underdogs last month. On paper, this is a bad matchup for Vanderbilt. Will Muschamp teams want to run the football, and Vanderbilt is last in the SEC by a wide margin in yards allowed per carry. Even without Rico Dowdle for a second straight week, the Gamecocks rushing attack should be just fine with Tavian Feaster leading the way. Vanderbilt’s quarterback situation is murky, as Mo Hasan, who started the win over Missouri two weeks ago, is still in concussion protocol. Hasan will start if cleared. The Commodores haven’t beaten South Carolina since 2008, and the struggle will continue on Saturday night.

Prediction: South Carolina 27, Vanderbilt 10

Best Bets
Last Week: 2-3, +3 Musburgers
YTD: 19-24-2, -8 Musburgers

Washington +3.5 vs. Utah   – 5 Musburgers
Wake Forest -7.5 vs. N.C. State – 4 Musburgers
Memphis -6 vs. SMU – 3 Musburgers
Nevada -3.5 vs. New Mexico – 2 Musburgers
Virginia Tech +17.5 vs. Notre Dame – 1 Musburger

Trivia Answers
1. 2005 (Georgia)
2. Ole Miss
3. Nick Saban (LSU, 2000) and Sylvester Croom (Mississippi State, 2004)

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.