By Matt Smith
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Matt Smith previews Week 10 in the SEC
Happy November, SEC football fans. We enter the season’s final month with neither division winner penciled in, a rarity in a conference that usually has at least one dominant team.
The parity should make for some good football over the next couple weeks, starting Saturday with all four teams who control their SEC Championship Game destinies playing another team in that quartet. Tennessee hopes to break a five-game losing streak to Georgia, while LSU has a five-game skid of its own against Alabama in Tiger Stadium.
The down-ballot battles have some intrigue as well, as Arkansas kicks off a fun homestand with another interesting non-conference game, Florida and Texas A&M battle to potentially knock the other out of a bowl, Missouri aims for a three-game SEC winning streak, and former Auburn star Cadillac Williams makes his debut as Tigers interim head coach.
A baker’s dozen teams are in action, as we are almost all done with off weeks. Let’s preview a busy Week 10 in the SEC.
This is a Big Week for:
Coach: Brian Kelly, LSU
At Notre Dame, Brian Kelly had a penchant for taking care of business as a favorite but struggling against top-10 opponents. He gets his second crack at an elite opponent as LSU’s coach on Saturday night against No. 6 Alabama. His first swing of the bat was a disaster, as the Tigers lost by 27 to Tennessee last month.
Player: Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia
Bowers started the season fast, was quiet for a few weeks, but then reverted right back to All-American form last week against Florida with four catches for 154 yards and a touchdown. He gets a chance to face a vulnerable Tennessee pass defense on Saturday in the season’s biggest game.
Unit: Tennessee Defensive Line
The Volunteers have held up well against the run this season, one of just two SEC teams that is allowing fewer than three yards per carry. Georgia is still a run-first offense, and if Tennessee can win its share of battles at the line of scrimmage, the Bulldogs may be forced to throw and allow this game to be played in the style that the Vols prefer.
1. Who is the last head coach to defeat Nick Saban in his first year at his school?
2. Who quarterbacked the most recent Tennessee team to win the SEC East title
3. What two running backs were drafted ahead of Auburn’s Cadillac Williams, who went No. 5 in the 2005 NFL Draft?
Florida (4-4, 1-4) at Texas A&M (3-5, 1-4), Noon ET (ESPN)
Announcers: Mark Jones and Robert Griffin III
Last Meeting: 2020 – Texas A&M 41, Florida 38
Current Streak: Texas A&M – 2
Current Streak in College Station: Texas A&M – 1
Line: Texas A&M -3.5
These teams last met in 2020, when they were the second and third-best teams in the SEC. It’s a different story this time, as the Gators and Aggies are a combined 2-8 in conference play. Texas A&M is full speed ahead with freshman quarterback Conner Weigman, who had some lulls but played well overall last week against Ole Miss. Florida has yet to stack quality offensive performances, but has gotten into the mid-30s against LSU and Tennessee. Neither of these teams are good against the run, although Texas A&M’s numbers are skewed a bit after allowing 390 yards on the ground to Ole Miss. This is only Florida’s second true road game, but perhaps the team’s best performance came in its only other road game at Tennessee. It’s hard to pick either team to win a football game right now, but I’ll say the Aggies rally a bit around Weigman and get back on track after a winless October.
Prediction: Texas A&M 31, Florida 27
Kentucky (5-3, 2-3) at Missouri (4-4, 2-3), Noon ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Jay Alter and Dustin Fox
Last Meeting: 2021 – Kentucky 35, Missouri 28
Current Streak: Kentucky – 1
Current Streak in Columbia: Missouri – 1
Line: Kentucky -1.5
Do I really have to pick this game? I have absolutely no idea what to expect in Columbia. Missouri only plays close games, and with two pretty good defenses, it’s hard to think this game won’t be a one-score contest midway through the fourth quarter. Missouri is difficult to run on, and Will Levis and Kentucky’s passing game was a disaster last week at Tennessee. Even good Kentucky teams have tended to stack losses back to back. After losses to Georgia in spotlight games in 2018 and 2021, the Wildcats were soundly beaten the following week by Tennessee and Mississippi State respectively. They seem a little fragile right now, and Missouri has answered the bell every week despite some painstaking defeats. Meanwhile, Missouri has it rolling, and a fifth win on Saturday afternoon ensures a bowl trip with hapless New Mexico State still to play.
Prediction: Missouri 27, Kentucky 17
(1) Tennessee (8-0, 4-0) at (3) Georgia (8-0, 5-0), 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Announcers: Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson
Last Meeting: 2021 – Georgia 41, Tennessee 17
Current Streak: Georgia – 5
Current Streak in Athens: Georgia – 2
Line: Georgia -8.5
It’s the game of the year. Tennessee’s high-powered offense was stymied a year ago in this game, but the Vols are better than they were in 2021, and Georgia’s defense is not the same unit, especially with standout linebacker Nolan Smith done for the season after an injury last week. If the Bulldogs offense needs a drive, it’s been able to get one. They’ve gone through lulls in the last month or so, however, and that can be a dangerous proposition against Hendon Hooker and the Tennessee attack. Georgia tight end Brock Bowers has looked like the most unstoppable player in college football at times this season, but in other weeks has largely been slowed or not emphasized. Bowers could be a matchup problem against the weakness of Tennessee – its secondary. I can’t lay the points, but winning in Athens feels like just one step too far for the Volunteers.
Prediction: Georgia 38, Tennessee 31
Liberty (7-1) at Arkansas (5-3, 2-3), 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Aaron Murray
Series History: First Meeting
Line: Arkansas -13.5
Hugh Freeze gets a second crack at a team in his former conference after the Flames were beaten by prior employer Ole Miss 52 weeks ago. Liberty has lost just once, a one-point defeat against a ranked Wake Forest team. Arkansas has settled back in after a three-week swoon, and the Razorbacks running game is up there with Michigan among the best in the nation. Freeze will scheme up some points against this Arkansas secondary, but the line of scrimmage will be dominated by the Razorbacks, who should hold the ball for at least 35 minutes. Liberty won’t go away quietly, but the outcome should never really be in doubt.
Prediction: Arkansas 36, Liberty 24
(6) Alabama (7-1, 4-1) at (10) LSU (6-2, 4-1), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Announcers: Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit
Last Meeting: 2021 – Alabama 20, LSU 14
Current Streak: Alabama – 2
Current Streak in Baton Rouge: Alabama – 5
Line: Alabama -12.5
The winner still has some significant work ahead, but whoever emerges victorious in Baton Rouge will become the favorite to get to the SEC Championship Game. Will Alabama’s discipline problems return as it heads back out on the road? The Crimson Tide have committed 42 penalties in just three games away from Tuscaloosa. Alabama will want to force Tigers quarterback Jayden Daniels to pass, but he’s thrown the ball well in recent weeks with the SEC West’s best receiving corps, and spying Daniels as a runner comes with its own risks. Where LSU’s offense may struggle is it probably can’t scheme receivers open the way Tennessee did three weeks ago. Its players will have to make plays. This has signs of an old-school Alabama butt-kicking, but I’m just not sure this Crimson Tide team has one of those in them against a quality opponent. Bryce Young will have to deliver another masterful performance in a surprisingly high-scoring affair, but Alabama will again survive Tiger Stadium to set up another showdown next week at Ole Miss.
Prediction: Alabama 41, LSU 34
Auburn (3-5, 1-4) at Mississippi State (5-3, 2-3), 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic
Last Meeting: 2021 – Mississippi State 43, Auburn 38
Current Streak: Mississippi State – 1
Current Streak in Starkville: Auburn – 1
Line: Mississippi State -12.5
Mississippi State has faded fast, losing twice in non-competitive fashion after a 5-1 start. Auburn was never good enough to fade, dropping five of six and finally showing embattled head coach Bryan Harsin the door on Monday. As unimpressive as Auburn was, I never noticed the Tigers quitting on Harsin, nor Harsin quitting on them. An interim coach bump seems unlikely, but the Bulldogs are so hard to predict that no result on Saturday night in Starkville should be all that surprising. Auburn’s defense has collapsed in the past three games, allowing 40-plus to Georgia, Ole Miss and Arkansas. Mississippi State caught Arkansas and Texas A&M in adverse situations in Starkville and hammered both. I’ll call for the Bullies to again make the most of another advantageous situation on Saturday night.
Prediction: Mississippi State 34, Auburn 24
South Carolina (5-3, 2-3) at Vanderbilt (3-5, 0-4), 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Dave Neal and Deuce McAllister
Last Meeting: 2021 – South Carolina 21, Vanderbilt 20
Current Streak: South Carolina – 13
Current Streak in Nashville: South Carolina – 6
Line: South Carolina -6.5
After 37 months, is it finally Vanderbilt’s time? After a demoralizing performance last week at home against Missouri, heading to Nashville isn’t exactly the trip that’s going to get South Carolina up off the mat and ready for another fight. The Commodores were off last week, and Clark Lea has likely been pointing to this game all season as the one that could end the program’s long SEC losing streak, currently sitting at 25 games. The Gamecocks offense hasn’t done much the past two weeks, but Vanderbilt’s porous secondary should help them get back on track. If the Commodores can get this game into the fourth quarter with it still up for grabs, their superior thirst for victory will propel them over the finish line. If not now, when?
Prediction: Vanderbilt 26, South Carolina 23
Last Week: 2-3
North Carolina -7.5 at Virginia
Nebraska +15.5 vs. Minnesota
Southern Miss -2.5 vs. Georgia State
UTSA -1 at UAB
UNLV +6.5 at San Diego State
The Best Game I’ve Ever Watched On November 5
Nov. 5, 2011: (1) LSU 9, (2) Alabama 6 (OT)
You may have thought this game stunk. And that’s OK. I didn’t. I’ll tell you why, given there aren’t many highlights to recap from this “Game of the Century”.
Unlike the rematch two months later, where it was evident right away that LSU wasn’t going to score, the regular-season matchup in Tuscaloosa did not have that feel. It was a game moved to primetime after CBS had already used its contractual one primetime game earlier in the season. Both defenses were loaded with future NFL stars, but both offenses were capable of scoring.
As the game played out and nobody could find the end zone, we were just waiting for the game-changing play from Trent Richardson or Odell Beckham Jr. Alabama had more opportunities, outgaining LSU 295-238, but four missed field goals would be the downfall of the Crimson Tide that night.
Alabama struck first late in the second quarter, but LSU leveled the game at 3-3 after failing to punch it in from inside the five-yard line. Each team added another field goal in the second half, but both came with the offenses failing to get even a first down after a takeaway in opposing territory.
The 6-6 score held for the final 14 minutes, with the game-deciding play ultimately being a judgement call when LSU’s Eric Reid intercepted an AJ McCarron pass after stealing the ball from Alabama on the way to the ground. The call could have gone either way, but it was ruled an interception.
A trio of punts sent the game to overtime. Alabama was up first, but a sack and a penalty forced a 52-yard field goal attempt. Cade Foster could not convert, and LSU needed only a field goal of its to win the game. Michael Ford’s second-down run for 15 yards brought LSU to chip-shot kicking range for Drew Alleman. After two positioning runs, Alleman split the Bryant-Denny Stadium uprights to give LSU the win.
With the College Football Playoff still three years away, that loss seemed to doom Alabama’s national title chances, especially with Oklahoma State and Stanford both still unbeaten. Help from Iowa State and Oregon gave Alabama a second chance, however, as the 11-1 Crimson Tide held off Big 12 champion Oklahoma State in the final BCS Standings to earn a rematch with 13-0 LSU.
The national championship game was a dud, as LSU managed just 92 yards of offense in a 21-0 Alabama victory. The Tigers did not cross midfield until the fourth quarter.
With no touchdowns and the loser ultimately still winning the national title, the 2011 LSU-Alabama contest isn’t thought of as one of the all-time great games. But the build-up to the game was something we no longer see in college football, as one loss rarely knocks a team out of contention. It didn’t that year either, but the expectation was that it would. That is why this game will be remembered for a long time despite just 15 total points.
1. Gus Malzahn, Auburn (2013)
2. Erik Ainge (2007)
3. Ronnie Brown (Auburn, No. 2) and Cedric Benson (Texas, No. 4)
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.
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