By Matt Smith
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Getting you ready for a huge weekend of SEC football!
Well, here we are. The week every year where the nation makes fun of the SEC for its awful slate of games. It’s been worse in past years, but even the four conference games this week are pretty unappealing after the collapses of Arkansas and Kentucky. What’s even more disappointing for the SEC is how unattractive and inconsequential Rivalry Week will be, but we’ll get to that a week from now.
Of the 10 games this Saturday, there are four conference games, four vs. Group of Five or independent teams, and two vs. FCS teams. If you’re trying to sell the quartet of league games, it’s at least notable that all the favorites are playing on the road, and at least three of the four could have some challenging weather.
I won’t sugarcoat this schedule. It’s disappointing every year. While playing these games now does avoid weeks of almost every SEC team playing buy games in September, these types of games should be done with by the first week of November. However, the coaches love it, and the selection committee isn’t bothered by it, so it’s not going away.
Somewhat begrudgingly, let’s preview the penultimate weekend of SEC football.
This is a Big Week for:
Coach: Sam Pittman, Arkansas
It’s been a disappointing season in Fayetteville, and some coaching staff changes may be coming in the offseason. Wins over Ole Miss and Missouri followed by a bowl victory would allow for a mediocre 8-5 season. A loss to the Rebels could mean the Razorbacks are home for the holidays.
Player: Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
Hooker doesn’t need to be great for the Volunteers to defeat South Carolina, but this designation is for individual purposes. A fringe Heisman candidate, Hooker needs to put up eye-popping numbers in the next two weeks to stay in the mix knowing he will not be playing on Championship Saturday.
Unit: Kentucky Defensive Line
An embarrassing afternoon last Saturday for Kentucky was low-lighted by Vanderbilt running at will against the Wildcats defense. Now comes No. 1 Georgia and the nation’s highest-scoring rushing attack. Can Kentucky circle the wagons with everything stacked against it?
1. Who was LSU’s head coach in UAB’s only win over the Tigers?
2. Who is the only SEC East team besides Kentucky that has not defeated a Kirby Smart-coached Georgia team?
3. What three Tennessee players have finished second in Heisman Trophy voting?
Florida (6-4, 3-4) at Vanderbilt (4-6, 1-5), Noon ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Matt Stinchcomb
Last Meeting: 2021 – Florida 42, Vanderbilt 0
Current Streak: Florida – 8
Current Streak in Nashville: Florida – 15
Line: Florida -14.5
Florida has played a strong last six quarters of football, dominating Texas A&M and South Carolina. If the Gators can handle those two teams, it should be able to do the same against Vanderbilt, even with the Commodores coming off of a long-awaited win at Kentucky. Vanderbilt will try to run on Florida, but a maligned Gators front shut down South Carolina’s ground game last week. Billy Napier has some Dan Mullen in him, in that he’s rarely going to lose to teams he should beat. Florida’s run game will gash the Commodores for 250 yards, as the Gators pull away in a pretty fun game to start your SEC Saturday.
Prediction: Florida 45, Vanderbilt 28
Austin Peay (7-3) at (8) Alabama (8-2, 5-2) Noon ET (ESPN+)
Announcers: Mike Morgan and Dave Steckel
Series History: First Meeting
The Governors, from Clarksville, Tenn., have had a nice season, and are on the bubble for an FCS playoff berth. Alabama isn’t on the bubble for anything, as its CFP chances are mostly non-existent, but its New Year’s Six bowl hopes seem secure with only 4-6 Auburn still to play. This is a great opportunity for parents to take their kids to see Bryce Young play college football without spending an arm and a leg to do so.
Prediction: Alabama 56, Austin Peay 7
Massachusetts (1-9) at Texas A&M (3-7, 1-6), Noon ET (ESPN+)
Announcers: Kevin Brown and Hutson Mason
Series History: First Meeting
Line: Texas A&M -32.5
With Texas A&M having lost six straight, could the Minutemen…nah, it’s not happening. The Aggies don’t need any semblance of chemistry or buy-in this week to get by Massachusetts, which has not beaten an FBS team in longtime Power Five defensive coordinator Don Brown’s first season as head coach. Brown has actually developed a competent defense, but the offense is one of the worst in the country. The crowd size and what Texas A&M players do not play will be the most notable things to watch in this game.
Prediction: Texas A&M 41, Massachusetts 3
East Tennessee State (3-7) at Mississippi State, (6-4, 3-4), Noon ET (ESPN+)
Announcers: Mike Corey and Brian Kinchen
Series History: Mississippi State leads 1-0
Last Meeting: 1988 – Mississippi State 53, East Tennessee State 6
Country singer Kenny Chesney is an alumnus of East Tennessee State, and he recorded a song called “Pirate Flag”. Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach is, of course, nicknamed “The Pirate”. That’s about all I got for this one, as the Buccaneers have struggled this season, not having won since Oct. 8. The Bulldogs have a short week ahead with the Egg Bowl on Thursday, so even Leach might want to limit the number of plays in this game.
Prediction: Mississippi State 49, East Tennessee State 10
(1) Georgia (10-0, 7-0) at Kentucky (6-4, 3-4), 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Announcers: Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson
Last Meeting: 2021 – Georgia 30, Kentucky 13
Current Streak: Georgia – 12
Current Streak in Lexington: Georgia – 7
Line: Georgia -22.5
Kentucky has not threatened Georgia since the Bulldogs returned to national title contender status in 2017, having lost by an average of 19 points per game, with the closest game a 14-3 snoozefest two years ago in the last meeting in Lexington. The Wildcats are in freefall mode, still stewing from an embarrassing home loss to Vanderbilt. The passing game is doing nothing right now, and nobody runs the ball on Georgia, so there’s not much of a path for Kentucky to score. There will at least be more points than the last time these two team played at Kroger Field.
Prediction: Georgia 34, Kentucky 11
Western Kentucky (6-4) at Auburn (4-6, 2-5), 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Dave Neal and Deuce McAllister
Series History: Auburn leads 2-0
Last Meeting: 2005 – Auburn 37, Western Kentucky 14
Line: Auburn -5.5
After an emotional night last Saturday, and with the Iron Bowl looming, Auburn must avoid a letdown against a dangerous Western Kentucky team that still has hopes of playing for a Conference USA title. It’s a golden opportunity for the Hilltoppers, who haven’t beaten a Power Five team since 2015. Quarterback Austin Reed leads Conference USA with over 3,500 yards and 31 touchdown passes. The WKU defense has held four of its last five opponents to 17 points or less. Robby Ashford will have to make some plays with his arm for the Tigers to survive this test. This should be a 60-minute game, but the brief honeymoon for interim coach Cadillac Williams will end on Saturday evening.
Prediction: Western Kentucky 27, Auburn 24
(5) Tennessee (9-1, 5-1) at South Carolina (6-4, 3-4), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Announcers: Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit
Last Meeting: 2021 – Tennessee 45, South Carolina 20
Current Streak: Tennessee – 3
Current Streak in Columbia: Tennessee – 1
Line: Tennessee -21.5
It’s a night game at Williams-Brice Stadium, so I suppose you can’t simply check this one off as a win for the Volunteers, despite Tennessee beating a Missouri team that had just won in Columbia by 42 points last week. We’ve been waiting all year for a game where Spencer Rattler is just on, but it hasn’t happened, and the Gamecocks have been non-competitive against the top half of the league because of their quarterback’s struggles. The Vols will get to 40 points, and South Carolina’s only hope is for Rattler to finally look like 2020 Rattler at Oklahoma and keep pace in a shootout.
Prediction: Tennessee 44, South Carolina 26
(14) Ole Miss (8-2, 4-2) at Arkansas (5-5, 2-4), 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic
Last Meeting: 2021 – Ole Miss 52, Arkansas 51
Current Streak: Ole Miss – 1
Current Streak in Fayetteville: Arkansas – 4
Line: Ole Miss -2.5
This may be the coldest game of the SEC season, with temperatures likely in the teens or 20s for this primetime affair in Fayetteville. I didn’t buy the narrow spread in last week’s LSU-Arkansas game, and Las Vegas nailed it, with the Tigers winning by just three. I won’t be fooled again, as this line is just begging you to take Ole Miss, who seemingly should be able to handle the chill with a potent rushing attack. But K.J. Jefferson is expected back for Arkansas. He’s from Mississippi, and he remembers the near-miss a year ago in the 52-51 Razorbacks loss in Oxford. Jefferson packs a punch, and that punch will hurt extra hard on a chilly night for a depleted Rebels defense. Fayetteville has been a house of horrors of late for Ole Miss, and that will continue on Saturday night.
Prediction: Arkansas 31, Ole Miss 28
New Mexico State (4-5) at Missouri (4-6, 2-5), 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Announcers: Drew Carter and Forest Conoly
Series History: First Meeting
Line: Missouri -27.5
A bowl game was the goal for this Missouri team. The Tigers played like a bowl team despite a poor record in close games. A win over the Aggies on Saturday night ensures the Tigers will be playing for the postseason on Black Friday against Arkansas. Believe it or not, New Mexico State hasn’t lost since Oct. 1, but it has had two off weeks and a game canceled in that time. As far as I know, Eli Drinkwitz didn’t go on the radio and bash New Mexico State in the offseason like he did with Tennessee, so I expect Missouri’s defense to hold up much better than last week in Knoxville.
Prediction: Missouri 38, New Mexico State 3
UAB (5-5) at (6) LSU (8-2, 6-1), 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Announcers: Clay Matvick and Rocky Boiman
Series History: Tied 1-1
Last Meeting: 2013 – LSU 56, UAB 17
Line: LSU -14.5
Brian Kelly has done a heck of a job with this LSU team. I had them as a 3-3 team that would find its way and finish 8-4, but he’s done one better in both halves of the season, as the Tigers are about to go from 4-2 at the turn to 10-2 and the SEC Championship Game. UAB has struggled this season under interim coach Bryant Vincent, and the 5-5 Blazers season will come down to next week’s finale at Louisiana Tech with a bowl trip on the line. Knowing that, I don’t expect UAB to necessarily throw all of its chips in the center for this game. This line feels way too low, so I’ll bite and lay the points even with LSU being in the middle of two SEC West road games.
Prediction: LSU 38, UAB 14
Last Week: 4-1
Florida State -23.5 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
Boston College +20.5 at Notre Dame
Kansas +9.5 vs. Texas
LSU -14.5 vs. UAB
Utah State +3 vs. San Jose State
The Best Game I’ve Ever Watched On November 19
Nov. 19, 2011: USC 38, (4) Oregon 35
2011, as you probably remember, was a crazy season. We all recall how the year ended with an LSU-Alabama rematch for the national championship, but how we got from the Tigers’ 9-6 win in Tuscaloosa in early November to a second meeting that was finalized 29 days later was pretty wild.
One of the key moments in Alabama’s path back to No. 2 came on the Saturday before Thanksgiving in Eugene, as Lane Kiffin, donned in all white on a cold Pacific Northwest night, led his bowl-banned 8-2 USC Trojans into Autzen Stadium to take on 9-1, fourth-ranked Oregon.
USC had played well of late, losing only once since September – a triple-overtime defeat to Andrew Luck and a top-five Stanford team. Oregon had won nine straight after losing to LSU in the season opener. The Pac-12 showdown brought the top ABC crew of Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit to the Pacific Northwest.
The Trojans silenced a rowdy crowd with the first two touchdowns of the game to take a 14-0 lead. Oregon’s two Thomases, quarterback Darron and all-purpose back De’Anthony, cut the deficit to seven with a 29-yard touchdown pass, but Matt Barkley and the Trojans regained a two-score lead at halftime with his third touchdown pass of the evening.
The third quarter was all USC, as a takeaway and two long touchdown drives seemingly put the game out of reach at 38-14 with three minutes to play in the third quarter. Oregon quickly got a much-needed spark, as De’Anthony Thomas returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards to bring some life back into Autzen.
The Ducks defense finally stepped up, forcing a punt and intercepting Barkley, while Darron Thomas was heating up on offense. By the middle of the fourth quarter, Oregon had pulled within 38-35. USC couldn’t finish the game on offense, as Marc Tyler fumbled deep in Oregon territory with the game-clinching touchdown just yards away.
Oregon marched into field-goal range, facing a 1st and 10 at the USC 18-yard line with 14 seconds to play. The Ducks then collapsed, losing two yards on a pass behind the line of scrimmage and a false start penalty, forcing Alejandro Maldonado’s field-goal attempt to come from 42 yards. USC returned the favor though, jumping offsides to move the kick to 37 yards. It wasn’t close enough for Maldonado, who pushed the kick wide left on the game’s final snap. Just like that, Oregon’s chances at an elusive national championship were gone.
USC closed out a successful season the following week with a 50-0 rout of rival UCLA. Oregon rebounded to win the Pac-12 title over that same mediocre UCLA team (as USC was ineligible), before winning a classic Rose Bowl over Russell Wilson and Wisconsin, 45-38, to finish 12-2.
1. Nick Saban (2000)
2. Missouri (0-7)
3. RB Johnny Majors (1956), QB Heath Shuler (1993), QB Peyton Manning (1997)
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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