Here’s your weekly rundown of all the SEC action on tap for Week Eight of the regular season. As always, you’ll find everything from TV listings to the betting lines to our own predictions.
Enjoy the games, be safe, and best of luck to your favorite school this weekend.
Kentucky at Missouri
12:00pm ET on ESPNU
Opening Line: MU -15
Current Line: MU -14
Storylines: Kentucky put up a nice fight against Georgia at home last week, but the Cats haven’t won an SEC road game since beating Vandy in Nashville in November of 2009 (under Rich Brooks). Joker Phillips’ team will need to do more than put up a fight this week to help him save his job. Missouri is still searching for its first-ever SEC win. The 0-5 (in the SEC) Wildcats say they’ll use three quarterbacks. The 0-4 (in the SEC) Tigers will once again go with backup QB Corbin Berkstresser.
Keys for Kentucky: Find what works and stick with it. Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders always manages to find some way to move the football. Before QB Maxwell Smith went down for the year, UK employed a short, hurry-up passing game. When QB Jalen Whitlow was sidelined by a migraine last week, UK brought in QB Morgan Newton and managed to run the ball. Dating back to last year, Sanders even found a way to win an SEC game over Tennessee with a receiver playing quarterback. Missouri’s defense ranks in the bottom half of the SEC in just about every category. Whether it’s Whitlow, Newton or QB Patrick Towles in the game, Sanders needs to determine run or pass early and then put all his eggs in that basket.
Keys for Missouri: Establish a passing game. Kentucky’s pass defense against conference foes ranks dead last in the league. Mizzou’s Berkstresser is completing just 47.8% of his passes with an anemic 5.55 yards-per-attempt average. Something’s gotta give. The Wildcats have improved their run defense and did a good job against Georgia last week. If Berkstresser and the Tigers can’t move the ball through the air, UK will be able to stack the box to stop MU’s so-so run game. Missouri has to start having some success through the air.
Pick: Missouri 27, Kentucky 20
Tennessee at South Carolina
12:00pm ET on ESPN
Opening Line: USC -14
Current Line: USC -14
Storylines: Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer were both let go after losses to South Carolina. Will Derek Dooley become the latest Tennessee coach to fall victim to the Gamecock Curse? Just three weeks ago, South Carolina looked like a bona fide BCS title contender in thumping Georgia. The last two weeks it’s become apparent that that game was Carolina’s high-water mark.
Keys for Tennessee: Protect the football, stop the big play. The Volunteers have given away the football 11 times in four SEC contests (Carolina has 11 giveaways in six SEC games). Dooley said this week that QB Tyler Bray would be yanked if he’s “loose” with the football. How the junior quarterback will respond to that threat is anyone’s guess, but his six-to-eight TD-to-INT ratio in league games helps explain UT’s 0-4 conference mark. So does the fact that Tennessee has allowed more plays of 20+, 30+, 40+, 50+, 60+, and 70+ yards than any other defense in the SEC.
Keys for South Carolina: Calm down, run the ball. There’s no need for the Gamecocks to panic. USC can still reach a good bowl and might — through a series of longshot breaks — still reach Atlanta. With a banged up RB Marcus Lattimore the Cocks have struggled to move the ball on the ground the last two weeks. But that was against LSU and Florida. If Steve Spurrier pounds the ball against Tennessee, big plays will likely follow. Watch for QB Connor Shaw to use plenty of zone-read action this week as the Cocks try to exploit a UT defense that still has troubles with outside containment.
Pick: South Carolina 38, Tennessee 24
Ole Miss at Arkansas
12:21pm ET on SEC Network
Opening Line: UA -4.5
Current Line: UA -6
Storylines: For the first time since 1998, Houston Nutt won’t be on the sidelines for this clash. Arkansas’ wins this year have come over Jacksonville State (FCS), Auburn (winless in the SEC), and Kentucky (winless in the SEC). Ole Miss’ wins have come against Central Arkansas (FCS), UTEP (2-6 overall), Tulane (1-6 overall), and Auburn (winless in the SEC). The Hogs have more talent. The Rebels might have more confidence.
Keys for Ole Miss: Let Bo go. QB Bo Wallace is sixth in the SEC in total offense and presents a dual threat to a shaky Arkansas defense. You might say he’s a poor man’s “Johnny Football” and Texas A&M absolutely nuked the Razorbacks’ D. QB Johnny Manziel threw for 453 and ran for 104 against the Hogs. Wallace might not run it or pass it quite as well as Manziel, but UM’s up-tempo attack should free him up to break some big plays.
Keys for Arkansas: Take care of the ball. Arkansas has more talent on its roster than Mississippi… and games against bottom-feeders Auburn and Kentucky the past two weeks might have reinvigorated John L. Smith’s team. Trouble is, it’s hard to shake the feeling that UA’s two-game turnaround had much more to do with the opposition than with the Hogs. UA ranks 14th in the SEC in turnover margin at minus-10 on the year. Ole Miss is plus-one on the season. That’s why we’re picking the upset.
Pick: Ole Miss 35, Arkansas 34
Florida at Georgia
3:30pm ET on CBS
Opening Line: UF -3.5
Current Line: UF -6.5
Storylines: Hurricane Sandy is blowing into the area right in time for the annual UF-UGA grudge match. Florida is a ball-control, run-first team. Georgia mixes things up and likes to use play-action passes to move the ball. If the aerial attacks are wiped out, the advantage goes to the Gators. Will Muschamp — a former Georgia player — will be looking for his first-ever victory in the series as a player or as a coach. Mark Richt is trying once again to silence talk that he can’t win the “big” game (even though he beat UF last season).
Keys for Florida: Grind it out and wear Georgia down. For most of the year, Florida has run the ball time and again, worn down its foes, and pulled away in the second halves of games. They’ll look to do the same against a UGA defense that surprisingly ranks just 10th in the SEC against the run. UF is also plus-11 in turnover margin while Georgia is even-Steven on the season. If Florida pounds the ball on the ground and continues to protect the football, the Gators should outlast the Bulldogs.
Keys for Georgia: Fire up “Gurshall” again. RB Todd Gurley and RB Keith Marshall were all the rage in September. UGA ran for 1,244 yards (248.8 per game) in the ninth month of the year. The Dawgs averaged a whopping 6.18 yards per rush in September, too. But since the calendar flipped to October, things have changed: 192 rushing yards through two games — just 96 yards per contest — and a per-carry average down to just 2.82 against South Carolina and Kentucky. If things are as windy as expected in Jacksonville, UGA won’t stand a chance if its ground game plays poorly again. And for the record, Florida is #2 in the SEC in rush defense against SEC foes (allowing just 96.6 yards per game).
Pick: Florida 21, Georgia 14
Texas A&M at Auburn
7:00pm ET on ESPNU
Opening Line: A&M -7
Current Line: A&M -15
Storylines: Johnny Football will be trying to fix what ailed him last week. Gene Chizik will be trying to save his job.
Keys for Texas A&M: Get QB Johnny Manziel back on track. As Manziel goes, so goes A&M. The Aggies’ signal-caller fell to #3 nationally — gasp! — in total offense (379.9 yards per game) after a disappointing game against LSU’s big, bad defense last Saturday. He completed just 51% of his passes, threw three picks and rushed for just 27 yards. A&M can’t win if Manziel isn’t putting up big numbers. Good thing he and his teammates will be facing Auburn’s defense this weekend and not LSU’s again.
Keys for Auburn: Uh, pray? The Tigers do nothing well. They’re tied for 14th in the SEC in turnover margin. Their rush defense is 14th, too. Their pass defense is 10th. On the other side of the ball they’re 11th in rushing offense and 13th in passing offense. QB Clint Moseley will get the start but it’s likely QB Kiehl Frazier and QB Jonathan Wallace will see action, too. If the Tigers spring the upset at Jordan-Hare, it’ll be thanks to some home field magic. And remember, AU did come close to knocking off LSU earlier this year. Anything’s possible. But an Auburn win sure doesn’t look likely.
Pick: Texas A&M 31, Auburn 17
UMass at Vanderbilt
7:00pm ET on FSN
Opening Line: VU -34
Current Line: VU -32.5
Storylines: The Commodores are 3-4 (after a 1-3 start) and UMass kicks off a string of winnable games against Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Wake Forest. Not only might James Franklin lead Vandy back to a bowl game this season, but it’s still possible — unlikely, but possible — that VU could finish 8-4. That would require a six-game win streak to end the season (counting last week’s victory over Auburn) and Vandy hasn’t strung one of those together since way, way back in 1955.
Keys for Vanderbilt: Show up. UMass is 0-7 as it transitions into the FBS level of college football. The Minutemen have lost to UConn (by 37), Indiana (by 39), Michigan (by 50), Miami of Ohio (by 9), Ohio (by 1), Western Michigan (by 38) and Bowling Green (by 24). So long as the Dores aren’t caught napping or looking ahead to UK, UM, UT and Wake… it should be an easy win for the gold and black.
Pick: Vanderbilt 45, UMass 7
Mississippi State at Alabama
8:30pm ET on ESPN
Opening Line: UA -24
Current Line: UA -24
Storylines: Undefeated and top-ranked Alabama versus undefeated and 11th-ranked Mississippi State. That is all.
Keys for Mississippi State: Keep doing what they’ve been doing. Mississippi State has shown itself against lesser competition to be a smart, well-coached football team. State is plus-16 in turnover margin, best in the nation. The Dogs have been called for just eight penalties in three SEC contests. Quite simply, they don’t beat themselves. If they can keep that up, they should provide a better test for the Tide than most gamblers seem to think. That 24-point line hasn’t moved all week so America believes the Dogs will be exposed tomorrow night. Dan Mullen will most definitely use that as motivation for his team. He’ll also need to take some chances when he sees the opportunity. This isn’t Bama-LSU. MSU is still the underdog and playing things close to the vest won’t be enough to do anything more than cover the spread.
Keys for Alabama: Keep doing what they’ve been doing. State’s played well and played smart, but Bama’s played better. Even if the Bulldogs protect the football it’s hard to imagine them moving the thing consistently against the nation’s best run defense (58.7 yards per game) and #2 pass defense (136.9 yards per game). Expect the Crimson Tide to run the football as usual while allowing QB AJ McCarron — the league-leader in passer rating — to throw a few change-ups. Alabama is ruthlessly efficient… scoring touchdowns on 34 of its 85 drives this season. The magic number to watch: 150. UA is undefeated the last 44 times Nick Saban’s squad has rushed for 150 yards or more.
Pick: Alabama 27, Mississippi State 14.