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.
Missouri at Florida
12:00pm ET on ESPN2
Opening Line: UF -16
Current Line: UF -17
Storylines: With a win and a Georgia loss to Ole Miss, Florida would be right back in the SEC East driver’s seat by nightfall. Missouri is looking for its first SEC road win and should have QB James Franklin back as its starter.
Keys for Missouri: Let Franklin wing it. Against SEC opponents, Florida is #6 in the league in pass defense. They’re #2 against the rush and Missouri has not shown that it can run the ball consistently against upper-echelon SEC teams (2.6 yards per carry versus Georgia, 0.1 yards per carry versus Alabama). Franklin’s mobility is still a question, so the best option for MU appears to be a short-passing game to help control the clock and keep Florida’s run game off the field.
Keys for Florida: Knock off the dumb mistakes. A few weeks back we showed you that Florida was making life too difficult for itself by way of penalties, turnovers and sacks allowed. Those chickens came home to roost last week — six turnovers, 10 penalties, five sacks allowed — as UF fell 17-9 to Georgia. If the Gators play a clean game, they should be able to run on Mizzou. But they also must protect QB Jeff Driskel from DT Sheldon Richardson and a Tiger defense that’s recorded 19 sacks.
Pick: Florida 33, Missouri 17
Texas A&M at Mississippi State
12:00pm ET on ESPN
Opening Line: A&M -2.5
Current Line: A&M -7
Storylines: A rematch of the 2000 Snow Bowl played in the Independence Bowl. State will be decked out in silver and white Stormtrooper-esque unis as they try to bounce back from a nasty loss at Alabama. The winner will climb further up the national rankings as well as the SEC’s bowl pecking order. A&M’s five FBS wins have come against teams with a combined 20-20 record. MSU’s six FBS wins have come over teams with a combined 17-33 record. Advantage: TAMU.
Keys for Texas A&M: Run the football. The Aggies rank ahead of the Bulldogs in SEC rush offense, pass offense and rush defense. But State’s pass defense has been solid. QB Johnny Manziel has thrown 16 touchdowns against six interceptions on the year and he’ll need to make good decisions tomorrow against MSU’s playmaking secondary. If “Johnny Football” and the A&M running backs can live up to their league-leading 225 rush-yards-per-game average, it’s hard to imagine State winning this one.
Keys for Mississippi State: Pretend it’s 1950. The Bulldogs will need to play old-fashioned football if they want to grab the win. That means running the football to keep the Aggie offense off the field. RB LaDarius Perkins is second in the SEC in rushing (behind Manziel). That means winning the turnover battle. MSU is plus-13 on the year and A&M is minus-seven. If Dan Mullen’s team runs effectively and gets back to forcing turnovers (they lost that battle 0-3 last week at Alabama), then the Dogs can win this one.
Pick: Texas A&M 34, Mississippi State 31
Vanderbilt at Kentucky
12:00pm ET on ESPNU
Opening Line: VU -9
Current Line: VU -7
Storylines: Joker Phillips is hanging on for dear life and the trying to give Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart some positive sign that he can use to save Phillips’ job. Vanderbilt is trying to get one of the two victories it needs to go bowling in back-to-back years for the first time… well… ever.
Keys for Vanderbilt: Win through the air. Kentucky ranks #12 in the SEC in pass defense. No SEC quarterback with at least 180 pass attempts on the year has thrown fewer interceptions (two) than QB Jordan Rodgers. An efficient day from Vandy’s quarterback would likely be enough to win the game.
Keys for Kentucky: Win the rushing battle. Here’s a surprise. As bad as Kentucky has been running the ball and defending the run against SEC foes, Vanderbilt has been a tad worse. Surprising, no? Vandy has a distinct advantage in the passing game, so the Cats will need to somehow crank up a ground game to offset that issue. A turnover here or there wouldn’t hurt either.
Pick: Vanderbilt 24, Kentucky 17
Troy at Tennessee
12:00pm ET on FSN
Opening Line: UT -20.5
Current Line: UT -18.5
Storylines: Derek Dooley’s team will start its “second season” as the coach tries to finish strong and give AD Dave Hart a reason to keep him. A 7-5 finish is still possible for the Vols.
Keys for Tennessee: Score, score, score. Troy is #22 in the nation in passing offense (Tennessee is #21). The Trojans are #27 in total offense (the Vols are #30). Sure the competition’s different, but UT’s defense is setting records for all the wrong reasons this year. Troy is 4-4 in the Sun Belt and hung 572 yards on a Mississippi State team that beat Tennessee. The 1-8 Akron Zips were within a touchdown of the Vols with nine minutes to play in the teams’ September clash (won by UT 47-26 with two late scores). UT put up a nice effort against South Carolina last week, but the Vols defense can make any foe dangerous.
Pick: Tennessee 44, Troy 24
Tulsa at Arkansas
12:21pm ET on SEC Network
Opening Line: UA -5.5
Current Line: UA -8.5
Storylines: With South Carolina, Mississippi State and LSU all ahead on the schedule, the 3-5 Razorbacks can’t lose to 7-1 Tulsa and still go bowling.
Keys for Arkansas: Score, score, score. Basically repeat what we wrote regarding Tennessee. Tulsa is #29 nationally in total offense, #9 nationally on the ground. Tulsa is also plus-four on the year in turnovers while Arkansas is minus-10. Bottom line: This one’s on QB Tyler Wilson. The SEC’s top passer (322 yards per game) will need to keep the Hogs’ offense one step ahead of Tulsa’s at all times. This one reminds me of Texas A&M’s 59-57 win over Louisiana Tech last month.
Pick: Arkansas 41, Tulsa 34
New Mexico State at Auburn
12:30pm ET on CSS
Opening Line: AU -23
Current Line: AU -22.5
Storylines: It’s a must-win game for Gene Chizik. His 1-7 Tigers have given no reason for hope this year. If Auburn president Jay Gogue wants to keep Chizik and AD Jay Jacobs on staff, he’ll need to have some kind of reason — even three crummy wins over Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State and Alabama A&M — to preach “hope” to a doubting Tiger fanbase heading into 2013.
Keys for Auburn: Protect QB Jonathan Wallace with a run game. Quite frankly the Aggies of NMSU are terrible. They’re 1-7 like Auburn, but that record’s come against a WAC schedule. State beat FCS-level Sacramento State to open the season but has since lost to the likes of Ohio, UTEP, New Mexico, Texas-San Antonio (!), Idaho, Utah State and Louisiana Tech all by double-digit margins. Even with Wallace taking over as the Tigers third starting quarterback on the season, the Tigers should be able to run the ball against NMSU and crush them. If they don’t, Chizik might not even make it til his buyout drops from $10 million to $7.5 million on December 1st.
Pick: Auburn 38, New Mexico State 13
Ole Miss at Georgia
3:30pm ET on CBS
Opening Line: UGA -17.5
Current Line: UGA -14
Storylines: Georgia can take one more step toward the SEC Championship Game with a win. Ole Miss is 5-3 overall and they’ve got some confidence coming off back-to-back wins over West foes Auburn and Arkansas. They’re also just one win from bowl eligibility. But don’t forget, the four teams the Rebels have beaten are a combined 8-25.
Keys for Ole Miss: Let Bo go. Said it last week, saying it again. QB Bo Wallace is a poor man’s “Johnny Football.” He’s the Rebels’ best offensive weapon and Georgia’s defense has given up a lot of big plays to SEC and non-conference foes alike this year. They rank just 10th in the SEC against the run. UM needs for Wallace and RB Jeff Scott to crank the speedometer on Hugh Freeze offense. Doing so against a UGA team that’s still basking in the glow of last week’s win could help.
Keys for Georgia: Set the alarm clock for last week’s defense. Simply put, if the defensive unit that showed up last week in a win over Florida turns up at 3:30pm ET tomorrow in Athens, expect the Dawgs to win safely. But we’ve only seen that defense once or twice this year. This one’s all about LB Jarvis Jones and company remembering S Shawn Williams’ challenging them a week to not play soft.
Pick: Georgia 34, Ole Miss 24
Alabama at LSU
8:00pm ET on CBS
Opening Line: UA -7
Current Line: UA -9
Storylines: Ah, the biggie. BCS title hopes are on the line. It’s the defending SEC champs (LSU) versus the defending BCS champs (Alabama), which you can’t say very often. The Tigers’ 22-game home winning streak is on the line, too. No coach other than Les Miles has beaten Nick Saban multiple times since his arrival at Bama in 2007 (and the Mad Hatter is 3-3 against him to boot). Five of the teams’ last six meetings have been determined by seven points or less. The road team has also won three of the last five.
Keys for Alabama: Be efficient on offense. All week we’ve told you how similar these teams are defensively. Statistically, the two Ds are almost identical in terms of rankings. But the difference is on offense. Specifically at the quarterback position. Against SEC defenses, Alabama ranks #1 in the league in passer rating. LSU ranks #13… two slots below Auburn’s triumvirate of passers. On the season, QB AJ McCarron has thrown 18 touchdowns to zero — zero! — interceptions. LSU QB Zach Mettenberger’s TD-to-INT ratio is just seven scores to four picks. John Chavis’ unit and the Tiger Stadium crowd will provide a big test for McCarron, but so far he’s been flawlessly efficient flinging the pigskin.
Keys for LSU: Nix the mistakes, win the kicking game, get Mettenberger’s best, etc. You get the picture. On paper the Tigers will have to play a near perfect game to beat Bama. So let’s start with the basics — LSU can’t turn the ball over and it can’t hurt itself with penalties. (The Tide is #5 in the SEC in penalties, the Tigers have committed 30 more and rank #12). In LSU’s overtime win in Tuscaloosa a year ago, Miles’ team won the special teams battle. They’ll have to do that again tomorrow. We’ve already shown you the Mettenberger/McCarron comparison, but we know a few of you are thinking “The Tigers didn’t need a great passer at Bama last year.” No, but they did in Round Two in New Orleans. If Mettenberger can’t be trusted to carry the Tigers then they should take a tip from William Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true.” LSU is a power rushing team. Alabama’s not easy to run against, but the Tigers have to run to win. If that means some Wildcat packages and option, so be it. Just find a way to move the ball on the ground and shorten the game. If LSU’s still within a score heading into the fourth quarter… you never know. Strange things can happen in Death Valley.
Pick: Alabama 24, LSU 13