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.
LSU at Texas A&M
12:00pm ET on ESPN
Opening Line: LSU -3
Current Line: LSU -3.5
Storylines: “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Or maybe just a new beginning. LSU and A&M have a long history together, but now they’re in the same conference. Since the 1980s when John David Crow and Joe Dean — the schools’ ADs at the time — angled together for the Aggies to join the SEC, this has been one powder keg just waiting for someone to flip a match at it. Tomorrow, the match gets thrown. Sadly, it’s an 11am CT kickoff and that may have some impact on players’ internal clocks. But we’re talking about hotshot QB Johnny Manziel facing one of the SEC’s best defenses led by John Chavis, one of the SEC’s best coaches.
Keys for LSU: Ground and pound. Last weekend LSU ran the football 53 times for 258 yards and chewed up nearly 37 minutes of possession in doing so. That will need to be the recipe tomorrow in College Station, too. The Tigers’ passing game just hasn’t been what LSU fans had hoped, so the best bet for beating a high-flying A&M offense is keep the ball away from Manziel and run the pigskin time after time. Against SEC competition the Aggies rank seventh in terms of rush defense and that number has been aided by opponents falling behind and passing more often. If the Tigers run the ball, there defense should do the rest.
Keys for Texas A&M: Let Johnny Football be Johnny Football. Manziel is on pace to snap in 12 games Cam Newton’s single-season total offense record, which he set in 14 games in 2010. Sure Manziel has improved since his first career start against Florida, but it’s hard to forget UF’s fast, tough defense shutting him down in the second half. LSU also has a fast, tough defense. A&M needs to hope Manziel can break enough plays on his own to pull the upset, but it’s hard to imagine one man by himself toppling the Tigers. And A&M — at least on offense — has basically been a one-man wrecking crew this season.
Pick: LSU 18, Texas A&M 17
Auburn at Vanderbilt
12:21pm ET on SEC Network
Opening Line: VU -9
Current Line: VU -7
Storylines: One of the SEC’s traditional powers appears to be on the express elevator to the basement. One of the league’s traditional doormats wants to prove it’s truly on the ascent. The two collide in what’s likely a make or break game for both squads. The loser tomorrow will have little chance of reaching bowl eligibility and that point, teams often quit. It might not be the most enticing game on the docket, but it is an important one for both programs. This writer believes Gene Chizik will survive to face an uber-hot seat year in 2013, but a loss at Vandy would further erode what support he has left.
Keys for Auburn: Find a way to run the football and hold onto it. Against SEC foes, Vanderbilt ranks 13th in rush defense. Unfortunately, Auburn ranks #14 in rush offense. The Tigers are also -13 in turnover margin while Vandy is just -1. The Commodore pass defense has been solid on the season and given AU’s passing woes, we don’t expect QB Clint Moseley to suddenly turn into Pat Sullivan over night. Auburn needs to find a rushing attack that’s been missing all season.
Keys for Vanderbilt: Trust QB Jordan Rodgers. He’s the SEC’s sixth-leading passer at 213 yards per game. not great, but good enough to do damage to Auburn’s secondary. Red zone woes have haunted the Commodores on many occasions this season and Rodgers has but three TDs to show for his work this season. But he’s also thrown just two picks in 134 attempts on the year. For the season, Auburn’s secondary has faced 192 passes hurled in its direction. So far that’s led to one — one — interception from AU defense. If Vandy can shore up a special teams unit that damaged the teams chances against Florida last week, the Dores should be able to eek out a victory.
Pick: Vanderbilt 20, Auburn 17
South Carolina at Florida
3:30pm ET on CBS
Opening Line: UF -3.5
Current Line: UF -3.5
Storylines: The Ol’ Ball Coach Returns to the place that features his alma mater and a stadium that features a statue in his honor. First place in the SEC East is one the line as are possible BCS championship hopes. Need anything else?
Keys for South Carolina: QB Connor Shaw needs the game of his life. South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore is banged up with a hip injury and Steve Spurrier says he’ll be replaced in the starting lineup by RB Kenny Miles. Florida’s run defense has been excellent to date anyway. But through five SEC games, Florida ranks just seventh in the SEC in pass defense. They do have six interceptions on the year, but the Gamecocks — who couldn’t run the ball against LSU a week ago — will need to let Shaw take his chances through the air and on zone-read runs. Shaw doesn’t throw often — just 108 passes on the year — but he’s completing better than 69% of those throws and his QB rating is the third best in the SEC. On the ground he’s added 280 yards on 76 carries. With Lattimore presumed hurt, this one’s gonna be on Shaw.
Keys for Florida: Play smart. These are two evenly matched football teams, but Florida has two things working in its favor — the Gators are at home and they’re healthier than the Gamecocks. If they continue to stress the power run game and defense, they should be fine. If Lattimore were healthy, I’d probably take the upset, but him being a question mark… no thanks. The big concern is Florida’s tendency to hurt itself with mistakes. The Gators have more combined giveaways, penalties, sacks allowed and missed PATs in SEC play than every school but Auburn (they both have 54 such toe-stubbings). The Gators are good, but they make things harder on themselves than necessary. If they do that Saturday, it could cost them.
Pick: Florida 21, South Carolina 20
Alabama at Tennessee
7:00pm ET on ESPN
Opening Line: UA -18.5
Current Line: UA -20
Storylines: The top-ranked Tide try to keep rolling against a high-scoring offense. Derek Dooley tries to save his job. ‘Nuff said.
Keys for Alabama: Run, pass… it shouldn’t matter. Tennessee’s switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 has resulted in an increase in turnovers, but it’s also led to an historically bad year defensively for the Vols. It’s been so bad that UT tried to go back to use a lot more 4-3 against Mississippi State last week. Didn’t help. The Bulldogs still posted 41 points in their victory. UT’s defense in SEC plays has given up 16 touchdowns in three games. Worse still, they’re giving up a score once every 12.9 snaps. And take a guess which SEC team scores with the greatest ease by far of any league team. Yep, Bama. As long as QB AJ McCarron’s is good to go, Alabama should run up quite a few points tomorrow.
Keys for Tennessee: Get off to a fast start against a flat Alabama team. All teams — even national title winners — have bad days. Question is, was Alabama’s “flat” game a field goal-heavy win over Ole Miss a few weeks ago or are the Tide still due for a poor showing? Tennessee can score on offense, on defense, and with WR/KR Cordarelle Patterson in the kicking game. If the Vols can manage to put up enough points early to build their confidence against a Bama team that’s sleepwalking? Yeah, anything can happen. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
Pick: Alabama 38, Tennessee 17
Georgia at Kentucky
7:00pm ET on FSN
Opening Line: UGA -27
Current Line: UGA -26
Storylines: Georgia’s players will know early on in this game if South Carolina or Florida has won in the Swamp. A Florida win and the Bulldogs still control their own destiny in the East. A Carolina win and the Dawgs could be in trouble. But against Kentucky, it probably won’t matter either way.
Keys for Georgia: Run the football — like everyone else has against the Cats. UK is allowing 179.5 yards rushing in SEC games. Against all foes they’re even worse, allowing 184 yards per game. UGA on the other had is rushing for 226.5 yards per game with freshmen RB Keith Marshall and RB Todd Gurley. Yes, South Carolina controlled them Georgia’s last time out, but Kentucky is not South Carolina. If Georgia runs the ball — and sets up Aaron Murray’s play-action passing game — this one could be over by the end of the first quarter.
Keys for Kentucky: Pray for bad weather to cancel this one. Last week, UK was down 49-7 to Arkansas when severe weather caused the game to be called with five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Yes, the third quarter. With an extremely young team that’s been ravaged by injuries, there’s not even much hope for a “win one for the Joker” type of effort. It’s football. Anything’s possible. But if Kentucky upsets Georgia it would be one of the biggest shockers in recent SEC memory.
Pick: Georgia 48, Kentucky 10
MTSU at Mississippi State
7:00pm on ESPN2
Opening Line: MSU -20
Current Line: MSU -19
Storylines: Ah, the cupcake that might bite back. Mississippi State is 6-0 and three of those wins have come against Jackson State, Troy and South Alabama. The win over Troy was a six-pointer. The best win for State so far was last week’s victory over an average Tennessee squad. Now MTSU comes to town in what was supposed to be another pastry game, but the Blue Raiders are 4-2 and boast — somehow — a 49-28 win over Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
Keys for Mississippi State: Set every alarm clock in Starkville. This game has T-R-A-P written all over it. The Dogs are coming off their best win of the year in front of a rowdy home crowd last week. They’re ranked #12 in the current BCS standings. Next week they face #1 Alabama. If State players were ever going to started buying into their own hype and looking ahead… now’s that time. MTSU has the worst defense in the Sun Belt Conference, so we’re not going to pick an upset. Also, the fact that Dan Mullen’s team is well-coached and doesn’t beat itself plays a role in that decision. But as we said before Florida’s trip to Vanderbilt last week, this game could be closer than expected because one team probably won’t be as up for it as the other (turned out that was indeed the case in UF/VU). Hopefully Mullen has reminded his team that MTSU is in the same conference with Troy, a school that amassed 572 yards of offense against his Bulldogs earlier this season
Pick: Mississippi State 31, MTSU 24