Here’s your weekly rundown of all the SEC action on tap for Week Eleven 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.
Arkansas at South Carolina
12:00pm ET on CBS
Opening Line: USC -15.5
Current Line: USC -13.5
Storylines: Arkansas is fighting (hoping, praying) to still become bowl eligible. They need two more wins and grabbing one in Columbia would be huge. As in a huge upset. Carolina is 7-2 overall with Clemson remaining. Lose tomorrow and the Gamecocks could — hypothetically speaking — fall all the way back to an 8-4 season after last year’s breakthrough 11-2 campaign.
Keys for Arkansas: Win the turnover battle. Look, we could point out that South Carolina might make some personnel moves in its secondary this week. We could also point out that Tennessee threw all over the Gamecocks in USC’s last game. But Arkansas is a league-worst minus-11 in turnover margin. If the Hogs don’t win the turnover battle — a la Florida versus Carolina — all else will be moot.
Keys for South Carolina: Get an efficient day from Shaw. QB Connor Shaw had his best day of the year against the Volunteers two weeks ago — every quarterback Tennessee has played can say the same — but he’ll be even more important moving forward. Without RB Marcus Lattimore, the Razorbacks will work hard to slow down backup RB Kenny Miles and Shaw on the ground. Against SEC foes, Arkansas’ rush defense is just as good statistically as Carolina’s. But the Hogs’ pass defense ranks #13 in the league. Shaw needs to pass the ball wisely to open up the new-look Gamecock ground game.
Pick: South Carolina 28, Arkansas 20
Missouri at Tennessee
12:21pm ET on SEC Network (check local listings)
Opening Line: UT -2.5
Current Line: UT -3
Storylines: Both MU and UT need two wins in their final three games to become bowl eligible. But Vol head coach Derek Dooley needs to go three-for-three if he’s to have even the slightest hope of holding on to his job.
Keys for Missouri: Let Franklin wing it. That was our key last week for Mizzou and it’s our key again. As QB James Franklin gets healthier — and Gary Pinkel has said he’s had a good week of practice — he’s given a spark to the Tigers’ offense. Go inside the numbers on last week’s game and you’ll find that Franklin passed for about 60 more yards than Florida’s secondary had been giving up in SEC play. His fourth pick was a last-ditch effort into the end zone after he’d driven the Tigers from one end of the field to the other in an effort to tie. Newsflash: If Franklin can throw on Florida, he can throw on Tennessee.
Keys for Tennessee: Score on every possession. The Tiger defense has improved the past two weeks, but the Volunteer offense will likely put up plenty of points (barring turnovers). The trouble is with UT’s defense where it’s expected safeties coach Josh Conklin will take over play-calling duties from defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri. For the record, Conklin was the defensive coordinator at The Citadel last year and was coaching at Wofford before that. Dooley has spent more time with the defense this week, but it’s hard to imagine Dooley’s energy and a Southern Conference D-coordinator promoted midseason will suddenly turn the Vol defense around. For that reason, the Vols can’t waste a single possession. Drive-killing penalties and turnovers must be avoided at all costs. In fact, UT might try to run the ball a bit more this week in an effort to keep its shoddy defense off the field.
Pick: Tennessee 34, Missouri 31
Louisiana-Lafayette at Florida
12:21pm ET on SEC Network (check local listings)
Opening Line: UF -27
Current Line: UF -27
Storylines: There is no storyline. This is yet another meaningless creampuff game in the SEC. Blech.
Keys for Florida: Show up. U-La-La is 5-3, but their pass defense ranks dead last in the Sun Belt conference. For a team needing to work on its passing game, the Ragin’ Cajuns should make for nice target practice. QB Jeff Driskel and crew rank 14th in the SEC in passing offense. Yes, the Gators run the ball and run it well, but their ineffective passing game cost them against Georgia and it almost cost them again last week against Missouri. With Florida State looming down on the horizon, UF has to find more balance against Lafayette this week and Jacksonville State the next.
Pick: Florida 42, Louisiana-Lafayette 17
Texas A&M at Alabama
3:30pm ET on CBS
Opening Line: UA -16
Current Line: UA -13.5
Storylines: Alabama can clinch the SEC West title. The Tide can also keep its BCS title hopes alive. Texas A&M can make a first-year statement to the rest of the SEC that the Aggie program came to play with the big boys of the league, not cellar-dwellers. Redshirt freshman QB Johnny Manziel can fuel up his Heisman campaign.
Keys for Texas A&M: Trust Johnny Football. The Aggies’ quarterback is averaging 383 yards of total offense per game. Cam Newton in his record-setting 2010 season averaged 209 yards per game. That should put things in perspective. In the Aggies’ seven wins, Manziel has averaged between 6.96 and 10.94 yards per play. In A&M’s losses to Florida (4.96) and LSU (4.15), he has not. Is this the week Manziel finally puts on a Superman-like performance against a top flight defense? It needs to be if TAMU is to pull the stunner.
Keys for Alabama: Wake up, fix the defense. First, Bama cannot be caught celebrating last week’s last-minute win at LSU. At least one Tide player said this week that the victory in Baton Rouge felt like an SEC championship. Not good. Nick Saban has been beating his “one step at a time” refrain into his troops all week. He knows that a good team would take a lot of negatives out of last week’s game, not positives. Sure it was great to win, but the Tide defense looked human for the first time in a long, long while. A quarterback who’d been dormant all season erupted for 296 yards passing. The Tide’s staunch run defense allowed 139 yards (though it held LSU to just 2.8 yards per rush). Manziel will provide a different type of run threat to Bama in addition to his passing skills. This one has the makings of an upset, but if the Tide didn’t fold last week at LSU, it’s hard to imagine them tumbling at home this week.
Pick: Alabama 28, Texas A&M 17
Georgia at Auburn
7:00pm ET on ESPN2
Opening Line: UGA -16
Current Line: UGA -15
Storylines: With a win over Auburn, Georgia will wrap up the SEC East title for the second year in a row. So much for all the talk of Mark Richt and hot seats. With his back to the wall and seat heating up, UGA’s coach is on the verge of putting together back-to-back trips to Atlanta. And then there’s Gene Chizik. While Richt’s seat has cooled, Chizik’s has all but burned up. Rumors and reports yesterday suggested that AU president Jay Gogue is making preparations to oust the coach at year’s end.
Keys for Georgia: Take Auburn seriously. This is the Deep South’s oldest rivalry and many of the players in tomorrow’s game have played against each other from the pee-wee leagues to college. It’s doubtful that UGA will be caught napping, especially after falling behind 10-0 last week in what eventually turned to be a 37-10 rout of Ole Miss. The Tiger defense allows a touchdown once every 18 plays. It’s ranks 13th in the league against SEC rushing attacks, 10th against SEC passing attacks. Even a UGA team that’s lost WR Michael Bennett and WR Marlon Brown to season-ending knee injuries should be able to move the ball and score on Auburn.
Keys for Auburn: Uh, win one for the Chizzer? At this stage, what else is there? Against SEC competition, Scot Loeffler’s offense is #14 in rushing offense and #12 in passing offense. New quarterback Jonathan Wallace was praised after his first start which resulted in the following stat line against New Mexico State: nine-of-16, 164 passing yards, one touchdown, one interception. And NMSU is one of the worst teams in the FBS. If the Tigers beat Georgia, the Dawgs will have either turned the ball over four-plus times or Auburn’s players will have made one last Herculean stand to save their embattled coach.
Pick: Georgia 38, Auburn 10
Mississippi State at LSU
7:00pm ET on ESPN
Opening Line: LSU -17
Current Line: LSU -15
Storylines: MSU is trying to prevent its season from going down the drain. After a 7-0 start against assorted cupcakes, creampuffs and pastries, the Bulldogs have been hammered by both Alabama and Texas A&M. Now they walk into Tiger Stadium at night for a game against a Les Miles club that’s still fighting for a BCS bowl berth.
Keys for Mississippi State: Find the missing ground game. In State’s first seven wins, the Bulldogs averaged 180 yards rushing per contest. The last two weeks, MSU has averaged just 72.5 yards per game on the ground. Not good enough. That puts too much pressure on the defense (which has given up 24 first-half and 14 second-half points in each of its last two games). The trouble for State this weekend is that LSU’s rush defense is the third best in the SEC and 12th best in the country. If State is to find its missing run game, it’s not likely to do so in Death Valley.
Keys for LSU: A little more Mettenberger. LSU QB Zach Mettenberger had been pretty dadgum pedestrian through the Tigers’ first eight games. Then came a breakout performance against the nation’s best defense in Alabama. Go figure. His 24-of-35 night for 298 yards and a touchdown (without an interception) led LSU thisclose to a major upset of the nation’s top-ranked team. But before we go all-in on LSU’s passer, we need to see a bit more from him. We suspect LSU will simply try to run the ball down MSU’s throats — the Bulldogs pass defense is a bit stingier than its rush defense — but the Tigers should try to lean a bit more on Mettenberger for two reasons: first, to build his confidence further and second, because at some point they’ll need for him to carry them again. Why not make sure he’s ready to do so?
Pick: LSU 27, Mississippi State 17
Vanderbilt at Ole Miss
7:00pm ET on ESPNU
Opening Line: UM -1
Current Line: UM -3
Storylines: In this battle between two statistically similar squads, the winner will become bowl eligible. ‘Nuff said.
Keys for Vanderbilt: Win the air battle. Against SEC foes, guess who has the best pass defense in the league. Yep, Vandy (of course they’ve faced such grounded offenses as Missouri, Florida, Auburn and Kentucky to date). Ole Miss is just the 11th best pass D in the league. And when it comes to taking care of the football, only QB AJ McCarron of Alabama and QB Tyler Russell of MSU are better than Vandy QB Jordan Rodgers (just three picks in 209 attempts). Mississippi QB Bo Wallace has thrown a league-worst 10 interceptions on the season (in 230 attempts). Ironically, the Commodores appear to have the air superiority in this matchup. They need to take advantage of it.
Keys for Ole Miss: Win the land battle. One of the reasons teams don’t throw as much on Vandy is because they can have a great deal of success running on the Dores. Against SEC competition, VU is allowing 198 yards per game on the ground (12th best in the conference). But Ole Miss’ ground game has been stuffed three times on the season… in a loss to Alabama (2.29 yards per carry), in a last-play-of-the-game win over Arkansas (2.08 yards per carry) and in last week’s loss to Georgia (1.59 yards per carry). The last two weeks (against the Hogs and Dawgs) UM has averaged just 61.5 rushing yards per game. Compare that to 211 yards per game through the Rebels first seven contests. This one could go either way, but we’ll take the Rebs at home.
Pick: Ole Miss 24, Vanderbilt 23