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SEC Game Previews – 11/29/30

mrsec game previewCongrats to Mississippi State for their Egg Bowl upset of Ole Miss.  Came within a hair of picking the Bulldogs… and then refused to pull the trigger because Dan Mullen had said Dak Prescott was out.  Thanks, Dan.  Two weeks in a row you’ve gone all rope-a-dope with your QBs.

Our Arkansas/LSU game preview can be found right here.  The rest of the weekend action you can find quickly, neatly broken down below.

Good luck to your favorite team this weekend!


Florida State (11-0) at Florida (4-7)

TV:  12:00pm ET on ESPN

Opening Line:  FSU -26

Current Line:  FSU -27

One To Watch:  Jimbo Fisher’s foot.  Florida State is the more healthy team and the more talented team.  His old coaching colleague and friend Will Muschamp is taking fire from all sides after a loss to Georgia Southern of the FCS.  At what point will the Seminoles’ coach take his foot off the gas?  Or will he?

This And That:

1.  Florida will be trying to avoid its first eight-loss season since being saddled with an 0-10-1 mark way back in 1979.  Most likely, they’ll have third-string quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg leading their attack.  In two games he’s completed 24-of-38 passes for 229 yards, two TDs and one INT.  That six-yards-per-attempt average is what’s worrisome.  Especially going against an FSU team that ranks second in the nation in pass defense (allowing just 156.5 yards per game).

2.  The Gators rank right behind the Noles at #3 in passing defense.  But here’s the rub: Florida State has this feller named Jameis Winston playing quarterback and he’s already thrown for 3,163 yards, 32 touchdowns and seven interceptions.  How much stat-padding can he do against a UF players who might be ready to fold their tents and go home for the winter?

3.  Blowouts are not uncommon in this rivalry.  Five of the last eight have been decided by 21 points or more.  Expect more of the same Saturday.

Prediction:  Florida State 38, Florida 10


Wake Forest (4-7) at Vanderbilt (7-4)

TV:  12:21pm ET on SEC TV

Opening Line:  VU -14

Current Line:  VU -14

One To Watch:

This And That:

1.  Vanderbilt has now won eight straight November games under James Franklin, dating back to 2010.  With a win over the Deacons, VU will have posted its eighth win of the season (after winning nine games last year).  Vandy hasn’t posted back-to-back seasons of eight or more wins since Dan McGugin’s days back in 1927 and 1928.  Franklin has already won 22 games in Nashville in his first three seasons.  The last time the Commodores posted 22 wins over a three-year span?  Yep, McGugin’s run from 1927 through 1929.  Remarkable.

2.  Wake Forest ranks dead last in the SEC in scoring offense (18.1 points per game).  They’re sixth in scoring defense (24.2 points allowed per game).  Vandy ranks ninth in the SEC in scoring offense (29.7) and scoring defense (25.0).  In other words, this one might be ugly, just like the Dores’ last two wins over Kentucky and Tennessee.

3.  Vanderbilt’s offense revolves around Jordan Matthews.  The SEC’s all-time receptions leader has 25 catches for 274 yards the last two weeks.  If Wake Forest can’t stop him, they’ve got no prayer.  Especially since they’re unlikely to win the turnover battle.  WFU has turned the ball over 11 times in its last four games.  Vandy has forced 19 turnovers in its last five games.

Prediction:  Vanderbilt 24, Wake Forest 13


Georgia Tech (7-4) at Georgia (7-4)

TV:  3:30pm ET on ABC

Opening Line:  UGA -3

Current Line:  UGA -3

One To Watch:  Georgia QB Hutson Mason.  He’s waited patiently behind Aaron Murray and now with UGA’s starter felled by an ACL injury, Mason will finally get his shot as the Dawgs’ starter.  The junior from Marietta should know all about the “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate” game and its importance.  Georgia fans should hope that the combination of first start and rivalry game doesn’t cause their new signal-caller to press.

This And That:

1.  Triple-option attacks are no fun to defend.  Ask Florida after the Gators loss to Georgia Southern.  Even though UGA’s defense sees Bobby Johnson’s option attack on an annual basis, there’s little reason to believe familiarity alone will result in victory.  The Yellow Jackets are averaging 316 yards per game on the ground (fourth best in America) and Georgia’s rush defense allowed 323 yards on 57 carries (5.67 yards per rush) against Gus Malzhan’s spread-option.  With a new quarterback, Todd Grantham’s defense will have to come through on Saturday.

2.  Another Todd will have a big hand in determining the outcome of this one, too.  Since returning from an ankle injury, sophomore back Todd Gurley has rushed for 331 yards (and 6.2 yards per carry) in four games.  Obviously, Mike Bobo will want to feed the ball to Gurley in order to take pressure off of Mason and keep Tech’s offense off the field.  But that won’t be as easy as it sounds.  Georgia Tech has the 10th best run defense in the country and is allowing just 104.1 yards per contest.  Gurley and UGA’s line need to come up very big tomorrow.

3.  Mark Richt has lost eight players to season-ending injury this season.  Those injuries have already knocked the Bulldogs from the ranks of BCS contender to East Division also-ran.  Now comes a big rivalry game… against a pretty good team with a funky offense… and the Dawgs will be without their All-SEC senior leader at quarterback?  That’s not a recipe for success.

Prediction:  Georgia Tech 33, Georgia 30


Alabama (11-0) at Auburn (10-1)

TV:  3:00pm ET on CBS

Opening Line:  UA -9.5

Current Line:  UA -10.5

One To Watch:  Auburn QB Nick Marshall.  Everyone knows that Auburn will need to have success on the ground to win the Iron Bowl.  But the Tigers will need some yards from their passing game, too.  As a starter against BCS foes, Marshall is 7-1.  In those wins he’s averaged just 19 attempts and 11 completions.  In AU’s loss to Auburn, Marshall three 33 times and completed 17.  Only three times all season did Marshall throw 25 or more passes versus BCS teams and in those games Auburn lost to LSU (by 14), beat Mississippi State (by 4), and topped Georgia (by five) on a last-minute Hail Mary.  The more he throws, the tougher winning has been for the Tigers.

This And That:

1.  How much success will the SEC’s #1 rush offense (320.2 yards per game) have versus the SEC’s top-ranked rush defense (91.2 yards per game allowed)?  This week we looked at the three previous Iron Bowl between the defense of Nick Saban and the offense of Gus Malzahn.  We found that AU’s ground game had been halted by the Tide, even in Auburn’s 2010, Cam Newton-led victory.  AU was held 61, 176 and 104 yards below its rushing average in 2009, 2010 and 2011.  That suggests Marshall will indeed have to have his most accurate passing day of the year if the Plainsmen are to upend the Tide.

2.  So what about the other quarterback in this year’s Iron Bowl?  AJ McCarron’s stats aren’t flashy, but he continues to lead Bama to one win after another.  Saturday he’ll go up against the team that ranks 14th in the league in in-conference pass defense.  In their seven SEC contests to date, the Tigers have allowed 274.0 yards per game through the air.  Ellis Johnson’s defense has been particularly susceptible to the long ball.  Auburn has surrendered 56 plays of 20+ yards (12th in the SEC) and 27 plays of 30+ yards (13th in the SEC) and 14 plays of 40+ yards (13th in the SEC).  Alabama likes to run the football, but expect to see McCarron test the Tigers’ secondary.

3.  Auburn is 7-4 versus the Tide at Jordan-Hare Stadium since the rivalry became a home-and-home series in 1989.  Bama won the last two on the Plains 26-21 (2009) and 42-14 (2011) against Malzhan’s offense.

Bonus:  Did we mention the SEC West title, a trip to Atlanta, and life in the BCS championship picture are all on the line?

Prediction:  Alabama 34, Auburn 24


Clemson (10-1) at South Carolina (9-2)

TV:  7:00pm ET on ESPN2

Opening Line:  USC -6

Current Line:  USC -4.5

One To Watch:  Clemson QB Tajh Boyd.  At SEC Media Days, Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said that he could tell that Boyd was scared of him during last year’s Palmetto State brawl.  Reports say Clowney is healthy.  Does that mean he’ll have a big impact on this week’s game?  He’ll need to.  Boyd is ranked 15th in the nation in total offense accounting for 319 yards per game.

This And That:

1.  Saturday will mark the final home game for senior USC signal-caller Connor Shaw.  As a starter he is 16-0 at Williams-Brice Stadium.  This season his passer rating is 168.42 at home compared to 151.42 on the road.  In other words, opponents typically get Shaw’s best in Columbia.  For his career, Shaw has a 38-10 TD-to-interception ratio against unranked teams.  Against ranked foes over the last four years his ratio is 14-to-6.  This meeting will be the first time both Carolina and Clemson enter the contest ranked in the top 10.

2.  The Tigers rank just 48th in the nation against the run (versus BCS-level competition).  South Carolina’s ground game is the 25th best in the country (versus BCS-level competition).  Just how often Steve Spurrier puts the ball in the hands of SEC leading rusher Mike Davis (111.2 yards per game) could determine the outcome of this one.

3.  There’s plenty on the line in this one.  Both squads are still battling for BCS bowl bids.  Clemson’s only been to one and Carolina has never earned a BCS ticket.  The Gamecocks boast a 17-game home winning streak.  But the Tigers had a 13-game home winning streak of their own snapped by the Cocks last season.  Clemson will certainly want to return the favor.  USC will be going for its fifth win in a row versus its rival and neither school has reeled off that many in a row since Clemson won seven straight between 1934 and 1940.  Carolina has never won five in a row versus the Tigers.  Then there’s what seems to be a bit of bad blood between Dabo Swinney and Spurrier.  Clearly, Spurrier’s past gigs have gotten under Swinney’s skin in the past.  Will Swinney and his team be tight as a result?

Bonus:  Carolina will have to be careful not to do too much scoreboard watching tomorrow night.  If Missouri falls to Texas A&M, the Ol’ Ball Coach will take his team to Atlanta for just the second time ever.  But the game at Williams-Brice is the only one Carolina’s players can control… they better be focused on it.

Prediction:  South Carolina 31, Clemson 27


Tennessee (4-7) at Kentucky (2-9)

TV:  7:00pm ET on ESPNU

Opening Line:  UT -4

Current Line:  UT -4

One To Watch:  Kentucky QB Jalen Whitlow.  UK’s quarterback situation has been a near constant flip-flop between Whitlow and Max Smith all season, depending on who’s healthy.  Whitlow left last Saturday’s loss to Georgia with a shoulder injury and spasms in his neck.  If he can go tomorrow, his wheels may cause big problems for a Tennessee defense that’s struggled against running quarterbacks all season long.

This And That:

1.  There have been some ugly SEC games of late (MSU/Arkansas, MSU/UM, UK/VU, UT/VU) and this one has the makings of another.  It might be close and it might be exciting, but it unlikely these two teams (a combined 1-15 in SEC play) will create a gridiron masterpiece as both put the wraps on seasons to forget.  Tennessee hasn’t lost to Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the same season since 1954.  The Vols have never lost eight games in a season.  Both could happen tomorrow night.  The Wildcats have lost 15 conference games in a row dating back to a 10-7 win over UT two years ago.  This one could be about as fun to watch as that one as both teams’ depth issues have been exposed by injuries.

2.  Tennessee’s rush defense ranks 13th in the SEC (213.5 yards allowed per game).  Kentucky’s rush offense ranks #13 as well (148.73 yards per game).  UK has three players who’ve gained between 454 and 464 yards rushing.  Whitlow is one.  Freshman Jojo Kemp is another.  But senior Raymond Sanders won’t play as Mark Stoops suspended him this week, effectively ending the senior’s playing career.  With Sanders and out and Whitlow questionable, a bad Kentucky run game could get even worse.

3.  Freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs will again get the start for Tennessee.  The Vols have scored just three offensive touchdowns with Dobbs starting, but he has had one TD pass dropped, a TD run called back by penalty, and another would be TD pass — wait for it — that a streaking receiver lost in the lights.  Might Dobbs have more success against a UK defense that’s giving up a 170.78 passer rating to BCS foes.  That’s 20 points worse than the SEC 12th-best pass defense (Texas A&M) and just ahead of the league’s worse (Arkansas).  The one concern for the Volunteers when throwing (aside from drops and bright lights)?  The Wildcats have recorded 22 sacks on the season.

Bonus:  Think both fanbases would like to just skip ahead to signing day?  Neither first-year coach has had much success on the field, but both Butch Jones and Stoops have been tearing it up on the recruiting trail.

Prediction:  Tennessee 17, Kentucky 10


Texas A&M (8-3) at Missouri (10-1)

TV:  7:45pm ET on ESPN

Opening Line:  MU -3

Current Line:  MU -4.5

One To Watch:  Missouri coach Gary Pinkel.  The man who’s led Mizzou to the cusp of an East Division title will have a big decision to make Saturday night — How much head to put on Johnny Manziel?  The Tigers’ pass defense is at the bottom of the SEC allowing 272.8 yards per game.  In most cases, then, the goal would be to get after the opposing quarterback before he can attack the secondary.  And Missouri does have a league-leading 35 sacks.  But does Mizzou want to risk Johnny Football (the league’s 12th-best rusher with 665 yards) scrambling around for back-breaking big plays?  The Tigers will need to be very careful when rushing Manziel.  They cannot past him in the pocket, opening up escape routes and rush lanes for the jitterbugging all-star.

This And That:

1.  Manziel Heisman chances are likely kaput after LSU stifled the Aggies’ offense last week.  But A&M is still targeting a good bowl berth to end Kevin Sumlin’s second year in College Station.  And with Manziel and receiver Mike Evans both possibly leaving early for the NFL, expect a few more highlight plays from the duo tomorrow night in Columbia.

2.  A&M’s defense has been horrible all year and it’s hard to imagine MU’s balanced, up-tempo, spread attack not putting up yards and points galore.  So again things come back to Manziel and Sumlin’s offense.  Can they do damage to Missouri?  Obviously they can, but the Tiger defense ranks second in the SEC behind Alabama in scoring defense (against all foes, SEC foes only, and BCS foes only).  Dave Steckel’s crew will be tested by A&M’s broken play ability, but the Tigers are no joke on D, ranking just behind Bama in rushing defense, too.

3.  Upsets typically require turnovers, but that’s not a stat that works in A&M’s favor.  Missouri is plus-14 overall while the Aggies are even with 20 takeaways and 20 giveaways so far.  In conference games, the difference between the two squads is even more pronounced: Tigers plus-10, Ags minus-seven.

Bonus:  Pressure busts pipes.  The pressure will be on Mizzou tomorrow night to fend off Texas A&M and lock up a trip to Atlanta in just its second year in the Southeastern Conference.  How will James Franklin and crew hold up under that weight?

Prediction:  Missouri 41, Texas A&M 34



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