It says here that 2013 is the Ole Ball Coach's last year as a head football coach. There have been signs for a good decade that Stephen Orr Spurrier doesn't quite have the same fire in the belly he had when he was winning championships and giving his quarterbacks hell in Gainesville. Now he's in Columbus and just giving his quarterbacks hell.
No, every sign has been that Spurrier is just hanging around in hopes of cashing that championship ticket one more time. But 2013 is - or perhaps we should say was - the year for that, as the South Carolina D may be ravaged by early draft entries this spring, and Connor Shaw and Jadeveon Clowney will certainly be gone.
Meanwhile, the OBC's team isn't getting it done in 2013. Yes, South Carolina is 4-1 yet, but the last three weeks they have beaten Vandy, Central Florida and Kentucky by a total of 20 points. The Gamecocks don't have a single impressive win, and the fact that they are still ranked #14 AP and #12 Coaches has more to do with lofty pre-season expectations - 6th and 7th, respectively, in the two polls - than with results on the field. I'm looking for South Carolina to lose two or three more games this year, and I'm looking for a true SEC legend to decide after that happens to move on to greener pastures, say those in the Augusta, Georgia vicinity.
The SEC may not be quite so overwhelming at the top as it was in 2011, when both Alabama and LSU could lay honest claims to having teams that ranked with the all-time greats, but has the conference ever been so deep? In 2012, Auburn and Kentucky were nothing but punching bags, and Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas weren't much better. Of those five teams, only Arkansas does not look to be significantly improved. UT and UK still aren't world-beaters, but they both look like tougher outs this year than last. Auburn has gone from bottom-of-the-toilet to being significantly in the mix for a decent bowl game, and while Missouri hasn't been really tested, they're 5-0 with convincing wins over a couple of probably-not-terrible teams, Vandy and Indiana.
Speaking of Vandy, the 'Dores appear to have taken a bit of a tumble since last year, and the same can likely be said of Mississippi State. But I think it's safe to say that those two teams plus Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee make up a much stronger bottom five this year than what the conference saw in 2012.
The result is a lot of competitive and interesting games in the SEC this year, and relatively few blowout mismatches in conference games. Enjoy.
I was 4-0 last week picking SEC games against the spread, now going to 13-3 on the year, and it's time to humbly point out that we got something going on here, folks. I went 2-0 the first week, 0-3 the second week and missed the third week for real-life reasons, but the last three weeks it has been 11-0. Please notice that this happened, lock me in permanently to infallible status, and kindly disregard the failures that are certainly coming.
Alabama at Kentucky
I've already said that Kentucky looks improved in 2013 - just not that improved. My best guess is that the relative closeness of the Wildcats' games against Louisville and South Carolina owes largely to the fact that neither of those squads is as good as they were expected to be.
Pocket passer Maxwell Smith began the season as Kentucky's starter, but went out with a shoulder injury at halftime of the Louisville game. Dual-threat Jalen Whitlow has been running the offense since, and kept the reins last week against SC even though Smith was back in action in practice. Jo Jo Kemp has had the most success toting the rock. While the Wildcats' offense has been unexciting but competent - dare I use the word workmanlike? -the defense has had some struggles, giving up 196.2 yards a game on the ground, while opposing quarterbacks have completed nearly 70% of their passes. The chance to go against a somewhat soft SEC run D may turn out to give Bama's offensive line, which struggled early in the year, a needed chance to take a baby step forward.
Don't expect Kentucky to hang in with Alabama they way they hung with South Carolina last week. Still, 27.5 strikes me as over-enthusiastic in Kentucky's house. I never advise anyone to bet against Alabama, but I certainly won't advise you to bet on the Tide this week.
Florida at LSU
This tilt highlights the week 7 SEC slate. Did you ever think that LSU would represent the O side of things in what looks to be a pure offense vs defense matchup? Well it's true: Florida has a hot D and a mediocre-to-decent O, and exactly the opposite is true for LSU.
So when Florida has the ball it will be mediocre-to-decent on mediocre-to-decent, and when LSU has the ball it will be good on good. I'm becoming increasingly convinced that Florida behind Tyler Murphy is a much tougher out than Florida behind Jeff Driskel, and it seems likely that Florida will hang something in the 20 to 30 range on the Bengals, while during the high-quality part of the game Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill and company are likely to do something similar to Florida.
In short, I expect a competitive game with medium-type scoring from both teams. You have to call LSU a favorite, but I think Florida has too much D for a 7.5-point spread. I'd take the Gators and the points in what should be a dilly.
Missouri at Georgia
This is a hard game to peg. Missouri is one of the conference's biggest question marks, unproven against strong competition but 5-0 behind a healthy James Franklin and coming off a beatdown of a Vanderbilt team that was expected to be competitive this year.
Georgia struggled last week against a team they were expected to cruise against, and caught a hard beating from the injury hammer at the same time. How good is Georgia's offense really when it's working without four of its top weapons? Good enough to overcome this Missouri team? When the one thing we can be fairly confident about is that the Bulldogs do not have a top defense?
The only thing is . . . teams that just took a really hard injury blow often play over their heads in the next game. Maybe it's that every single player suddenly gets the thought in his mind that it's up to me now, but whatever the reason, it seems to happen. Other than that, I'd say take Missouri and the 8 points, but since I'm suspecting Georgia might come in fired up I'd just as soon lay off this game, and that's my recommendation, as I see Georgia winning a close one.
Texas A&M at Ole Miss
How good is Texas A&M? Unless you think Arkansas is a decent team - and if you do then you and I part company - the Aggies have played one very tough game this year and pretty much nobody at all otherwise.
Are they playing anybody this week? Two weeks ago, October 12 in Oxford looked like a coming test for A&M, but as Gene Wojciechowski pointed out this week, the last 13 SEC teams that Alabama has defeated were 1-12 in their next SEC game. That certainly proved true for Ole Miss: the Rebels looked like a whipped bunch by the end of the Alabama game, and they still looked like a whipped bunch last week at Jordan-Hare.
Home 'dogs are often attractive - but not when it's Ole Miss, coming off back-to-back whippings, and when Johnny Manziel's Texas A&M is coming calling as a mere 6-point favorite. That ain't enough. Take the visiting favorite.
South Carolina at Arkansas
Color me unimpressed by the Bret Bielema regime at Arkansas. A lot of people thought John L. Smith turned the Hogs into a comedy act last year, but the loss to Rutgers and the semi-competitive wins over Louisiana Lafayette, Samford and one of the worst Southern Miss teams of my memory have kept the laugh track rolling in 2013.
If Arkansas is going to get a big win in 2013, it will be this week, when a South Carolina team that seems almost on the verge of falling apart comes calling in Fayetteville. The only thing is, I don't think Arkansas will get a big win in 2013. As down as I am on South Carolina, I'm more down on Arkansas, and I just don't think 6 points is enough. Once more, take the visiting favorite.
Bowling Green at Mississippi St.
Bowling Green is 5-1, but the 5 wins are over teams with a grand total of 8 wins on the season, and none of them were by overwhelming scores. On the other hand, the Falcons' lone loss was a 42-10 beatdown at the hands of a mediocre Indiana team.
Clearly, Bowling Green is not good enough to hang with a middle-of-the-pack SEC team. But is Mississippi St. middle of the pack? Doubtful, especially coming off last week's 2nd-half blowout by LSU.
My money says the Bulldogs are hung over from last week and will have to scratch out an ugly win over a respectable MAC program (if that's not a contradiction in terms) in Starkvegas. Take Bowling Green and the 11.5-point spread.
West Carolina at Auburn
Wow. West Carolina lost 62-23 to Samford. They beat Mars Hill by 1 touchdown. Mars Hill? I thought that was a K-12 Christian academy. Am I wrong? Georgia State only lost by 10 to Samford, so WCU is probably even worse than the team that came to Tuscaloosa last week.
Bad enough to lose to Auburn by 42.5, though? That's a tough call. Maybe they are . . . but too many things can happen once a game gets into blowout phase. I'm rarely a fan of giving that kind of points, and I just see too much uncertainty here to bet on either team. But Auburn should snag its 5th win of the season, putting it two ahead of the 2012 mark and one short of bowl-eligible.