SEC Games to Watch │ Week 8

Kevin C. Cox

Not a single SEC team is playing a non-conference foe this week, and not only that, but the game in the Tuscaloosa is the only one that looks to be an old-fashioned mud-stomping. Got some good SEC football on Saturday, folks. Don't let your TV get cold.

OK, the magic is over. Last week I was 2-2, which leaves me with a more than respectable 15-5 on the season picking SEC games against the spread.

* * *

But one thing I hit right last week was Arkansas. After spending two paragraphs trashing South Carolina and predicting that Spurrier will retire after the season, I then went on to note that hey, they're playing the Arkansas clown show this week, and they'll cover. Boy, did they ever.

Did Alabama play the worst team in the conference last week, or will they play the worst team in the conference this week? Arkansas has played a tough SEC slate so far, no doubt about that - Texas A&M, Florida and South Carolina - but that's no excuse for an average SEC score of 42.3-16.7 against. And even before conference play started, Arkansas gave out some strong hints with competitive wins over Louisiana-Lafayette, Samford, and Southern Miss and a loss to Rutgers where Arkansas looked physically inferior. Yikes.

The Hogs are only averaging 371 yards a game and are giving up 368, and they are -3 in turnovers, 11 to 8. Bielema preaches power football, and the Razorbacks are a respectable 49th nationally in run D, at 146.3 yards per game, and freshman star Alex Collins has led Arkansas to a more-than-respectable 24th in run O, with 216.3.

Passing is another story. The team is 93rd in the nation in passing efficiency and 92nd in the nation in passing efficiency defense, and has completed 49.1% of its passes, which was a decent completion percentage in 1959, while allowing 62.3% completions to opponents.

Not only are the yardage numbers bad, but they can't put it together in the red zone, at 67th nationally in red zone offense and 77th nationally in red zone defense.

It was quite an embarrassment for the Big 10 when the successful head coach of one of its top programs, Wisconsin, bolted for an SEC school that's middle-of-the-pack at best. It will be more of an embarrassment if Bielema can't make it for, say, three years. Maybe they'll let the SEC start recruiting Big 10 seniors to play real NCAA football.

* * *

I thought that Tyler Murphy was enough of an upgrade from Jeff Driskel to turn Florida into a real contender for the SEC east, maybe even a player for national type honors. I've been saying all year that the Gators were one quarterback away from being real. Murphy looked pretty real in his first 3 sec games, completing 39-54 for 530 yards, which translates out to 70.2% completions and 9.8 yards per attempt, with 5 TDs and only one pick.

Perhaps we should've noticed that those three games were against Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas. Because now we've seen that Murphy was Driskel-esque against LSU, completing only 15-27 for 115 yards, 55.6% completions and a lowly 4.3 yards per attempt. Murphy and Florida only tallied 6 points against the same LSU team that had given up at least 13 points in every game, including to Kent St. and UAB, and that was gashed by UGA for 44.

Was LSU that good, or was Florida that bad? Maybe it was a little of both; my guess is that Florida is still half a quarterback away from being real.

* * *

Speaking of Driskel, the dude put together a couple of decent games last year, but was awful in the loss to Georgia and its mediocre defense. But awful don't even start to describe the way he played against Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. The numbers are bad enough - 6.0 yards per attempt and 2 picks - but really, it was worse than that.

Driskel created a monster. The FrankenLouisville Cardinals started the season as a top 10 team and a national contender boasting a Heisman candidate quarterback. If the Cards, who would be thoroughly middle-of-the-pack in the SEC, somehow make it to the BCS national championship game, Driskel may be personally responsible for the disintegration of civilized society as we know it.

* * *

To the games, shall we?

Arkansas at Alabama -28

Alabama is in full-out scrimmage and position competition mode, which is a good thing because there is no way that the team could get it together emotionally against the kind of competition they have played the last couple of weeks if all they were doing was playing to win.

I haven't said "bet on Alabama" in a while, but I'll say it this week. This beautiful little road game will be Arkansas' 4th straight week against a ranked SEC opponent, and boy howdy are they ever feeling it. That spread is mighty small considering the relative caliber of the opponents. Bet the ranch on Bama.

Florida -3 at Missouri

Week before last I told you that Missouri was playing for conference member respectability against Vanderbilt. A big win. Last week it was to be an actual contender against UGA. Big win.

This week is a different sort of story for the only undefeated team in the SEC East. Really, it's anybody's guess as to how Missouri will respond to the kind of pressure that comes from being on top instead of wanting to be there, but you can be sure the stands will be shaking in Columbia as the upstart Tigers are welcomed back into town.

The only problem for Missouri? This game is all on Maty Mauk's shoulders, as Missouri's star quarterback James Franklin went down with a separated throwing shoulder last week after staking his team to a big lead against Georgia. Mauk, a redshirt freshman, is a former blue-chipper who played well enough in relief of Franklin last week to seal the win.

But Florida's defense is an entirely different animal from Georgia's defense, which may have reminded Mr. Mauk of the Ds he saw at Kenton High School in Ohio. Missouri still has some weapons, but they will miss Franklin too much to hold off Florida. Take the visiting favorite.

Auburn at Texas A&M -12.5

I told you last week that Texas A&M hasn't had a single impressive game this year except for possibly the Alabama game, and even that game only stayed close thanks to a crucial 4th-quarter turnover by Alabama. That's still true after the Aggies had to claw their way to victory over an Ole Miss team coming off back-to-back thumpings from Alabama (understandable) and Auburn (hmmm).

They're still not ready for upper-echelon SEC play, but this Auburn team is significantly better than last year's awful version. More to the point, they're good enough to give a competitive game to a Texas A&M team that has a real stinker of a defense that gave up 24 points a game to Rice, Sam Houston State and SMU matched with an offense that racks up a lot of points but is not unstoppable. The Aggies are good, but nowhere near what they were in 2012, when they may well have been the 2nd best team in the nation at the end of the year.

This one opened at 14.5 and the line has shrunk to 12.5. That's still too much. If they were playing at Auburn, I would call it a pick 'em, and home field ain't worth 12.5. Take the visiting underdogs.

South Carolina -7.5 at Tennessee

This game is a lot more interesting than I would have pegged it a month ago. Tennessee played well in its last game and has had an extra week to prepare. South Carolina blasted a hapless Arkansas team last week, but has otherwise not shown up in 2013 the way they were expected to.

Was last week a sign that South Carolina is ready to finish the 2013 campaign in style, or did the Gamecocks blow their best play when they didn't need it? I don't know, but I like the home underdogs here. South Carolina hasn't impressed me this year and may be looking ahead to Missouri next week, while Tennessee is fighting to show a spark under the new coach - and is probably trying to distract itself from next week by focusing on this one.

Psych edge UT. Take Tennessee and the points. I wouldn't be surprised if the Vols actually win this game.

Georgia -7.5 at Vanderbilt

Two teams having disappointing 2013 seasons. Vandy had the week off to prepare for this game while Georgia was fighting a 3rd consecutive war in the loss to Missouri.

Even injury-battered, Georgia has too much for Vandy, but do they really have anything to fight for here? Last week I tried to guess on Georgia's psychological makeup, and I was wrong, so I think I will just wimp out on making a pick on this game. But I'll tell you one thing: if Georgia loses, Mark Richt will have lost control of that team.

LSU -8 at Ole Miss

If the LSU defense we saw last week is for real, Bo Wallace/Barry Brunetti and company might not have much a chance. Even though I have a sneaking suspicion that Florida's decrepit offense was half or more of what was real in Baton Rouge last week, Ole Miss is topping off the Alabama-Auburn-Texas A&M sundae with an LSU cherry, so you really have to wonder how much fizz they still have in the fountain.

While I may have my doubts about whether the improved play of Zach Mettenberger can be counted on, about the only way I can see Ole Miss stopping Jeremy Hill is an undisclosed injury. I doubt Jeremy Hill has an undisclosed injury, and I doubt that the Ackbar Black Bars can stay competitive for four quarters against the Bengals. Take the visiting favorite.

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