Here's my take on the mid-season SEC:
1) Alabama - I write about Alabama lot, so just read that. But it's easy to put the Tide on top of this listing, and not such a stretch to imagine this Bama team will wind up equaling the achievements of the last two. A regular-season loss doesn't look very likely at this point.
2) Missouri - Undefeated with a pair of quality wins - but how much quality really? They've made a dent in the tough back part of the schedule, but it says here that the SEC penthouse space they're hanging in is rented. May wind up in Atlanta by default.
3) LSU - Yes, it really does matter when 11 underclassmen go pro. If they had had Cam Cameron in 2012, they could've been scary, but the 2013 LSU defense is not to be confused with any other recent LSU defense, and the Tigers aren't done losing this year.
4) Auburn - The early signs are that Gus Malzahn is a good head football coach, but don't get too excited about the squeaked-out win over an average-ish TAMU team. Better than 50-50 that Auburn will have 2 or more losses when they play Alabama.
5) Georgia - I'm half-way giving UGA credit for being strong early in the year and half-way saying that nobody else in the SEC is really top tier. But it gets easier for them, schedule-wise. Don't be shocked if they win out.
6) South Carolina - Maybe UT on the road was a tough game - or maybe South Carolina just isn't very good this year. You'd have to be generous to call any of the Gamecocks' 2012 outings impressive: 52-7 over Arkansas, anybody?
7) Texas A&M - A one-man show, and as good as the one man is, there is still no D to be seen. If Johnny F. Football is fully healthy, they could be as high as #4, but if he misses games or is ineffective, TAMU plummets toward the bottom of the list.
8) Ole Miss - Finishing up a brutal 4-game stretch a semi-respectable 1-3. The Bars have wins over Texas and LSU and will likely get to 8 wins with a victory in Starkville, 9 if they can beat Missouri at home on November 23.
9) Florida - Trevor Murphy really is an upgrade from Jeff Driskel - just not much of one. Florida's offense is close to hopeless, the beat-up defense isn't breathing fire any more, and putting these guys in front of Tennessee is far from a no-brainer. Coming off two physical beatdowns, and with a tough stretch of games in front of them, the Gators need to get their stuff together pronto during this off-week or they could easily rack up 6 or 7 losses and miss a bowl.
10) Tennessee - The Vols have had some rough spots, that's for sure, but they're coming off a couple of strong performances. Can get to a bowl with wins over Kentucky and one of Alabama, Missouri, Auburn and Vandy. A fair bit better than last year, but still well short of a return to the old SEC powerhouse days. UT at 10th is a sign of the SEC's depth in 2013.
11) Vanderbilt - As is Vandy at 11th. Still, while Nashville was rocking with the win over a broken-down Georgia team, the Commodores haven't quite met their fans' hopes this year. Need 3 wins from TAMU, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest to go bowling. It ain't out of the question, but TAMU, UF and UT are all on the road.
12) Mississippi St. - Looked like an improved program under Dan Mullen until they finished with 5 losses in their last 6 games in 2012. Coming off two shaky weeks and could be about to go south hard. If they lose to Kentucky this week, pull the cord on the 'chute.
13) Kentucky - Not nearly as terrible as they were last year, but to go bowling this year they will need to beat Mississippi St., Missouri, Vandy, UGA and Tennessee, without a loss. Uh, right.
14) Arkansas - Bret Bielema has millions of reasons not to regret leaving a solid Big 10 contender in Wisconsin. None of them have anything to do with football, but hey, whatever.
I was 3-2 last week to go 18-7 on the year. I haven't been betting myself, but anybody who has wagered by my picks all year has been making some hay. Unfortunately, it was probably all sheer luck and not applicable to the future, so make your own decisions. But no sentient human could have predicted that LSU-Ole Miss game. . . .
So to the games:
Tennessee at Alabama -28
Has the Tide really been on a roll the last three weeks, or does the very low quality of their opponents account for the all-phases dominance Bama has exhibited in each game? This week will be educational in that regard, as Tennessee appears to be playing at a level well above that exhibited by Georgia St., Kentucky and Arkansas. No matter what the answer to that question is, 28 is too big a spread for this game. I never recommend against Bama, so I'm saying don't bet.
South Carolina at Missouri -2.5
Can Missouri handle success? I think the showme-ites are a fair bit better than South Carolina, and they're at home to boot, but all the psychological factors favor the Gamecocks. This is the kind of game that makes gamblers' hair turn gray. No idea what will happen here, folks, no idea. I've already proven I can't interpret the Missouri zeitgeist; I wouldn't touch this thang even if my pole was 11' long.
Vanderbilt at Texas A&M -17.5
Even if Johnny Football is fully healthy, and he almost certainly is not, this spread is too big. As is, it's not just too big, it's way too big. Bet the house on the ‘Dores.
Kentucky at Mississippi St. -10.5
One of those games that means a lot to the teams involved, but not much to anybody else. Both teams had a week off to prepare for the mammoth showdown, and both teams looked piss poor to pitiful the last time they played. Folks, I really want to not make a pick on this one, but I'm determined to pick at least 3 games a week, at least until I don't. With reluctance, I'll say that spread is too big, so take the visitors.
Florida Atlantic at Auburn -24
The Owls have a semi-respectable defense, giving up 26 points per game, which is the only way I can see to account for the low spread, but this is your basic Conference USA bottom-feeder. Alabama is favored by more over Tennessee than Auburn is favored over FAU, and while there's something to that line of thinking, 24 ain't enough. Take the home favorites.
Idaho at Ole Miss -41
As a general rule, I don't advise betting on games like this. Idaho is a horrible football team that lost 42-10 to Wyoming, 42-0 to Washington St., and 61-14 to Fresno St., but Ole Miss is probably still hung over from the LSU party. So the rule stands: stay away from this one.
Furman at LSU -47
And the rule definitely stands here, too. LSU wants to atone for last week, but they want to start getting ready for Alabama even more. The Tigers could swat Furman by 48 with one hand tied behind their back, but they will have other things on their mind, plus who knows what the score will be when Uncle Les starts letting the tuba-players give linebacker a shot. Don't bet.