The SEC football schedule during the final weekend of October provides fans with a massive rivalry matchup, a showdown between two SEC East foes and several must-win games for teams looking to stay in the conference title race. It’s also a huge weekend for embattled coaches looking to calm frustrated fan bases that are desperate for wins.
No. 1 Georgia and rival Florida will clash once again in the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” as one of the fiercest rivalries in the sport takes center stage with both teams coming off bye weeks. The Gators entered on the heels of a defensive debacle two weeks ago while Georgia’s offense has heated up in a big way during the second month of the season.
Let’s take a spin around some of the biggest storylines in the SEC before making picks against the spread for Saturday’s action.
Appetizer: Harsin in Auburn for the duration
The bye week came and went, and Auburn coach Bryan Harsin still commands the big office in the Auburn football complex. That is a surprise to many since the Tigers have lost three straight games and four of their last five. He’s 9-11 overall and 4-8 in conference play, and his inability to keep the Tigers in contention was something that many influential people expected last year when he was nearly ousted in February. Despite that, he is confident in this team and the way his players have attacked a difficult situation.
“We have a lot of potential to get better, and that’s the great thing,” Harsin said on Monday. “That’s the motivating thing is when you come back in, you’re disappointed but you really start to dive into it, and you make it factual like what happened. It’s all fixable. Those things are fixable. One of the things is that when you don’t have great effort or when guys quit, or guys give up, that’s a problem because that’s bigger than a scheme. That’s bigger than a coaching point. That’s bigger than a drill you can do, but you don’t see that here. You see guys digging in.”
At this point, it is fair to expect that Harsin will be Auburn’s coach until the end of the season. After that, who knows? The most important thing that Harsin can do from here on out is make sure that his players continue to develop over the next five games so they’re ready for next year whether Harsin is there or not. It appears that he understands the importance of the next five games.
Main course: Georgia’s big chance
Georgia’s offense gets unfairly pegged as an old-school scheme that asks quarterback Stetson Bennett IV to be more of a caretaker than a difference-maker. That’s not reality, though. Bennett is third in the SEC in passing yards per game at 290.4 despite only throwing 25 passes in the fourth quarter of games. Can you imagine what he’d be doing if he actually got to play full games on a consistent basis?
Bennett will be squaring off against a Gators passing defense that ranks 11th in the SEC in passing defense (244.3 YPG) and 12th in defensive yards per attempt (8.0). They just gave up 349 passing yards and 10.9 yards per passing attempt to LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels, which allowed LSU to accelerate the development of its offense to ludicrous speed.
The SEC on CBS Game of the Week is the biggest weekly stage in college football. This week, it’ll provide a perfect opportunity to remind the college football world just how dangerous this unit can be.
Dessert: Three SEC teams in the CFP?
The CFP race is starting to take shape, and an interesting scenario has developed over the last two weeks: the potential for three SEC teams to make the field for the first time in history. How could something like that happen? The winner of the SEC East — likely Tennessee or Georgia — would go into the SEC Championship Game undefeated and then lose to a one-loss SEC West team — presumably Alabama or Ole Miss. The loser of the Tennessee-Georgia game would then finish the regular season 11-1 without a division title and a resume most would consider worthy of inclusion.
Let’s pump the brakes on considering that possibility, though. Sure, it could happen, but the allure of the college football season is the week-in-week out drama with the race for the CFP serving as only part of the entertainment. Let’s focus on the joy that exists in Knoxville, Tennessee. Let’s focus on the pageantry of the Georgia-Florida game. Let’s focus on the job Lane Kiffin has done at Ole Miss. If any of those teams make the CFP, wonderful. What makes this sport great is enjoying the moments for what they are, and there are plenty of exciting moments ahead between now and Selection Sunday.
Straight up: 57-14 Against the spread: 28-34-1
*Previous picks were made on Instagram since SEC Smothered & Covered starts in Week 3
Featured Game | Auburn Tigers vs. Arkansas Razorbacks
It’s tough to win at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and this game will mark a return home for the Tigers for the first time since Oct. 1, although that won’t matter in this one. Auburn’s offense is still very inconsistent, second half of the Ole Miss game two weeks ago notwithstanding. Meanwhile, Arkansas’ offense is difficult to prepare considering the unique impact of dual-threat quarterback KJ Jefferson. The Razorbacks will own the line of scrimmage, rattle Tigers quarterback Robby Ashford and limit the impact of running back Tank Bigsby. Pick: Arkansas (-4)
Florida vs. No. 1 Georgia (Jacksonville, Florida)
Featured Game | Georgia Bulldogs vs. Florida Gators
This will be no contest. Florida’s defense has been porous and quarterback Anthony Richardson has been inconsistent as a passer. If Florida can’t pass or play defense, there is no way it stands a chance against coach Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs. The Bulldogs will take their foot off the gas early in the second half, however, which will allow the Gators to at least keep it a three-touchdown game. Pick: Florida (+22.5)
Featured Game | South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Missouri Tigers
South Carolina coach Shane Beamer deserves a ton of credit for rebuilding the Gamecocks into a top-25 team in just a year-and-a-half, especially since quarterback Spencer Rattler has not lived up to the expectations that followed him from Oklahoma to Columbia . It’s hard to expect Missouri, a team with no offensive identity, to take advantage, though. The Gamecocks have covered the spread in three straight games, and they’ll make it four on Saturday. Pick: South Carolina (-4)
No. 19 Kentucky at No. 3 Tennessee
Featured Game | Tennessee Volunteers vs. Kentucky Wildcats
Wait a minute, the third-ranked Volunteers are less than two-touchdown favorites at home against a Wildcats team that is one-dimensional on offense by necessity? That doesn’t make any sense. The Volunteers force virtually every game into a shootout, and the Wildcats don’t have the offensive firepower to keep up despite the hype surrounding quarterback Will Levis and his NFL Draft potential. Hendon Hooker will make another Heisman Trophy statement as the Vols roll on Rocky Top. Pick: Tennessee (-12.5)
No. 15 Ole Miss at Texas A&M
Featured Game | Texas A&M Aggies vs. Ole Miss Rebels
The Rebels defense has been brutal the last two games, but it’s not like the Aggies have the offensive juice to take advantage. It seems that quarterback Haynes King will play despite suffering a shoulder injury last week to his non-throwing arm, but that’s not a setback that heals 100% in one week. That makes this a horrible matchup for coach Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies, especially considering their struggles along the offensive line. This one will get ugly. Pick: Ole Miss (-2.5)
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 9, and which top-20 favorite will go down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned almost $3,000 in profit over the past six-plus seasons — and find out.