After really rough slate of games for Week 8, we get a somewhat improved Saturday grouping this week. It’s nothing special, but it’s upgrading from a four to a six on the Saturday Excitement Scale. There hasn’t been much notable news since our weekly Around the SEC post, although Missouri did reinstate quarterback Maty Mauk after a monthlong suspension. There still aren’t many details about his suspension, but in emails released by the university concerning his suspension had a paragraph redacted under the “Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act ‘or other provisions of law.’” That still leaves some mystery to his suspension, and I doubt we’ll ever find out the truth about what happened considering Gary Pinkel has refused to extrapolate on anything related to the suspension.
Outside of the Mauk news, there wasn’t been much to comment on so let’s just go ahead and get right into the analysis of this weekend’s games. As always, games are listed in order of kickoff times.
#19 Ole Miss at Auburn
A lot of people are picking this to be a crappy football game considering both teams have had rough patches this season. Both teams played varying levels of decent football last week though. Ole Miss beat the formerly 24th ranked Aggies 23-3, and Auburn went to quadruple overtime with Arkansas before losing 54-46. Ole Miss beating Texas A&M that badly carries considerably more weight than Auburn losing to Arkansas in OT, but Auburn still came back from a deficit and forced extra time. In the grand scheme of conference rankings, not much matters for both teams. Auburn and Ole Miss are both out of contention for the conference championship, but Ole Miss grabbing a win on the road is a nice victory and moves them up in the pecking order for a bowl game. A storyline to pay attention to here is the Sean White Touchdown Watch. White has yet to throw or run for a touchdown through his four starts. Losing Shaq Williams was a major blow and Jeremy Johnson looked awful early in the season, but if White can’t put up points, Malzahn might opt to go back to the Preseason Hype Champion.
South Carolina at Texas A&M
My preseason bet of South Carolina winning under six games looks even more accurate as the season comes to an end. This week they’ve got an Aggie team pissed off after back-to-back losses, and then Tennessee, Florida, The Citadel, and Clemson remaining. This will be a bigger game than it should be for Texas A&M, considering they need to do something as their once promising season quickly falls off the rails. Kyle Allen, the cream-of-the-crop signal caller in the SEC, has four interceptions in the past two games and was benched in the fourth quarter last week against Ole Miss. He’ll likely get the start against the Gamecocks, but head coach Kevin Sumlin will use this game as a tryouts of sorts for the starting job for the rest of the season. There’s little chance former Blinn College quarterback Pat Hubenak steals the job, but Allen will need to be on his guard as Kyler Murray adds a dynamic running option to the quarterback position. Hubenak was selected to replace Allen over Murray last week, but I doubt that’ll continue to be a trend. This will be a major turning point for the careers of Allen and Murray, one that could end up with the loser transferring to a different program.
#11 Florida vs. Georgia
This game will actually be played at a neutral site in EverBank Field in Jacksonville, but Florida is listed as the home team. Both teams are coming off a bye week, and are looking at real issues. Georgia just failed to score a touchdown against Missouri two weeks ago, and Florida has a comparable defense in terms of talent. According to Football Outsiders, Missouri ranks 12th in Defensive S&P+, immediately followed by the Gators, and Georgia actually comes in at a respectable 30th. Florida’s issues stem from the fact they’re starting Treon Harris at quarterback, who has been inconsistent in the passing game throughout his career. In a loss to LSU two weeks ago, he actually threw for over 250 yards, but I wouldn’t count on that to become a recurring statistic. Georgia has issues with their quarterback, too. Yes, Grayson Lambert set the FBS record for completion percentage, but that was against a truly awful Gamecocks defense. For comparison, Missouri put up 24 points on them three weeks ago, which also happens to be the last time they scored an offensive or defensive touchdown. Watching Lambert against Missouri was a repetition of screen passes, quick slants, and short hitch routes. Maybe one or two of his completions went farther than ten yards in the air. Richt clearly doesn’t trust Lambert’s arm, and Sony Michel hasn’t been able to fill the void Nick Chubb left. This game could decide open up the SEC East, or nail down a trip to Atlanta for the Gators. I’m a poor college student, so I don’t have the expendable income to put money on this, but I’d take Florida. The Gators defensive talent will make it tough for Georgia to move the ball, and Harris can move the chains with the correct play calling.
Arkansas vs. Tennessee-Martin
The Razorbacks got a big win over Auburn last week, and will be looking to carry that momentum over to this UT-Martin this week. Sitting at 3-4, this represents one of the last winnable games for Arkansas. Their next potential win comes in the final game of the season against Mizzou at home, but they have Ole Miss, LSU, and Mississippi State before the Missouri Tigers. Bret Bielema really needs this win to get this team back to .500, and potentially finish out the season 5-7, or 6-6 with some lucky breaks. If Bielema wins this weekend and loses to Missouri, this could be the last win during his tenure at Arkansas. As of right now, Bielema has an ugly overall record of 13-19, and 4-16 in conference play. If Bielema goes 4-8 this season, he’s as good as gone, and even if he wins five games this year he’ll probably be gone, too. That’s quite a dropoff for a coach who never had a losing season in seven years at Wisconsin. The Bielema hot seat has surprisingly been lukewarm this season, but it should be heating up in the coming weeks. Adding Arkansas to the litany of head coaching jobs could make for an offseason unlike one we’ve seen in recent memory. I mean, there could be a situation where ten schools in major conferences have openings at head coach! BRING ON THE COACHING CAROUSEL!!!
#18 Houston vs. Vanderbilt
On a normal year, people wouldn’t even bother to check the score of this, much less even tune in. Let me persuade you to actually put this on your shortlist of SEC games this week. First off, you’ve got a great story in Derek Mason and this *resurgent* Vanderbilt program (yes, I know they’re 3-4, but it’s better than years past). Mason could actually be putting something together in Nashville. Secondly, Houston’s quarterback Greg Ward Jr. should be in the Heisman conversation. He’s like AAC version of Trevone Boykin. He’s pretty much single handedly led Houston to a 7-0 record, and has head coach Tom Herman in the conversation for jobs at major schools like Miami. Going by the S&P+ ratings, this matchup is just about even as it can get. Houston ranks 15th in S&P+ offensive, and Vanderbilt ranks 18th in S&P+ defense. It’ll be interesting to see how each coach makes adjustments throughout the game. Ward is a considerably better runner than passer, so expect Vanderbilt to stack the box, designate a QB spy, and force Ward to make plays with his arm. Vanderbilt’s pass defense ranks 16th in the nation according to Football Outsiders, so Mason shouldn’t be afraid to leave his corners out on an island if he believes they can handle Houston’s receivers one-on-one. I’m tempted to lean towards Houston in this game considering they have greater moment and a dynamic playmaker, but this would be a massive upset for Vanderbilt. Just by a slight margin, I’ll take Houston because I think it’d be neat for them to go undefeated.
Tennessee at Kentucky
Tennessee has played considerably better football over the past three weeks than Kentucky. Both teams are 1-2 over that stretch, but Kentucky lost to Auburn and was blown out by Mississippi State. Tennessee has a win over Georgia, and lost to both Arkansas and Alabama by less than a touchdown. Both teams are still horribly inconsistent, so there’s no telling who will show up on Saturday. Both teams could play well, perhaps only one team comes out ready to play, and perhaps neither team plays well and we get a brutal 17-14 game. Given the fact Tennessee has more talent and has played talented teams better than Kentucky, I’ll take Tennessee showing up and Kentucky has a few decent plays here and there but ultimately look bad and lose by ten points. A win here for the Volunteers puts them in a position to run the table for the rest of the season. Their remaining opponents after this game are South Carolina, North Texas, Missouri, and Vanderbilt. Going 5-0 to close out the season would be monumental for Tennessee, and could potentially save Butch Jones’s job. I doubt it would happen, considering this team is coached by Butch Jones, but as basically everyone has said, there’s a lot of talent on this team. This game represents somewhat of a turning point for the Vols, as a loss to Kentucky would be pretty demoralizing. A victory on the road however, well then they’re sitting pretty and have some positivity on their side. I’ll take Tennessee here because of a) they’re better on paper and b) I’d like to see something nice happen to a much maligned program.
Featured image: scout.com