Can you believe we're already at the midway point of the season for most teams in the SEC? It's hard to fathom given the turbulence of the offseason and uncertainty surrounding most of college football throughout it, but we've arrived in mid-October with storylines aplenty for the 14 programs that call the conference home.
No. 2 Alabama used a big second half performance to pull away from No. 4 Georgia last weekend, solidifying itself as the team to beat this season. The Crimson Tide hit the road this week to take on a reeling Tennessee team in the rivalry traditionally known as the "Third Saturday in October" despite getting pushed later this year. That will be your SEC on CBS Game of the Week at 3:30 p.m. ET. No. 17 LSU will hit the field after having last week's game vs. No. 10 Florida postponed, but it is going to be running into a confident South Carolina team that is fresh off a dramatic win over Auburn.
Let's break down some of the biggest SEC storylines entering Week 8 and make picks against the spread
Appetizer: Tennessee's dysfunctional, again
There's a great book by Mark Nagi called "Decade of Dysfunction" that details just how crazy the last decade was for the Volunteers. The new decade isn't exactly getting off on the right foot. Jarrett Guarantano has lost his grip on the starting quarterback spot, defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh was fired after just four games, and two straight losses have erased the good vibes created by the eight-game winning streak that was broken in Week 3.
It isn't going to get any better. The Crimson Tide are rolling into town and could potentially face a new starting quarterback in Harrison Bailey (that is, of course, if you believe linebacker Henry To'o To'o's Instagram story). No matter who starts under center for the Vols, the Tide defense is fresh off a second half shutout over Georgia. Quarterback issues, combined with an underwhelming offensive line and turmoil up front on defense, should have Vols fans terrified. Forget this week. It's going to get ugly. It probably won't be more attractive as the season goes on. But hey, at least Tennessee didn't hire Mike Leach three years ago like former athletic director John Currie wanted.
Main course: Georgia's quarterback issues
Georgia on Saturday looked a lot like LSU during the final few years of the Les Miles era against Alabama. It can win games in its somewhat conservative comfort zone that relies heavily on its defense, but it is toast if a team forces it outside of its comfort zone. Why? The offense is limited -- specifically the downfield passing attack. That's on Stetson Bennett IV.
The former walk-on known as the "Mailman" has completed just 26.7% of his passes that travel 15 or more air yards beyond the sticks. For comparison's sake, Alabama quarterback Mac Jones is completing 70.6% of those passes, LSU's Myles Brennan is at 61.5% and Vanderbilt's Ken Seals is chiming in at 40%. That despite having George Pickens and Kearis Jackson out there available to haul in those deep balls.
Does that mean that there should be a quarterback change? Not necessarily. USC-transfer JT Daniels is still recovering from last season's knee injury, D'Wan Mathis struggled in the opener and Jamie Newman opted out. Smart was asked about that possibility on Tuesday.
"We look at the off weeks as an opportunity to get everybody better, so it will be no different at any position in terms of the reps we are able to get," he said. "During a game week, we give ones 78% of the reps, twos 20-30% of the reps, but then our threes get a lot of reps during the week because they go against the other units. This week, we will get to get a lot of guys reps. JT will get reps, D'Wan will get reps, Stetson will continue to get reps. We try to develop our roster -- that's the way we look at it. It doesn't change, it just gives a chance to give more guys work and see where they are in their progress. That's true at every position and true at quarterback."
Any possibility of Georgia getting revenge on Alabama in the SEC Championship Game is a pipe dream. That's not to say that Georgia can't get there. Maybe it can. But it will likely have to get into a shootout with SEC East rival Florida, and as we saw last weekend, that probably won't go well for the Bulldogs.
Dessert: Props for Sam Pittman, Barry Odom
If you would have told me before the season that Arkansas would be 2-2 (and should be 3-1) in Pittman's first season as an FBS head coach, I would have sent you straight to the doctor to get your head examined. After all, he's in the roughest neighborhood in the country in the SEC West, has a roster that isn't comparable to the rest of the division and didn't get any tune ups prior to the self-contained SEC season. None of that mattered. Why? Because Pittman has the self-awareness to recognize that he's going to need some help to turn this thing around.
Enter: Odom. The former Missouri head coach got that job for a reason -- his top tier defensive prowess. That prowess has made its way to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he has produced a defense that ranks fourth in the SEC in yards per play (5.01), fifth in scoring defense (25.5 PPG), third in third-down conversion percentage (32.25%) and second in opponent red zone touchdown percentage (50%). That'll do, Hogs.
SEC college football picks
Odds via William Hill Sportsbook
No. 2 Alabama (-21) at Tennessee: Oddsmakers could make this line Alabama (-41), and I'd still probably take the Crimson Tide. This boils down to one thing: Can "Tennessee Quarterback X" get into a shootout with Jones and the explosive Tide offense? Of course not. I don't like to pick any Bama dial-a-score games, but this one is an exception. This is, at the very least, a four-touchdown game. Pick: Alabama (-21)
South Carolina at LSU (-6.5): Can we trust LSU now that it got an impromptu bye week? Will defensive coordinator Bo Pelini remember how to make adjustments? No … we can't. With that said, the Gamecocks don't really stretch the field through the air and shouldn't be able to exploit the Tigers' defensive weakness enough to get the win. Quarterback Myles Brennan is questionable, but that doesn't matter. This offense has been explosive through the air because of the scheme and the receivers, and those guys will lead the Tigers to a double-digit win. Pick: LSU (-6.5)
Auburn (-3) at Ole Miss: Who do you trust more, Auburn's offense or Ole Miss' defense? That's a sad, sad question. But Tigers running back Tank Bigsby is averaging 4.1 yards per carry after contact -- the second-most among qualifying running backs in the country. Bo Nix's struggles will put more of the focal point on Bigsby, who has proven that he can handle the workload. Auburn will grind it out, keep the explosive Rebels offense off of the field and get out of Oxford, Mississippi, with a seven-point win. Pick: Auburn (-3)
Kentucky (-5) at Missouri: I'll be honest … this line shocked me. Sure, Missouri has had two weeks to prepare for the Wildcats. But have you seen Kentucky's defense? It's next-level good. That will force this game to be an old-school slugfest, which plays right into UK's hands. Its three-headed rushing attack will put a ton of pressure on the Tigers, and it hit a few big plays to pull away late for the win and cover. Pick: Kentucky (-5)
Records -- Straight up: 18-8 (2-3 last week) | ATS: 11-14 (3-2 last week)