Halloween weekend could be scary for teams hanging on by a string in the race for division titles, most notably for the loser of the showdown between LSU and Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium. LSU freshman quarterback T.J. Finley played well in place of an injured Myles Brennan last week in a win over South Carolina. Whether it's Finley or Brennan this weekend on The Plains, it'll be a tough road test against an Auburn team that is in full-on desperation mode.
And then ... there's Gus Malzahn. The Auburn coach hasn't exactly instilled confidence in the fan base as his offense has struggled mightily to find any form of consistency. What's more, two critical and controversial calls in the Arkansas and Ole Miss games, respectively, have benefitted the Tigers. Translation: This could be a 1-4 team.
The Tiger Bowl isn't the only show in town, though. No. 8 Texas A&M will host a pesky Arkansas team that, at the very least, will provide one of the most physical matchups of the season. In Gainesville, No. 10 Florida will take the field for the first time since Oct. 10 when Missouri rolls into The Swamp.
Let's take a spin around the SEC and make some picks in this week's edition of SEC Smothered and Covered.
Appetizer: Some love for Texas A&M
Look, I get it. There's an apprehension to believe in Texas A&M because, let's be honest, we've been burned by the Aggies before. One year after Johnny Manziel burst onto the scene ... they went 4-4 in the SEC. "Oh, Kenny Hill is going to be Kenny Trill!" Well, that was over by the end of October 2014 following a 59-0 loss to Alabama.
But wait ... Jimbo Fisher is in College Station. "The 2018 season is going to be the start of the most glorious stretch in program history!" Well, a nine-win season followed by an eight-win season have been ... dare I say ... Kevin Sumlin-ish.
Stop it. Stop with the cynicism. Let's look at what this team is this year. Not historically. Just this year. Quarterback Kellen Mond has been hard to trust during the course of his career, but he has tossed nine touchdowns through four games -- including three in the loss to Alabama. He wasn't the problem in that game; it was a defense that gave up 544 yards and 9.89 yards per play. Despite that, the Aggies still rank third in the SEC in total defense (354.5 YPG). The 5.96 yards per play average looks sub-optimal on paper, but it's only 4.72 yards per play if you take away the Alabama game. That, at worst, is "respectable."
Could Texas A&M tank? Maybe. But don't use previous seasons as reasons to doubt this year's Aggies. Fisher's current group has looked solid for the majority of the season save for a hiccup at Bama. Let's be honest, the Tide are going to cause indigestion for a lot of teams this year.
Main course: Justified Malzahn frustration
You can count on Auburn fans getting frustrated with coach Gus Malzahn around the time that the leaves change color like you can count on the sun rising in the East. It happens every year and is justified this year.
Quarterback Bo Nix has regressed, the Tigers aren't winning battles in the trenches on either side and, save the emergence of running back Tank Bigsby and wide receiver Seth Williams bailing out Nix on a regular basis, this offense wouldn't have an identity whatsoever.
This isn't how it's supposed to be. Malzahn hired Chad Morris and gave him autonomy to run the offense after two straight seasons finishing 10th in the SEC in yards per play. Where do the Tigers rank this year? Eighth -- with a worse average than it had in each of the last two years. Malzahn literally wrote a book about explosive offenses. It appears that he not only ripped the important pages out, but threw the whole thing into a fire.
That isn't the whole story, though. It's easy to say "FIRE GUS." Is Auburn really going to do it in this financial climate? Will it be willing to part with the SEC coach who has had the most success against Alabama coach Nick Saban? Is it a guarantee that any potential new hire will have more success? The answer to all three is "nope."
Malzahn is the country's best "OK" coach. He has enough success to provide a real sense of hope, but always seems to hit road blocks at the exact moment that hope is at its highest. What's more frustrating is that, often times, he's the one who built the road block.
- Lane Kiffin got fined $25,000 for pointing out that the SEC blew a call against Auburn that the SEC later agreed was, in fact, a blown call. Please, PLEASE pay in pennies.
- Stetson Bennett better ball out this week vs. Kentucky. Florida is around the corner and it doesn't sound like Kirby Smart has ruled out a quarterback change.
- Speaking of Florida, could the long layoff caused by COVID-19 help coach Todd Grantham figure out how to get third-down stops? He's had plenty of time to self-scout.
SEC picks for Week 9
Odds via William Hill Sportsbook
No. 5 Georgia (-14.5) at Kentucky: Georgia is going to keep its foot on the gas for a full four quarters knowing that the rivalry game vs. Florida is one week away. Whether it's Stetson Bennett, JT Daniels or somebody else under center, expect the playbook to be emptied. After all, the Bulldogs have to know what works and what doesn't. If it sounds like I'm considering this game a tune-up for the Bulldogs, it's because I am. Georgia's defense isn't going to feel threatened by a Kentucky offense that hasn't cracked five yards per play in four of the five games this season. Pick: Georgia (-14.5)
LSU (-3) at Auburn: This isn't the Auburn defense of old. Whether it's T.J. Finley or Myles Brennan taking the snaps, LSU will have a enough offensive success to force Auburn and quarterback Bo Nix into a semi-shootout. Running back Tank Bigsby is an absolute beast, but I don't trust the coaching staff to continue to feed Bigsby if and when it's facing a deficit in the second half. This might be close for three quarters, but LSU will pull away late for a win and cover. Pick: LSU (-3)
Ole Miss (-16.5) at Vanderbilt: Lane Kiffin is clearly upset about his $25,000 fine, which means that "old Lane" is coming out. Translation: Vandy is about to get steamrolled. The Commodores don't have any shot of slowing down the multi-dimensional Rebels running game that operates at a ludicrous speed. Yes, the Rebels have been known to turn the ball over a time or seven. But it might be able to cover the spread even if Matt Corral becomes a turnover machine again. Pick: Ole Miss (-16.5)
Mississippi State at No. 2 Alabama (-31): Here we go again with another Alabama dial-a-score game. The Crimson Tide will hang a 50-burger on the Bulldogs. That will put an enormous amount of pressure on an offense led by either quarterback KJ Costello or Will Rogers. Can Mike Leach's squad, with all of its offensive issues, even crack double-digits against a defense that has found itself over the last six quarters? Nope. No chance. Pick: Alabama (-31)
Arkansas at No. 8 Texas A&M (-12): Aggies running back Isaiah Spiller has quietly been one of the best players in the conference in 2020. That's going to present a big problem to the Razorbacks defense that is extremely well-coached, but doesn't have the high-end talent that it will take to keep the Aggies in check. Spiller and quarterback Kellen Mond will force their tempo on the Razorbacks, and Feleipe Franks and Co. won't be able to keep up. Pick: Texas A&M (-12)
Missouri at No. 10 Florida (-13): The Gators haven't played for nearly a month, so some rust should be expected. How much rust will there be? Enough for Missouri to keep it close. Florida can't live giving up conversions on 58.7% of opponents' third-down opportunities. Because of that, expect Missouri to put together several sustained drives. That'll give the Tigers a chance in the fourth quarter. Nobody can stop Kyle Trask and Kyle Pitts, though. The Gators will ice away a sloppy game late in the fourth quarter. Pick: Missouri (+13)
Records -- Straight up: 21-9 (3-1 last week) | ATS: 14-16 (3-1 last week)
What picks can you make with confidence this week, and which Big 12 underdog will pull off a shocking upset? Visit SportsLine now to see which teams will win and cover the spread, all from a proven computer model that has returned nearly $4,000 in profit over the past four-plus seasons.