We've reached the penultimate weekend of the college football regular season. In the SEC, this is often referred to as "Cupcake Saturday". Some teams will visit the bakery for some sweet treats, but there are a few matchups that will please your palate far more than just a dessert.
No. 21 Arkansas will visit No. 2 Alabama in the SEC on CBS Game of the Week, Florida visits Missouri in one of the biggest games of Gators coach Dan Mullen's career and Auburn will be without quarterback Bo Nix when it plays South Carolina in Columbia.
What are the biggest storylines in the SEC this weekend? Let's break them down and then make game picks straight up and against the spread.
Appetizer: Time for T.J. Finley
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix had surgery this week to repair a broken ankle that he suffered in the loss to Mississippi State, which means that T.J. Finley will step in as the No. 1 quarterback for coach Bryan Harsin. Finley, of course, replaced Nix when Auburn trailed Georgia State in the second half and led the Tigers to a last-minute win.
Finley, an LSU transfer, will make his first start for the orange and blue on Saturday at South Carolina. Coincidentally, he got his first start last year for LSU against these same Gamecocks. Harsin and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo shouldn't have to change much of the offense to fit Finley's style. He's calm in the pocket, possesses the arm strength to make tough throws across the field and has decent accuracy deep downfield.
"There's a lot of similarities there, but as far as T.J., we've already been doing it," Harsin said on Monday. "You kind of know what he likes and, again, we're going to have to still run our offense and do things we feel are going to be successful. He's going to have to be able to execute those (things), and he's going to have done everything that we have in our game plan."
South Carolina has the second-best pass defense in the SEC (185.5 yards per game), so it'll be a great way for Finley to get comfortable before next week's Iron Bowl vs. Alabama.
Main course: Alabama running out of time
The Crimson Tide need to win one of their final two games to clinch the SEC West and a spot in the SEC Championship Game. This weekend's matchup vs. Arkansas is huge not only for conference title hopes, but one of the last shots coach Nick Saban's crew has at solving its one lingering problem -- running the football.
They're averaging just 3.76 yards per carry in conference games and managed 0.23 yards per carry in its last SEC matchup, the 20-14 win over LSU two weeks ago. That will prevent Alabama from being a true national title contender unless it's fixed in a hurry. If it's not, the Crimson Tide will have no shot at beating No. 1 Georgia in Atlanta and reeling off back-to-back wins in the College Football Playoff -- if it even makes it there at all.
The Razorbacks are a good team to try to get right against. They're giving up 4.66 yards per rush and are 11th in the conference in tackles for loss allowed at 64. That's a far cry from late September when defensive coordinator Barry Odom was being lauded as one of the best in the business.
Alabama has to have a great day on the ground on Saturday. If it doesn't, alarm bells should ring very loudly.
Dessert: Some love for the defenders
The Heisman Trophy race is as wide open as ever, and two stud defenders made the odds board from Caesars Sportsbook at (+8000) this week: Georgia nose guard Jordan Davis and Will Anderson Jr. Excuse me while I get up from my seat and provide a standing ovation. The award is given to the "most outstanding player in college football" not the "best offensive skill player on one of the best teams". There's no doubt that the duo fits the bill.
Davis, a 6-foot-6, 340-pound monster, dominates the interior of the Bulldogs defensive line. Even if he doesn't actually make tackles, Davis takes up space that allows his teammates to make plays. Anderson, meanwhile, leads the nation in sacks at 12.5 (1.25 per game), and has teed off on quarterbacks in critical situations since the opener vs. Miami.
Will either actually win it? Probably not. After all, there are a lot of Heisman voters who do fall into the offensive skill player trap on an annual basis. However, both stars belong in New York in mid-December as finalists for the most prestigious individual award in American sports.
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Straight up: 74-19 | Against the spread: 42-39
So much for the Aggies licking their wounds after getting throttled by Alabama. They will face their second straight SEC opponent this week when they travel to Kentucky, and it will turn out pretty much like last week's disaster in Tuscaloosa. Kentucky will use its multi-dimensional passing attack, get quarterback Will Levis ready for next weekend's rivalry with Louisville and hang half-a-hundred on the hapless Aggies. Pick: Kentucky (-36)
No. 21 Arkansas at No. 2 Alabama
This one won't be as nerve-racking for Alabama fans as the LSU game was two weeks ago, but it won't exactly be comfortable either. The Arkansas offense is very unique thanks to 6-foot-3, 240-pound dual-threat quarterback KJ Jefferson. Simply put, there aren't many ways to simulate the kind of multi-dimensional power rushing attack that Arkansas deploys every weekend. That offense will have enough success to stay within the number against an Alabama team that will continue to struggle running the football. Pick: Arkansas (+20.5)
Florida at Missouri
Florida is an 8.5-point favorite this weekend, which feels like 14 points too many. The Gators defense got torched by Samford last week, and Missouri running back Tyler Badie is going to flirt with 200 rushing yards this weekend. Yes, Florida's offense shined last week with Emory Jones at the helm, which suggests that this one will be a shootout. Home-standing Missouri will have no issue punching it in on the ground and play keep away in the fourth quarter to spring the upset. Pick: Missouri (+8.5)
Auburn at South Carolina
Auburn is giving quarterback T.J. Finley his first start of the season, and it'll be against the second-best pass defense in the country. In theory, that should give bettors pause if they intend to take the Tigers and lay the points. Don't worry about it. Auburn running backs Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter will get back to their early-season ways, pound the rock against the 11th-ranked rush defense in the SEC (168.9 yards per game) and get out of Columbia with a double-digit win. Pick: Auburn (-7)
Vanderbilt at No. 12 Ole Miss
Ole Miss is on a bee line toward a New Year's Six bowl berth, and it'll make a big statement on Saturday night in Oxford. The Rebels offense has been lights out all year, but the defense looked tremendous last weekend against Texas A&M and hadn't been lit up like a Christmas tree since it topped Arkansas in early October. We're looking at a 50-burger from Matt Corral and Co., and the Commodores won't even hit double digits. Pick: Ole Miss (-36.5)
Tennessee scored more points against Georgia than any other team this season, but it's not like the Jaguars are a disaster in that department. They rank second in the Sun Belt in total defense (320.4 yards per game), yards per play (4.98) and red zone touchdown percentage (50%). I love the Volunteers offense and where coach Josh Heupel is headed, but oddsmakers are giving the Jaguars too many points: Pick: South Alabama (+27.5)
UL-Monroe at LSU
The Warhawks have the worst offense and second-worst defense in the Sun Belt, and it's clear at this point that Garrett Nussmeier and Max Johnson are currently auditioning for the top spot on the depth chart to the yet-to-be-hired staff. That means that coach Ed Orgeron will not take his foot off of the gas for the full four quarters and earn some offensive momentum heading into next week's rivalry game vs. Texas A&M. Pick: LSU (-29)
Other games vs. FCS teams
- No. 1 Georgia over Charleston Southern (No line available)
- No. 16 Texas A&M over Prairie View A&M (No line available)
- No. 25 Mississippi State over Tennessee State (No line available)
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 12, and which College Football Playoff contender 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 $3,500 in profit over the past five-plus seasons -- and find out.