We have reached the penultimate week of the college football regular season. Where does the time go? With the conclusion of the 2022 campaign on the horizon, Week 12 provides SEC fans with a nice little warm-up for what should be a great slate of pivotal rivalry games next week.
No. 1 Georgia will travel to Lexington to take on a reeling Kentucky team that would love nothing more than to play spoiler in the Bulldogs' quest to finish the regular season undefeated for the second straight season. The Wildcats are led by quarterback Will Levis, who is regarded by some as one of the top quarterbacks available in next year's NFL Draft.
Elsewhere, No. 5 Tennessee has no margin for error if it is going to remain in College Football Playoff contention. The Volunteers will travel to South Carolina in search of style points against coach Shane Beamer's Gamecocks.
Let's take a spin around some of the bigger storylines in the SEC before making picks against the spread for Saturday's action.
Appetizer: A rebound for the Rebels
No. 14 Ole Miss saw its SEC West title chances disappear last weekend, but all is not lost. A return trip to a New Year's Six bowl is within its sights, and that quest continues this weekend against Arkansas. The key to a Rebel rebound is the running game. Ole Miss is a run-first team, and in its two losses -- No. 6 LSU and No. 8 Alabama -- it averaged less than 4 yards per rush. Lane Kiffin said Monday that when Zach Evans got injured late in the first half against Alabama, the game plan featuring he and star freshman. Quinshon Judkins took a hit.
"That has been an issue statistically scoring-wise when [Evans] goes out and not kind of having that 1-2 punch," he said. "So, it is what it is."
Evans' status for the Arkansas game is currently unknown. If he can't go against an Arkansas, it'll be interesting to see how Kiffin adjusts his game plan considering Arkansas' run defense is giving up just 4.05 yards per rush.
Main course: Balance for Will Levis
Kentucky quarterback Will Levis gets creates the sizzle for the Wildcats offense, but running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. cooks the steak. The senior missed the first four games of the season due to suspension but has come back with a vengeance. Rodriguez has topped the 100-yard mark in four of his six games, and Georgia coach Kirby Smart knows exactly how dangerous he can be.
"His willingness and love for contact," Smart said during his Monday press conference. "He seeks and cherishes contact. And it's that time of year where you watch defenses across the country and people turn down contact. They turn down hits. We make a point to try to show it to our guys that as the year goes, tackling gets worse and worse and worse. Are we going to be bit by that contagious bug of lack of a willingness to thud and tackle people, especially a guy that loves it. I mean, he seeks it. He wants to hit you. One of the most physical runners I've seen, and it just seems like Kentucky always has that guy."
Rodriguez is the key for Kentucky to even have a chance in this game, much less win it. Georgia's secondary is loaded with freaks, and it'll be impossible for Levis to have any semblance of success if his rushing attack can't keep them honest.
Dessert: Avoid the cupcakes
The slate before rivalry weekend is called "Cupcake Saturday" for a reason. Some teams have traditionally scheduled lesser opponents specifically to have a tune-up for their rivalries next weekend. That has to change, and there's one simple way to do it: Mandate that the next-to-last weekend of the season is reserved for only conference games.
It would add intrigue to the SEC Championship Game race. Sure, both division champions were settled last week, but there have been times that the SEC East champion was determined on Halloween weekend. Why? Because four SEC East teams have intra-state rivalries against ACC teams. Without a mandate, the SEC has essentially given other conferences the spotlight during the most important time of the college football season. It would also eliminate any possibility that the CFP Selection Committee uses this against the conference.
The SEC will add Texas and Oklahoma by 2025, which means that a new scheduling model has to be developed. Commissioners and presidents seem to deadlocked on one of two models: an eight-game model (one permanent and seven rotational) and a nine-game model (three permanent and six rotational). With two new teams and a revamped scheduling model coming down the pipeline, "Cupcake Saturday"needs to be addressed and eliminated.
Straight up: 68-22| Against the spread: 42-38-1
*Previous picks were made on Instagram since SEC Smothered & Covered starts in Week 3
The Aggies are going to break their six-game losing streak, but by how much? Their offense has been riddled with injuries, and at this point, can the defense hold up for the rest of the season after shouldering the load? I doubt it. An 11 a.m. local kick combined with a miserable season that just needs to end makes me want to side with the Minutemen to cover. Pick: UMass (+33.5)
The Gators have won two straight and are coming off of a dominating win over South Carolina, while Vanderbilt notched the first conference win of the Clark Lea era -- and the program's first since 2019 -- last weekend over Kentucky. That's awesome for Lea and the Commodores, but they don't have the kind of roster that can hang with Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson. Coach Billy Napier will build an early lead, and then work on Richardson's passing game in the second half and run away with it. Pick: Florida (-14)
No. 1 Georgia at Kentucky
The Will Levis experience has collapsed faster than the FTX crypto exchange, and he's running into the Georgia buzzsaw on Saturday. That's not gonna go well. If Georgia can lock down the Tennessee offense, Kentucky has no chance to get to double digits against these Bulldogs. On the other side of the ball, Smart will look to develop some more downfield threats in his receiving corps and leave his foot on the gas longer than expected. Pick: Georgia (-22.5)
Interim coach Carnell "Cadillac" Williams sparked a wild scene last week on the Plains in the win over Texas A&M, and that renewed excitement will continue on Saturday -- at least enough to cover. Williams has stopped trying to make quarterback Robby Ashford something that he isn't and developed a game plan almost exclusively around his legs. That, plus the punishing rushing attack with Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter, will shorten this game and keep the potent Hilltoppers offense on the sideline. Pick: Auburn (-5.5)
No. 5 Tennessee at South Carolina
The Volunteers need style points since they won't play in the SEC Championship Game and need to leave a good impression in the minds of the CFP Selection Committee prior to "Selection Sunday". They'll get those style points against a Gamecocks defense that has struggled over the last two weeks. Vols quarterback Hendon Hooker will show off his skills through the air and on the ground, and make a Heisman Trophy statement en route to a cover. Pick: Tennessee (-21.5)
No. 14 Ole Miss at Arkansas
Frankly, I'm shocked that Ole Miss is only a 2.5-point favorite over Arkansas. Yes, Fayetteville is a tough place to play, but Arkansas' pass defense is suspect and we still have no idea what its quarterback situation will be. Ole Miss will look to get back on track in the rushing game, crank up the tempo and then hit the Razorbacks over the top for a double-digit win. Simply put, the Hogs can't keep up with the "Lane Train." Pick: Ole Miss (-2.5)
This game comes down to one question: Do you trust Missouri's offense enough to think that it can get to 40 points? If your answer is "yes," then you know which side you need to bet on here. The Tigers haven't topped the 400-yard mark since Week 3, and it'll probably take 500 yards to break 40 points. The Aggies will, at the very least, get two touchdowns and stay within the number. Pick: New Mexico State (+28.5)
UAB at No. 6 LSU
There isn't a lot of faith among oddsmakers that the Tigers will make this a true blowout. I guess last week's ugly win over Arkansas has resonated? I'm not sure why, because the offense has consistently progressed all year to a point where quarterback Jayden Daniels has become a fringe Heisman Trophy candidate. Meanwhile, on the defensive side, freshman linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. has quickly emerged as one of the best -- if not the best -- defensive players in college football. This one will get ugly, and LSU will look the part of an SEC West champion. Pick: LSU (-14.5)
Picks on games involving FCS opponents
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 12, and which top-20 teams 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.