It's going to be very difficult for the Week 8 slate in the SEC to match the drama and intensity we witnessed in Week 7. Still, the penultimate weekend of October is headlined by an underrated rivalry game that has very quietly become one of the most important games in the race to win the SEC West.
No. 7 Ole Miss travels to Death Valley to take on LSU in the SEC on CBS Game of the Week. The unbeaten Rebels have one of the most dynamic rushing attacks in the country, while the Tigers are fresh off a win over Florida that saw quarterback Jayden Daniels account for six touchdowns. It's a chance for Ole Miss to state its case on why it should be considered a College Football Playoff threat, and will also likely serve as an elimination game for LSU in the conference race since it already has a loss to Tennessee on the books.
Let's take a spin around the SEC and make picks against the spread for all of Saturday's action.
Appetizer: Jayden Daniels the difference-maker?
The star LSU quarterback threw for three touchdowns and rushed for three more last week against Florida. Who is the only other LSU quarterback to account for six touchdowns in one game? Some dude named Joe Burrow. That's great company to keep, but let's not get crazy with Daniels' hype considering the Florida game was essentially the first in Daniels' brief LSU career in which he was the ultimate difference-maker. However, it was a big element in what coach Brian Kelly hopes becomes more of a big-play offense moving forward.
"I think it's got to be part of what we continue to grow towards," he said. "You know, there will be times where guys just got to step up and make plays. We had been kind of grinding it out. Like, you know, every ... we were trying to fight for every blade of grass, and sometimes you just got to make some plays."
It's going to have to be a big-play offense in the rivalry with Ole Miss known as the "Magnolia Bowl." The Rebels had three players rush for more than 100 yards last week in the win over Auburn, and are tied for second in the nation in plays of 20 or more yards (50). LSU doesn't have to become a quick-strike offense in order to hang with the Rebels. It needs to be able to throttle up and down as needed to slow down any offensive momentum that Jaxson Dart and crew generate.
Main course: Does Alabama have a problem on defense?
The short answer is "no." The long answer is "no, as long as Saturday's loss to Tennessee wasn't the start of a trend."
The Crimson Tide gave up 12.4 yards per attempt to Hendon Hooker and the Volunteers. Make no bones about it -- that's awful. But it was just the second time this year that the secondary gave up more than 5.6 yards per attempt. The other instance was the Week 2 win over Texas in which it gave up 8.6 to the combination of Quinn Ewers and Hudson Card.
"Well, we've limited them all year long," coach Nick Saban said on Monday. "We've had less explosive plays this year than we've had all year. We certainly don't wanna give them up. They did a good job of taking those wide splits and creating some matchup things because of the wide splits. So guys gotta play with better focus, better leverage, gotta be able to cover people better. I mean, it's as simple as that. They are our players. We think they're good players. We think they're capable. They need to play with good technique and good focus on the little things that help you make those plays."
Mississippi State poses a much different threat than the Vols. Yes, quarterback Will Rogers has stretched the field a bit more than typical Mike Leach-coached quarterbacks, but it's very unlikely that he will cause as many problems as Hooker did deep downfield.
Dessert: Haynes King's chance at redemption
The last time we saw Texas A&M quarterback Haynes King on the football field was the ill-fated, last-second pass to the pylon that fell incomplete in the 24-20 loss to Alabama. That was a sour ending to a phenomenal performance by King, who filled in for injured signal-caller Max Johnson. King was visibly banged up in the second half, but despite that, led his team to the brink of one of the biggest upsets of the season. Had it not been for a questionable play call on the final down, he might have been able to finish it off.
The week off was great for King, who should be good to go this week at South Carolina.
"You go back and watch that film and he made a lot of plays in some tough situations in some tough scenarios" said coach Jimbo Fisher. "He kept us in it with the things he did and did a lot of really good things in that game. A few mistakes here and there but some great things, the things that happened and what on around him."
King won't need to be superman to beat South Carolina, but he can't regress back to the player we saw during the first two games prior to being benched for Johnson. It'll be fascinating to see how he progresses now that he's experienced success -- even in a loss -- in the spotlight two weeks ago.
Straight up: 54-12 | Against the spread: 27-31-1
*Previous picks were made on Instagram since SEC Smothered & Covered starts in Week 3
No. 7 Ole Miss at LSU
The wrong team is favored here. Styles make fights, and the potent Rebels offense will force the Tigers into a shootout. That is not how Kelly wants to play this game despite Daniels' success last year. Plus, LSU's special teams have been awful this year. One mistake against a team like Ole Miss, and the game could get sideways. Give me the Rebels to win outright. Pick: Ole Miss (+1.5)
Vanderbilt at Missouri
There have been some calls for Sam Horn to take over under center in place of Brady Cook, who has more interceptions (six) than touchdown passes (five) this year. Will it matter against the Commodores? Nope. The Tigers receiving corps -- led by Dominic Lovett -- will light up a 'Dores passing defense that ranks last in the SEC in yards per attempt (9.0 yards) and total defense (333.0 yards). Pick: Missouri (-14)
No. 24 Mississippi State at No. 6 Alabama
"Mad Alabama" is even more dangerous than "normal Alabama", and the Bulldogs are going to catch the scarier version this week in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The Tide secondary will limit the effectiveness of Rogers and receiver Caleb Ducking, and typically play with much more discipline at home. Plus, Saban will want to leave his foot on the gas a little longer than normal in order to keep his offense clicking as Alabama hits the stretch run. Pick: Alabama (-21)
Texas A&M at South Carolina
The Aggies are nowhere close to contenders this year, but the bye week couldn't have come at a better time. The loss of wide receiver Ainias Smith really hurt any possibility of offensive evolution. Aggies wide receiver Evan Stewart will continue to evolve into one of the top up-and-coming receivers in the SEC, and that'll be enough to lead the Aggies to a cover against a Gamecocks pass defense that has given up 226.3 yards per game in conference matchups. Pick: Texas A&M (-3.5)
SEC teams vs. FCS opponents
*No line has been published
- No. 3 Tennessee over UT-Martin
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 8, and which top-20 favorite 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.