Entering the season's second-half stretch, the SEC title race is becoming clearer. On the loaded Week 8 slate are rivalries, must-win games and plenty of overall intrigue to keep you locked in throughout the week.
No. 17 Tennessee will visit Bryant-Denny Stadium to take on No. 11 Alabama in the rivalry known as the "Third Saturday in October." It's a revenge game for the Crimson Tide following last year's 52-49 thriller in Knoxville, but this cross-division rivalry will have major SEC ramifications as well, especially for a Volunteer team that already has a conference loss.
No. 13 Ole Miss has a loss to Alabama on its résumé; another loss would likely eliminate it from SEC West contention. The Rebels head to the Plains to take on a desperate Auburn squad that needs to stay on schedule for bowl eligibility. Weird things happens inside Jordan-Hare Stadium, so Lane Kiffin's Rebels better be careful.
It's that time of the week when SEC Smothered and Covered takes you on a ride through the conference. Let's make some picks straight up and against the spread.
Appetizer: Freeze's lost cause?
Auburn quarterback Payton Thorne was brought in from Michigan State to provide a spark for a woeful passing offense last season. That hasn't happened. Thorne is only averaging 124.2 passing yards per game and has as many touchdowns passes (4) as interceptions. Coach Hugh Freeze has been forced to rotate Robby Ashford in more than planned. Will Ashford see more time against Ole Miss? Freeze was (perhaps purposefully) vague during his Monday press conference.
"We consider everything and everybody. That will continue to be in our thoughts," he said.
That doesn't sound reassuring as the Tigers head into a showdown with the Rebels. Could Freeze have something up his sleeve to deploy against his former employer? It'd be a shock. The offense -- his speciality -- has struggled to find an identity as it searches for consistency at quarterback.
Main course: Strength vs. weakness
Keep an eye on the battle in the trenches when Tennessee and Alabama tee it up in the SEC on CBS Game of the Week. The Volunteer defensive front averaged four sacks per game and 8.6 tackles for loss per game (fourth nationally in each). Defensive lineman James Pearce Jr is coming off a stellar game vs. Texas A&M when he notched two TFLs and earned SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors. That's problematic for Alabama, which ranks No. 129 in the nation in sacks allowed per game (4.43) and No. 113 in tackles for loss allowed per game (7.14).
Asked on Monday if the lack of success up front is concerning and fixable, coach Nick Saban said "To the first part of your question ... hell yeah.
"To the second part, I do think we have guys that are capable," Saban continued. "I think it goes back to that same attention to detail. There's little things, like in certain protections, I know I have inside help, so why would I get beat outside? Does that make sense? These are not all capability issues. Some of them are things that we could fix. When we're sliding out, to block three on three, and the guy doesn't slide out to block the third guy and he runs in to sack the quarterback, that's a mental error. That's not a physical problem."
Make no mistake ... this is the ballgame. This matchup will determine whether the Volunteers make it two in a row over their hated rivals, or if the Crimson Tide gets their revenge.
Dessert: Must-win for Arkansas?
It's safe to say that Arkansas' season has been a disaster. The Razorbacks are 2-5 and winless (0-4) in conference play with coach Sam Pittman searching for answers. The offense ranks last in the SEC in yards per play (4.98) despite having one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the country in KJ Jefferson. That's the problem for the Hogs, though: It's Jefferson or bust.
After the near-upset over Alabama last week with this same problem, Pittman knows things have to change in this week's matchup vs. Mississippi State.
"We've got to win. We have to win. Have to win Saturday," Pittman said on Monday. "When the season starts, you have all these goals, and there are still some that we have. Now, they may have been down here to get up here, but there are still some attainable goals that we have. And our kids know. I'm going to talk to them today about it. But this game Saturday is a big, big game for us. They all are, but you keep backing yourself up into a corner, at some point you have to go forward."
If the Hogs lose, Pittman drops to 10-21 in the SEC and the best-case scenario is matching last year's 3-5 conference record. Pittman dug the program out after Chad Morris ran it into the ground, but the clear regression of the program -- even with Jefferson taking the snaps -- is not sitting well among the fans.
Is this a must-win game? Every game should be labeled that way, but this is an obvious swing game that could set the tone for the remainder of the season and define Pittman's future in Fayetteville.
- Ole Miss
- Texas A&M
- South Carolina
- Mississippi State
Straight up: 57-11 | Against the spread: 27-27-2
*Picks use SportsLine consensus odds and were made on Instagram since SEC Smothered & Covered started in Week 2
No. 17 Tennessee at No. 11 Alabama
There will be plenty of stress for Crimson Tide fans on Saturday afternoon, but they will be able to light those victory cigars after a close win over the Volunteers. The battle between Alabama's offensive line and Tennessee's defensive line will be fascinating; however, Tide quarterback Jalen Milroe can find receivers open deep downfield. He'll do enough to help the Crimson Tide get sweet revenge in a close game. Pick: Tennessee +8.5
No. 13 Ole Miss at Auburn
This one will get sideways ... very sideways. Styles make fights, and the Rebels offense will force the Tigers into a shootout. That's a recipe for disaster for Freeze. His offense hasn't shown the consistency to make me think that'll change on Saturday afternoon inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers have proven they can put a dent in the first-half scoreboard, but Ole Miss will run away during the final 30 minutes. Pick: Ole Miss -6.5
Army at No. 19 LSU
Oddsmakers correctly think that this one will be a blowout. In fact, it'll be an even bigger rout than they expect. Dare I say ... LSU has a defense? It certainly looked that way against Auburn, which the Tigers held to under 300 yards in a 48-18 win. Even if the Black Knights have some success, the LSU offense, led by quarterback Jayden Daniels, will make this laughable when all is said and done. Pick: LSU -30.5
South Carolina at No. 20 Missouri
I'm done trying to will South Carolina into relevancy. It's just not going to happen. What is happening is the dynamic Missouri offense, led by quarterback Brady Cook and star wide receiver Luther Burden III. The Tigers will light up the Gamecocks defense just as Georgia, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Florida did. Will the Gamecock offense be able to keep up? Nope. Pick: Missouri -7.5
Mississippi State at Arkansas
You have to be crazy to think the Razorbacks will top the Bulldogs by more than a touchdown. The Hogs might win, but there's nothing to suggest they can put together a complete football game. Uncertainty at quarterback for Mississippi State -- dual-threat quarterback Mike Wright could start instead of injured passing threat Will Rogers -- will serve as a detriment to Arkansas because it won't be able to prepare for one specific style. The Bulldogs defense has been solid against the pass over the last two games and will shut down an inconsistent Arkansas. Take Mississippi State and the points ... and the money line. Pick: Mississippi State +7
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 8, and which underdogs will win outright? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread -- all from a proven computer model that has returned more than $2,000 in profit over the past seven-plus seasons -- and find out.