The college football season gets another week older, and many eyes will be focused on the SEC. Here is a rundown of the key storylines to watch for in Week 10 as Kentucky takes on the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville.
1. Georgia’s Last Regular Season Test
In the biggest SEC game of the week eleven the No. 24 Auburn Tigers will take on the No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs in Athens.
Georgia is of course coming off their most impressive victory of the season after easily defeating Kentucky on the road thus clinching the SEC East and a sport in the Conference Title Game. Despite some drama in the East, the SEC Title Game will again be Alabama vs. Georgia.
However, there is still very much at stake for the Bulldogs. At No. 5 in the committee’s polls they are the SEC’s last best chance to have two teams in the playoff (I don’t think LSU stands much of a chance unless some luck falls their way).
Their matchup against Auburn is their last true test until they face off with Alabama in Atlanta. No offense to Massachusetts or Georgia Tech, but the Bulldogs should handle those teams with ease.
A loss to Auburn will all but eliminate Georgia from making the playoff so today’s contest in Athens is incredibly meaningful. Don’t forget, the Tigers have looked pretty good since their disastrous back-to-back losses to Mississippi State and Tennessee.
Now they are coming off a huge victory over then-ranked Texas A&M. Even more impressive is that Jarrett Stidham finally looked like himself as completed 18 or 29 passes for 239 yards, 2 TD’s, and no picks.
This ball was ? from Jarrett Stidham
— SI College Football (@si_ncaafb) November 3, 2018
I like going with quarterbacks who are on a hot streak, and while it is true that Jake Fromm is also playing well Auburn is out for revenge after losing last year’s SEC Title game to the Bulldogs, thus missing out on the playoffs.
Georgia is good, and they are playing at home. However, the current 14.5 spread for them is entirely too high especially considering it’s a rivalry game. I expect a game that will be closer than two touchdowns and Auburn will cover the spread. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Tigers throw a wrench into the playoff picture and even defeat Georgia on Saturday.
2. Florida Tries to Bounce Back….
This Florida team is officially the weirdest team in the SEC. How can they be good enough to beat LSU and Mississippi State but turn around and get throttled by Missouri at home??
Last week’s crushing 38-17 defeat was one of the stranger scores that I’ve seen in the SEC this season. Now the Gators sit at 6-3 on the season and 4-3 in conference play. Their contest against South Carolina this week will decide which team will finish third in the SEC East.
Not too bad for a team that finished 4-7 last season, eh? Dan Mullen’s first season has been a mostly positive one. With Idaho and Florida State still on the schedule it seems like the Gators will win eight regular season games, and if they defeat the Gamecocks this weekend the total will be up to nine.
Feleipe Franks hasn’t been totally terrible at quarterback this season and running backs Lamical Perine and Jordan Scarlett have formed a nice duo at that position as well.
The future is bright in Gainesville, and if the Gators capture a third-place finish in the East this weekend then they will have a nice amount of momentum heading into bowl season.
3. …And So Does Kenutucky
After being just one game away from the SEC Title Game, the Wildcats have crashed back down to Earth after Georgia issued them a beatdown last week. At the end of the day, the Bulldogs just have a more talented roster and that’s okay. Kentucky may get there in the coming years.
This is the D’Andre Swift UGA fans expected to see all year. pic.twitter.com/60dvfdlE3c
— Kyle Jordan (@KyleLive5) November 3, 2018
In the meantime, the Wildcats are playing for respect and a nice bowl game. They have sealed second place in the SEC East and with three games left in the season they can still finish 10-2.
This week presents a tough challenge for UK. First, they will be coming off a demoralizing defeat and those aren’t always easy to come back from. Second, they will be playing in Knoxville which is never an easy task.
Of course, the Volunteers aren’t necessarily a good team, but they have talent on defense and quarterback Jarrett Guarantano is no slouch.
Luckily for the Wildcats Terry Wilson seems to be playing a bit more comfortable in the pocket as he had a pretty good game against Georgia. He now sits at No. 11 in quarterback rating in the SEC out of 14 quarterbacks, so he is improving.
I’m expecting Josh Allen to be one of the key players in this matchup as he should wreak havoc on a bad Tennessee offensive line today. There are zero excuses for Kentucky to lose this game so I’m calling for them to win and cover the spread.
4. Keep an Eye on Mississippi State vs. Alabama
This is actually the second ranked matchup in the SEC today, but there is pretty much zero hype behind this game. The reason being that the Bulldogs are playing on the road against what might just be the best college football team in history.
Forget the best Alabama team ever. This could be the best college football team ever. https://t.co/3W0LNMxrOP
— USA TODAY Sports (@usatodaysports) November 9, 2018
Last year Mississippi State gave the Crimson Tide one of their biggest challenges of the season. However, despite a perfect game plan and home field advantage, Alabama was still victorious.
Considering how much better Nick Saban’s team is this just season, I just do not see how the Bulldogs can win this game in Tuscaloosa.
However, this is college football and stranger things have happened. After coming off such a huge victory over LSU, Alabama could come out flat in the first half and give Mississippi State a chance to be in this game through the second half.
Also, if any team in the SEC is going to stop the Crimson Tide’s offense it will be the Bulldogs. They have the best defense in the conference as they only give up 278 yards per game (6th in the country). If Mississippi State can create pressure on Tua Tagovailoa often, then this could be close in the fourth quarter.
Mississippi State's defense has allowed only 2 TDs in its opponents last 51 possessions.
HAIL. STATE. ? pic.twitter.com/4CBboFO2PM
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 4, 2018
However, as long as the quarterback matchup is Nick Fitzgerald against Tua, Alabama will win this game. This is literally a matchup between the best passing quarterback in the SEC and the worst and I expect that to show today.
5. Quarterbacks Start to Find Their Stride
A few weeks ago, I wrote in this weekly column that the quarterback play in the SEC has been extremely disappointing outside of Tua.
However, the play of just about every quarterback in this conference has improved since then. The biggest improvement belongs to that of Drew Lock who now sits at No. 5 in quarterback rating in the SEC.
Drew Lock reading the coverage, stepping up in a collapsing pocket and firing a strike to a true freshman receiver for a TD in as hostile an environment as you will find in the SEC. Big time play. This is the second of Lock’s three TDs. Mizzou up 35-10 in Gainesville late 3Q. pic.twitter.com/L8DWuMGnWa
— Rob Rang (@RobRang) November 3, 2018
South Carolina’s Jake Bentley is also starting to live up to his preseason hype as he sits right behind Lock at No. 6 in quarterback rating. This is thanks in part to a huge performance last week against Ole Miss in which he passed for 363 yards and two touchdowns.
Speaking of Ole Miss, Jordan Ta’amu now leads the SEC in overall passing yardage with 3,001 yards. That is good for fifth overall in the nation. Of course, fellow Hawaiian Tagovailoa is having a Heisman Trophy candidate season himself.
Even Jarrett Stidham has managed to turn things around a bit as previously mentioned. Overall, this group of quarterbacks has taken a noticeable step forward over the past few weeks. This is a very important storyline to follow as we near bowl season. The play of these quarterbacks will most likely determine just how many bowl games the SEC will win this season.