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Week 11 could bring us finality in the race for the SEC Championship Game, or it could create chaos in the conference race and the chase for the College Football Playoff. Neither division has been decided, and multiple teams are fighting for CFP and New Year’s Six bowl berths.
No. 2 Georgia will host No. 9 Ole Miss on Saturday night in a wildly intriguing test for both squad. The Bulldogs are coming off of a big win over No. 14 Missouri while the Rebels survived a thriller last weekend against Texas A&M. Both teams are in the CFP race, so expect some fireworks between the hedges in Athens, Georgia.
No. 13 Tennessee will travel to Columbia, Missouri, on Saturday afternoon in an SEC East battle between two teams that must have a strong finish to the regular season. The Volunteers have to win in order to stay in the division title race, and the Tigers will be looking to get back on track after running out of gas last weekend against the Bulldogs.
What will go down Saturday afternoon in the SEC? Let’s take a spin around the conference and make picks straight up and against the spread.
Appetizer: A different challenge for Alabama
Alabama offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and coach Nick Saban deserve a ton of credit for quarterback Jalen Milroe’s rise from liability to force. It felt like they were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole with Milroe early on by forcing him to be more of a pocket passer. We saw what “Milroe unleashed” looked like last weekend when he scored four touchdowns on the ground in the win over LSU. In the process, the offensive line — which is a massive liability — looked much better with a more run-focused scheme at quarterback.
Things will change this week against a Kentucky defensive front that had eight tackles for loss last week and sacked quarterback Mississippi State’s Mike Wright five times. Why does that matter? Like Milroe, Wright is a rushing threat that forced the offensive scheme to adapt to his skill set. Kentucky just shut him down with authority to the tune of 11 carries for 20 yards despite Wright rushing for 60 or more yards in the previous two games.
“Kentucky is a completely different kind of team than what we played against a week ago, and what we did last week is not going to have any impact on what we do this week, Saban said on Monday. “They’re tough, they’re physical, they’re well-coached. Coach [Mark] Stoops does a really, really good job with his team, in terms of the competitive character that they play with and the intangibles that they have.”
Keep an eye on adjustments Alabama makes within its offense — specifically during the game. It will tell you a lot about just how much the staff trusts Milroe 2.0.
Main course: The Ole Miss ground game is hot
If Missouri’s offense was dangerous coming into last week’s game vs. Georgia, then the Ole Miss offense is the football equivalent of dumping 20 gallons of gasoline on a bonfire. Coach Lane Kiffin has a reputation for his acumen in the passing game, but the foundation of the offense is the rushing attack. Running back Quinshon Judkins torched the vaunted Texas A&M run defense with 102 yards and three touchdowns — the fourth time in five games that he has topped the century mark on the ground.
“Thick lowers. I mean, I’ll tell you, I’ve been super impressed,” coach Kirby Smart said on Monday. “I already knew about Quinshon [Judkins] and how good he was. I saw him last year and how they ran on people. [Ulysses Bentley IV] incredible, too. They have two really good backs, and Quinshon bears probably more of that load, and he has really thick lowers. He runs through tackles. Extremely patient runner. Like he has an innate ability to navigate what’s there and turn it into explosives and positive runs. I mean, he just sets up blockers really well. And really tough, physical runner, and does a great job. So, they have two really capable, talented backs.”
Big plays typically tell the tale of every game, and that’s where the Bulldogs run defense shines. They have only given up three rushing plays of 20 or more yards — tops in the SEC and fifth nationally. This is the matchup to watch in what is the biggest SEC game of the week.
Dessert: New Year’s Six elimination game
The SEC East race is almost a wrap, but the race for a New Year’s Six bowl will become clear on Saturday afternoon when Tennessee and Missouri tee it up in Columbia. Both teams sit at 7-2 (3-2 SEC), and the winner of this one will hold a critical tie-breaker that will be huge when the College Football Playoff selection committee debates is final rankings on Selection Sunday.
Think about what that would mean for both teams. If Tennessee is able to make its second straight New Year’s Six game, it would validate this program’s consistency. It’s been nearly two decades since that word has been associated with the Volunteers. Even though they really haven’t been in the thick of the division title race for the majority of the season, back-to-back New Year’s Six appearances should be celebrated on Rocky Top.
How about those Tigers, though? Coach Eli Drinkwitz entered this season on a relatively warm seat. Making a major bowl after developing quarterback Brady Cook and Cody Schrader into stars would establish this program’s identity. That would lead to more superstar high school players — like current wide receiver Luther Burden III — becoming interested in the program.
Straight up: 73-13 | Against the spread: 38-33-3
*Picks use SportsLine consensus odds and were made on Instagram since SEC Smothered & Covered started in Week 2
No. 9 Ole Miss at No. 2 Georgia
The trend is your friend in this one. Ole Miss is 5-2-1 against the spread in FBS games and Georgia is 2-5-1 against the number. Styles make fights, and the Rebel offense will have enough success against the Bulldogs to make this a four-quarter game. As was the case last week, the Bulldogs defense will make enough plays late to earn the win. However, the Rebels will have the ball late with a chance to tie or win. Pick: Ole Miss +11
No. 8 Alabama at Kentucky
As stated above, Kentucky is a different kind of animal than LSU. Expect Alabama to go old school and grind out long possessions to wear down the Wildcat defense. The limited number of possessions will keep this a close game on the scoreboard, even though the Crimson Tide will control things for the majority of the game. A 10-point game cashes a Kentucky ticket, so I’ll grab the points. Pick: Kentucky +10.5
No. 13 Tennessee at No. 14 Missouri
The Tennessee rushing attack will be too much for Missouri in what will be a thriller in CoMo. Jaylen Wright, Jabari Small, Dylan Sampson and quarterback Joe Milton III comprise one of the most multi-dimensional rushing attacks in the country, and it will wear down the Tigers defensive front. Tennessee should be fresh after topping UConn in a cake walk last week while Missouri got into a fist fight on Saturday against Georgia. The Tennessee tempo will be a massive factor and lead the Volunteers to the win. Pick: Tennessee -1
Florida at No. 19 LSU
It’s hard to pick this game straight up without knowing the status of star Tigers quarterback Jayden Daniels after he entered concussion protocol, but the Gators will at least threaten one way or the other. Gators quarterback Graham Mertz single-handedly kept them in the game last week vs. Arkansas, throwing for 282 yards and three touchdowns. He’ll do the same this week against the porous Tiger defense even if Daniels returns. I’ll take LSU close. Pick: Florida +13.5
Vanderbilt at South Carolina
The Commodores have the nation’s longest losing streak (eight games), but the idea that South Carolina will dominate is hard to wrap my arms around. The Gamecocks defensive line has been a massive problem all season, and the Commodores will get enough pressure on quarterback Spencer Rattler to force multiple empty possessions and at least keep this a low-scoring game. The Gamecocks will take a sloppy win in a game that also screams “backdoor cover” in favor of the ‘Dores. Pick: Vanderbilt +14
Auburn at Arkansas
The Tigers defense has been rock solid virtually all season, and it’s unlikely that will change this week even though the Razorbacks had success last week vs. Florida. The most important aspect of this game is the play of Tigers quarterback Payton Thorne, who is more consistent under center now than he was earlier in the season. He’ll provide enough of a threat through the air to create running lanes for a rushing attack led by Jarquez Hunter. Pick: Auburn +3
Mississippi State at Texas A&M
There is no reason why Texas A&M will need to get creative in this one. The path of least resistance is to keep it simple, pound the rock, grind out possessions and trust a defense that should be able to shut down a struggling Bulldogs offense. That’s exactly what will happen, but it’ll be hard for the Aggies to cover the massive number. This will be a blowout on the field, but the Bulldogs will do enough to cover even if it’s in garbage time. Pick: Mississippi State +18.5
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 11, 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 well over $2,000 in profit over the past seven-plus seasons — and find out.