Matt Smith gets you ready for week six in the SEC with burning questions, previews, predictions, trivia and more.
Welcome to October.
It’s the greatest month on the sports calendar. The NFL is in the middle of the season. The MLB playoffs are going on. The NHL season started this week. Most importantly, October separates the contenders from the pretenders in college football.
One of those teams that we are unable to classify after the season’s first month is Florida. The Gators are good, but they haven’t been tested. That will change Saturday against Auburn.
The rest of the SEC schedule is light, as six teams, including No. 1 Alabama, are on their first of two idle weeks. Besides the showdown in The Swamp, the only other game with a reasonable point spread is a de facto bowl elimination game between Vanderbilt and Ole Miss in Oxford.
Despite the limited slate of games, let’s analyze what we may be able to glean from Week 6 in the SEC.
5 Things I Want to Know on Sunday Morning
1. What is Florida?
Questions don’t get broader than this, but I truly don’t know what the Gators are, despite their 5-0 record. They’ve haven’t beaten a team anywhere close to the Top 25, and they’ve survived dramatic finishes in two of their wins. Auburn is a perfect test for Florida. The offensive line will face the best defensive line in the country. The defense has a chance to expose a true freshman quarterback that has played well beyond his years. The Gators are at home, getting healthy, and an underdog. It’s time to show the world what they are.
2. Is Auburn’s offensive line still a big concern?
Like Florida, Auburn will face some new experiences on Saturday afternoon. Texas A&M and Mississippi State are competent teams, respectively, but neither has the front seven that Florida possesses. Auburn’s offensive line has been serviceable, but this is the week where it could get exposed. How will Bo Nix deal with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s blitz-heavy packages? There are always open windows against Grantham, but the challenge for Auburn is to give Nix ample time to identify them, or else he’ll spend much of Saturday on his back.
3. What is Ole Miss’ plan at quarterback?
Redshirt freshman Matt Corral is expected to be available on Saturday night against Vanderbilt after missing last week’s loss at Alabama with a rib injury. True freshman John Rhys Plumlee helped the Rebels score 31 points last week, as Ole Miss put up nearly 300 yards on the ground. So, now what? If Corral is healthy, he will likely start. However, after Plumlee’s efforts a week ago, Corral has to have a short leash, and there could be a package of plays for Plumlee regardless. Corral has more experience, but Plumlee, a Mississippi native and two-sport athlete, is undoubtedly the fan’s choice, especially after helping the team avoid a third straight complete embarrassment against Alabama after 66-3 and 62-7 losses in 2017 and 2018.
4. Can Vanderbilt make another run at a bowl?
On the other side of Saturday’s swing game in Oxford are the 1-3 Vanderbilt Commodores. Last season, the Commodores rallied from two games below .500 to earn a bowl bid. They’ll have to do the same this year, and a mild upset against Ole Miss would put them in prime position to do so. Both sides of the ball lack consistency, ranking No. 85 (offense) and No. 129 (defense) in yards per play. There are still enough pieces that, if Vanderbilt can beat the Rebels, to scrape together six wins again with games remaining against UNLV, Kentucky, East Tennessee State, and Tennessee.
5. How soon can we expect Tennessee to win another game?
It’s going to be ugly on Saturday night for the Vols when Georgia makes it biennial trip to Neyland Stadium. They will be 1-4, but get a potentially winnable game next week against Mississippi State. If Tennessee can land a couple punches against Georgia, that should bode well for its two remaining October home games against the maroon Bulldogs and South Carolina. If this is another 41-0 ‘Dawgs domination like two seasons ago, then a 1-7 start becomes very possible for Tennessee.
Trivia Time (answers below):
1. What six SEC inter-division games were played annually from 1992-2002 before the conference moved from two permanent inter-division games to one?
2. What is Tennessee’s record in SEC East games since defeating Georgia on a Hail Mary in 2016?
3. When is the next season in which most teams will have two idle weeks during the regular season?
Previews and Predictions
Utah State at (5) LSU (-27.5), Noon ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Dave Neal and D.J. Shockley
LSU scheduled two tricky Group of Five games this year. The Tigers passed the first test against Georgia Southern with flying colors, and Saturday morning brings the second against Mountain West title contender Utah State. The Aggies are 3-1, including a near-miss in a 38-35 loss at Wake Forest and an impressive road win at San Diego State. Quarterback Jordan Love is an all-conference player, and the Aggies defense is allowing just 2.7 yards per carry, ranked No. 14 nationally. LSU generally struggles in one of their buy games each season, but that instance may have come against Northwestern State last month when they led by just one score at halftime. Off a bye week, the Tigers will look surprisingly crisp for a rare morning kickoff at Tiger Stadium.
Prediction: LSU 52, Utah State 20
(7) Auburn (-2.5) at (10) Florida (-38), 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Announcers: Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson
To the big one. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium isn’t consistently one of the loudest venues in college football, but when it’s a really big game, and Saturday afternoon’s contest certainly qualifies as such, few environments are better than The Swamp. Auburn will be packing its outstanding defense, which is always good to have on the road, especially given true freshman Bo Nix will have to deal with a boisterous crowd and an aggressive Florida front seven. Both offensive lines are concerns, but for some reason, the chatter has been almost all on the Florida side, while in reality, Auburn’s group is equally as unproven. The Tigers are the more complete team, but this has the feel of last year’s LSU-Florida game. The Gators will ugly it up and ride the steady arm of Kyle Trask in crunch time to a mild upset.
Prediction: Florida 20, Auburn 17
Troy at Missouri (-24.5), 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Matt Stinchcomb
The Tigers were largely off the radar in September after losing their season opener to Wyoming. That may continue in October with a schedule of Troy, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, but Missouri is on the brink of the Top 25, despite the lack of any impressive wins. The Trojans head to Columbia off of a disappointing home conference loss to Arkansas State. They’re 2-2, with the losses coming by a combined 12 points, but they scored more than 40 points in each of those games and still failed to come out on top. That bodes well for Kelly Bryant and the Missouri offense on Saturday afternoon. Troy’s Kaleb Barker is an impressive quarterback, and he’ll put up some nice air numbers, but there won’t be enough balance or enough defense for the visitors to hang around much past halftime.
Prediction: Missouri 49, Troy 28
(3) Georgia (-24.5) at Tennessee, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Announcers: Sean McDonough and Todd Blackledge
The most interesting thing about this game may be seeing if Georgia fans can successfully checker Neyland Stadium red and black instead of orange and white (they won’t). Vols fans will still show up, even though they’re well aware that another beatdown is coming. Tennessee’s quarterback situation is murky, as it’ll likely play both Jarrett Guarantano and Brian Maurer, as it did against Florida, while likely incorporating some Wildcat looks with Jauan Jennings and Ty Chandler. Georgia survived its only big pre-November test two weeks ago against Notre Dame, and now the Bulldogs open a cushy three-game October slate looking to continue the progression of its passing game while cranking up the quarterback pressure on defense that was largely absent against the Fighting Irish.
Prediction: Georgia 45, Tennessee 14
Vanderbilt at Ole Miss (-7.5), 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers, and Cole Cubelic
Having to face Joe Burrow, Jake Fromm, and Tua Tagovailoa didn’t help their numbers, but both the Commodores and Rebels rank below No. 100 in pass defense so far this season. While that might make it tempting for both offensive coordinators to air it out on Saturday night in Oxford, both offenses are at their best on the ground. Ke’Shawn Vaughn remains criminally undervalued nationally for Vanderbilt, while Ole Miss’ three-headed monster of Scottie Phillips, Snoop Conner, and Jerrion Ealy helped the Rebels run for 279 yards against Alabama. For much of this century, this series was dominated by the road team, but that has turned around, with the home team now having won four straight meetings. Ole Miss will make it five, but it’ll have to sweat this one out late.
Prediction: Ole Miss 28, Vanderbilt 24
Last Week: 3-1-1, +10 Musburgers
YTD: 10-13-2, -2 Musburgers
Maryland -12.5 at Rutgers – 5 Musburgers
Nebraska -7.5 vs. Northwestern – 4 Musburgers
Old Dominion +3 vs. Western Kentucky – 3 Musburgers
Boise State -22.5 at UNLV – 2 Musburgers
Texas -10 at West Virginia – 1 Musburger Trivia Answers
1. Alabama-Vanderbilt, Arkansas-Tennessee, Auburn-Florida, LSU-Kentucky, Ole Miss-Georgia, Mississippi State-South Carolina