The SEC Update week 10
By Kendall Webb
One of the hardest things for a team to do is to refocus and reset its goals mid-season when its original goals are no longer attainable.
And there’s no doubt Texas A&M entered the 2013 season with the highest of goals. With a Top 10 preseason ranking and the defending Heisman Trophy winner returning at quarterback, there was a lot of talk about championships – both of the SEC and the national variety – and who could blame the Aggies for dreaming big? An upset win over Alabama in 2012 had proven that the boys from College Station had the talent to go toe-to-toe with anybody.
But an early season loss to that same Crimson Tide team had illustrated just how fragile dreams can be, and a loss to Auburn two weeks ago officially ended any talk of SEC titles and national championships. With Johnny Manziel questionable and nursing a sore right shoulder, the bigger question was whether the Aggies could hit the reset button and find something else to play for.
At least for one week, so far, the answer is ‘yes’ after the Aggies manhandled the Vanderbilt Commodores 56-24 at Kyle Field. Head coach Kevin Sumlin wasn’t even sure if Manziel would be able to play all the way up until the pregame warm-ups, but in less than three-quarters, he looked pretty much like he always does – brilliant. Manziel threw for 305 yards and four touchdowns before taking a seat in the third quarter with the Aggies ahead 42-17.
Week Nine Recap
I had a good week on the picks going 6-1 to get to 62-15 overall on the season. Granted, it wasn’t the most difficult week, and admittedly, I missed the most difficult pick on the board when Missouri blew a 17-0 fourth-quarter lead eventually losing 27-24 to South Carolina in double overtime. The Tigers have not been kind to me this season.
This Coming Weekend
And the SEC has not been kind to itself. Missouri was one of only two remaining unbeaten teams in the conference in a season where the SEC is beating up on itself each week. Only top-ranked Alabama remains undefeated at 8-0 while Missouri and Auburn both stand at 7-1 with several tough games remaining. Every other SEC squad has two or more losses. If Alabama stumbles somewhere down the stretch (hey, it could happen, they had at least one loss in each of their past two title runs), then it isn’t out of the question that the SEC could be shut out of the final BCS National Championship Game.
Mississippi State Bulldogs at No. 23 South Carolina Gamecocks
12:21 p.m. ET, Saturday, November 2 (ESPN GamePlan/ESPN3)
STORYLINE: Gamecocks go for a record-tying 15th straight home win
The Gamecocks were trailing 17-0 last week at Missouri with any hope of winning the SEC East quickly fading. Injured quarterback Connor Shaw had spent the day on the bench nursing a sprained knee suffered the previous week against Tennessee, but with just over six minutes remaining in the third quarter, he entered the game. From that point on, Missouri never really stood a chance as Shaw threw for 201 yards and three touchdowns to rally the Gamecocks to an improbable overtime win.
PREDICTION: Shaw is still banged up but slated to play Saturday as the Gamecocks attempt to tie a school record set more than 30 years ago with their 15th straight home win. If his offensive line can keep him upright and healthy, then the Gamecocks should win this game comfortably, and they might get it even without Shaw. Either way, I’ll take the Gamecocks as they try to stay in the SEC East race and keep the heat on Missouri.
Georgia Bulldogs vs. Florida Gators at Jacksonville, Florida
3:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, November 2 (CBS)
STORYLINE: Both teams are unranked, and the loser will fall out of the SEC East race
It would have been hard to see this coming prior to the start of the season, but both Florida and Georgia are unranked at 4-3 heading into their annual clash on neutral ground in Jacksonville, Florida. Injuries have hit both of these teams hard, but in an SEC East race where teams at the top keep beating up on each other, they are actually both still alive at 3-2 in conference play. The winner stays in the running; the loser won’t be playing for anything more than a lower bowl bid.
PREDICTION: It’s a tough call, but we’ll go with Georgia and its senior quarterback Aaron Murray to get it done.
No. 9 Auburn Tigers at Arkansas Razorbacks
6 p.m. ET Saturday, November 2 (ESPN2)
STORYLINE: Can Auburn avoid the SEC upset bug?
Don’t look now, but the Auburn Tigers are 7-1 and quickly becoming a serious threat in the SEC West. Gus Malzahn’s high-flying attack has produced more than 600 yards in each of the Tigers’ past three games although, in all fairness, two were against the likes of FCS opponent Western Carolina and FAU – an FBS program that more closely resembles an FCS squad.
PREDICTION: The other 600-yard outing came against Texas A&M which isn’t exactly noted for its defense right now either. Nevertheless, they outgunned Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel on his own home turf, and they should have enough firepower to outlast any challenge that Arkansas might offer.
Tennessee Volunteers at No. 13 Missouri Tigers
7 p.m. ET Saturday, November 2 (ESPN)
STORYLINE: Will the sting of the South Carolina loss haunt the Missouri Tigers this week?
Much was made this week of Missouri’s painful history of heartbreaking losses, and certainly last week’s home loss to South Carolina in which the Tigers allowed the Gamecocks to rally from a 17-0 fourth-quarter deficit adds another chapter to that history. But the good news is, the Tigers still control their own destiny in the SEC East, and an 11-1 season would put them in the SEC Championship Game – most likely against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Tennessee, meanwhile, enters this game trying to shake off the lingering effects of the Volunteers’ latest loss to Alabama – a 45-10 thrashing at the hands of the defending national champs.
PREDICTION: Tennessee is improved nevertheless, and Missouri at 7-1 still remains a bit of a mystery. Now you have to wonder, with the adrenaline rush of a 7-0 start gone, how much substance is really there, and do the Tigers really have the ability to win the SEC East when it’s all said and done? I’ll take the Tigers to win at home, but it wouldn’t stun me if they struggled to put the Volunteers away.
Alabama State Hornets at Kentucky Wildcats
7:30 p.m. ET Saturday, November 2 (ESPN Gameplan/ESPN3)
STORYLINE: Kentucky stays alive for the postseason for one more week
At 1-6, Kentucky has to win out from here to get to the postseason.
PREDICTION: The Wildcats will get it done against FCS opponent Alabama State at home.
UTEP Miners at No. 17 Texas A&M Aggies
9 p.m. ET Saturday, November 2 (ESPN2)
STORYLINE: Another chance for Manziel to rest and heal
While Johnny Manziel didn’t appear to be ailing in last week’s 56-24 win over Vanderbilt, the Aggie coaching staff was not taking any chances pulling him in the third quarter with the Aggies ahead 42-17. They should get a chance to get him out of this one early as well against the 1-6 Miners.
PREDICTION: It’s a non-conference game, and the Aggies won’t take many chances once this is out of reach. We’re guessing by halftime, they’ve got it in the bag, and you won’t see Johnny Football in the second half.