The first week of November brings us two massive SEC matchups that will not only shape the division title races through the end of the season but have a massive impact on the College Football Playoff race. The marquee game of the weekend is No. 3 Georgia hosting No. 1 Tennessee in the SEC on CBS Game of the Week at 3:30 p.m. ET with SEC East bragging rights on the line. The Volunteers are led by Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback Hendon Hooker and one of the most dynamic offenses in the country, while the reigning national champion Bulldogs have one of the most stout defenses in the nation.
On the other side of the conference in the SEC West, No. 6 Alabama visits Death Valley to take on No. 10 LSU in primetime on Saturday with both the Crimson Tide and Tigers coming off bye weeks. Both teams have a conference loss on the books, so consider this an elimination game in the race for the division title.
Let's take a spin around some of the bigger storylines in the SEC before making picks against the spread for Saturday's action.
Appetizer: Key for Alabama vs. LSU
The battle between the Crimson Tide and Tigers will hinge on one thing and one thing alone: LSU's downfield passing attack. The Tigers rank last in the SEC in passing plays of 20 or more yards (21) and are the only team in the SEC with fewer than 10 passing plays of 30 or more yards. Malik Nabers, Kayshon Boutte, Jaray Jenkins and Brian Thomas Jr. are all talented players, but Nabers is the only one with more than 300 receiving yards, and no qualifying receiver on LSU's roster averages 15 or more yards per reception.
Somebody has to step up and take the top off of the Alabama defense. Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt was able to torch the Crimson Tide secondary, which has proven to be arguably the weakest unit of the 2022 Crimson Tide. That's the only way teams can threaten coach Nick Saban's defense. If Tigers quarterback Jayden Daniels can't keep the Tide safeties honest, it'll be impossible for the LSU running back corps to have consistent success behind an offensive line has had its ups and downs. Keep an eye on how LSU comes out in the first quarter. If it can pass to set up the run, it'll have a chance to pull off the upset.
Main course: All eyes on Stetson Bennett
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett IV made some NFL-caliber throws in last week's win over Florida. He also made some mind-numbing decisions that allowed the Gators to stay in the game heading into the fourth quarter, including an ill-advised interception to Amari Burney -- who he didn't seem to notice down the left sideline -- midway through the third quarter. That set up a touchdown to transform what looked like a blowout into a one-score game.
"He had some decisions that he wish he'd take back," coach Kirby Smart said on Monday. "And I don't know many quarterbacks that play the game that you can't say that about. You're just trying to wipe those away. Because in the game of college football, including Tennessee and every team in the country, they put a ton on the quarterback to make decisions. And we do the same with Stetson. So, you know, he's not always going to make the right decision. We just got to make the right one more times."
Bennett can get away with those sorts of things against Florida, but not Tennessee. Hooker and the Volunteers offense can strike like an angry cobra and can turn a game sideways in the blink of an eye. The last thing that Bennett needs to do is turn this game to be played in the up-tempo, frantic pace that has defined the Volunteers through two months. If Tennessee is able to dictate the style of the game, it'll win the fight. It's on Bennett to not aide them in that quest.
Dessert: The Deion dilemma
If I'm new Auburn athletic director John Cohen, I'd definitely make a call to Jackson State coach Deion Sanders to see if he's interested in replacing ex-coach Bryan Harsin. Auburn needs juice, and Sanders can provide exactly what's needed on the Plains. He has built Jackson State's roster into a force through high school recruiting and the transfer portal, which is a must for whomever gets the Auburn gig. Watching Auburn deteriorate to this point is sad. The size, speed, development and depth have tailed off to a point that when it squares off against another SEC team, like Arkansas last weekend, it looks like a JV team matching up against a varsity powerhouse.
Sanders can change that. His proven track record during his short stint at Jackson State is the perfect blueprint for what Auburn needs as it enters its reconstruction phase. Is he ready from an on-the-field coaching perspective for life in the SEC? I think he is, but others might disagree. Don't worry about that right now. It's not the Xs and Os, it's the Jimmys and the Joes. Auburn doesn't have a championship-caliber roster, but Sanders can fix that in a hurry.
Sanders said on "60 Minutes" that he'd have to consider Power Five jobs if they came calling because he owed it to his coaching staff. Give him an offer that includes guaranteed, multi-year contracts for his assistants. Yes, Auburn is on the hook for buyout money that rivals the GDP of a medium-sized country. Don't worry about that. It'll be flush with cash when the new TV deal begins in a couple of years, and it's a smart business move in this situation to focus on the long-run -- not the immediate hit to the bank account.
Straight up: 61-15 | Against the spread: 32-35-1
*Previous picks were made on Instagram since SEC Smothered & Covered starts in Week 3
Kentucky at Missouri
The Wildcats have struggled to run the football all season while quarterback Will Levis has failed living up to the hype, and that'll cost them on Saturday in a loss to the Tigers. Missouri is fresh off of a win at South Carolina that saw its defense hold the Gamecocks to 3.83 yards per play. Coach Eli Drinkwitz said after that game that "defense travels," but it won't have to this weekend. The third-year Tigers coach will lead Missouri to its third straight conference win and save what once seemed like a lost season. Pick: Missouri (+1.5)
Florida at Texas A&M
The Aggies found their quarterback of the future last weekend in freshman Conner Weigman, and he'll notch his first career win as a starter against the Gators. Florida is giving up 6.2 yards per play, and Weigman is adept enough at stretching the field to take advantage of the Gators secondary and give his star running back, Devon Achane, more room to operate. Kyle Field will be rocking and help the Aggies break their four-game losing streak. Pick: Texas A&M (-3)
No. 1 Tennessee at No. 3 Georgia
I'll go out on that limb and take the Volunteers to win outright. Tennessee dictates style, and styles make fights, but how are the Volunteers going to dictate the style in this one? It's easy to focus on the offense, which will have success on Saturday. But the stout Tennessee rushing defense (92.88 yards per game) will force some empty possessions from the Bulldogs early and force Bennett out of his comfort zone enough to get the job done. Pick: Tennessee (+8.5)
Liberty at Arkansas
The Flames' lone loss is a one-point defeat to a really good Wake Forest team on Sept. 17, and there's no doubt that coach Hugh Freeze will want to make a statement in an SEC stadium. Liberty quarterback Johnathon Bennett was 24 of 29 for 247 yards and two touchdowns last week in a 41-14 win over BYU, and will do enough to make it a fourth-quarter game on Saturday afternoon. Freeze and Co. won't get the upset, but it'll be a fun one in Fayetteville. Pick: Liberty (+13.5)
No. 6 Alabama at No. 10 LSU
The Crimson Tide are averaging 14 penalties per game on the road this year, including a miserable performance in the loss to Tennessee that saw them get rack up 17 penalties. Is that suddenly going to change in the place where, as former Tiger coach Les Miles once said, "opponents' dreams come do die?" No. It's part of Alabama's identity. With that said, Alabama's front seven will take advantage of LSU's offensive line deficiencies, force Daniels into some mistakes and get out of there with an ugly, close win. Pick: LSU (+13)
Auburn at Mississippi State
The Tigers are massive underdogs following the dismissal of Harsin, but interim coach Carnell "Cadillac" Williams will motivate his roster enough to keep this a one-score game. The weakness of Auburn's defense is stopping the run, but Mississippi State doesn't focus much on the run. Regardless, Auburn's offense won't be able to do what it needs to in order to pull off the upset. The offensive line doesn't protect quarterback Robby Ashford, open holes for Tank Bigsby or inspire confidence on the road. Take the points but not the moneyline. Pick: Auburn (+13)
South Carolina at Vanderbilt
The Gamecocks offense gained just 3.83 yards per play last week against Missouri and quarterback Spencer Rattler has not panned out in the way Gamecocks fans hoped. With that said, the defense is giving up just 361.4 yards per game and has allowed just six plays of 40 or more yards. Take the under (49.0), but also take the Gamecocks to win by double digits in an ugly one. Pick: South Carolina (-7)
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 10, and which top-25 teams will go down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread -- all from a proven computer model that has returned almost $3,000 in profit over the past six-plus seasons -- and find out.