We have reached the penultimate week in the regular season. Despite both SEC divisions being wrapped up, there are still massive games to be played.
No. 1 Georgia will look to keep its undefeated season alive in a hostile environment with a trip to Knoxville, Tennessee, to take on No. 18 Tennessee in front of what will certainly be a raucous Neyland Stadium crowd. The Bulldogs offense tore the Ole Miss defense apart last week in a statement game for the two-time reigning national champions. Tennessee, on the other had, was blown out by No. 9 Missouri, and now a second straight New Year's Six bowl is highly unlikely for coach Josh Heupel's squad.
Speaking of Missouri, running back Cody Schrader sliced, diced and ran over the Volunteers defense last week. Schrader has been one of the biggest feel-good stories of the year, and another dominating performance against Florida this week could put him in position to vault up NFL Draft boards.
What will go down this week in college football? Let's take a spin around the conference and make picks straight up and against the spread in this week's edition of SEC Smothered and Covered.
Appetizer: Gators gotta have it
Florida's roller coaster of a season might have bottomed out. The Gators have lost three straight, allowing at least 39 points in all three contests, and sit at 5-5 with the possibility of a third straight sub-.500 record staring them straight in the face. That simply can't happen to second-year coach Billy Napier. This is a program that used to be a national title contender every year. Now it's an irrelevant has-been that routinely gets run over even by mediocre opponents.
It's firing season in the SEC; Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher and Mississippi State Zach Arnett have already received their pink slips. Napier was asked about the kind of pressure that led to those two dismissals on Monday.
"It comes with the territory," he said. "We all have a job to do, and ultimately I think you view it as a challenge, you view it as an opportunity. Look, these are well-thought-out decisions. You don't just flip a coin to decide to be the head coach of the Florida Gators. For me, you go into it with a strategy and a plan. You adapt. You evolve. You adjust. And we're in the middle of our process, right? It's been happening a long time that way."
He's right. It does come with the territory. However, the Gators are 11.5-point underdogs at Missouri on Saturday night and will likely be massive underdogs again next week against rival Florida State. If Napier can't give the administration something to be excited about in one of the next two matchups, he could find himself next in line behind Fisher and Arnett either this winter or early next fall.
Main course: Can Carson Beck make a late Heisman charge?
The answer is a resounding "yes." The first-year starting quarterback for the Bulldogs has evolved into a monster for a team that has more pressure on its shoulders than any other in college football. He hasn't been fazed by Georgia's quest to become the first team to win three straight national titles since Minnesota between 1934 and 1936, and that should sit well with Heisman Trophy voters across the country.
He also has the stats to back up a strong candidacy. He threw for 306 yards and averaged 12.2 yards per attempt in the 52-17 win over Ole Miss, which was the fifth time this season that he has eclipsed the 300-yard mark through the air. He ranks No. 6 in the nation in completion percentage among qualifying quarterbacks (72.2%). Perhaps more impressive, he ranks No. 4 in the country in completion percentage for passes of 15 or more air yards (55.3%) -- behind LSU's Jayden Daniels (62.7%), Michigan's J.J. McCarthy (62.5%) and Oregon's Bo Nix (55.7%). Not bad company to be in, to say the least.
Beck is currently +3000 to win the Heisman, behind Nix (+100), Daniels (+350), Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr (+350) and Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr (+550). This road game against Tennessee, which is the SEC on CBS Game of the Week, provides him a great chance to showcase how much he's grown to the entire country. Plus, he will be one of a select few to play on championship weekend in December. Ballots are due on Dec. 4, two days after the SEC Championship Game. If Beck lights up Tennessee, Georgia Tech and SEC West champion Alabama, don't be surprised if, at the very least, he finds his way to New York City as a Heisman finalist.
Dessert: Cupcake Saturday has to go
The penultimate weekend of the regular season means that several SEC teams get to feast on cupcakes. Two teams will play FCS opponents and five will welcome Group of Five teams into their stadiums. Why? because several programs like to give their teams extra time to prepare for games against their headed rivals next weekend.
It can't continue. It's unfair to the lower-level teams that could still be fighting for bowl eligibility. It's unfair to fans who spend a ton of money for tickets to games that will feature backups during the most critical time of the year. It's unfair to networks who crave compelling inventory with championship weekend looming around the corner. It's unfair to other conferences that have developed their scheduling model to ensure compelling matchups throughout the final month of the regular season.
The new-look, divisionless SEC that will include Texas and Oklahoma next season still doesn't have a permanent model. All we know are the opponents for each team. Can the conference please, for all of us, ensure that the permanent model mandates a conference game in every November weekend prior to rivalry week?
I'm all for nonconference games against lesser opponents taking place in September because they generate much-needed revenue to the athletic departments of those smaller schools. However, fans deserve better than what the SEC is providing this weekend.
- Ole Miss
- Texas A&M
- South Carolina
- Mississippi State
Straight up: 79-14 | Against the spread: 39-39-3
*Picks use SportsLine consensus odds and were made on Instagram since SEC Smothered & Covered started in Week 2
No. 1 Georgia at No. 18 Tennessee
The Volunteers defense got absolutely lit up by Missouri last week, and it'll happen again this week against a Bulldogs team that is firing on all cylinders heading into the postseason. More importantly, though, is the fact that the Vols struggled on the ground against the Tigers. With that blueprint on film, expect the Bulldogs to do the same. This one will be a blowout by halftime. Pick: Georgia -10
Florida at No. 9 Missouri
Gators quarterback Graham Mertz has been rock solid all year, and that won't change against the Tigers. He has weapons around him, a rushing attack that keeps defenses honest and hasn't thrown an interception since Oct. 7. He will have enough success to make this a four-quarter game and keep the Tigers sweating on Saturday night. In the end, Schrader will punish the defense enough to allow the Tigers to notch a one-score win. Pick: Florida +11.5
Kentucky at South Carolina
The Gamecocks rank No. 130 in the country in tackles for loss allowed per game (8.0) and No. 123 in sacks allowed per game (3.7). Expect the Wildcats defensive front, which is averaging 6.3 tackles for loss per game, to put quarterback Spencer Rattler in third-and-long situations on a consistent basis. Wildcats quarterback Devin Leary has struggled mightily this season, but he won't be asked to do too much and won't make game-changing mistakes in this one. Pick: Kentucky -1.5
Games against Group of Five/FCS opponents
- UL-Monroe +37.5 at No. 13 Ole Miss
- Southern Miss +14 at Mississippi State
- New Mexico State at Auburn -23.5
- FIU +29.5 at Arkansas
- Georgia State +31 at No. 15 LSU
- No. 8 Alabama (NL) over Chattanooga
- Texas A&M (NL) over Abilene Christian
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 12, 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.