We’ve got six full weeks of the regular season remaining.
That’s how much time is left for the SEC’s top teams to cling to their perches, for the likes of Georgia and Ole Miss to turn things around and for a dark horse — be it LSU, Auburn, Florida or another — to make a compelling run down the stretch into bowl season.
Neither division is settled yet. Not even close. There are some huge games left, starting with Saturday’s matchup between Alabama and Texas A&M.
There’s plenty to discuss and prognosticate in Week 8, so as always, let’s get right to the Friday afternoon predictions:
(All kickoff times ET)
UMass at South Carolina: The Gamecocks finally score more than 20 points
Kurt Roper’s floundering offense meets an equally inept defense in the Minutemen, who have allowed 42.5 points per game over the last four weeks. Last week, the injured UMass squad allowed 690 total offensive yards against Louisiana Tech, 491 of which came through the air. Suffice it to say, the Gamecocks and whoever they start at quarterback — true freshman Jake Bentley, perhaps? — are blessed with a pretty cushy matchup. Top receiving targets Deebo Samuel, Bryan Edwards and Hayden Hurst are too talented to not run free against a team like this. If South Carolina somehow can’t crack its 2016 high-water mark of 20 points, well, that certainly doesn’t bode well for the Will Muschamp regime.
Kickoff: noon, SEC Network
Line: South Carolina -20.5
Prediction: South Carolina 28, UMass 10
No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama: The Aggies will cover their ridiculous spread
Alabama is 5-2 against the spread this season and, as pointed out in The Crock Pot, is on pace for a +365 point differential by the end of the regular season. Even so, Texas A&M absolutely can stay within 19 points of the Crimson Tide. The Aggies have a much better offensive line and secondary than Arkansas, which played the Tide to a 19-point game, and their receiving corps of Christian Kirk, Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil can push Nick Saban’s defense to its limits. You’ll remember that Ole Miss put up 522 total yards against Alabama. So long as Trevor Knight doesn’t make any crippling mistakes early, Texas A&M should keep things respectable in Tuscaloosa.
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., CBS
Line: Alabama -18.5
Prediction: Alabama 38, Texas A&M 21
Middle Tennessee at Missouri: The Tigers hang on in a Show Me State shootout
You can find plenty Group of Five teams worse than Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders are averaging 541 total yards per game, sixth best in the FBS, and have scored 29 touchdowns in six games. Mizzou has been a defensive mess, allowing at least 400 total yards in five of its six games. Worse is how the Tigers defensive front has gone from being one of the country’s most aggressive and feared to, well, the opposite. Among SEC teams, they’re tied for 12th in sacks (10.0) and are last in TFLs (27.0). Missouri has the firepower to win a game like this at home. But quarterback Brent Stockstill (2,091 yards passing, 18 touchdowns) is dangerous when he’s in sync with his wideouts. Barry Odom’s bunch should be cautious this week.
Kickoff: 4 p.m., SEC Network
Line: Missouri -7.5
Prediction: Missouri 44, Middle Tennessee 35
No. 17 Arkansas at No. 21 Auburn: Carl Lawson wreaks havoc
The Hogs already had had to face the pass rushes of Texas A&M and Alabama this season, and in both instances, the O-line’s inability to protect quarterback Austin Allen was Arkansas’ undoing. Auburn has as deep a defensive line as any in the country, and headliner Carl Lawson has been on a tear. In the Tigers’ last three games, he’s recorded 10 tackles, 5 sacks and 6 QB hurries. Auburn defends the run pretty well, too, and in three SEC games, the Razorbacks are averaging just 3.1 yards per carry. Allen will have to pass often for Arkansas to make this a game, and when he does, Lawson will be able to get to the junior quarterback — maybe even a few times.
Kickoff: 6 p.m., ESPN
Line: Auburn -10
Prediction: Auburn 34, Arkansas 31
Mississippi State at Kentucky: Upset alert for the Bulldogs
Kentucky gets my weekly upset nod for a few reasons. The Wildcats ground game has gotten much better with the emergence of freshman Benny Snell to complement Boom Williams, the defense has rebounded thanks to an improving corps of sophomores, and MSU has suffered some crushing losses lately. Falling to BYU in double-overtime, on the road in Provo, Utah, no less, probably hurts the resolve of this team a little bit. UK gets an ever-so-slight edge in Lexington.
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
Line: Mississippi State -3
Prediction: Kentucky 24, Mississippi State 20
Tennessee State at Vanderbilt: QB mistakes scare Commodores early
Here are a couple of eye-popping stats: 5-1 Tennessee State has made 12 interceptions in six games, and has scored 50 points off turnovers this season. For comparison, only two FBS teams — Troy and SMU — have picked off more passes in 2016. Conversely, Vanderbilt has protected the football very well this season, turning it over just 7 times (the Vols matched that total in one game, by the way). That said, Kyle Shurmur has been little more than a game manager at best for the Commodores, and his 98.5 passer rating is the worst among qualified SEC quarterbacks. I expect this one to go the way of Vandy’s win against Middle Tennessee — a close game early before Ralph Webb gets going and the Commodores pull away.
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., ESPNU
Line: Vanderbilt -28
Prediction: Vanderbilt 37, Tennessee State 14
No. 23 Ole Miss at No. 25 LSU: Derrius Guice crushes the Rebels
Leonard Fournette might be back on the field, but it’s been his backup’s show in recent weeks. Guice is averaging 9.1 yards per carry and has rushed for 387 yards in LSU’s last three games. Ole Miss fields one of the country’s worst rush defenses — Alabama, Georgia and Arkansas all gained at least 200 yards on the ground — meaning Guice and Fournette are in for big days. Given that No. 7 is probably still dealing with some lingering effects of his ankle injury, expect Guice to earn a majority share of the workload. He’ll have another 150-yard day.
Kickoff: 9 p.m., ESPN
Line: LSU -6.5
Prediction: LSU 37, Ole Miss 28