Greetings, readers! It’s Halloween — I don’t really celebrate it, but knock yourself out — and SEC play is really starting to get fun. The first edition of the College Football Playoff rankings have been released, and you’re either on the side of the SEC fans (and observers) in noting that four SEC teams are so highly-placed, or you’re on the side of #FSUTwitter in suggesting that there’s a bias afoot. (Love you guys, FSU fans. Just reporting the facts.) As for yours truly, none of those rankings mean a thing to me at this point, just so all zero of you who planned to ask for my opinion get your answer.
Despite my lack of celebration of the “holiday”, I am entitled to one (pop)cornball thing per year in this little space I call my own, so I’ll take my opportunity this week. Of course, having said that, I’m sure there’ll be more later this year. I’ll let you figure out what that is.
Before we move forward, let’s move back and look at last week’s Three Big Things:
- Unanswered questions at Vandy: Vanderbilt has struggled all season with their quarterback play, and seem to have settled on freshman Johnny McCrary. McCrary has been fine — he was 17-for-31 for 196 yards and two scores last week — but as one problem is apparently settled, another appears. The Commodores ran for just 44 yards in a loss to Mizzou last week, with leading rusher Ralph Webb notching only 34 of those yards. The performance dropped Vanderbilt further into the conference basement in rushing yards, as the team gains fewer than 102 yards per game on the ground.
- Ole Miss missed a chance: The Rebels had LSU on the ropes last week — even with as poorly as they played — until the inexplicable decision to throw deep while arguably in field goal range that essentially sealed the game. The Rebels point out that Bo Wallace only has one interception in league play — fewest among SEC quarterbacks — but holy smokes, was that one a big one.
- The Vols have their man: Josh Dobbs appears to be the fit Butch Jones has been seeking for his offense. The sophomore led his team in rushing (19 carries, 75 yards) and passing (19-for-32, 192 yards, 2 TD) against a stout Alabama defense. The true test will come in how Dobbs adjusts once the league gets a “book” on him, but Dobbs is hardly unproven; he is 91-for-153 for 887 yards and four scores against seven picks in eight career games (four starts).
As you can tell, we have yet another interesting week locked and loaded for you. Before we start, however, it’s trivia time!
SEC Trivia, Week 10 (answer at the end of the column): Texas A&M is attempting to avoid a four-game losing streak this weekend. When was A&M’s last four-game losing streak, and which four teams defeated them?
Keyword Search (all times Eastern and rankings AP)
ULM (3-4, 2-2 Sun Belt) at Texas A&M (5-3, 2-3 SEC)
Noon | SEC Network
- Trick: This admittedly has little to do with anything that will take place on the field on Saturday, but two absolutely strong troll jobs are going on around this game. ULM says this about their school’s name: In all references, please refer to us as ULM.
We are ULM, not Monroe, La.-Monroe, LAM, La.-Mon., UL Monroe, UL-M, LMU or any other variation … only for the SEC to refer to them as UL Monroe. Of course, ULM got their revenge by pointing out that they play as many SEC road games this season as Florida (three).
- Treat: The Aggies would become bowl-eligible for the sixth consecutive season with a victory in this game. That has never happened in school history. A&M has experienced three individual five-game stretches, but has never managed to pass that plateau. The most recent such streak occurred between 1997 and 2001.
- Inspecting the candy bag: The Aggies are a team of extremes when it comes to getting first downs. They managed a school-record 39 first downs against what we now know to be a flawed (to be kind) South Carolina defense to start the season. A&M could move the sticks just eight times in their last contest against Alabama. Seven of those eight came through the air, as A&M was playing catch-up almost as soon as they stepped off the bus. The balance of first downs is also considerably out of whack, as the Aggies have recorded single-digit rushing first downs on four separate occasions this season.
Trick that, treat that, whatever: This game probably turns things around for A&M — for a bit, anyway. A loss would cause a number of speechless College Station inhabitants.
Florida (3-3, 2-3 SEC) vs. #11 Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC)
3:30pm | CBS
- Trick: These two schools cannot even agree on the series record between them. From Florida’s media guide: There is a discrepancy between the two schools in the series record. Georgia claims a victory in 1904, but Florida football did not compete at the varsity level until the 1906 season. What’s not up for debate is that Georgia has won the last three installments of the World’s Largest Outdoor Diet Coke Party (I know the real name of the game, before anyone says it), though none by all that convincing of a margin.
- Treat: The Bulldogs started a brutal road swing in about the best manner possible, throttling Missouri 34-0 at Faurot Field. Amazingly, this was the first time Georgia had ever blanked a ranked team (darn it, why did I pick this week to get corny…that would have been a perfect lead-in for this note) on the road. It will be another two weeks before Georgia is back between the hedges, but they added to their road accomplishments by defeating a game Arkansas squad in the Natural State last weekend.
- Inspecting the candy bag: Georgia paces the SEC in points per game, averaging 43.4 per contest. Sure, the average drops to 38.6 against SEC foes, but that’s really trying to find fault. Florida, meanwhile, brought in noted offensive guru Kurt Roper from Duke, to mixed results. The Gators are 12th in the SEC, scoring 28.7 a game. That number drops almost a full touchdown against conference teams, plummeting to 21.4 per game.
Trick that, treat that, whatever: A loss puts Florida in serious jeopardy of missing a bowl for the second straight year. If so, adios Muschamp.
Kentucky (5-3, 2-3 SEC) at Missouri (6-2, 3-1 SEC)
4:00pm | SEC Network
- Trick: This series is even at two victories apiece. Mizzou has the two that “matter” (to them, anyway), as the Tigers are 2-0 against Kentucky as SEC members. The two Tiger wins have come by a combined margin of 81-27 over the last two years. UK’s two victories in the series came in the mid and late ’60s.
- Treat: Kentucky is averaging 31.6 points per game, which doesn’t sound like a whole lot at first. It’s only good for tenth-best in their own conference. However, the 253 total points is already higher than their total in any of the previous three years. The Wildcats recorded 246 total points last season, 215 in 2012 and 190 in 2011.
- Inspecting the candy bag: Maty Mauk had an okay game the last time these two teams faced off. He only managed to break the single-game touchdown record for the Tigers, finding pay dirt five times in a 48-17 Missouri win. Mauk finished 17-of-28 for 203 yards.
Trick that, treat that, whatever: Irrespective of the outcome of this one, Kentucky is clearly back. This one means the world to Mizzou, too.
Old Dominion (3-5) at Vanderbilt (2-6, 0-5 SEC)
7:00pm | ESPNU
- Trick: Old Dominion can score. They can score in bunches. They have a great quarterback in Taylor Heinicke, and he can throw the ball all over the lot. The problem is that their opponents also can score, and score in bunches. ODU is 121st in scoring defense, allowing 40.5 points per game. Western Kentucky defeated the Monarchs last week by the basketball-like margin of 66-51. Old Dominion is 116th in total defense, allowing 483.6 yards per game. Four Monarch opponents have tallied greater than 500 yards in a game this year, topped by WKU’s 601 last week.
- Treat: Vanderbilt is looking to forge a double-digit November winning streak. A victory over ODU would be the Commodores’ tenth-consecutive win in the eleventh month, which hasn’t happened for VU in almost 110 years. The Vandy sports information department points out that the Commdores won three of their 35 November games from 2001-2010. Vandy’s last November defeat was a 27-21 decision at Tennessee on November 19, 2011.
- Inspecting the candy bag: Old Dominion has never played an SEC opponent. The Monarchs are in just their sixth year of their “new” football program. This is just ODU’s fifth game against a “power five” team; they are 0-4 in those previous four contests.
Trick that, treat that, whatever: Vandy has barely beaten UMass and FCS Charleston Southern, while losing to Temple. ODU’s a bad, bad matchup.
#3 Auburn (6-1, 3-1 SEC) at #4 Ole Miss (7-1, 4-1 SEC)
7:00pm | ESPN
- Trick: For those who got annoyed by the playoff selections, here’s a fact. Ole Miss faces their fourth ranked SEC opponent from the West in five weeks. The Rebels defeated Alabama and Texas A&M, while falling last week to LSU.
- Treat: Auburn ran wild on South Carolina last week, to the tune of 395 yards (more on this later). The Tigers averaged 8.4 yards per carry on the much-maligned Gamecock defense. Both Cameron Artis-Payne and Ricardo Louis eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark.
- Inspecting the candy bag: Apropos of nothing — maybe — Auburn is one of just four schools to have scored 20 points or greater in every game this season (Florida State, Ohio State and Marshall being the others). However, the Tigers allow 20.7 points per game, twice the margin Ole Miss allows. Auburn surrenders 25.3 points per game in SEC play.
Trick that, treat that, whatever: Ole Miss’ achievements are well-chronicled. Auburn’s also not on the Plains. (See? I tricked myself! Thanks to reader Josh in the comments. :))
Arkansas (4-4, 0-4 SEC) at #1 Mississippi State (7-0, 4-0 SEC)
7:15pm | ESPN2
- Trick: Arkansas’ numbers against SEC teams and non-SEC teams are considerably different. Perhaps the biggest difference comes in the scoring differential. Non-conference opponents averaged just 16.5 points per game against the Hogs, while SEC foes average nearly 35 points against Bret Bielema’s club. Only Alabama has scored fewer than 35 points in a conference contest against the Razorbacks.
- Treat: Mississippi State will play in a fifth-consecutive bowl game. That has happened exactly never in the history of the Bulldog program. The school has played in the Gator (twice), Music City and Liberty Bowls, and figures to draw an even better assignment this year.
- Inspecting the candy bag: The Arkansas sports information department points out that this game in Starkville will be the Hogs’ fifth-consecutive matchup against a top-ten opponent. This has never happened to an FBS team. This is not exactly the recipe for trying to get Bret Bielema his first SEC victory.
Trick that, treat that, whatever: Mississippi State gets UT-Martin next before a trip to Alabama. Arkansas has LSU and Ole Miss at home next. Ouch.
Tennessee (3-5, 0-4 SEC) at South Carolina (4-4, 2-4 SEC)
7:30pm | SEC Network
- Trick: The Gamecocks are in danger of dropping to just 5-5 against the Vols since Steve Spurrier took over in Columbia. The HBC, who once trolled Tennessee by saying, “you can’t spell Citrus without U-T”, is also in search of his 15th career victory against the Volunteers. South Carolina saw their three-game win streak against the Vols snapped last season, with Tennessee on the winning side of a 23-21 contest.
- Treat: Desperate for a boost in their on-field play — and maybe to impress recruits — the Gamecocks will wear black jerseys and pants for the first time in three years. South Carolina has worn black against Tennessee before — they beat the Vols by three touchdowns while doing so six years ago. Spurrier, in his typical style, said of the uniforms, “Maybe it’ll put a little inspiration in our guys, who knows. We need to something to get us a little bit more motivated.”
- Inspecting the candy bag: The Spartanburg Herald-Journal’s Matt Connolly reports a startling statistic regarding South Carolina’s struggling defense. The Gamecocks have almost as many four-star defensive recruits (12) on the bench as Ole Miss has landed (13) between 2011 and 2014. Connolly also mentions that Auburn’s 395 rushing yards last week were the third-most allowed by South Carolina since 1979.
Trick that, treat that, whatever: Tennessee may have found their quarterback of the future in Josh Dobbs. Interesting test for him, and for South Carolina.
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: Texas A&M is attempting to avoid a four-game losing streak this weekend. When was A&M’s last four-game losing streak, and which four teams defeated them?
Iowa State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Texas dealt the Aggies four consecutive losses to end the 2005 season. This left A&M at 5-6 and without a bowl bid.