The calendar will flip from September to October as the Week 5 college football action takes center stage on Saturday, which means that SEC division title races are starting take shape. No. 2 Alabama will head to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to take on No. 20 Arkansas in a battle between SEC foes. It was anticipated this could be a battle of undefeated title contenders, but the Razorbacks’ loss to Texas A&M last week erased that possibility. No. 7 Kentucky will travel to Oxford, Mississippi, to take on No. 14 Ole Miss in a clash of cross-division, undefeated teams that are looking to break through on the national stage.
There are intriguing games for other reasons, too. Auburn will take on LSU at Jordan-Hare Stadium in a game that could determine the future of Tigers coach Bryan Harsin. The second-year coach was rumored to be on the brink of receiving a pink slip had the Tigers lost to Missouri last week, but they escaped in overtime in one of the sloppiest games of the year.
What else is going on around the conference in Week 5? Let’s take a spin around the league and make some picks in this week’s edition of SEC Smothered and Covered.
Hurricane Ian hitting the East Coast has forced changes to SEC games in Week 5. Keep up to date with all of the movement at this link here.
Appetizer: Drew Sanders, the double agent?
Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders has established himself as one of the best players in the conference regardless of position. The former five-star prospect out of Denton, Texas, has 31 tackles on the season and is tied for third in the SEC in tackles for loss per game (1.63). He’s also a former member of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Could he be a secret agent? Well, not officially, but Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman knows that his star transfer isn’t going to be surprised by anything he sees.
“I would assume, for him, there would be some familiarity with what Bama is doing,” Pittman said. “We’ll try to downplay that as much as possible, because it is about shedding blocks and tackling and doing his assignment.”
This was shaping up to be a battle of undefeated teams prior to last weekend, but a reeling Texas A&M squad and a Hogs’ field goal attempt off the top of the goal post put an end to that plan. It didn’t erase the interest level in this game, though. Pittman’s squad absolutely has to win Saturday’s game vs. the Crimson Tide, otherwise its hopes of winning the West will disappear like a rack of ribs at a tailgate party.
Main course: Chris Rodriguez’s impact
Kentucky is typically a juggernaut at developing stud offensive linemen who are effective as run and pass blockers. This year … not so much. The Wildcats have given up more sacks than any other team in the SEC (16) and allowed Northern Illinois to sack quarterback Will Levis five times last weekend. Nothing against the Huskies, but that shouldn’t happen.
They will get running back Chris Rodriguez back from his early-season suspension this week, though, and he should at least provide more of a threat in the running game to help Levis work off play-action. The preseason All-SEC selection rushed for 1,379 yards and nine touchdowns last season while adding three touchdowns as a receiver out of the backfield. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Monday that Rodriguez has prepared to make an impact over the last couple of weeks.
“For Chris, it was just a matter of managing him while he was out. Just getting him the reps that we needed to. The last week or two, as I mentioned last week, he was getting reps with the first and second team — mainly the second team or different quarterbacks just to make sure he wasn’t totally removed from practicing our plays, along with staying in shape, being on the scout team, doing whatever was necessary for staying in good shape.”
Dessert: Do or die for Bryan Harsin
Reports surfaced last week that Harsin could be fired as early as the day after the Missouri game if his team lost to the visiting Tigers. That didn’t happen; Auburn used a Missouri missed field goal at the end of regulation and a walk-off touchback in overtime to escape with a win. Or a “non-loss,” considering how sloppy the game was.
In essence, it was the worst possible scenario for all parties. Harsin’s incredibly ugly win against Missouri the week after getting blown out by Penn State made it impossible for the powers-that-be to get rid of him last Sunday, which also gave him another week to “coach back into” his job if he can figure things out. Could that start this week against LSU? Harsin’s Tigers are nearly double-digit underdogs, which suggests that there isn’t much faith in him surviving beyond this weekend. Even if he does, Georgia looms next weekend prior to the bye week.
Simply put, Harsin needs to dominate LSU and upset Georgia to stay employed. Otherwise, those who staged the attempted coup in February will likely get their way and move into a new era of Auburn football.
Straight up: 38-8 | Against the spread: 19-21-1
*Previous picks were made on Instagram since SEC Smothered & Covered starts in Week 3
No. 7 Kentucky at No. 14 Ole Miss
Featured Game | Ole Miss Rebels vs. Kentucky Wildcats
The Rebels have settled on Jaxson Dart as their No. 1 quarterback, and he will provide a nice complement through the air and on the ground to a rushing attack that is second-to-none in the conference (280.75 YPG). That will wear down a Kentucky defense that isn’t as deep or consistent as it has been in previous years. The Rebels defense, which is third in the SEC in tackles for loss per game (7.0), will keep Levis in third-and-long situations — leading to an Ole Miss cover. Pick: Ole Miss (-6.5)
No. 2 Alabama at No. 20 Arkansas
Featured Game | Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Alabama Crimson Tide
The 17.5-point spread is interesting, due in large part to the hook. If a 17-point Bama win cashes an Arkansas ticket, I’m all in for the Hogs. Alabama has played one-score games in four of its last five true road tilts, and the combination of Hogs quarterback KJ Jefferson and running back Raheim Sanders will bust enough big plays to at least keep this game close into the fourth quarter. The Crimson Tide will win it by two touchdowns when all is said and done but won’t get the cover. Pick: Arkansas (+17.5)
Featured Game | Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Texas A&M Aggies
The Bulldogs are home favorites over a ranked Aggies team for good reason. Opposing quarterbacks are completing just 44.4% of their passes on third downs (17th nationally), which sets up well against an Aggies team that will be without star wide receiver Ainias Smith. Texas A&M topped Arkansas essentially because of a fumbled punt return and a freak fumble recovery/scoop-and-score, but even those won’t save them in the land of the cowbells. Pick: Mississippi State (-3.5)
LSU at Auburn
Featured Game | Auburn Tigers vs. LSU Tigers
Auburn’s offensive line has been a disaster this year, and now its quarterback position is an unmitigated disaster. Meanwhile, LSU’s defense has given up just 39 plays of 10 or more yards this season (tied with Georgia for third in the SEC). It’s going to make Auburn put together multiple sustained drives, and that’s unlikely considering Harsin forgot that running back Tank Bigsby exists during the majority of the Missouri game. The visiting Tigers will win by double-digits. Pick: LSU (-9)
No. 1 Georgia at Missouri
Featured Game | Missouri Tigers vs. Georgia Bulldogs
The Bulldogs have to be embarrassed after Kent State stayed within 10 points into the fourth quarter last week, and they’ll take it out on Missouri on Saturday night in Columbia. The Tigers average a league-worst 5.62 yards per play, and the way to hang with the Bulldogs is to capitalize on shot plays. Coach Kirby Smart’s crew will take out its frustration on Missouri and win by at least 30 points. Pick: Georgia (-28)
SEC teams vs. FCS opponents
*No lines have been published
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 5, and which top-10 favorite 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 more than $3,100 in profit over the past six-plus seasons — and find out.