It’s rivalry week in the SEC, which means that intra-state bragging rights, border wars and the passion of college football will be on full display for the nation. It isn’t just that, though. New Year’s Six bowl berths, College Football Playoff positioning and bowl eligibility will also be on the line throughout the conference.
No. 3 Alabama will visit Jordan-Hare Stadium — a place it hasn’t won since 2015 — to take on rival Auburn in the annual Iron Bowl. No. 1 Georgia will play Georgia Tech in Atlanta, just 1 mile from where it will play the Crimson Tide next week in the SEC Championship Game. LSU, meanwhile, will bid farewell to coach Ed Orgeron against No. 15 Texas A&M in Death Valley.
Let’s break down the top storylines in the SEC this weekend and make picks straight up as well as against the spread.
Appetizer: Answered question and maybe a bonus
It’s safe to say that, as the season has gone on, Georgia tight end Brock Bowers has emerged as one of the most important players on the Bulldogs roster. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound freshman leads the Bulldogs with 34 catches for 552 yards and eight touchdowns. He has been the biggest answer to the wide receiver uncertainty that coach Kirby Smart had going into the season.
“The biggest thing with Brock’s consistency is, number one, he’s not just a role player,” Smart said during his Monday press conference. “He can block and plays with physical toughness. He’s very intelligent. He takes notes. He comes in early and watches his tape. When you have dependability and talent mixed together, it’s usually what you get, and you have a guy who has put up the numbers he did. Again, he takes opportunities for all the games we’ve played.”
Help could be on the horizon.
Star wide receiver George Pickens, who tore his ACL this spring and has missed the season to this point, dressed out last week vs. Charleston Southern. It’s unclear if he’s been cleared for contact in practice, but his return would be huge for the stretch run. He had 85 catches for 1,240 yards and 14 touchdowns during his first two seasons with the program. If Smart can get Pickens into the mix and still use Bowers up the seam, this offense is going to be nearly unstoppable.
Main course: Bo Nix adding spice
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix is out with an ankle injury, but that hasn’t stopped the junior from making some waves during Iron Bowl week. Nix made his weekly appearance on “The Next Round,” and suggested that some calls that benefitted Alabama last week against Arkansas are par for the course for SEC officials.
“I think, legitimately, you watch the game and anybody who is unbiased would think something is different,” he said. “It is what it is. It’s kinda how it has always been. It’s part of the game. And they have good players. Can’t take that away from them.”
There were definitely some questionable calls last week, especially when Razorbacks running back Dominique Johnson appeared to be 2 yards into the end zone but was called down on the 1-yard line.
I’m all for Nix adding some spice to the rivalry. After all, it’s not like Alabama can get back at him on Saturday. In reality, most calls even out over the course of time. Yes, it seems like Arkansas was on the short end of the stick against Alabama, but that doesn’t mean there’s bias. With that said, if Auburn ends up on the same end of the stick on Saturday, the conspiracy theories and anger will fly.
Dessert: Billy Napier love
It appears that the Louisiana coach, who has had plenty of success as a head and assistant coach in the southeast, is at or near the top of the coaching wish lists at Florida and LSU. The winner of the Napier lottery will be able to build a fortress sooner rather than later.
Napier isn’t the big name like others bandied about for the job. That’s OK, though. All Napier has done is lead the Ragin’ Cajuns to three straight double-digit win seasons, has suffered just two conference losses over the last three seasons and is gearing up for the Sun Belt Championship Game vs. Appalachian State on Dec. 4. His recruiting ties not only in Louisiana but in recruiting hotbeds like Atlanta and the state of Florida will make him an instant success wherever he lands.
Sometimes athletic directors hone in on big names in order to win the PR battle. Napier probably won’t do that, but he will build a CFP contender whether it’s in Gainesville or Baton Rouge.
Straight up: 83-20 | Against the spread: 45-43
Mississippi State Bulldogs
The Egg Bowl will take place Thanksgiving night — its rightful time slot. It’ll serve as the exclamation point to Rebels coach Lane Kiffin’s stellar second season. Quarterback Matt Corral will slice and dice the Bulldogs offense through the air and on the ground, Bulldogs coach Mike Leach won’t be able to keep up and the Rebels will take home the golden egg for the second straight season. Pick: Ole Miss (+1)
Missouri at No. 25 Arkansas
Arkansas’ multi-dimensional rushing attack led by quarterback KJ Jefferson and running back Dominique Johnson will run over, around and through a Tigers rushing defense that is ranked 125th in FBS in rushing defense (235.36) and 122nd in rushing yards allowed per play (5.52). This one is going to get sideways in a hurry. Pick: Arkansas (-14.5)
No. 1 Georgia at Georgia Tech
Make no mistake, the Bulldogs will flat out annihilate the Yellow Jackets. After all, Geoff Collins has coached his way onto the hot seat due to a porous defense and inconsistent offense. With that said, the Bulldogs will also want to stay healthy, so when they return to Atlanta next week to take on Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, they’ll be ready to kick off their homestretch in style. Coach Kirby Smart will pull the starters early and allow the Jackets to slip in under the number. Pick: Georgia Tech (+35)
The Gators’ disastrous season will come to a merciful end at home when they are upset by the rival Seminoles. Florida State has won two straight games and averaged over 5.5 yards per play in the process. Florida’s defense is wildly inconsistent, and the entire roster looks wrecked from all of the drama surrounding ex-coach Dan Mullen. This has moneyline sprinkle written all over it. Pick: Florida State (+2.5)
No. 3 Alabama at Auburn
The Tigers secondary is talented but hasn’t had a ton of success lately, including two weeks ago when Mississippi State QB Will Rogers threw for 416 yards and six touchdowns in a comeback win. Translation: Bryce Young’s Heisman Trophy campaign will get another boost. The Crimson Tide won’t be able to run the ball effectively, however, and the Tigers will get enough stops to keep it within the number. Pick: Auburn (+19.5)
The Commodores defense didn’t play terrible last week against the potent Ole Miss offense, and that trend will continue in their finale vs. rival Tennessee. Weird things tend to happen in this game, so expect QB Hendon Hooker to make enough mistakes to make this one closer than the oddsmakers think. Pick: Vanderbilt (+31)
No. 15 Texas A&M at LSU
The thought here is that the Tigers might send coach Ed Orgeron off into the sunset with an upset over the Aggies. Don’t fall into that trap. The Aggies are headed straight toward a New Year’s Six bowl. If all it takes is a touchdown and extra point for a Texas A&M ticket to cash, I’ll put my trust into Isaiah Spiller, Devon Achane and the Aggies rushing attack. Pick: Texas A&M (-6.5)
The Cardinals have gotten hot over the last few weeks, and they’ll continue that momentum into bowl season. Quarterback Malik Cunningham and the Cardinals offense will force the Wildcats into a shootout. I love Wildcats quarterback Will Levis, but he’ll make a few more mistakes in this one and the Cardinals will win by at least a field goal. Pick: Louisville (-2.5)
South Carolina Gamecocks
The Gamecocks will go to a bowl game after topping Auburn last week, but won’t get the job done this week against the Tigers from the Upstate. The Clemson defense has been nasty all season and quarterback DJ Uiagalelei has finally started to look like the star that he was touted to be prior to the season. Clemson will pull away late for a two-touchdown win. Pick: Clemson (-11.5)
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 13, and which top College Football Playoff contender gets a huge scare? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned almost $3,700 in profit over the past five-plus seasons — and find out.