NCAA Football: Georgia at Vanderbilt

The final weekend of October in the SEC brings fantastic games, led by the rivalry between No. 1 Georgia and Florida in Jacksonville, Florida. Both teams had a bye week to prepare for one of bucket list games for any college football fan. 

The Gators won a 41-39 thriller over South Carolina two weeks ago in which quarterback Graham Mertz had one of his best games ever -- Florida or Wisconsin -- with 423 yards passing and three touchdowns. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, will be without start tight end Brock Bowers, who could miss the rest of the regular season with an ankle injury. 

No. 21 Tennessee will head to the Bluegrass State to take on Kentucky in a big game for Volunteer coach Josh Heupel. His squad dropped a heartbreaker last week at No. 9 Alabama, blowing a 20-7 halftime lead and giving up the final 27 points of the game. Kentucky was off last week and will be looking to break a two-game losing streak after starting the season 5-0.

What should you be looking for this weekend? Let's take a spin around the SEC and make some picks!

Appetizer: Tennessee's run game is key

The Volunteers averaged just 3.5 yards per carry in last week's loss to the Crimson Tide, which marked the third straight week that average has declined. Jaylen Wright only had 22 yards on 11 carries and Jabari Small gained just 24 yards on eight carries. 

"Give [Alabama] some credit, too," Heupel said. "They did a good job destructing blocks and making plays, being physical at the point, making tackles in space. We weren't always on the right side of it. That's running backs, it's our front five, it's tight ends. We needed it to be a little bit cleaner in that one. Also, knowing the type of opponent that we were playing, too. We can be better, normal downs and situationally, too."

History can't repeat itself against Kentucky. The Wildcat defense ranks No. 3 in the SEC and No. 17 in the nation at 3.07 yards per rush. he only team to successfully push it around was Georgia at 5.58 yards per rush. The battle inside when Tennessee has the ball will determine the outcome of this one.

Main course: Life without Bowers

This will be Georgia's first full test without Bowers, and it'll be fascinating to see what the offense looks like without the superstar in the mix. It's not just that Bowers is a star, it's that the offense has operated through him for the majority of the season; he typically had the attention of a small village of defenders on his routes. 

Enter, Oscar Delp. The sophomore was the No. 51 overall player in the Class of 2022. Delp has 221 yards and three touchdowns during his two-year career, and coach Kirby Smart is comfortable with what he can do within the offense after learning behind two of the best last year.

"I think being around Darnell [Washington] and Brock last year was a great learning tool for him, because from a side of being a Y and a physical blocker, he got to see Darnell and be and him, and he got to see Brock do the things he's done," Smart said on Monday. His growth has been good. I don't know that if he didn't have those two he would be where he is, because those two demanded that he do things right in order to get on the field. He had to earn the right to play. He has earned that by how he's practiced and played."

Keep an eye on how Smart utilizes Delp early on in the game. If the Bulldogs start out slow, a ton of pressure will shift to pure wide receivers like Ladd McConkey, Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, Dominic Lovett and RaRa Thomas.

Dessert: Pressure on Jimbo

Texas A&M has lost two straight and had two weeks to stew over the 20-13 loss at Tennessee. Saturday's home game against a 2-5 South Carolina team that just got smoked at Missouri is huge not only for the future of this year's Aggies, but the future of Jimbo Fisher. The sixth-year coach is 43-24 in 67 games and hasn't raised the ceiling at all from his predecessor, Kevin Sumlin. 

It's one thing to lose two in a row to ranked Alabama and Tennessee teams, but it would be an entirely different thing to lose to a South Carolina team that has fallen off a cliff. Fisher's massive $76.8 million buyout is always an important footnote in the conversation, but desperate times may have influential boosters at least considering passing around a giant fundraising hat. 

Power rankings

  1. Georgia
  2. Alabama
  3. Ole Miss
  4. LSU
  5. Tennessee
  6. Missouri
  7. Texas A&M
  8. Kentucky
  9. Florida
  10. Mississippi State
  11. Auburn
  12. South Carolina
  13. Arkansas
  14. Vanderbilt


Straight up: 62-11 | Against the spread: 31-28-2

*Picks use SportsLine consensus odds and were made on Instagram since SEC Smothered & Covered started in Week 2

No. 1 Georgia vs. Florida (Jacksonville)

The trend is your friend, and Georgia is 1-5 against the spread this season. Plus, this is a massive rivalry game and it's unlikely that the Bulldogs offense will click right away in their first full game without Bowers. Mertz will do enough to make this interesting in the fourth quarter and keep it within the massive number. Pick: Florida +14.5

Vanderbilt at No. 12 Ole Miss

The Commodores have lost six straight and are 1-7 against the spread this year. Granted, they covered their last time out against Georgia, but that was an anomaly. The Rebels offense is ultra dynamic, but it's the defense ranks No. 2 in the conference during the month of October (280.5 yards per game) helping the Rebels stay in the mix in the race for the SEC Championship Game. Even if this is close for a quarter or two, the Rebs will turn it sideways in the second half. Pick: Ole Miss -24.5

No. 21 Tennessee at Kentucky

The Volunteers rushing attack won't rebound completely, but it will do enough to keep the Wildcats defense honest and open passing windows for quarterback Joe Milton III. The dual-threat quarterback for the Volunteers will rebound from last week's performance against a passing defense that is giving up 250.9 yards per game. Kentucky simply won't be able to keep up in this one. Pick: Tennessee -3.5

South Carolina at Texas A&M

The bye week will work wonders for the Aggies. The chance to fine-tune their offense with new quarterback Max Johnson will force Gamecocks quarterback Spencer Rattler into a shootout. While Rattler has the talent to keep up in a track meet, the rest of his supporting cast on the offensive side of the ball -- especially up front -- will let him down for the sixth time this season. This one will get sideways. Pick: Texas A&M: -14

Mississippi State at Auburn

It's hard to trust Auburn at this point. The offense has absolutely no flow or identity, coach Hugh Freeze can't settle on a quarterback, and its virtually impossible for the defense shoulder the load for a full 60 minutes every week. The Bulldogs' offense isn't exactly potent, either. Backup quarterback Mike Wright got the job done last week against Arkansas, but it's hard to imagine either Wright or injured starter Will Rogers having success in this one. Auburn won a 3-2 game over Mississippi State back in 2008, and this one will follow a similar path. I'll take the Tigers close in an ugly one. Pick: Mississippi State +6.5

Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 9, 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.