The college football season moves into Week 7 with the SEC taking center stage. No. 1-ranked Alabama takes on No. 8 Tennessee in a big-time showdown. More on that game plus two other SEC games in this survey of the week’s action in the Deep South:
Alabama Crimson Tide at Tennessee Volunteers
Odds: Alabama -8.5
This is a massive game for the Tennessee Volunteers. Consider all the ways in which Saturday’s clash matters to the Vols: They have not played in a New Year’s Six (formerly BCS) bowl game since the 1999 season. They have not won a conference championship since 1998, have not reached the SEC Championship Game since the 2007 season and have not beaten Alabama since the 2006 season. Nick Saban took over as the head coach at Alabama following the 2006 season. His first year at Alabama was in 2007. You can do the math and conclude that Tennessee has never beaten Nick Saban when Saban was at Alabama. (Saban previously coached against Tennessee when he was the head coach at LSU. Tennessee did beat Saban when he was at LSU, but it lost to Saban in the 2001 SEC Championship Game, one of the toughest losses in Tennessee football history.)
Alabama comes into this game having barely beaten Texas A&M. That narrow escape comes shortly after the Crimson Tide were lucky to beat Texas by one point in September. Alabama easily could have two losses this season. Its offensive line has not played especially well. The Tide don’t know if quarterback Bryce Young, who is expected to play, will be 100-percent healthy for this game. Tennessee’s team and offense both look good, but the Vols have not played a team nearly as good as Alabama to this point in the season. It’s both a huge challenge and a big opportunity for the Vols. They can probably keep this game close, but that’s not the question people are asking. People are wondering if the Vols can finish the job. Tennessee has to prove that before it receives that level of trust.
Pick: Tennessee +8.5
Auburn Tigers at Ole Miss Rebels
Odds: Ole Miss -15.5
The Ole Miss Rebels trailed Vanderbilt by 10 points in the first half last week before rallying to win. The Auburn Tigers were blown out by Georgia last week, but they shut out Georgia in the first quarter. There is a real question as to whether Ole Miss will get off to a hot start in this game. It might not happen, in which case Auburn could keep this game close heading into the fourth quarter.
However, it’s hard to think that Ole Miss will start a game slowly in consecutive weeks against inferior opposition. Auburn is playing with a backup quarterback and a deficient roster under a coach, Bryan Harsin, who is widely expected to be fired before the year ends. Ole Miss should be able to take full command of this game.
Pick: Ole Miss -15.5
Mississippi State Bulldogs at Kentucky Wildcats
Odds: Mississippi State –3.5
This is a game in which an injury story will affect the outcome of both straight up and against the spread.
Kentucky starting quarterback Will Levis missed last week’s game against South Carolina. As a result, the Wildcats suffered and lost 24-14 to a Gamecocks team they probably don't have any business losing to. Levis is back in the lineup this week and that's significant. Although he hasn't garnered a ton of attention nationally, most NFL scouts view him as the top quarterback in next year's NFL Draft. That's why his presence or absence tilts the scales quite a bit.
With him expected to be back, that could be all the Cats need to claw back and beat a tough Mississippi State team.