Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
Now, things are getting interesting in the SEC.
Missouri's upset of Georgia last week thrusts the Tigers into front-runner status at the mid-way point of the season, with three one-loss teams nipping at their heels. To muddle the picture, three teams—Missouri, Georgia and Florida—are all dealing with major injuries that could drastically impact the chase for Atlanta.
Out west, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel continued to work his magic last week, leading his team to a thrilling 41-38 last-second win over Ole Miss in Oxford. Can he repeat the feat this week at home against No. 24 Auburn?
Picks for that game and the rest of the SEC's Week 8 matchups are in this slide show.
2013 Record: 58-5 (7-0 last week), 37-24-1 ATS (3-4 last week).
All lines courtesy: VegasInsider.com.
Georgia QB Aaron Murray
Saturday, Oct. 19 at noon ET
Should Georgia be on upset alert this weekend on the road at Vanderbilt?
Absolutely. This is the same Vanderbilt team as head coach James Franklin has produced in the last two years, but it's still a talented crew that has a big strength that can play into Georgia's biggest weakness—wide receiver Jordan Matthews.
Georgia didn't lose to Missouri due to injuries, it lost because its secondary is a sieve and has been all season. Because of that, expect Matthews to go off. He leads the SEC with 47 catches, is second in the conference with 118.2 yards per game and has scored five touchdowns.
Who in Georgia's secondary is going to cover him? Damian Swann? Shaq Wiggins? Brendan Langley? Nope. Matthews is going to force this to be a shootout, and it'll be up to Georgia to keep up.
As opposed to last week, though, the Bulldogs will do it.
Junior college transfer wide receiver Jonathon Rumph should play, but Georgia is preparing to play without running back Todd Gurley and safety Tray Matthews according to Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
With Gurley Georgia may run and hide in the fourth quarter. Without him, Georgia still has quarterback Aaron Murray taking the snaps, and he'll be enough to win a close one in Nashville.
Prediction: Georgia 38 - Vanderbilt 31
South Carolina RB Mike Davis (right) and WR Bruce Ellington
Saturday, Oct. 19 at noon ET
With all of the injuries among the front-runners in the SEC East, South Carolina may have the best chance to make it to Atlanta. The Gamecocks seem to have figured things out defensively, and play a punishing style on offense that allows head coach Steve Spurrier to keep his defense fresh.
Running back Mike Davis has emerged as the best running back in the SEC, averaging 123.67 yards per game and scoring nine touchdowns on the year. He and quarterback Connor Shaw methodically wore down Arkansas' defense last week, and the Vols are next on the docket.
Tennessee ranks 11th in the SEC in rush defense (175.67 yards per game), and will be tested this week against the dynamic Gamecock attack led by Davis.
"He runs hard. You can't arm tackle him, he runs through arm tackles well," Tennessee linebacker Dontavis Sapp said in quotes released by the university. "We've just got to put our hat on. We've just got to keep hitting him and keep hitting him. Eleven hats to the ball every time."
Until Tennessee proves it can do that, it's hard to find a way where the Vols hang in this one. Davis will go north of 135 rushing yards, will score twice and the Gamecocks will cruise.
Prediction: South Carolina 42 - Tennessee 17
Florida RB Kelvin Taylor
Saturday, Oct. 19 at 12:21 p.m. ET
If Missouri is going to be a legitimate contender in the SEC East, beating Florida at home is imperative. The Gators are decimated by injury, and just lost starting running back Matt Jones for the year after he tore his meniscus versus LSU. That leaves Mack Brown and Kelvin Taylor to carry the load. Brown looked capable last week, and the true freshman Taylor rushed for 52 yards last week against the Tigers.
But there's one problem though—Missouri quarterback James Franklin will miss this one after sustaining a shoulder injury in the win over Georgia, leaving redshirt freshman Maty Mauk to take the snaps against a Florida defense that's in the top four nationally in total defense, rush defense, pass defense and scoring defense.
Good luck, kid.
Mauk has tremendous upside, but this is too much too soon.
Dante Fowler, Antonio Morrison and the rest of that Gator front seven will bring the heat, and force Mauk to take some risks against the best secondary in the conference. That will give Gator quarterback Tyler Murphy some short fields to work with, and allow Florida to escape Columbia with an ugly yet critical win against the division leader.
Prediction: Florida 24 - Missouri 14
Saturday, Oct. 19 at 3:30 p.m.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel brought back the magic last week in a clutch comeback versus Ole Miss, and now he has to out-duel a resurgent Auburn team that finds itself at 5-1 and still in the mix in the SEC West.
Auburn has the pieces to make this interesting. The Tigers have a punishing rushing attack featuring Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne, Corey Grant and quarterback Nick Marshall—all of whom have 100-yard games on their resume this season. The best defense against Manziel is a ball control offense, and Auburn certainly has the pieces to do that.
It goes against head coach Gus Malzahn's core philosophy though. Will Malzahn slow things down to keep Manziel off the field, or will he push the tempo and force A&M to outscore Auburn?
He'll try to slow it down, but he can't take Auburn too much out of its element. This will evolve into a shootout in the second half, and that's exactly what Texas A&M wants.
Auburn's defense has been great and it has the pieces to contain Manziel in the pocket, but wide receiver Mike Evans is a mismatch against anybody, and Auburn's Chris Davis—who's six inches shorter than Evans—is going to have his work cut out for him.
The Tigers will hang well into the second half, but Manziel will total 450 yards and run and hide in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Texas A&M 42 - Auburn 31
Saturday Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. ET
Old-school Alabama football is back, but is it better than ever?
It'll look like it on Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Arkansas comes in after getting flat-out embarrassed by South Carolina. The Gamecocks rushed for 218 yards, ran 89 plays and held the ball for 43:25 against the Hogs, and if South Carolina can do it, Alabama surely can.
Running back T.J. Yeldon has rushed for 569 yards and five touchdowns on the season, has proven to be a star now that he's the No. 1 running back and has a burner behind him in Kenyan Drake who has emerged as the No. 2 option in T-Town.
The duo each topped the century mark against Kentucky last week, and there's more where that came from. While Arkansas' rush defense has been decent (146.29 YPG), it hasn't seen anything like this yet.
Head coach Nick Saban will lead his team out to a big early lead, and then the Crimson Tide will put it on cruise control in the second half.
Prediction: Alabama 42 - Arkansas 13
LSU DE Danielle Hunter
Saturday, Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. ET
Will the real LSU defense please stand up?
Head coach Les Miles hopes the one from last week against Florida is, because if that's the case, the Tigers have a legitimate shot at the BCS National Championship.
Defensive end Danielle Hunter won SEC defensive lineman of the week honors for his performance versus the Gators where he tallied seven tackles (one for loss) and two pass breakups. He led the charge up front, where fellow linemen Jermauria Rasco, Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson made a living in the Gator backfield.
“He [Hunter] had a great game," Johnson said in quotes released by the university. "That’s one of the best games I’ve ever seen him play. He loosened up finally, and he didn’t have too many worries. He just stopped thinking and played. You see that he can be one of the best out there.”
That should continue this week.
Ole Miss got into a shootout last week with Texas A&M, but Auburn notched six sacks against the Rebels a couple of weeks ago and Alabama got to quarterback Bo Wallace twice in their meeting on Sept. 28.
Wallace will go down four times, the LSU defense will keep the Rebels stuck in neutral and Tiger running back Jeremy Hill will rush for 150 in a big road win for the Tigers.
Prediction: LSU 28 - Ole Miss 13