Week 3 will give fans of SEC teams a wild variety of matchups, including two conference games and several intriguing out-of-conference matchups. Top-ranked Georgia has cruised through its first two games, but things get cranked up a bit as the Bulldogs take on South Carolina at 3:30 p.m. ET in the SEC on CBS Game of the Week. Spencer Rattler will be the most talented quarterback coach Kirby Smart’s crew has faced so far this season, and we all know how he can perform on a big stage (See: Tennessee in 2022).
No. 14 LSU will travel to Starkville, Mississippi, to take on an undefeated Mississippi State team fresh off of an overtime thriller over Arizona. After falling to No. 3 Florida State in their opener, the Tigers got back on track last weekend with a 72-10 win over Grambling. The Bulldogs are 2-0 in coach Zach Arnett’s first full season at the helm, and the rushing attack has been the focal point of a new-look offense that has clicked early in the year.
A big-time rivalry will be re-kindled on Saturday night when No. 11 Tennessee meets up with Florida inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida. The Volunteers offense sputtered against Austin Peay last week, but quarterback Joe Milton III hopes to recapture the magic against a Florida team that gained confidence last week in the win over McNeese State.
Let’s take a spin around the SEC action coming up this weekend in this week’s SEC Smothered & Covered.
Appetizer: Will the LSU secondary stand up?
The LSU-Mississippi State game will be decided by the Tigers secondary. The group got lit up by Florida State in Week 1 and, let’s be real, didn’t have to do anything to top Grambling in Week 2. Were the proper adjustments made? Coach Brian Kelly addressed the secondary during Monday’s press conference.
“Yes, we knew that we were playing new players back there and the challenges were going to be in developing players that had very little experience,” Kelly said. “Talent is only one part of the equation. It’s about developing consistency and doing the little things that require playing at a high level such as tackling, leveraging the football and raking through the basket to get the ball out. I think all of those things were going to be a work in progress for us.”
LSU’s secondary has allowed opponents to complete 61.5% of their passes of 15 or more yards. That ranks last in the SEC and 127th nationally. Will Arnett allow Will Rogers to air it out? Or will the ground game be the focus for the third straight week? That will likely determine the outcome of this critical SEC West battle.
Main course: Rattler under pressure
South Carolina’s offensive line was blown up to the tune of nine sacks in a Week 1 loss to North Carolina. However, Rattler was only dropped behind the line of scrimmage once last week against Furman. What’s more interesting is that Rattler hasn’t been rattled (not sorry for the pun) when teams get after him. He has completed 83.3% of his passes when blitzed — eighth-nationally among quarterbacks with 40 or more pass attempts. Georgia coach Kirby Smart knows about the challenge posed by Rattler.
“Well he’s got elite arm talent, I can tell you that,” Smart said on Monday. “The throws he’s made, he can make the touch throws, deep, vertical, back shoulder throws. He’s thrown a couple field outs. He had a throw against Clemson last year on third-and-10 that was a rope. He’s very elusive, very accurate with the ball, hard to finish on. There’s a lot of people that miss tackles on him when they have an opportunity to try and get him down. Tremendous player, sees the whole field. Some of his best plays come off schedule, meaning somebody misses somebody or he scrambles and he hits you on the shot. Very dangerous.”
Surprisingly, Georgia has struggled getting to quarterbacks this year. The Bulldogs have only notched one sack in two games, and it didn’t come on a blitz. They are currently tied for last in the nation in sacks with BYU, Iowa, Troy, UNLV, Fresno State, Navy and … LSU. It’ll be interesting to see how Smart attacks the Gamecocks passing game.
Dessert: Tennessee is what?
When Week 3 college football lines were released, I was shocked that Tennessee was only a 7-point favorite over Florida. I was even more shocked to see it drop to -6.5 shortly thereafter. Sure, it’s in Gainesville, but Florida’s offense isn’t exactly on par with USC or Florida State. That always makes me take a step back and wonder what I’m missing. After a few days of thought, it still doesn’t make sense. Florida’s offensive line hasn’t impressed, quarterback Graham Mertz is average, at best, and Tennessee is No. 2 in the nation in tackles for loss (25).
Is Tennessee’s offense a liability after what it showed (or didn’t show) last week? Maybe that’s the case. It would be great for the conference if this matchup is competitive, and oddsmakers certainly see that as a possibility.
Straight up: 29-0 | Against the spread: 10-7-1
*Picks use SportsLine consensus odds and were made on Instagram since SEC Smothered & Covered started in Week 2
South Carolina at No. 1 Georgia
Rattler will keep this one close in the first half, but the Bulldogs pull away during the final 30 minutes to notch their third win of the season. With that said, the Gamecocks have too many weapons, which will be enough to cover a nearly four-touchdown spread. Pick: South Carolina +27.5
The Crimson Tide have the chance to get right after last week’s loss to Texas. That is exactly what they’ll do in the rare road game against a Group of Five opponent. However, Nick Saban knows that depth is a bit of an issue for this year’s squad. As a result, expect the starters to get pulled early in the second half and for the Bulls to sneak in the back door for the late cover. Pick: South Florida +32
No. 11 Tennessee at Florida
It’s impossible to trust Florida’s offense. Mertz can’t stretch the field and Tennessee’s defensive front will get after him from the moment toe meets leather. Tennessee’s offense is way too talented and dynamic to struggle for the second straight week. Tennessee will be up double digits at halftime and might make it a three-touchdown game by the time things wrap up. Pick: Tennessee -6.5
No. 14 LSU at Mississippi State
The Tigers showed their true colors last week against Grambling, and they will build off of that Saturday afternoon. Daniels will force Rogers to go throw-for-throw, and the Bulldogs signal-caller won’t be able to keep up. LSU pulls away late for a two-touchdown win. Pick: LSU -9
The Tigers have given up 26 plays of 10 or more yards (12th in the SEC), while the Wildcats have been lights out averaging 6.99 yards per play. That doesn’t bode well for Missouri. This will be a double-digit win in favor of the visitors: Pick: Kansas State -5
Rebels coach Lane Kiffin voiced some displeasure with his rushing attack after the Tulane game, which is rather shocking considering how much success Quinshon Judkins had as a freshman last year. That will be a big focal point this week, and the running back corps will pass the test with flying colors. Yellow Jackets quarterbacks simply won’t be able to keep up. Pick: Ole Miss -20
The Aggies were atrocious on defense in last weekend’s loss to Miami, but they’ll get right within the friendly confines of Kyle Field. Plus, the Warhawks don’t have enough talent in the secondary to slow down the deep, talented group of receivers. This one will get sideways early and stay that way for a full four quarters. Pick: Texas A&M -36.5
The Runnin’ Rebels defense got torched by Michigan last weekend as the Wolverines lit them up through the air and on the ground. The former is what’s important. It’s almost impossible to cover Commodores wide receiver Will Sheppard, who is a flat out monster and will have a big day in this one. Pick: Vanderbilt -4
The Arkansas defense has taken a step forward this year, but it’s going to be hard to force negative plays against a BYU team that has only allowed eight tackles for loss this season. This will put a ton of pressure on Razorbacks quarterback KJ Jefferson, and he’ll do enough to get the win in a close one. However, it’ll be a one-score game throughout. Pick: BYU +8
Akron’s “turnover tire” became a viral sensation in the dramatic win over Morgan State last weekend, but Kentucky is a much tougher test. The Wildcats have been tough up front all season long, and the old-school mentality will make this one a blowout early in the first half. Pick: Kentucky -26
Game vs. FCS opponent
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 3, 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 more than $2,500 in profit over the past seven-plus seasons — and find out.