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On a Saturday filled with intriguing games, we’ve chosen to highlight a pair of SEC showdowns that will go a long way towards determining who makes it to the Georgia Dome on the first weekend of December.
Let’s start in Gainesville, where Florida (4-0 straight up, 3-1 against the spread) will take on LSU at 3:30 p.m. Eastern on CBS. As of Friday afternoon, most books were listing the Tigers as 2 ½-point favorites with a total of 42. Gamblers can take the Gators on the money line for a plus-120 return (risk $100 to win $120).
Will Muschamp’s team has wins vs. Bowling Green (27-14), at Texas A&M (20-17), at Tennessee (37-20) and vs. Kentucky (38-0). Florida has the benefit of two weeks to prepare following last week’s open date.
We knew Florida was going to have a stout defense this season. The major concern coming into Muschamp’s second year was the offense, particularly the quarterback position. Muschamp made the decision to name sophomore Jeff Driskel as the starter going into the Week 2 game in College Station.
The right choice was made. Driskel has completed 55-of-79 passes (69.6%) for 698 yards with a 4/1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He’s also an excellent scrambler, as evidenced by 148 rushing yards and one TD.
Florida senior running back Mike Gillislee is second in the SEC in rushing yards (402). He has run for five touchdowns and is averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
Florida junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins, a three-year starter, is set to return for the first time since breaking his thumb in the first half of the win at Texas A&M. CB Cody Riggs remains ‘out’ with a broken foot.
LSU (5-0 SU, 2-3 ATS) began the season in the top slot of my Power Rankings but it has dropped to No. 3 due to a few lackluster performances. The Tigers have wins vs. North Texas (41-14), vs. Washington (41-3) vs. Idaho (63-14), at Auburn (12-10) and vs. Towson (38-22).
LSU is four-deep at the tailback position, but Kenny Hilliard has emerged as the go-to guy. Hilliard, the nephew of LSU great Dalton Hilliard, has rushed for a team-high 366 yards and six touchdowns on 53 carries. He’s averaging 6.9 YPC.
Zack Mettenberger is completing 65.5 percent of his throws for 1,014 yards with a 6/2 TD-INT ratio. Odell Beckham Jr. has been Mettenberger’s favorite target, hauling in 16 receptions for 286 yards and two TDs.
Florida hasn’t covered the spread as a home underdog since its 32-29 win over FSU as a six-point home ‘dog in 1997. Since then, the Gators are 0-4 ATS when catching points at home.
During Les Miles’s eight-year tenure, LSU has compiled a 12-8-2 spread record in 22 games as a road favorite.
When these teams met last season in Baton Rouge, UF had to go with true freshman Jacoby Brissett as its starting quarterback. Brissett had never before taken a snap at the collegiate level. LSU predictably cruised to a 41-11 win as a 13 ½-point home favorite.
The Tigers are looking for their third straight win over the Gators, who lost a 33-29 decision to LSU as 6 ½-point home favorites at The Swamp in 2010
The ‘under’ is 3-1 overall for UF, 2-0 in its home games. Totals have been an overall wash (2-2) for LSU this year, but the ‘under’ cashed in its lone road assignment at Auburn. The ‘over’ is 4-1 in the last five head-to-head meetings between these schools.
**Georgia at South Carolina**
Most sports books opened South Carolina as a 2 ½-point favorite for Saturday’s crucial SEC East showdown against Georgia. The total for ‘over/under’ wagers started at 57.
On Monday and early Tuesday, the line bounced around from 2 ½ to 3. By late Tuesday night, many spots had moved the Gamecocks to two-point favorites.
Then on Wednesday, Georgia announced that leading receiver Michael Bennett tore his ACL at Tuesday’s practice and would be out for the rest of the season. Bennett had a team-high 24 receptions for 345 yards and four touchdowns.
Nevertheless, by late Wednesday morning, South Carolina was reduced to a 1 ½-point favorite. The steady decline of the line continued on Thursday when most books moved USC to a one-point ‘chalk.’
The total has also come down as the week has progressed. On Tuesday, a surge of ‘under’ bets prompted betting shops to first adjust to 56 before going down to 55 by early evening. Then on Wednesday, the number dropped to 54 before settling at 53 ½ where it remained as of Friday morning.
South Carolina (5-0 SU, 4-1 ATS) predictably came out flat last week at Kentucky, falling behind 17-7 at halftime. But the Gamecocks outscored UK 31-0 in the second half and actually covered the number in a 38-17 win as 20-point favorites.
Marcus Lattimore finished with 23 carries for 120 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Connor Shaw completed 15-of-18 passes for 148 yards and two TDs without an interception. Shaw also rushed for 76 yards on 19 totes.
Lattimore is sixth in the SEC in rushing yards (440) and second in rushing touchdowns with eight. Shaw has connected on 50-of-64 passes (78.1%) for 571 yards with a 5/2 TD-INT ratio. He has also rushed for 203 yards, averaging 4.1 YPC.
Georgia (5-0 SU, 2-3 ATS) is coming off a 51-44 win over Tennessee as a 14-point home favorite. Freshman RB Keith Marshall exploded for 164 rushing yards and two TDs on just 10 carries. Todd Gurley rushed 24 times for 130 yards and three TDs.
UGA junior QB Aaron Murray connected on 19-of-25 passes for 278 yards and two TDs. However, Murray threw a pick-six and also coughed up a fumble that the Volunteers recovered at the enemy nine yard line.
For the season, Murray has completed 68.2 percent of his passes for 1,370 yards with a 12/3 TD-INT ratio. Murray won’t have the services of leading receiver Michael Bennett, who was lost for the season when he tore his ACL at Tuesday’s practice. Bennett had a team-high 24 catches for 345 yards and four TDs.
Gurley leads the SEC in rushing yards (536) and rushing TDs (nine), averaging 7.9 YPC. Marshall has rushed for 428 yards and five scores, averaging 9.2 YPC. (Can you say good riddance to Isaiah Crowell?!)
South Carolina owns a 20-13 spread record during Spurrier’s eight-year tenure. As for the Bulldogs, they are 9-7 ATS as road underdogs on Richt’s watch.
The ‘over’ is perfect 5-0 for UGA. South Carolina has seen the ‘over’ go 3-2 overall, 2-1 in its home games.
The ‘under’ has cashed at an incredible 13-2 clip in the last 15 head-to-head meetings between USC and UGA.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
--Shaw has as many incompletions (four) as TD passes (four) in the last two games.
--Wake Forest lost its best player in last week’s loss to Duke, as junior WR Michael Campanaro sustained a hand injury. He’s expected to miss 3-4 weeks. Campanaro had 73 catches in 2011. He had already made 38 catches for 428 yards and three TDs so far this year. The Demon Deacons are seven-point underdogs Saturday at Maryland.
--Before Southern Cal’s loss to Stanford on Sept. 15, Sportsbook.ag had QB Matt Barkley as the even-money favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. On Monday, the offshore website had WVU’s Geno Smith as the even-money ‘chalk’ to win the Heisman. After a few days of taking action on Smith, Sportsbook has adjusted him to the minus-125 favorite (risk $125 to win $100). The second-shortest odds belong to FSU’s E.J. Manuel (+350).
--Missouri suspended five freshman players on Thursday following a pot bust that resulted in the arrests of three players. Most notably, WR Dorial Green-Beckham was among the players suspended. Several recruiting services ranked ‘DGB’ as the nation’s No. 1 recruit last year. He hasn’t had as much of an impact as expected, though. Green-Beckham has only seven catches for 128 yards and one touchdown.
--TCU quarterback Casey Pachall has been suspended indefinitely following his Wednesday night arrest for suspicion of driving while intoxicated. This is a huge loss for the Horned Frogs, who host Iowa St. on Saturday. Pachall had 10 touchdown passes compared to only one interception so far this year.
Brian Edwards can be reached at email@example.com.
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