By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Sept. 7, 2015
Last week’s record: 11-2 (84.6%)
Season record: 11-2 (84.6%)
The most important thing the Predictions Dept. learned from Week 1 was that, yes, Vanderbilt really is that bad. It wasn’t the fact that the Commodores lost to Western Kentucky, it was the way Vanderbilt so quickly gave up all the gains realized under former coach James Franklin and returned to being the Vandy of old. This week’s slate of SEC games is headlined by an LSU-Mississippi State tilt that was made much more interesting after LSU’s opener against McNeese State got canceled over electrical storm concerns. That means LSU’s first action will take place against a conference opponent. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma-Tennessee matchup will tell whether the Vols are really as bad on defense as they looked against Bowling Green.
EAST CAROLINA at FLORIDA
East Carolina’s opener was a 28-20 win over … Towson. Florida took care of business in its opener against New Mexico State and appeared to have its quarterback situation largely fixed. East Carolina has been somewhat of a strange bird under Ruffin McNeill’s leadership, alternatively looking like world-beaters or failing to live up to expectations almost every other week. This game will be a rematch of the Jan. 3 Birmingham Bowl, which Florida won 28-20. If the Gators are able to throw the ball against the Pirates the way they threw it against the Aggies in Week 1, East Carolina – which finished 98th in pass defense in 2014 – won’t have much of a chance.
East Carolina 17
MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE at ALABAMA
GEORGIA at VANDERBILT
It isn’t just that Vanderbilt lost to Western Kentucky in the opener, it’s that the Commodores dropped passes, whiffed on blocks, missed easy keys on defense and generally looked like the Age of Rod Dowhower had returned to Nashville. Georgia has tripped up in early-season SEC contests before, but it’s hard to imagine how the Bulldogs could foul things up badly enough that they would lose to the Commodores, who might win only 1 game in 2015. Georgia beat Louisiana-Monroe soundly in its opener, but didn’t roll up overly impressive numbers while doing it. Georgia might actually beat Vanderbilt worse.
KENTUCKY at SOUTH CAROLINA
As expected, Kentucky got a tougher test from Louisiana-Lafayette than many of the oddsmakers believed would happen. South Carolina, meanwhile, slogged through a close win over North Carolina in which neither team looked all that ready to play. If the Gamecocks were facing a better team this week, they could be in trouble, but Kentucky hasn’t proven itself yet, particularly on defense. South Carolina didn’t light up the skies against North Carolina, but the Kentucky defense has had problems far longer than the Tar Heels have, and South Carolina ought to be able to attack the Kentucky front in the running game. With the game in Columbia, it gives the Gamecocks an added layer of cover. However, this does qualify as the week’s possible upset to watch, and if South Carolina continues to struggle on offense, the Gamecocks could be in for a long season even if they find a way to win this game.
South Carolina 27
Someone will have to explain why the Tigers are visiting Arkansas State this week, as if all the little sisters of the poor were taken when the schedules were formed up. Arkansas State was a small-school darling a few years ago, when Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn were roaming its sidelines, but now it appears the Red Wolves are back to normal – normal being 55-6 losses to USC, which is what happened in Week 1. Missouri wasn’t as impressive in its opener against Southeast Missouri State as many would have liked, but the likelihood the Tigers trip up against Arkansas State is close to nil.
Arkansas St. 17
OKLAHOMA at TENNESSEE
Tennessee’s opening-week win over Bowling Green was problematic from the standpoint that the Falcons gave the Tennessee defense all it could handle. Oklahoma beat Akron 41-3 in its opener, and the Sooners ought to be able to approximate the Falcons’ offensive output while at the same time putting out a tougher defense. Tennessee’s offense is expected to flourish in 2015 with the addition of weapons like RB Alvin Kamara, but the rebuilding Volunteers should be able to hang with Oklahoma for long despite the game being in Knoxville. If Tennessee finds a way to pull this game out, though, 10 wins or more might be possible. The challenge for Tennessee in this game will be to deal with an Oklahoma offense that has been revamped and focuses on the passing game; with Tennessee struggling to stop Bowling Green through the air in Week 1, this game figures to be a track meet.
TOLEDO at ARKANSAS (in Little Rock, Ark.)
Arkansas made quick work of UTEP in the opener, but was forced to go through the air more than it would probably like given the loss of RB Jonathan Williams. Alex Collins still rushed for more than 10 yards per carry, but the Razorback reserves struggled. It won’t matter much against Toledo, a good-but-not-great mid-major team that couldn’t finish its opener against Stony Brook thanks to weather issues. Toledo returns its entire defensive line of a year ago, which will allow Arkansas to test its running game and especially Collins’ backups. Don’t look for the Rockets to upset Arkansas, but unless Arkansas can develop a running back behind Collins in this game, the games that come after this one could be more challenging than Arkansas would like.
JACKSONVILLE STATE at AUBURN
The Tigers played poorly for half the game against Louisville but still won, thanks to a first half that saw Auburn build a comfortable lead. Auburn should have no trouble with Jacksonville State, and this game will allow the Tigers to build confidence for its next game, which is is Baton Rouge. Auburn got a break when LSU’s opener against McNeese State was canceled due to weather, which will make the Auburn game LSU’s second rather than third game of the season. But that’s next week. This week, Auburn just needs to concentrate on staying healthy and developing QB Jeremy Johnson’s confidence.
Jacksonville St. 10
LOUISIANA STATE at MISSISSIPPI STATE
It’s fortunate for LSU that Mississippi State has so many issues of its own to deal with; otherwise, LSU would likely lose this game against any decent SEC opponent. The Tigers suffered a huge blow when the opener against McNeese State was lost to weather delays. Fortunately for LSU, Mississippi State showed in its struggle with Southern Miss that the Bulldogs don’t have much beyond QB Dak Prescott. Defensively, Mississippi State is mediocre. LSU is a complete unknown thanks to a QB situation in flux, but it’s hard to imagine the Tigers having problems with either Bulldog line right now.
Mississippi St. 14
FRESNO STATE at MISSISSIPPI
The Rebels cruised to a win over hapless Tennessee-Martin, while Fresno State posted a solid, but not sensational win over Abilene Christian. Ole Miss won its game without the benefit of LT Laremy Tunsil, who was held out pending the results of an NCAA investigation into improper benefits. It remains to be seen how Ole Miss will handle Tunsil’s situation when the real bullets start flying next week against Alabama, but for now the Rebels can afford to go to battle without him. Fresno was able to run the ball last week against overmatched Abilene Christian, but the Bulldogs had problems throwing the ball and that won’t get better this week against what is arguably the SEC’s best secondary. Ole Miss should roll in this one unless the Bulldogs get inexplicably hot through the air.
Ole Miss 35
Fresno State 14
BALL STATE at TEXAS A&M
Ball State almost let lower-division VMI back into its opener late, while Texas A&M beat PAC-12 media darling Arizona State by a convincing margin. We’ve seen this movie before – last season, in fact, when Texas A&M plowed an overrated South Carolina team in its opener – but it will take a couple of weeks to get a true read on the Aggies. Ball State is a struggling program, and not capable of really testing Texas A&M. Coupled with a game next week against overmatched Nevada, Texas A&M should be 3-0 heading into its game with Arkansas – and the hype machine figures to be in full effect by that time.
Texas A&M 51
Ball State 14
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