By Jess Nicholas
Sept. 22, 2015
Last week’s record: 8-2 (80.0%)
Season record: 27-6 (81.8%)
It now appears Arkansas’ supposed improvement from 2014 to 2015 was just a mirage. While the Alabama-Ole Miss game cost the Predictions Dept. a red mark on its record, that game was almost a pick-em. Arkansas, on the other hand, should have handled Texas A&M, but didn’t. This week’s slate of games isn’t nearly as interesting, headed either by Mississippi State-Auburn or Tennessee-Florida.
TENNESSEE at FLORIDA
Tennessee is 2-1 but the Volunteers are not the team most expected them to be. The Vols are running the ball well but the passing offense is stuck in neutral despite a talented receiver corps. Meanwhile, the defense has been subpar. Florida has played more to script in its 3-0 start. The Gators have struggled on offense but have ridden a veteran defense to wins over Kentucky and East Carolina, a pair of teams with decent-at-worst offenses. The question in this game will be whether Florida can keep up with Tennessee’s point production, as it would seem just a matter of time before Tennessee can get its passing game in gear. The game is in Gainesville, but Florida may not be ready for this level of competition just yet. A loss here by the Vols, though, would warm up head coach Butch Jones’ seat significantly.
SOUTHERN at GEORGIA
The Bulldogs cleaned up against South Carolina last week and, while it would not be a surprise for the erratic Bulldogs to play sloppily against Southern, there is barely a chance this game will be anything other than a convincing win for UGA.
MISSOURI at KENTUCKY
Missouri won 9-6 over UConn last week in a game that looked more at home in a 1970s nostalgia montage. Kentucky, meanwhile, lost 14-9. Someone needs to research the last time two SEC teams met after scoring 9 points apiece the following week without both teams losing their respective games. Jerry Claiborne might still have been alive and kicking – maybe even alive and coaching. This is typically about the point in the season when Missouri begins to prove itself as an SEC East contender, but Kentucky is getting better. If Missouri loses this game, the Tigers won’t have much more than an extreme outside chance at displacing Georgia as the SEC East representative in Atlanta, no matter how much Georgia self-destructs down the stretch.
CENTRAL FLORIDA at SOUTH CAROLINA
Suddenly, UCF is terrible. The Knights have lost by one point to both Florida International and, last week, to Division-IAA Furman. In between, they got killed by Stanford. South Carolina is coming off losses to both Kentucky and Georgia, but if the Gamecocks can’t do what Furman has already done, it might be time to start having a serious conversation about Steve Spurrier’s employment. There are already calls coming for the venerable coach to hang up his visor at year’s end; a loss here might take the decision out of his hands.
South Carolina 30
VANDERBILT at MISSISSIPPI
Not so long ago, Ole Miss used to regularly struggle in this game either because the Rebels were overlooking the Commodores, or simply weren’t very good themselves. No longer. Ole Miss suddenly looks like the class of the SEC West, while Vanderbilt is barely a legitimate FBS team. The Commodores should get kudos for putting away Austin Peay in convincing fashion last week, but there are no plausible scenarios under which the lightly talented and questionably coached Commodores pull one off against a Rebel team that went into Bryant-Denny Stadium and almost beat Alabama by two or three scores.
Ole Miss 52
TEXAS A&M vs. ARKANSAS (at Arlington, Texas)
Texas A&M finds itself 3-0 and a favorite of some in the media thanks to its offense, but it bears noting that the Aggie defense did not dominate either Ball State or Nevada, its last two opponents. If Arkansas wasn’t such a mess itself, the opportunity would exist for the Razorbacks to pull this upset. But at 1-2 and with its season hanging in the balance, Arkansas looks like a team that is pressing for something to go right. The Hogs don’t have enough offense to stay with A&M’s attack, but the defensive fix John Chavis is in charge of providing the Aggies is more like the process of making a fine wine rather than pouring a fresh cup of coffee: It won’t happen in five minutes. Bret Bielema has begun to come under some pressure in Fayetteville – much of it his own making, thanks to a mouth that has no quit in it – and a big loss here to a hated rival won’t help him.
Texas A&M 41
MISSISSIPPI STATE at AUBURN
There’s no way for Auburn to change the narrative of what happened in Baton Rouge this past Saturday: The Tigers were run over, around and through, their manhood challenged and then taken from them by an LSU team that simply looked braver and more aggressive. Now the question turns to whether Mississippi State – a team that nearly beat LSU the week before – can continue to play better than expected and upset the Tigers on Auburn’s home field. If Auburn doesn’t get better quarterback play, the answer is yes. But Auburn has more overall talent than Mississippi State, and more importantly, MSU doesn’t have Leonard Fournette, who appeared to make some AU players legitimately quit.
Mississippi St. 24
LOUISIANA STATE at SYRACUSE
Syracuse is 3-0, but had to go into overtime against Central Michigan last week to stay that way. The Orange have a decent defense but have had problems on offense. The matchup to watch here is LSU’s Leonard Fournette going against the third-ranked rushing defense in the country. But the reason Syracuse holds the third-highest ranking is more about the opponents it has played: Rhode Island and Wake Forest in addition to CMU. The biggest challenge for LSU is probably to stay focused, as a long trip to New York state and a game in unfamiliar surroundings could be challenging for a Les Miles-led team. On the other hand, probably not.
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