By Jess Nicholas
Nov. 25, 2015
Last week’s record: 7-3 (70.0%)
Season record: 74-27 (73.3%)
As we head into the last full week of the season, the Predictions Dept. is capping off a decidedly mediocre year. Too many teams devolved into erratic messes, and then there were the outright – and shocking – collapses at LSU and Auburn. For the final slate of games, most of which are rivalry tilts, Florida-Florida State is arguably the biggest game in regards to the strength of the teams involved, but Alabama-Auburn and Ole Miss-Mississippi State are the games with the most on the line.
FLORIDA STATE at FLORIDA
Both teams have quarterback issues, but the Gators have been in trouble now for three weeks in a row, against such shining opposition as Vanderbilt and Florida Atlantic. At some point over the last month, national respect for the Seminoles’ 2015 product waned heavily, coinciding mainly with FSU’s loss to Clemson. It’s a curious take, in our opinion; Florida State is a strong team that gave Clemson a good game and is certainly playing better football than Florida at the moment. The Gators are just trying to get to the SEC Championship Game relatively intact and take their chances on an upset of either Alabama or Ole Miss. The Gator defense looks more potent in this matchup than that of Florida State, but the Seminoles are more explosive on offense by several degrees.
Florida State 28
ALABAMA at AUBURN
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GEORGIA at GEORGIA TECH
The Bulldogs scheduled Georgia Southern as a tune-up game to this one, and were nearly on the wrong side of a shocker for their trouble. The scare better have been worth it. The Yellow Jackets’ season fell apart early on and Tech is now an inexplicable 3-8 on the season, including losses to Virginia and Virginia Tech. Still, Georgia Tech has enough firepower on offense to make this game tough for the Bulldogs, who have struggled at times against power rushing attacks. The key matchup, though, will be Georgia’s quarterback (expected to be Greyson Lambert) against the Yellow Jackets’ porous defense. Georgia will need to make enough plays on offense to offset a couple of expected bust plays that Tech almost always gets as a result of its option scheme. But the Bulldog defense has toughened lately, and it’s unlikely Georgia Tech will be able to punch enough holes in it.
Georgia Tech 21
LOUISVILLE at KENTUCKY
The Cardinals, despite being 6-5, don’t have any bad losses on their 2015 schedule. But they haven’t beaten anyone they shouldn’t have, either. Fortunately, Kentucky is not a team Louisville shouldn’t beat. The Wildcats got off to a promising start before stalling at the midseason mark. Things were still going OK, though, until Vanderbilt dealt severe damage to the Wildcats’ bowl hopes two weeks ago. Now Kentucky must win this game to make the postseason. Louisville has superior talent in spots and much better coaching than does Kentucky, but the Wildcats have found ways to pull the upset in this series before. If Mark Stoops drops this game, he’ll enter 2016 as having one of the warmest seats of any SEC head coach.
MISSOURI at ARKANSAS
We’ve given up trying to predict what Missouri will do on any given week. So the Predictions Dept.’s focus here is on Arkansas, which could claim sole possession of second place in the SEC West this year if Alabama beats Auburn. Who would have thought it possible a month ago? The Razorbacks finally discovered a passing attack and have been pressuring teams offensively ever since, but the Hog defense is putrid. Good thing, then, that Missouri’s offense would have to take a couple of sizable leaps forward to even get to putrid-level. The Tigers have scored in single digits a whopping five times this year and scored 20 or fewer points another three times. This is one of the worst offenses in the history of the SEC and it would take a mammoth effort from the Tiger defense to keep this game close in the fourth quarter.
CLEMSON at SOUTH CAROLINA
Dabo Swinney has had more than his share of problems winning in this series, but one of his biggest impediments to success – Steve Spurrier – is no longer in Columbia. The highlight of South Carolina’s season was undoubtedly a Week 1 win over North Carolina, giving the Tar Heels their only loss so far. How that ever happened is anyone’s guess; since that game, South Carolina has been on almost a straight path downward to the SEC East cellar. A loss last week to The Citadel – a game which saw the Bulldogs attempt only three passes all game – put the rotten cherry on top of a sewage sundae for the Gamecocks. Clemson should be able to name the score in this one, as the Gamecocks have neither the defense to stop the Tigers nor the offense to keep pace. A South Carolina win here would be one of the biggest Division-IA upsets in the last 10 years.
South Carolina 13
VANDERBILT at TENNESSEE
Vanderbilt is playing better football as of late – or at least the Commodores were, until Texas A&M, not known for being a premier defensive presence, shut Vandy out last week. The Commodores now get in-state rival Tennessee, which is still paying Vandy back for losses sustained during the James Franklin years. Vanderbilt has put up more than 20 points only twice this season, and one of those games came against Austin Peay. Somehow, the Commodores still have a more highly-ranked offense than Missouri, but that’s not relevant here. What’s relevant is, even with the Commodores improving drastically on defense in 2015, they can’t win this game because they can’t keep up with the Volunteer offense.
TEXAS A&M at LOUISIANA STATE
This could be Les Miles’ swan song in Baton Rouge, which is a borderline ridiculous possibility when the numbers are broken down. Even if he keeps his job, though, Miles would have to explain the utter collapse of the past month, which started with yet another loss to Nick Saban’s Alabama team, but then also included losses to an overmatched Arkansas team and a thumping at the hands of an erratic Ole Miss squad. Texas A&M has its own issues, especially at quarterback, but Kevin Sumlin has at least found a way to get his team not to completely mail it in down the stretch. Last week’s 25-0 win over Vanderbilt was a good salve for the Aggies. You would think LSU’s players would do anything possible to send Miles out a winner, but anything’s possible (or impossible) for this 2015 LSU team.
Texas A&M 21
MISSISSIPPI at MISSISSIPPI STATE
This rivalry game has turned into one of the more interesting ones of its kind in recent years, with the underdog winning with enough regularity to make the outcome legitimately in doubt regardless of the strength of the teams involved. This year, you can throw in the Rebels’ slim divisional championship hopes, as Ole Miss must win here and Auburn must upset heavily-favored Alabama to send Ole Miss to Atlanta for a rematch with the Florida Gators. On top of it all is the final conference game for Mississippi State quarterback – and potentially the greatest player to ever reside in Starkville – Dak Prescott. Even while getting murdered by Alabama two weeks ago, Prescott threw for 300 yards and proved his mettle. This one is basically a coin flip now. It comes down to whether Ole Miss, which has far more talent overall, can go into a hostile environment and beat a team led by its legend.
Ole Miss 35
Mississippi St. 31
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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