By Jess Nicholas
Sept. 21, 2016
Last week’s record: 9-1 (90.0%)
Season record: 30-5 (85.7%)
The Predictions Dept. fell to the temptation of picking against a mediocre South Carolina team last week, but the Gamecocks pulled out a 20-15 win over East Carolina and cost us a perfect record. This week, several good games dot the schedule, including three matchups in which both SEC teams are ranked.
FLORIDA at TENNESSEE
The Gators have had Tennessee’s number in recent years, as the Gators have reeled off 11 straight wins in the series despite several of those years being among the leanest in modern Florida program history. The Gators might actually have been favored in this one, too, thanks to its stifling defense and Tennessee’s offensive woes, but Gator QB Luke Del Rio is expected to miss this game with a knee injury. In fact, 14 Florida players currently appear on the week’s injury report, which may prove too much to overcome. Tennessee has been leaking oil on offense all year, but the Volunteers have also clearly been marking time until this particular matchup. The Volunteers have their own injury issues, with several defensive starters listed as either out or questionable. This game should carry sponsorship from the University of Tennessee Medical Center if it doesn’t already. The streak has to end at some point; Florida going on the road with a backup quarterback seems like a likely opportunity.
GEORGIA at MISSISSIPPI
So strong is the SEC schedule this week that Georgia-Ole Miss gets pushed down to the 11 a.m. time slot. In past years, teams beaten by Alabama one week fail to rebound quickly and tend to have trouble with (and frequently lose to) their next opponents. For Ole Miss, though, that opponent is Georgia, which barely got by Missouri a week after barely getting by Nicholls State. Unfortunately for Ole Miss, however, Georgia is bringing RB Nick Chubb along, and it’s a good bet the Bulldogs took close note of Alabama exploiting the soft middle of the Rebel rush defense. Georgia must shorten the game by putting up a handful of 10-plus-play drives in this game, which would render Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly a spectator. By all rights, Ole Miss should win this game given its explosiveness, but it’s easy to see how the Rebels could be deflated after the Alabama loss. But lose here – which would be the Rebels’ third of the year – and probably any hope of reaching Atlanta goes out the window.
Ole Miss 30
SOUTH CAROLINA at KENTUCKY
The Wildcats nearly found a way to lose to New Mexico State of all people before pulling away late. South Carolina did well to hang on against East Carolina, but if the Gamecocks repeat last week’s effort against Kentucky, the Wildcats could very well pull the upset here. Kentucky has by far the most prodigious offense South Carolina has faced in 2016, and apart from ranking well in scoring defense, South Carolina isn’t stopping anyone with consistency in 2016. As far as Kentucky goes, everyone seems to be looking for the killshot that effectively ends the season of a team picked by many to be the surprise team in the SEC East. A loss here almost certainly knocks the Wildcats out of any kind of bowl talk. Biggest question here is can South Carolina’s horrid offense keep up.
South Carolina 21
DELAWARE STATE at MISSOURI
Missouri came oh-so-close to an upset of Georgia last week, which would have scored highly on the embarrassment scale for new Georgia coach Kirby Smart had the Tigers finished it off. This week, Missouri gets the 0-2 Delaware State Hornets, who have lost to Monmouth and Delaware already in games that weren’t close. This one won’t be, either.
Delaware St. 14
VANDERBILT at WESTERN KENTUCKY
Even though the opponent is Western Kentucky, few people would even give Vanderbilt an outside chance, were it not for the outlier among the Commodores’ three games, a 47-point outburst against MTSU. Given that MTSU’s other two games (both wins) have posted a cumulative point total of 91-20, Vandy’s victory over the Blue Raiders is beginning to look like a quality win. Western Kentucky is 2-1, but that loss – to Alabama in the Crimson Tide’s home opener – exposed some very real flaws in the Hilltoppers’ game. Neither team should be considered a solid favorite here; WKU is too prone to turnovers and has no depth. But Vanderbilt is inconsistent and borders on the inept at times. This one is as tough to call as any marquee intraconference matchup.
W. Kentucky 30
ARKANSAS vs. TEXAS A&M (at Arlington, Texas)
Suddenly this looks like the game that might decide second place in the SEC West. Texas A&M’s renewed commitment to defense and the running game makes the Aggies a tough out, while Arkansas continues to improve and impress under Bret Bielema’s tutelage. Texas A&M probably has the most impressive win so far – and not the one in the opener over UCLA. The Aggies handled a tough environment at Auburn to beat the Tigers, which is a tough assignment even in years like this when Auburn is on the ropes. Some questions about the athleticism of Arkansas’ linebackers and defensive backs may make the difference in this matchup, which suddenly has meaning again after being just a nice distraction in recent seasons.
Texas A&M 27
LOUISIANA STATE at AUBURN
Someone may get fired over this one. Gus Malzahn has already spent a good part of this week telling Auburn fans he feels their pain, while LSU head coach Les Miles has a Purdue transfer to thank from keeping him out of the gallows. If Auburn loses here, the Tigers fall to 1-3 and for all practical purposes, out of the SEC West race. If LSU were to lose, Baton Rouge air traffic controllers might not let the team plane land. The concept of an elimination game gets taken to the next level here. Auburn’s rushing offense has proven more potent than expected – 15th nationally after three games – but the strength of LSU’s defense is the run defense and no one at Auburn has proven able to stretch a defense from the QB position yet. Auburn has a history of folding up early when the season doesn’t start out as it had hoped. Consider an Auburn win here to be an upset if it happens.
MISSISSIPPI STATE at MASSACHUSETTS
How in the world the Minutemen scored a home game from Mississippi State is the mystery of the week, but the Bulldogs ought to be able to win this game no matter where it’s played. UMass has scored only 35 points over its first three games, and only 14 of those against FBS opponents. Mississippi State’s biggest challenge is rebounding from an emotional loss to LSU, a game the Bulldogs easily could have won. Dan Mullen has to be wondering how to sneak Dak Prescott back onto the roster somehow.
Mississippi St. 30
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