By Jess Nicholas
Nov. 23, 2016
Last week’s record: 8-2 (80.0%)
Season record: 80-21 (79.2%)
Rivalry week is here, and for the first time perhaps since the inception of the SEC’s dual-division setup, there may not be a game on the list with any real consequences. Alabama goes to Atlanta no matter what it does against Auburn, and would still go to the College Football Playoff by winning the SEC Championship Game as a one-loss team. Really the only drama this week surrounds the teams needing a sixth win to get bowl-eligible.
FLORIDA at FLORIDA STATE
Not that Florida needed to feel any worse about itself from an offensive standpoint, but Florida State has the talent and the firepower to put the Gators in a big hole and keep them there. The real question here is how distracted the Seminoles are with rumors of Jimbo Fisher possibly leaving to take the head coaching job at LSU. Florida State’s pass defense hasn’t been as good as hoped, but Florida’s passing attack is anemic to the point of abject starvation. It’s unlikely the Gators can challenge the Seminoles through the air, but Florida is sometimes at its best under Jim McElwain when no one gives the Gators a chance. With the injuries at the quarterback position, however, this order might be just a bit too tall.
Florida State 31
AUBURN at ALABAMA
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GEORGIA TECH at GEORGIA
The Yellow Jackets got off to a horrendous start, but have won four out of their last five games, and are finally starting to score points. Georgia has won three straight, but the ugly 13-7 win over Auburn was the best of the lot and the Bulldogs haven’t dominated anyone this year, regardless of how good or bad the opponent was. Most importantly here for Georgia, the Bulldogs have been OK against the run, and they’ll see enough running in this game that they might confuse it for the Boston Marathon. Given how the Bulldogs are currently sliding into the end of the year like it was home plate, don’t bet too much against Georgia Tech pulling the upset here. Both teams are 7-4 and the argument could easily be made that Tech is getting better coaching at the moment.
Georgia Tech 20
KENTUCKY at LOUISVILLE
It’s a good thing Kentucky got bowl-eligible last week, because the thought of trying to achieve it by upsetting Louisville is an idea almost farcical in its application. Louisville has the nation’s top scoring offense, even with it coming off a disastrous 36-10 drubbing at the hands of Houston that probably ended the Cardinals’ national title hopes. Sooner or later, Kentucky has to start winning this rivalry matchup with regularity to keep the heat off head coach Mark Stoops. But it’s unlikely to happen beginning this year.
ARKANSAS at MISSOURI
In a week when Missouri found out it could be under a full-bore NCAA probe soon, stopping Arkansas’ power offense can’t be an inviting proposition. The Tiger program has arguably been in disarray now for over a year, dating back to the infamous strike threat that now has the unfortunate distinction of somewhat defining Gary Pinkel’s exit from the program. The new coaching staff, headed up by a holdover assistant, Barry Odom, has been unable to help the Tigers take the next step. Now, having lost six of its last seven games and already ruled out of the postseason, Missouri has nothing to play for but pride. And if Odom is now found out to be connected to the pending investigation, the situation only worsens.
SOUTH CAROLINA at CLEMSON
Will Muschamp should be commended for getting the Gamecocks bowl-eligible, but the fun stops here. Clemson must win this game to stay alive for the College Football Playoff, and given South Carolina’s horrid offense, the Gamecocks seem powerless to stop the Tigers from doing it. South Carolina is a team needing several new parts before it can get back on the road to contention. Clemson, while not as overpowering in 2016 as many predicted it would be, still holds advantages over most of the field, and on the sidelines. A Gamecock win here would be one of the biggest upsets in an SEC interconference matchup in recent memory.
South Carolina 13
TENNESSEE at VANDERBILT
Tennessee may be the Champions of Life, but Vanderbilt is fighting for its postseason life. An expected win – make that, an unexpected tail-whipping – over Ole Miss last week has set the Commodores up to make it to a bowl if they can just get past a Tennessee team that has seen its roster shed more weight than a season of “Biggest Loser.” The question is whether the players that remain for Tennessee are that much better than the key playmakers the Commodores have at their disposal. Tennessee has plenty of work to do over the offseason to correct not just the health of its roster, but also to correct what appears to be an attitude problem that has wormed its way into the team’s innerworkings. There are questions, loud ones, now being raised as to whether Butch Jones is the right man to head this team. Vanderbilt has seemed to come together in recent weeks, and oh, what Derek Mason would do to get a second shot at Missouri. Beating Tennessee is almost too much to ask, but there’s little doubt which of these two teams is playing with the most heart right now.
LOUISIANA STATE at TEXAS A&M
The last three weeks have been troubling for the Aggies, who lost back-to-back to Mississippi State and Ole Miss before slogging through a dispirited 23-10 win over UTSA. LSU comes into this game off a loss to Florida that probably stamped out any remaining fires of support for Ed Orgeron to take over as head coach of the program on a permanent basis. It’s hard to believe a month ago, Texas A&M stood fourth in the initial College Football Playoff rankings. But it’s also hard to believe LSU is 6-4 on the year. Both teams should have better records, but just can’t seem to put it all together. LSU will win this game unless Orgeron has completely lost the team.
Texas A&M 14
MISSISSIPPI STATE at MISSISSIPPI
The Egg Bowl is at its most fun when one team is out of postseason contention and the other one heavily favored. State has the out-of-contention part down, but Ole Miss might not be able to pull off the “heavily favored” role. The Rebels need this game to get bowl-eligible, and the Bulldogs would like nothing better than to conscribe the Rebels to join them in postseason purgatory. The fact Ole Miss found a way to lose by three scores to Vanderbilt last week ought to speak clearly to the Rebels’ mindset, if not also team depth and health. Mississippi State has an offense that is clicking at the moment, but the defense is deplorable. This one is so very much a toss-up.
Mississippi St. 35
Ole Miss 34
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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