By Jess Nicholas
Sept. 19, 2017
Last week’s record: 5-5 (50.0%)
Season record: 31-5 (86.1%)
The wheels came off in a big way for the Predictions Dept. in Week 3, as we were lucky to go five-up, five-down in what turned into a week of upsets. This week’s slate of games is no easier to pick, with several tough matchups including a Mississippi State-Georgia battle that suddenly has major implications for the SEC Championship Game.
FLORIDA at KENTUCKY
Both teams come into this game with high hopes for winning the SEC East. Florida’s last-second Hail Mary to defeat Tennessee puts the Gators in the catbird’s seat for now, as Tennessee was thought by most to be the division’s second-best team. But before Florida starts making plans for Atlanta – a win over Georgia later in the year would pave a clear path for a third straight trip there under Jim McElwain – Florida must first deal with a scrappy Kentucky program that is improving with every week. After struggling to beat FCS Eastern Kentucky two weeks ago, the Wildcats stopped a surging South Carolina team in its tracks last week. But this is precisely the kind of game Kentucky historically struggles to win, and if the Wildcats are ever going to take that next step forward, the time is now.
MISSISSIPPI STATE at GEORGIA
Suddenly this game has major implications for both teams, not just Georgia. While Georgia has gotten off to a deliberate start – albeit with a few stumbles – Mississippi State has come flying out of the game, and absolutely dismantled LSU a week ago. There was nothing fluky about MSU’s win over the Tigers, and it sets up a battle of the Bulldogs in Athens that could do a couple of things: knock Georgia out of the SEC East lead, and set up Mississippi State to challenge Alabama for the SEC West. Georgia’s offense has been shaky in the early going, while Mississippi State hasn’t shown many weaknesses. If Georgia is to win this game, it will likely be on the backs of its talented, veteran defense.
Mississippi St. 20
AUBURN at MISSOURI
Auburn is in a bit of a mess at the moment, losing its starting quarterback of a year ago, Sean White, to off-field issues this week, and is coming off a thoroughly unimpressive win over lowly Mercer. Fortunately for Auburn, it draws Missouri, which was blown apart by Purdue of all teams last Saturday. This battle of the Tigers won’t be nearly has high-stakes as the aforementioned battle of Bulldogs in Athens, Ga., but the result will be no less disastrous for the loser of this game. No-defense Missouri has to find a way to hold off no-offense Auburn. It probably won’t happen.
LOUISIANA TECH at SOUTH CAROLINA
The Gamecocks’ loss to Kentucky last week was most unfortunate, as it stalled their newfound momentum and made reaching the top of the SEC East heap that much more difficult. It was also a costly loss, as top receiver Deebo Samuel was lost for the year with a leg injury. This week, South Carolina draws offense-rich, defense-poor Louisiana Tech, who barely beat Western Kentucky a week after getting throttled by Mississippi State. But as LSU can attest, getting throttled by Mississippi State may be the new normal in 2017. South Carolina will need to find a new go-to weapon to replace Samuel, and this kind of game is the perfect canvas for that type of noodling.
South Carolina 23
Louisiana Tech 17
MASSACHUSETTS at TENNESSEE
If poor UMass was any better than it is, Tennessee might find itself in a real fight. The Volunteers, which have been an emotional boom/bust team under Butch Jones, are surely approaching bust status at the moment following a last-second loss to a less-talented Florida team last week. The good news for both Jones and the Vols is the Minutemen are 0-4 this year, and the list of teams they’ve lost to doesn’t exactly read like the gorillas of the gridiron: Hawaii, Coastal Carolina, Old Dominion and Temple. Florida will freight-train UMass unless the Vols are getting ready to fully and completely quit.
TEXAS A&M vs. ARKANSAS (at Arlington, Texas)
This suddenly becomes a battle of embattled coaches, Arkansas having its fill of Bret Bielema’s Big Ten remake of the Razorback program, while the Aggies are all but setting up to fire Kevin Sumlin, growing tired of his teams’ softness. This game will be held at a neutral site, Arkansas graduate and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ personal playhouse in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Arkansas was off last week, a week after getting dominated by TCU. Texas A&M eventually stomped Louisiana but the Ragin’ Cajuns gave the Aggies a game early. Somehow, through all of Texas A&M’s mediocrity, the Aggies have managed to rank 6th in rushing defense, a key stat to consider when Arkansas and its ground-based offense come to town.
Texas A&M 27
SYRACUSE at LOUISIANA STATE
Some may have expected Mississippi State last week, but no one expected the defeat to be so one-sided. Now it’s back to the drawing board in Baton Rouge, and Ed Orgeron must once again defend why he deserves to be the Tigers’ head coach when all evidence seems to point to him being a great assistant but a poor head man in charge. Syracuse is 2-1, with wins over Central Connecticut State and Central Michigan, but a loss in between to MTSU – the same MTSU that lost to Vanderbilt. With the game in Baton Rogue, don’t expect the Orange to come down and pull an upset. This is a critical week for LSU; a loss in this game would surely be enough to send the Tigers into a tailspin.
IDLE: Ole Miss
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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