By Jess Nicholas
Oct. 24, 2017
Last week’s record: 5-0 (100.0%)
Season record: 61-9 (87.1%)
A short Week 8 schedule combined with some easier-than-usual matchups allowed the Predictions Dept. to score a perfect week and raise its season average. This week’s slate of games steps things up a bit in difficulty, as a lot of evenly-matched games (Tennessee-Kentucky, Mississippi State-Texas A&M) are on the docket. Alabama, though, gets a week off.
FLORIDA vs. GEORGIA (at Jacksonville, Fla.)
This looks like a mismatch thanks to the various crises affecting the Florida program. There’s a talent issue, an injury issue, a potential NCAA-related issue, a potential criminal issue, and now head coach Jim McElwain may be on his way out, a shocker given Florida’s success within the division the last couple of years. Georgia is rolling, and is really the only SEC East team with a pulse. But if you’re expecting a Bulldog walkover in this game, be aware that McElwain does some of his best work when he’s given no shot. It would seem a mistake for Florida to push him out the door, or to use the result of this game as a means of evaluation of his job performance. But if Florida is looking for an excuse to make a change, Georgia may very well give the Gators what they need. At this point, if Florida keeps things close, McElwain will have done a good job.
MISSOURI at CONNECTICUT
UConn comes into this game on a two-game winning streak, a nice bounceback given the Huskies had previously lost four straight after just getting by lower-division Holy Cross in the opener. Missouri is no great shakes, but the Tigers are solid on offense and UConn is highly vulnerable to explosive teams. UConn ranks 127th in total defense out of 129 teams, and three of Uconn’s losses – East Carolina, SMU and Memphis – posted an aggregate 160 points. On top of that, the Huskies can’t move the ball effectively enough to keep Missouri’s offense off the field.
VANDERBILT at SOUTH CAROLINA
Unfortunately for Vanderbilt, the Alabama loss sort of ruined the Commodores for 2017. Vandy hasn’t won since, and defensively, the Commodores have been made vulnerable by the film from the Bama game, as other schools seem to have the blueprint now for picking apart the Vandy D. South Carolina is playing for bowl eligibility in this game, and even if the Gamecocks lose this time out, they should get the sixth win versus Wofford later in the month. Vanderbilt is 3-4, but with games coming up against Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri, even a loss to the Gamecocks might not completely derail the Commodores’ bowl chances. This one comes down to whether South Carolina QB Jake Bentley has a hot game or not. If he’s on, Vanderbilt has little chance of keeping up.
South Carolina 27
TENNESSEE at KENTUCKY
How much bounce-back Tennessee has left in it is the key factor here. By the middle of the second half against Alabama last week, there didn’t appear to be a single Volunteer who really cared that much about football in general. Kentucky is coming off an embarrassing 45-7 loss to Mississippi State that revealed the Wildcats to be pretenders, not contenders. But the Wildcats don’t have to be contenders to beat Tennessee. If Kentucky can find a way to score points, Tennessee’s offense is so bad right now that it can’t keep up – unless Butch Jones begins doing what he should have been doing all along, and that’s running John Kelly until Kelly passes out from exhaustion. Don’t count on Jones suddenly being that smart. Tennessee has far more talent than Kentucky, but it isn’t playing (or coaching) like it.
ARKANSAS at MISSISSIPPI
If Shea Patterson hadn’t been knocked out of last week’s game against LSU, this game could have turned out to be the final act in the Bret Bielema Farewell Tour. As it is, the reset button has been hit on Ole Miss’ season, and no one knows now what the Rebels have on offense. That’s a critical question, because it’s clear the Rebel defense is just a shell of its former self. Arkansas, though, seems to have all but quit on the season. Bielema is definitely coaching for his job, and may have already lost it. Ole Miss’ Matt Luke is all but certain to be out of a job at year’s end, too. This is one of those games where anything can happen simply because neither team is actually playing like a team anymore. Welcome to the Going Through The Motions Bowl.
Ole Miss 20
MISSISSIPPI STATE at TEXAS A&M
Mississippi State seems to have developed an identity of killing mediocre teams, but not being able to compete against good ones. So is Texas A&M good or mediocre? After Week 1, the answer would seem to have been mediocre, but character-defining wins over South Carolina and Florida, along with a good showing against Alabama, suggest there’s more to the Aggies than the sum of its parts. Strictly from a matchup standpoint, A&M wouldn’t seem to match up well against Mississippi State, because the Bulldogs are capable of scoring in bunches and A&M can’t keep up. But the Aggie run defense takes away Mississippi State’s best offensive attribute, the QB running of Nick Fitzgerald. Every game the Bulldogs have been involved in this year has been a blowout. There are blowout losses to Georgia and Auburn, and blowout wins over everyone else, including LSU. Look for something much closer this week – almost too close to call.
Texas A&M 28
Mississippi St. 23
IDLE: Alabama, Auburn, LSU
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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