By Jess Nicholas
Nov. 1, 2017
Last week’s record: 4-2 (66.7%)
Season record: 65-11 (85.5%)
The Predictions Dept. navigated a tough Week 9 well enough, splitting its toss-up games and keeping the damage to a minimum. This week, Alabama-LSU is undoubtedly the top game on the card, but Georgia-South Carolina and Auburn-Texas A&M have the potential for a few fireworks. And if you want to watch an exercise in delirium, catch Florida-Missouri.
FLORIDA at MISSOURI
So Florida went ahead and did it. The Gators fired Jim McElwain, and now this team belongs to Randy Shannon while Florida admins try to figure out what to do next. This sets up a suddenly-tough matchup with Missouri, which is a legitimate offensive threat to most any opponent, and which has a defense that has gotten marginally better of late. Florida certainly holds the edge still on defense, but the Gators can’t score, and getting rid of McElwain probably didn’t take care of the real issues on the offensive side of the ball. With the game in Columbia, we’ll take what should be considered a massive upset even with all the upheaval within the Florida program.
SOUTH CAROLINA at GEORGIA
There really isn’t a scenario under which Georgia should even be challenged here, but South Carolina is a plucky team with an overachieving defense and a quarterback very capable of getting on a hot streak. In other words, it’s the same kind of South Carolina team that beat Alabama unexpectedly in 2010. Unfortunately for Gamecock fans, that game was in Columbia and this one isn’t. Georgia is entering uncharted territory, ranked within the top five and eyeing a playoff spot. That adds an extra level of nervousness to the pot until the Bulldogs prove they can play under pressure week in and week out. South Carolina likely won’t win this game, but the Gamecocks are very capable of making things closer than they should be.
South Carolina 20
MISSISSIPPI at KENTUCKY
Logic would suggest Kentucky wins this game in a runaway, but the Wildcats can’t seem to blow out anyone, much less an SEC team with a semi-dangerous offense. Despite losing QB Shea Patterson for the season, Ole Miss still managed to put up 37 points against Arkansas and nearly beat the Razorbacks. Kentucky should have poleaxed Tennessee, but rather found itself winning by three yards and three points as a UT Hail Mary was stopped just short of the end zone with no time left on the clock. It’s hard to have faith in the Wildcats, and this week they’ll have to overcome the Tennessee hangover as well as the reality of being bowl-eligible. Will Kentucky get fat and happy, or will the Wildcats take the next step?
Ole Miss 31
SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI at TENNESSEE
It’s hard to figure the Golden Eagles this year – 5-3 with a narrow loss to Kentucky, but a near-blowout loss to UAB. The best win is either a shutout of UTEP or an overtime win over Louisiana Tech. Tennessee is much better than this, despite the struggles of the Volunteer program, and should win going away. But very little is going as expected for Tennessee this year. Rumors continue to swirl that the UT athletic administration has already decided on a course of action for 2018 and beyond, a course of action that doesn’t include the participation of current head coach Butch Jones. One quick way to find out is for Jones and company to lose to this Southern Miss team.
Southern Miss 17
WESTERN KENTUCKY at VANDERBILT
In the “Don’t Look Now” category is this game, which features a flagging Vanderbilt program trying to hold off a Western Kentucky team that won’t be a pushover. The Hilltoppers are 5-3 and have won four of their last five games. But the results of those games, and others, parallels those of Southern Miss, discussed above regarding its matchup with Tennessee. The Commodores need a softer cushion than the one the Hilltoppers will likely provide this week, but Vandy should still find a way to win the game. If the Commodores don’t, bowl eligibility is probably off the table, as getting there would require Vanderbilt to win its three remaining games. That remaining schedule isn’t exactly Murderer’s Row – Kentucky is the best team left – but why cause heartburn for yourself by losing to WKU?
W. Kentucky 17
COASTAL CAROLINA at ARKANSAS
Pop quiz: Is Coastal Carolina an FBS school? While you ponder that, consider that after a season-opening win over UMass, the Chanticleers haven’t won since. Even Arkansas can’t screw things up against a 1-7 program that lost to Arkansas State by 34 points earlier in the season. (And yes, Coastal Carolina is FBS.)
C. Carolina 7
AUBURN at TEXAS A&M
A couple of weeks ago, this game looked like the potential trip-up spot for Auburn, not LSU. But that was before Texas A&M wet the bed against Mississippi State, which undid a lot of good done over the past month. Kevin Sumlin is squarely back on the hot seat again in College Station, but Gus Malzahn will join him if Auburn somehow loses this game. The Predictions Dept. picked Texas A&M to beat MSU last week on the strength of its run defense; now we don’t know whether A&M really is improved against the run, or whether its pre-MSU figures were a mirage. Auburn will test that assumption in a big way Saturday, as the Tigers have to run to win.
Texas A&M 19
MASSACHUSETTS at MISSISSIPPI STATE
UMass somehow found a way to lose to Coastal Carolina, Old Dominion, Temple and Ohio all in the same season. But the Minutemen have rebounded nicely the last two weeks after an 0-6 start, beating Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. The good news ends this week, as the Bulldogs will find new and inventive ways of making UMass suffer. If this game is close, Dan Mullen should fire himself.
Mississippi St. 59
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN