By Jess Nicholas
Nov. 9, 2017
Last week’s record: 8-1 (88.9%)
Season record: 73-12 (85.9%)
Despite being a somewhat difficult week to pick due to the closeness of the SEC’s middle-tier teams, the Predictions Dept. was proud of an 8-1 week that saw a misfire only in the toss-up Kentucky/Ole Miss battle. This week’s slate of games is headlined by Auburn-Georgia, but there are a couple of other good ones on the list, including a Missouri-Tennessee game that might ultimately decide bowl eligibility.
FLORIDA at SOUTH CAROLINA
The Gators have all but quit, their head coach out and roster infighting on its way in. Florida got stomped by Missouri of all teams last week, while South Carolina gave Georgia all it wanted. If we could be more confident about South Carolina’s ability to string together strong efforts in consecutive weeks, we’d pick the Gamecocks going away in this one. But Florida still has more talent, and it’s not uncommon for teams looking for a soft place to land to lurch upward a time or two down the stretch. Bet the Gators save their efforts for Florida State in three weeks, though.
South Carolina 23
GEORGIA at AUBURN
This won’t be Georgia’s last test of the regular season – Georgia Tech in the season-finisher always seems to have something in reserve for the Bulldogs – but Auburn will almost certainly be the biggest, at least until the Bulldogs get to the SEC Championship Game. Auburn is dealing with an offense that has taken on the personality of an old British race car: powerful – when it will actually crank up. The offensive line needs work, the running back corps has been thinned by injury and the receivers are not a strength. Georgia, meanwhile, brings a well-rounded team to this one, strong both offensively and defensively. Auburn’s Gus Malzahn goes squarely on the hot seat if the Tigers lose to both Georgia and Alabama, which is expected.
KENTUCKY at VANDERBILT
For once, the loser of this game isn’t automatically relegated to a holiday season spent at home. Kentucky is already bowl-eligible; Vanderbilt still has Tennessee and Missouri to play even if it loses this game. Kentucky has been making strides and is a potentially dangerous offensive team, but the Wildcats seem to lack mental toughness, leaving themselves exposed for far too long each game to an enemy comeback or big play. Late losses to Florida and Ole Miss could have been easily avoided, leaving Kentucky 8-1 and challenging for the SEC East. Instead, the inability to pull away came back to haunt Kentucky twice already, and could be a similar danger this week.
TENNESSEE at MISSOURI
Tennessee is in a must-win situation here, because a loss would put the Volunteers at 4-6 with LSU left to play on the schedule. Missouri is 4-5, but even with a loss to Tennessee, games against Vanderbilt and Arkansas are both easily winnable, which would send the Tigers bowling with a .500 record. Tennessee is too far gone, mentally and health-wise, to be much of a threat to most teams, but the Tiger defense is so pitiful that anyone Missouri plays has a chance at pulling the upset. The real question is whether Tennessee’s defense can either keep Missouri in check, or whether the Tiger defense is bad enough that the Vol offense can keep up with the scoring pace.
ARKANSAS at LOUISIANA STATE
Arkansas got taken to the wire by Coastal Carolina last week, which came into the game with a 1-7 record and without full membership to the FBS. As such, this game should – that’s should – be a walkover for LSU, which is superior to Arkansas in every metric. But this is the same LSU team that lost to Troy earlier in the year, and the Tigers are coming into this game after another demoralizing loss to Alabama. It seems Ed Orgeron continues to struggle getting his teams ready to play so-so opposition, and the problem is magnified just after playing good teams. In other words, Arkansas might actually pull this upset. But the Razorbacks have their own problems, coach Bret Bielema is in danger of losing his job and missing the bowl season is all but guaranteed at the moment.
LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE at MISSISSIPPI
Good news: Louisiana-Lafayette (or just “Louisiana” these days, which causes a good deal of teeth-grinding within LSU’s administration) has won three of its last four games. Bad news: Those wins were over Idaho, Texas State and South Alabama, and the fourth game in that sequence was a 47-3 blistering at the hands of Arkansas State. Ole Miss did a nice job of replacing the injured Shea Patterson against Kentucky last week and showed good resiliency in the face of a lost season by beating the Wildcats in Lexington. Ole Miss has a chance to get to bowl-eligibility, NCAA sanctions pending, by beating the Ragin’ Cajuns and then upsetting either Texas A&M or Mississippi State. The key for this week is that a win over ULL is almost a mandate if bowl hopes are truly still alive. Lose here and it won’t matter what the NCAA does.
Ole Miss 52
NEW MEXICO at TEXAS A&M
Kevin Sumlin is all but fired already in College Station, as the Aggies want to jump ahead of Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas to make a pitch for embattled Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher. Texas A&M is coming off two consecutive semi-blowout losses, the first to Mississippi State and the latest to Auburn. More troubling was how the Aggies looked like they didn’t really seem to care about the MSU game performance. Those are signs of a lost team and a coach that knows what’s coming; Sumlin was actually reported out earlier in this week but those stories are premature. They won’t be premature if he finds a way to lose this game. New Mexico is on a four-game losing streak of its own, which makes this one big slapfight in the making.
Texas A&M 44
New Mexico 20
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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