By Jess Nicholas
Nov. 15, 2017
Last week’s record: 7-1 (87.5%)
Season record: 80-13 (86.0%)
Not like it hasn’t happened before, but the way in which Auburn foiled the Predictions Dept.’s near-perfect Week 11 is cause for concern going forward, especially how average Alabama’s defense looked at times against Mississippi State. There are few potential big games for any SEC teams this week, as most matchups are either between teams that failed to live up to expectations in 2017, or out-of-conference breathers taken with an eye toward rivalry games next week. What games do have some interest (Kentucky upsetting Georgia, anyone?) are fairly dependent on mass insanity breaking out somewhere during the course of the contest.
ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM at FLORIDA
Right off the bat, we get one of those games, because UAB has shocked everyone in college football by being competitive in its first year back from hiatus, while Florida is in a tailspin under an interim head coach. Furthermore, UAB has won five of its last six games, including beating a bowl-bound Southern Miss team 30-12 that played both Kentucky and Tennessee tough earlier in the year. Florida is going to miss a bowl, not that its players appear to care much. So who is going to be surprised if UAB actually manages to win this game? It might qualify as the least-surprising surprise of the 2017 season, for that matter, given how Florida has imploded down the stretch. Still, it’s hard to pull the trigger on that, even with the Gators likely looking ahead to Florida State.
MERCER at ALABAMA
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KENTUCKY at GEORGIA
Like the Florida-UAB game referenced above, in this one you’ve got a wounded-but-favored team facing a surging upstart looking to make a name for itself. The key difference is in Georgia’s case, the Bulldogs are still in the running for a national championship bid, if they can hold it together against Kentucky and Georgia Tech, both teams with major flaws. Kentucky played one of its best games of the season last week in putting away Vanderbilt, and is riding high coming into this game. If the game was in Lexington, we’d take a long look at picking the upset. Georgia has to answer some tough questions that arose out of the Bulldogs getting stomped by Auburn last week. If they can’t provide an answer, it doesn’t bode well for the SEC East’s Atlanta representative in two weeks, no matter which team is its opponent in that game.
MISSOURI at VANDERBILT
This game suddenly has real implications, as a surging Missouri team and a staggering Vanderbilt team are both chasing bowl eligibility. Missouri is 5-5 and has to win either here, or next week at Arkansas. Vanderbilt is 4-6 and must beat both Missouri and rival Tennessee. Missouri’s path to the postseason is much easier, as no matter what happens this week, a win over a terrible Arkansas team now looks all but assured. Vanderbilt must find a way to stop a Tiger offense that has come alive, then knock off injury-plagued Tennessee, which is now operating under the guidance of an interim coach. Unfortunately, this looks like the end of the playoff road for the Commodores, who can’t score enough to beat Missouri and may not be able to sufficiently stop the Tiger attack, either.
WOFFORD at SOUTH CAROLINA
Wofford usually gives South Carolina a tough game, but the Gamecocks have a lot to play for if they can win this one and get to Clemson with an 8-3 record in hand. Wofford is 9-1 overall and leading the Southern Conference with a 7-1 record. The Terriers make a point of wanting to be a thorn in their fellow South Carolinians ’ side, and if the Gamecocks don’t do a good job early of stopping Wofford’s running game, the Terriers might turn out to be more than just thorns. Still, like the Florida-UAB game, it’s hard to pull the trigger on an upset call when the two teams are so far separated in degrees of raw talent.
South Carolina 27
LOUISIANA STATE at TENNESSEE
It seems weird for this game to be occurring so late in the year, but nevertheless, here it is. Tennessee will be coached by former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke in this game, as Butch Jones was finally cut loose earlier in the week. Tennessee has vacillated between walking wounded and walking dead this year, and some of Jones’ shortfalls were due to bad injury luck, but far more of it was due to him being in way over his head from day one. It’s a shame he couldn’t have held out one more week, because at least at that point Ed Orgeron could rightfully claim to not be the worst head coach in the SEC. With Jones gone, Orgeron is back to dragging the bottom. Regardless, his Tigers will bury Tennessee this week thanks to a defense that has stayed reasonably healthy.
MISSISSIPPI STATE at ARKANSAS
Whether the Bulldogs can get up off the canvas will be the big story of this game. Arkansas reeling at 4-6, with a rash of injuries and bad quarterback play conspiring to torpedo the season. A loss to Mississippi State would end the Razorbacks’ postseason hopes for 2017, and no one in Fayetteville probably minds much at this point. It’s been a tough year for both Bret Bielema and his team, punctuated by having to hold on for a 39-38 win over Coastal Carolina a couple of weeks ago. When a game like that sticks out on your schedule, it’s time to ask what the heck happened to your season.
Mississippi St. 38
LOUISIANA-MONROE at AUBURN
Unfortunately for Alabama fans everywhere, this is not your 2007’s Louisiana-Monroe facing rival Auburn this week. ULM won 52-45 over Appalachian State, a win that broke a three-game losing streak to the likes of Idaho, South Alabama and Georgia State. Auburn may be due for a letdown coming off a big win over Georgia, but the Tigers would have to combine a letdown with an outbreak of Vibrio Vulnificus at the team’s pregame meal for it to make any kind of difference against the Warhawks.
TEXAS A&M at MISSISSIPPI
Suddenly this game has some real interest brewing. Ole Miss needs a win either here or next week in the Egg Bowl to get bowl-eligible, NCAA Committee on Infractions pending. Texas A&M has already gotten that sixth win, but Kevin Sumlin is trying to outrun the executioner’s ax at the moment and a loss to Ole Miss would be just the kind of thing that trips him up. Ole Miss looked pretty sporty beating Louisiana by a 50-22 score last week, while Texas A&M overpowered New Mexico. These two teams have both looked dangerous at times in 2017, and both have also appeared to be on the verge of falling apart. This one will come down to whether A&M gets good enough QB play to stay in the ballpark.
Texas A&M 31
Ole Miss 30
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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