By Jess Nicholas
Sept. 12, 2018
Last week’s record: 10-2 (83.3%)
Season record: 22-4 (84.6%)
For fans of the Kentucky Wildcats, hoping the Cats would finally break through as the underdog and put away a traditionally stronger SEC East program, you got your wish last week. The Predictions Dept. salutes Kentucky, even though we didn’t have the confidence to pick that upset. No such salute is forthcoming for our other loser, Arkansas, who managed to find a way to throw away what should have been a sure win against Colorado State. This week, it’s mostly a week slate of games, headlined by one bona fide prime matchup (LSU at Auburn), although Alabama-Ole Miss won’t be far off. Looking for a game off the radar that could get interesting? Vanderbilt-Notre Dame, as the Commodores are playing to a higher level than was expected.
COLORADO STATE at FLORIDA
Could the Rams upset two foundering SEC teams in consecutive weeks? In a word, no. Arkansas is the SEC’s worst team in 2018; Florida will probably make a respectable bowl game in the end. The Gators need to bounce back from the Kentucky loss and show some resiliency, rather than begin to wallow in their grief the way they were prone to do under Jim McElwain last year. Dan Mullen has had plenty of experience with that kind of thing in past years at Mississippi State, but patience is not Florida’s long suit. Fortunately for Mullen, talent is not Colorado State’s long suit.
Colorado State 17
MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE at GEORGIA
The Bulldogs look like the real deal in 2018. After choking out Austin Peay in the opener, Georgia quickly put to rest any talk of an upset by South Carolina last week, making the Gamecocks look like a borderline bowl team rather than the darkhorse SEC East challenger many thought they were. MTSU sputtered badly against Vanderbilt in its opener, then bounced back to score a lot of points in a win against UT-Martin – but the Blue Raiders gave up a lot of points, too. In two weeks, MTSU has surrendered a total of 72 points to Vandy at UT-Martin. Georgia might not be able to hold itself under 100 if it tries.
MURRAY STATE at KENTUCKY
Mark Stoops’ next challenge: Keep Kentucky from failing to show up against Murray State and doing something utterly stupid to torpedo its own season. It might not matter, though. The Racers are 0-2 with losses to Southern Illinois and Central Arkansas. Even a sleepwalking Wildcat program should be able to deal with that.
Murray State 17
MISSOURI at PURDUE
This game figures to be interesting if for no other reason than Missouri embarrassed itself at home in this game last year, losing 35-3 in one of Drew Lock’s worst games. Purdue was being looked at as a possible Top 25-threatening darkhorse this year, but any notion of that went away with back-to-back losses to Northwestern and Eastern Michigan to start the year. With the way the Mizzou defense is playing at the moment, and with the talent of Lock and his receiver corps, this game could be just as ugly for Purdue in 2018 as the game was last year for the Tigers.
MARSHALL at SOUTH CAROLINA
The Gamecocks are officially not ready for prime time, proving that last week by losing 41-17 to Georgia in a game the Gamecocks were never really in. The destruction was so thorough, in fact, that now the question is whether the Gamecocks are a mediocre also-ran in 2018 rather than being a program on the upswing. Marshall is 2-0 but one of those wins is over FCS Eastern Kentucky and the other over a Miami-Ohio program that was 5-7 in the MAC last year. Unfortunately for both South Carolina the team and South Carolina the state, the status of this game is up in the air due to Hurricane Florence spinning in the Atlantic. As of press time, the game is still on, but any late southern jog in Florence’s path could get this one canceled, especially since it’s a nighttime kick. If the game goes on as planned, it will go a long way to helping us pin down South Carolina’s 2018 future.
South Carolina 28
TEXAS-EL PASO at TENNESSEE
After getting creamed by West Virginia in the opener, Tennessee started slowly against East Tennessee State before eventually running away with things after ETSU got tired in the second half. This week, a slightly stronger version of ETSU, the UTEP Miners, who have two losses already and only one of them to a FBS school. For Tennessee, this is a perfect step-up opponent from last week’s, and might give the Vols a lift as they get into conference play.
VANDERBILT at NOTRE DAME
Notre Dame has a signature win already, toppling Michigan, but Vanderbilt has quietly exceeded expectations in both its early games. The Commodores put away MTSU in the opener, a scrappy team that likes to punch up when playing big in-state brothers, but it was the Week 2 win – crushing a Nevada program that came into the game with legitimate offensive weapons – that has our attention. The offense hasn’t been spectacular, but it has been efficient and the Commodores are a top-10 team in turnover margin. Moreover, the defense, which is somewhat in a rebuilding cycle at the moment, has been superb in two weeks, even coming out of the MTSU-Nevada gauntlet with good pass-defense numbers, a difficult achievement given the offensive systems the ‘Dores have played.
Notre Dame quietly struggled against Ball State last week, winning by almost an identical score as its victory over Michigan (24-16 vs. 24-17), but part of that could be blamed on hangover from the big opening win. If Notre Dame takes Vanderbilt just as un-seriously as it did Ball State, the Commodores will win the game, and win it handily. This is our potential “Upset Special” of the week – but we just can’t pick it. Vandy showed last year against Alabama that managing positive expectations is still a bit out of the Commodores’ reach.
Notre Dame 27
NORTH TEXAS at ARKANSAS
Calling it now: This will be Arkansas’ last win of 2018. North Texas has two convincing wins over SMU and Incarnate Word, while the Razorbacks are coming off an embarrassing loss to Colorado State on the road. But North Texas is a regular fool’s-gold kind of team, beating up on smaller outfits and then getting poleaxed by Power 5 teams whenever someone picks an upset. Arkansas is still finding its way under new coach Chad Morris, but last week’s loss is one of those you just can’t have. If the Razorbacks lose this game as well, Morris would likely go 1-11 in his debut season and we’re not sure he’d be invited back for a second round.
North Texas 28
LOUISIANA STATE at AUBURN
LSU’s win over a Miami team that has quarterback issues got Tiger fans hyped, and the first half of its win over Southeastern Louisiana kept the wave going. Then the second half of that game came around and people began to remember some of the issues LSU still has, with QB play being the big one. Auburn, meanwhile, opened with a solid win over Washington and then cremated Alabama State. Auburn’s defense is playing fantastic football at the moment, the AU quarterback situation is in infinitely better shape than LSU’s, and the Auburn coaching staff is far more functional. Oh, and the game is in Jordan-Hare. If LSU somehow finds a way to pull the upset in the face of all those factors, Ed Orgeron will be sainted before the plane lands in Baton Rouge. Just don’t bet on it.
LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE at MISSISSIPPI STATE
Louisiana beat Grambling in the opener and then took a week off to either get over the stress of that epic meeting, study the intricacies of Joe Moorhead’s system at MSU, or maybe just cook up a whole bunch of boudin. No matter the reason for the layover, it’s not going to help the Ragin’ Cajuns any. Mississippi State has looked solid in both its first two games and believes this is the year it can challenge for the division. The Bulldogs are not going to let Louisiana get in the way of that.
Mississippi St. 45
LOUISIANA-MONROE at TEXAS A&M
It’s somewhat amazing that Jimbo Fisher’s first act as Texas A&M head coach has more or less been to find a way to improve on offense. The Aggies are 17th in rushing and 18th in passing, and have the 3rd-ranked offense in all of FBS. They almost pulled an upset of Clemson at home last week, and suddenly the timeline for challenging in the SEC West got a lot shorter. This week, Louisiana-Monroe pulls into town, fresh off a one-point win over Southern Miss, which followed a three-point win over Southeastern Louisiana. Kudos to the Warhawks for starting off 2-0, but the good times end here. Texas A&M will most certainly have a mad-on raging over the way it lost its game to Clemson – the Aggies believe the refs stole it from them, basically – and ULM gets to absorb the frustration.
Texas A&M 55
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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