By Jess Nicholas
Sept. 19, 2018
Last week’s record: 9-2 (81.8%)
Season record: 31-6 (83.8%)
The Predictions Dept. is off to a decent start in 2018, and with Week 4, the focus begins to turn toward intraconference matchups. There are several intriguing contests this weekend, not the least of which is Alabama-Texas A&M, but others like South Carolina-Vanderbilt and even the once-great Florida-Tennessee rivalry have postseason implications.
FLORIDA at TENNESSEE
Boy, talk about things that aren’t as important as they used to be. At one time, this was the SEC’s marquee game at this point in the season, an annual matchup of Phil Fulmer and Steve Spurrier and usually with the SEC East on the line, thanks to Georgia’s ineptitude. Now it may be the thing that decides half the lineup of the Music City Bowl at best. Tennessee beat a sorry UTEP team last week but it wasn’t done in a way to give anyone in Knoxville the warm fuzzies. Meanwhile, Florida tore through a Colorado State team that had just beaten Arkansas the week before. Florida is still experiencing growing pains under Dan Mullen, but Tennessee hasn’t really even learned to walk yet under Jeremy Pruitt. Pruitt would raise some eyebrows if he manages to pull the upset here, but don’t bet on it.
GEORGIA at MISSOURI
Many pundits are playing up this matchup like it’s the second coming of Green Bay and Dallas in the 1967 NFL Championship Game. Missouri QB Drew Lock certainly gets credit for making it potentially interesting, but this is a Tiger team coming off a narrow victory over middling Purdue. Georgia, meanwhile, has been obliterating opponents and the Bulldogs are thought to be a national title contender. Missouri, to be kind, is not. If the Tigers are going to upset Georgia, it will come via an avenue no one has discovered yet. The Tiger defense is porous, and the offense too dependent on Lock getting hot. Georgia looks like a team on a mission to atone for its loss to Alabama in last year’s title game, and only a return trip to the title game can act as a salve. In order to get there, Georgia must first go through here. And it will.
MISSISSIPPI STATE at KENTUCKY
The Wildcats are improving and gaining confidence, but it is their lousy luck to find Mississippi State on the schedule at this point in the season, because the Bulldogs are better than they’ve been in some time, and are sniffing for a playoff spot. Kentucky has a win over Florida on its 2018 resume but no one knows yet whether that counts as a quality win. Mississippi State is 3-0 with a similar win, MSU’s being over a Kansas State program people haven’t figured out yet. The fact this game is in Lexington means little, as Mississippi State doesn’t travel well and Kentucky doesn’t host well, either. It figures to be one of those evening ESPN family-of-networks specials, with something crazy happening in the middle of it, like a goat getting loose during the halftime show. The Bulldogs simply have too many weapons and a much better quarterback.
Mississippi St. 38
SOUTH CAROLINA at VANDERBILT
The Gamecocks’ game against Marshall got washed out last Saturday thanks to Hurricane Florence, and that’s unfortunate, because USC could have used the experience. As it stands, South Carolina travels to Nashville this week to face a Vanderbilt team that nearly upset Notre Dame in South Bend. The Commodores need just a few more athletes, as they’re still stuck in “scrappy underdog” mode. But that might be enough to beat a South Carolina squad that didn’t play well against Georgia and seemed to panic a little on top of it. Being sidelined a week because your very lives are in danger can’t be good for game preparation, either. This one just smells like an upset.
South Carolina 17
ARKANSAS at AUBURN
Oh, poor Arkansas. Not only did the Razorbacks get drubbed by North Texas – not Texas, mind you, or even Texas A&M, but North Texas, a team with uniforms that channel the Washington Federals of the old USFL – Arkansas also became the butt of every joke by getting caught napping on a fake fair catch that resulted in a North Texas touchdown off a punt return. But that just meant the Razorbacks were inept; once Auburn lost to LSU on a last-second field goal at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Arkansas also became fodder for Auburn to use much the same way as a boxer uses a speed bag. The Tigers are going to beat Arkansas in ways football observers haven’t even dreamed up yet.
LOUISIANA TECH at LOUISIANA STATE
Both teams come in undefeated, but Louisiana Tech’s resume features wins over only South Alabama and Southern University, whereas LSU has defeated Miami and Auburn. It actually wouldn’t be a huge surprise to watch LSU struggle in this game, as the Tigers seemed to leave Auburn on an emotional high that would rival a playoff game, and Ed Orgeron probably doesn’t have a lot of experience in managing such situations. Still, even though LSU must come back to reality, not to mention cure its quarterback woes, it’s unrealistic to expect the Bulldogs to put up much of a fight in this game. There are longshots, and then there are mismatches like this one.
Louisiana Tech 10
KENT STATE at MISSISSIPPI
Both Kent State and Ole Miss are coming off losses in which their opponents scored 60-plus points. That’s not a club anyone wants to be in. Kent State also has a loss to Illinois on its resume this year, with a resounding defeat of FCS Howard sandwiched in between the two losses to FBS schools. Ole Miss was shut down in every way by Alabama last week, and QB Jordan Ta’amu’s confidence appeared to be shaken somewhat. This is an important bounceback week for the Rebels, and if Ole Miss were to have trouble against Kent State, suddenly the season goes from potentially respectable to perhaps a losing record when all is said and done.
Ole Miss 55
Kent State 17
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN