By Jess Nicholas
Sept. 26, 2018
Last week’s record: 6-2 (75.0%)
Season record: 37-8 (82.2%)
When everyone started calling for Vanderbilt to upset South Carolina right along with us, The Predictions Dept. knew it was in trouble in Week 4. Vanderbilt proved to be a mirage, while the Gamecocks bounced back nicely from a disappointing performance against Georgia. Less obvious was Mississippi State’s collapse against Kentucky, which throws the SEC West up for grabs (the slots immediately aft of Alabama, at least) and positions the Wildcats as an outside-shot contender to challenge Georgia for the SEC East. This week, the slate of games is ho-hum; MSU tries to bounce back against Florida, while South Carolina is next to challenge Kentucky.
FLORIDA at MISSISSIPPI STATE
In the preseason, this looked like a three-touchdown Gator stomping waiting to happen. But Mississippi State looked terrible against Kentucky, and Florida did most everything right against Tennessee. Now the Bulldogs have to show they are resilient. New head coach Joe Moorhead, frankly, looked lost on the MSU sidelines several times last Saturday, and his unfailing positivity is nice, but might not be all that effective. Dan Mullen would love to beat his former team, but his former team probably has a score to settle over him leaving. Were the Bulldogs looking past Kentucky last week for the Mullen rematch? We’ll find out together.
Mississippi St. 28
LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE at ALABAMA
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TENNESSEE at GEORGIA
Tennessee is the laughingstock of the SEC East at the moment and would be for the conference as a whole were it not for a little thing called North Texas. The loss by Arkansas to the Mean Green – by a 44-17 score, yet – probably will claim the trophy for worst SEC loss of 2018, but Tennessee isn’t far behind. The Volunteers have issues of talent, health and heart, and meanwhile, Georgia is killing everybody. This matchup of former Alabama defensive coordinators will be cordial undtil kickoff, and then the Bulldogs are going to beat the Vols so badly that Twitter will overload with “throw the towel” memes.
SOUTH CAROLINA at KENTUCKY
The hardest game of the week to pick by far, thanks to not knowing whether Kentucky has come off its high of beating Mississippi State yet. The Wildcat program got fined after that win because its fans rushed the field – let’s consider that for a second: Someone other than Ole Miss rushed the field following a win over Mississippi State – and in recent past, that’s not a good sign for the UK program, which tends to let emotions be more a part of the proceedings than they have any right to be. South Carolina beat Vanderbilt soundly last week after being the media darling pick to suffer an upset. If the Gamecocks play the same game this week, they’ll probably win.
South Carolina 21
TENNESSEE STATE at VANDERBILT
The Commodores are going to have to fight for bowl eligibility this year, but it’s doable. Games against Arkansas, Tennessee and Ole Miss are yet to come, with the Vol and Rebel contests being in Nashville. Still, that’s not room for a lot of error. First, Vanderbilt needs to concentrate on putting away lower-division Tennessee State. Last week’s game against South Carolina was the epitome of a laid egg. Vanderbilt needs to get back to work quickly, because next week brings a road trip to Athens, Ga., and the Commodores aren’t winning that one.
Tennessee St. 13
ARKANSAS at TEXAS A&M
Arkansas’ defense was much improved last week against Auburn’s running game, but the Razorbacks have no quarterback, no blocking and no dynamic weapons to speak of. Texas A&M did the best it could in the face of Alabama’s onslaught, but just didn’t have an answer for Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa, nor Alabama’s stifling defense. Arkansas’ defense might have been better against Auburn, but it is by no means “stifling.” Unless Texas A&M just fails to show up at all in this game, it should win comfortably. But teams tend to underperform in the week immediately following a Bama beatdown. We’ll see.
Texas A&M 27
SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI at AUBURN
This game could be mildly interesting due to Auburn’s struggles to stop the pass and Southern Miss’ expertise in throwing the ball. The Golden Eagles are 2-1 on the year, winning big over FCS Jackson State and last week against Rice, but there’s a 21-20 loss to Louisiana-Monroe sandwiched in between. Oddly enough, USM still has found a way to rank 9th in total defense, and if you ignored the actual game scores, statistically, this is a team that should give Auburn problems. But the Golden Eagles can’t run the ball very well at all, and they’re not suddenly going to turn into turf monsters against Auburn’s elite defensive line. The Tigers need something good to happen here; they looked listless against Arkansas, couldn’t run the ball and generally left their fans in a malaise after the game. It’s not just about winning this game; it’s about blowing USM out.
Southern Miss 17
MISSISSIPPI at LOUISIANA STATE
Given Ole Miss’ slogging performance against Kent State last week, it’s pretty clear the beating the Rebels took from Alabama hasn’t worn off yet. LSU is playing inspired ball, even if its passing game is somewhat of a mirage and the Tigers have been winning mostly on moxie so far. Ole Miss isn’t good enough to seriously challenge LSU on the ground, but if Rebel QB Jordan Ta’amu gets hot, LSU is going to find itself in a scorefest, and it might not be able to win that. LSU needs better quarterback play – and the Rebel secondary and linebacker corps is the perfect place to look for practice dummies. The Rebels have an atrocious defense, and if LSU controls the lines of scrimmage as we expect, this game might be in doubt for the first half, but no more.
Ole Miss 17
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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