By Jess Nicholas
Oct. 2, 2018
Last week’s record: 7-1 (87.5%)
Season record: 44-9 (83.0%)
The Predictions Dept. saw trouble coming for Mississippi State against Florida last week, but didn’t pick the upset. Fortunately, the Kentucky pick came through to keep the damage to a minimum. This week, there is a fairly competitive slate of games top-to-bottom with the exception of Alabama’s road trip to Arkansas and Ole Miss hosting Louisiana-Monroe.
LOUISIANA STATE at FLORIDA
Florida is suddenly a dangerous out, and the early loss to Kentucky looks like it may have had more to do with the Wildcats than the Gators anyway. This week, Florida hosts a surprising LSU team, but most of that surprise came from LSU’s unexpected win over Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Now that Auburn has been revealed to have significant offensive difficulties, is the LSU win such a surprise? If it’s not, Florida might just catch the Tigers for the upset here. Most likely, neither team is as good as anyone thinks it is right now; LSU still has quarterback issues and a lack of consistency throughout. Florida’s entire offense is a bit of a mess. It’s a matchup of a couple of teams listing somewhere between rebuilding or (and?) getting accustomed to life on a lower tier. Does LSU have another road upset up its sleeve? We picked this as a Florida upset in the preseason and we’ll stick with it.
VANDERBILT at GEORGIA
The real question regarding Vanderbilt’s season is just how much of a paper tiger is Notre Dame? Vandy fooled a lot of people by nearly knocking off the Fighting Irish in South Bend. Since then, all the Commodores have done is get killed by South Carolina and nearly fall to FCS Tennessee State. Georgia brings the kind of talent Vanderbilt can only dream of having. The Commodores haven’t played to their offensive strengths very well, especially failing to utilize QB Kyle Shurmur to his fullest potential. Even so, this isn’t a particularly talented Vanderbilt team to start with, and the Commodores have holes all over the field that Georgia can – and will – exploit.
KENTUCKY at TEXAS A&M
Texas A&M was lucky to get by Arkansas last week, a common fate for teams recently slaughtered by Alabama. Kentucky, meanwhile, is picking up steam and is doing its best to position itself as the first lieutenant to Georgia’s commanding officer in the SEC East. This is a classic trap game for score pickers, as Texas A&M is likely more the team that lost hard-fought games to Clemson and Alabama than the team that struggled with lowly Arkansas, and Kentucky probably isn’t as good as the record indicates. Still, a win here would give Kentucky bowl eligibility, and someone will have to convince us that such status has been the providence of the Kentucky program at least for the last 60 years or so. Something about this week just feels like the train coming to the end of the line.
Texas A&M 27
MISSOURI at SOUTH CAROLINA
Yet another trap game, this time between an offensive darling with no defense (Missouri) and a tough, improving opponent with little offense that only seems to play well every other week (South Carolina). The Gamecocks are due for an “up” week, having been handled with no trouble by Kentucky last Saturday, and even with QB Jake Bentley under center there just isn’t enough offensive consistency for South Carolina to keep up with the Tigers. This has been a problem for South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp before, at both Florida and South Carolina, and his ultimate future as a head coach may hinge on figuring out how to fix it. It can’t be fixed in a week, however, and despite Missouri’s defensive troubles, the Tigers have so much more firepower than South Carolina that the final score might not be very close at all.
South Carolina 17
AUBURN at MISSISSIPPI STATE
Prior to the season, this was going to be the game that marked either Auburn or the Bulldogs as the No. 2 team behind Alabama and potential SEC West champ should Alabama unexpectedly falter along the way. Oh, how things have changed. Mississippi State’s offense suddenly has hit the skids, and new head coach Joe Moorhead has looked seriously overwhelmed the last two weeks. Auburn, though, has its own problems. In addition to players quitting the team in the middle of the season, Auburn has been unable to cover up shortcomings in its offensive line, and a pedestrian running back group has been hit by injuries. Remember the 3-2 game? We’re not saying this matchup is going to be that bad, but if you’re thumbing through the TV dial looking for an SEC game to wow you with its highlight reel, just move on. Auburn’s secondary is vulnerable, but is it vulnerable enough to make MSU’s woeful receiver group look good? That’s probably been QB Nick Fitzgerald’s biggest enemy so far in 2018. If Fitzgerald gets hot, he can be a problem – and if he gets hot in this game, Auburn probably can’t keep up. This is a coin-flip game but we don’t like the smell of the State program at the moment. While Auburn’s Gus Malzahn may no longer be an offensive genius, surely the Tigers can stay in front of the anemic Bulldogs.
Mississippi St. 13
LOUISIANA-MONROE at MISSISSIPPI
Finally, a game that should be easy to pick. Louisiana-Monroe’s highlight on the year was a 21-20 defeat of Southern Miss in Week 2. Since then, the Warhawks have lost by 38 to Texas A&M, dropped a game to Troy by a touchdown, and then somehow got creamed by Georgia State. Not Georgia Tech, mind you. Not Georgia, either. Georgia State. The school that didn’t have a team until 2010. And the loss was by 32 points. Now, as bad as that might sound, allow us to introduce you to the Ole Miss Rebels, whose defense is threatening to give up more points per game in 2018 than the men’s basketball team eventually will. This past week, it was a 45-16 drumming at the hands of LSU. If Louisiana-Monroe has any kind of offense, Ole Miss could be in trouble, because the “vaunted” Landshark defense right now looks to be hanging from a fisherman’s rope down at the marina. Still, Ole Miss can score from anywhere, and the Warhawks probably won’t be able to stop it.
Ole Miss 55
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN