By Jess Nicholas
Oct. 25, 2018
Last week’s record: 6-0 (100.0%)
Season record: 59-13 (81.9%)
After a solid performance in Week 8, the Predictions Dept. looks at the slimmest slate of games of the year, the five-game Week 9. Alabama is off this week, as is LSU, in preparation for their showdown next Saturday in Baton Rouge. This week’s premier game is clearly Florida-Georgia, but the Missouri-Kentucky game could have big implications for the SEC East race.
FLORIDA vs. GEORGIA (at Jacksonville, Fla.)
Georgia suddenly finds itself the centerpiece of some actual drama, as rumors of unhappy players and program infighting have arisen this past week. Whether that’s enough to tip the scales Florida’s way is another matter, as the Gators are an incomplete team still searching for an offensive identity. Georgia’s last appearance was a shocking loss two weeks ago to LSU, which is probably as responsible for anything for the flood of rumors and backroom whispers about the Georgia program. That hasn’t stopped Florida from becoming this week’s glamour pick to pull an upset. While the Gators are certainly outperforming expectations, this is a Gator team that struggles against the run and Georgia runs the ball very well. Despite Jake Fromm’s struggles against LSU, Georgia also still ranks 7th in passing efficiency. It’s not impossible to see Florida pulling the upset here, but it’s still pretty darned unlikely.
KENTUCKY at MISSOURI
If Florida does manage to upset Georgia, suddenly the door would be open for Kentucky to take the lead in the SEC East. Kentucky would still need to beat Georgia head-to-head (or hope for the Bulldogs to lose a third time, as well as Florida to lose a second time), but that’s a feat not as unlikely as it might have looked two weeks ago. Kentucky controls the tiebreaker with the Gators. In their way is a Missouri team that has yet to win a conference game, but is 4-0 in out-of-conference work including a win over the same Purdue program that creamed Ohio State. With the game being played in Columbia, if Florida over Georgia isn’t the upset bettors’ pick for this week, Missouri over Kentucky certainly is. We still like the Wildcats in this one for its defense, but Kentucky must take care to stay in front, as it is not built to be a comeback team.
TENNESSEE at SOUTH CAROLINA
Go back two weeks and suddenly the Volunteers would have been emerging favorites to win this game. Now, however, all the goodwill built up by the win over Auburn has dissipated thanks to Tua Tagovailoa and the Alabama machine, plus the Volunteers are now facing the loss of their starting quarterback to go along with the permanent loss of one of their more dynamic rush ends. On top of that, the Alabama loss was devastating, both in what it meant, and in its scope. South Carolina, meanwhile, has some pressure on its back. The Gamecocks need three wins to get bowl-eligible and their schedule is pretty cut and dry: there’s Tennessee, Ole Miss and Chattanooga on the potential W side, Clemson and Florida on the L side. Meaning, if USC doesn’t take care of business here, it’s probably game over.
South Carolina 23
VANDERBILT at ARKANSAS
This is a matchup of two teams that have developed into tough outs, but neither is winning games at the moment. Arkansas looks completely different from the bumbling bunch that got blown out by North Texas, while Vanderbilt gave Florida and Kentucky tough games but couldn’t put it together in either one. Around about the time North Texas embarrassed Arkansas, we caught ourselves saying the Tulsa game would be Arkansas’ last win; now, we’re not so sure. A performance similar to what Arkansas showed in close losses to Texas A&M and Ole Miss will probably be good enough to win this game.
TEXAS A&M at MISSISSIPPI STATE
Mississippi State is currently the SEC team hardest to figure out. The offense is being run completely through QB Nick Fitzgerald – both figuratively and literally. Eventually, that’s either going to work, or it’s going to get Fitzgerald killed. The problem is the Bulldogs have scored in single digits 3 of their last 4 games, and the only offensive performances MSU has had this year that qualified above “decent” came against Stephen F. Austin and Louisiana. Texas A&M has some balance to its attack and has also gotten more adept at defending the middle run, which is Fitzgerald’s bread and butter. While the SEC West-specific focus regarding disappointing teams has largely been aimed at Auburn, it might actually be Mississippi State that has put up the worst results relative to predicted performance.
Texas A&M 24
Mississippi St. 10
IDLE: Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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