By Jess Nicholas
Oct. 31, 2018
Last week’s record: 3-2 (60.0%)
Season record: 62-15 (80.5%)
Week 9 was a so-so effort for the Predictions Dept., who felt most let down by Texas A&M’s performance against Mississippi State. Vanderbilt’s on-again-off-again programming was on again against Arkansas, handing the Dept. its other defeat. This week, it’s a A-plus slate of games highlighted by battles to control both the SEC West and SEC East divisions. Alabama gets LSU in the marquee matchup, but Kentucky-Georgia is no slouch.
MISSOURI at FLORIDA
The Tigers are the hard-luck story of the SEC East this year; they have probably the best pure quarterback in the division, but haven’t won a conference game and keep finding unique ways to lose some of the ones they’ve played. The Tigers probably did get a win stolen from them by questionable officiating last week against Kentucky, and disheartening losses like those tend to pile up after awhile. That’s unfortunate for Missouri, because Florida, which is a team in the middle of all sorts of transition and problem-fixing, is vulnerable.
Were this game being played in Columbia, it would be a relatively easy upset pick. With the game in Gainesville – and especially with Missouri realizing its only option right now is to play out the string and try to get bowl-eligible – we’ll take the home team with the better defense.
ALABAMA at LOUISIANA STATE
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GEORGIA at KENTUCKY
Oh, if it were really possible. Kentucky and Georgia enter this game with the SEC East on the line. With a win, Kentucky would hold all tiebreakers over Georgia and Florida even with a loss to Tennessee next week. Never before have the Wildcats been this deep into a season with a path this clear to the big time. And that’s precisely why the dream will stop here. Kentucky had to rely on a heavy mixture of luck, questionable officiating and an untimed down to put away Missouri last week – the same Missouri team that now finds itself in sole possession of last place in the SEC East.
Georgia is coming off back-to-back weeks where it lost 36-17 to LSU and won 36-16 over Florida. Nice symmetry if nothing else. That 36-16 win over Florida is more telling, however, because the Bulldogs ran out of ways to shoot themselves in the foot against LSU and eventually had to concoct new foot-shooting procedures, which directly led to the shocking score in that game.
Against Florida, Georgia just lined up and turned the Gators into luggage. That’s what teams that have been there know how to do – bounce back after a bitter loss to reassert themselves as contenders. It’s a lesson Kentucky will have to learn. Someday.
SOUTH CAROLINA at MISSISSIPPI
Will more than 30 people show up for this one? South Carolina kept its threadbare postseason hopes alive last week with a late win over Tennessee, while Ole Miss is ineligible for a bowl due to NCAA sanctions. This is must-win for South Carolina as games come, the rest of schedule features two almost-sure-fire losses (Florida, Clemson) and one easy victory (Chattanooga).
The game’s in Oxford, but neither team has shown consistency either at home or on the road. The real question is whether Ole Miss, the more talented team, wants to show up. If South Carolina gets the “good” Ole Miss, it will be hard for this borderline Gamecock squad to stay in the bowl discussion.
South Carolina 30
Ole Miss 27
CHARLOTTE at TENNESSEE
All of Tennessee’s remaining games are winnable – yes, even Kentucky – and winning three of the four would put the Volunteers in a minor bowl game. But all four games are just as easily lost. Kentucky and Missouri arguably have more talent than Tennessee and Vanderbilt is capable putting together four tough quarters. So it’s imperative that Tennessee take care of the one supposed gimme on the list: Charlotte.
Unfortunately for the Vols, Charlotte has proven to be a little better than your everyday pushover; the 49’ers have beaten Old Dominion, Western Kentucky and Southern Miss, along with FCS Fordham. Even the losses have been respectable, with just one (Appalachian State) a blowout. Having said that, if Tennessee doesn’t completely disassemble the 49’ers, something is terribly wrong in Knoxville.
TEXAS A&M at AUBURN
The Aggies continue to hold onto third place in the SEC West but after a bad loss to Mississippi State last week, the Aggies may have more hat than cattle at the moment. Auburn’s last game was a humdrum win over a disinterested Ole Miss team, which followed up bad losses to Tennessee and, yes, Mississsippi State. The truth of the matter is neither of these teams is particularly good.
The SEC looks to be extremely top-heavy this year and neither A&M nor Auburn are part of that top group. Auburn’s quarterback issues, playcalling issues, running game issues and just general overall disappointment-related issues have already led to three losses and if there’s one thing Auburn does very well, it’s turn midseason losses into a year-end slide that typically ends up with more coaches added to the school’s legacy payroll.
Still, this is a Texas A&M team that can’t seem to find an identity or, when one is duly identified, can’t grab hold of it. Texas A&M is probably at its best when it is running spread elements and letting QB Kellen Mond create. Auburn’s secondary is vulnerable to that kind of thing. Whether A&M realizes it is something else.
Texas A&M 17
LOUISIANA TECH at MISSISSIPPI STATE
The Bulldogs finally went back to basics against Texas A&M, which for them means running QB Nick Fitzgerald into the line a thousand times a game. But it was a successful plan, allowing the Bulldogs to beat the Aggies fairly soundly (28-13) and rekindle hopes that the Bulldogs might finish the season as high as second place in the SEC West. So it’s with that sentiment that we tell MSU not to sleep on Louisiana Tech.
This is a 6-2 team that gave LSU a decent game and has a win over North Texas, a team that picked apart Arkansas. Mississippi State has to be on-point offensively, as it has scored fewer than 10 points in three of its last five games. The big issue for Louisiana Tech is that its offense isn’t potent enough to put up a big number and hope MSU gets scared into Plan B.
Mississippi St. 33
Louisiana Tech 13
IDLE: Vanderbilt, Arkansas
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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