By Jess Nicholas
Nov. 7, 2018
Last week’s record: 6-1 (85.7%)
Season record: 68-16 (81.0%)
Missouri finally broke through after nine weeks of futility and won an SEC game; unfortunately for the Predictions Dept., it wasn’t one we thought the Tigers would get. This week, Alabama again finds itself in the league’s headline game, playing Mississippi State, but the Auburn-Georgia and Arkansas-LSU matchups could get interesting if the favorites fail to show up.
SOUTH CAROLINA at FLORIDA
The Gamecocks continue their march to postseason eligibility, and suddenly, beating Florida looks like a doable way to get there. South Carolina got by Ole Miss in a close game last week, leaving observers to discern which version of Ole Miss the Gamecocks faced off against. If USC beat the “good” Ole Miss, there’s something to build on with Florida next up. If it was the “bad” Ole Miss, the win likely means very little. Florida, on the other hand, wasn’t just beaten by a mid-level Missouri team, it got dominated by the Tigers – at home, no less. If the Gators put forth a similar effort this week, South Carolina is clearly good enough to pull the upset. There are eerie similarities between Missouri and South Carolina – talent at the quarterback position being the most prominent – and Florida can’t just show up and win the game. Still, we don’t see the Gators struggling badly two weeks in a row.
South Carolina 24
AUBURN at GEORGIA
Georgia took care of business against Kentucky as expected, proving it’s really the only SEC team capable of challenging Alabama at this point. Auburn pulled off a come-from-behind, fourth-quarter win over Texas A&M last Saturday, but whether that was more a factor of Auburn’s tenaciousness or Texas A&M … well, being Texas A&M … isn’t clear. What is clear is Auburn doesn’t have nearly the talent necessary to challenge Georgia. The Bulldogs would have to fall into the same turnover-soaked malaise that triggered their loss to LSU for Auburn to have a shot here. Strange things happen in this series all the time, but so far this year Auburn hasn’t found a way to rise above its talent level or its own lack of imaginative playcalling to win the games that are just a finger’s length out of reach. Georgia is much farther out of reach than that.
KENTUCKY at TENNESSEE
In any other year, this would be the trap game that would catch the Wildcats a week after an emotional loss to Georgia that ended the Cats’ SEC Championship hopes. But this is 2018 Tennessee we’re talking about here, and the Volunteers have been largely unable to capitalize on anyone’s shortcomings – mostly because the Vols come up shorter than anyone else. The upset of Auburn aside, Tennessee doesn’t seem to have a real shot here, mostly because the Vol offense can’t keep pace with Kentucky’s output. Having said that, this is a chance for Tennessee to make a statement, and begin getting back to putting the Kentucky and Vanderbilt matchups on autopilot.
VANDERBILT at MISSOURI
The Commodores’ erratic nature has made them impossible to accurately gauge this season, but we have to believe it doesn’t matter so much this week as does the fact Missouri finally put everything together against Florida. The game being in Columbia means a great deal, too, as Vanderbilt isn’t known for being a great SEC road team. Vanderbilt, Missouri and Tennessee are all 1-4 in the SEC East and jockeying for bowl eligibility, and the opportunities for fifth and sixth wins are getting slim. Vanderbilt has two winnable games left – Ole Miss, Tennessee – while Missouri has Tennessee and Arkansas. This game isn’t an absolute must-win for either, but a loss would remove any room for error. Vanderbilt’s strength (athleticism in the secondary) matches up well against Missouri’s (QB Drew Lock), but the Commodores simply don’t have the offense to come from behind if the Tigers get up quickly.
LOUISIANA STATE at ARKANSAS
The battle for the boot trophy is also an internal battle for LSU, to see if it can get up off the canvas after getting TKO’ed by Alabama last week. Arkansas has won this game multiple times in the past when LSU has failed to do just that, but the gulf between these two programs is especially wide at the moment. Arkansas is 2-7 and still trying to convert from being a plodding, ground-based offense to a speedy, spread attack. The movement has gone forward in fits and starts, and Arkanasas’ good games have been good enough to at least cause concern on the other sidelines. But the Razorbacks remain winless in conference play, and expecting them to get their first win against the clear No. 3 team in the SEC is a bit much. LSU’s defense probably isn’t as good as Tiger fans think it is, but it should be good enough to keep Arkansas pinned down.
MISSISSIPPI at TEXAS A&M
In this week’s Disappointment Bowl, Ole Miss, which lost late at South Carolina, visits Texas A&M, which blew its game late against Auburn. Poor coaching decisions contributed to each loss, so there are multiple subplots in play here but at least no jobs on the line. The question is whether Texas A&M can score enough to keep pace with the Rebels, because Ole Miss’ offensive strength (passing) lines up against A&M’s weakness (pass defense). Points will be scored in this game, don’t doubt it for a minute. Whether the Aggies have enough firepower to keep pace is the real story.
Texas A&M 45
Ole Miss 41
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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