By Jess Nicholas
Nov. 20, 2018
Last week’s record: 11-0 (100.0%)
Season record: 85-17 (83.3%)
The Predictions Dept. finally put up another unscathed record in Week 12, benefiting from a combination of weaker out-of-conference matchups but also managing to get a right read on the muddle that was the intraconference slate. This week, it’s Rivalry Week, featuring much-harder calls up and down the list. Alabama-Auburn is obviously the biggest, but LSU-Texas A&M has some potential and even Georgia-Georgia Tech isn’t an automatic.
FLORIDA at FLORIDA STATE
The Seminoles come into this game riding a gaudy, three-decade-plus bowl streak, but they have to win this game to maintain it. The best thing that can be said for the game is it’s in Tallahassee, and Florida has lost here several times in the past despite being the better team. That’s about all FSU can hang its hat on, because Florida is on a steady, if stilted, upward trend, while the Seminoles are still trying to figure out if they made the worst coaching hire in the past half-decade or so when they brought in Willie Taggart.
If FSU loses this one, the evidence will continue to pile up for the latter. Florida, though, isn’t some kind of title-contender-in-hiding. The Gators do come in fresh off back-to-back wins over Idaho and South Carolina, but the Gators struggled far too much with a Gamecock team that isn’t nearly as talented. The two games prior to that one? Blowout losses to Georgia and Missouri.
Florida State 23
AUBURN at ALABAMA
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GEORGIA TECH at GEORGIA
The real saving grace for Georgia here may be where the game is being played. The closest analog for this matchup, from a Tech perspective, would have to be its game early in the year at South Florida, which ended in a loss; the toughest matchup was home against Clemson, which also ended badly.
Tech comes into this week on a four-game winning streak, and there are some feel-good nuggets in there, most notably a defeat of Miami and a fairly comfortable win on the road at Virginia Tech. But Georgia Tech does some key things poorly, namely keeping opponents off scoreboards and stopping them through the air. Like a lot of defenses coupled to triple-option teams, Georgia Tech is atrocious in pass efficiency defense, which is more or less connected to chunk-play throws.
Jake Fromm has shown the ability to make the big downfield passes, and Georgia has enough balance in its running game that it can effectively set up the Yellow Jackets for whatever it wants to do. But if turnovers start stacking up, or Georgia plays the run the way it did against LSU, look out. Let Tech take a lead into halftime and we’ll be betting on a different outcome than the one to come out of Alabama-Citadel last week.
Georgia Tech 27
KENTUCKY at LOUISVILLE
Kentucky is skidding a bit into home plate, not unexpected after getting knocked out of the SEC East race. But the Wildcats did well to hold off an underrated MTSU squad last week, and this week, it gets a Louisville team that might not be as good as the MTSU team it just defeated. A 24-7 loss to Tennessee the week prior stands out, and not for the right reasons. On the other hand, Louisville has quit, its head coach won’t be returning and the Cardinals weren’t going to be better than Kentucky this year, anyway. Anything can happen, of course, and this series doesn’t always run to spec, but expect the expected in 2018.
ARKANSAS at MISSOURI
They’re battling for something called the “Battle Line Trophy,” which was designed by the same guy who did the Arkansas-LSU “Boot Trophy”, which is fitting in its own way after half the Arkansas defensive backfield got the boot for flirting with the Mississippi State dance line last week. As silly as that sounds (because it is), it has major ramifications for this game, because the Arkansas defensive backfield was about the only part of the Arkansas defense Missouri had to worry about. With that impediment now gone, Drew Lock is free to throw for five million yards.
SOUTH CAROLINA at CLEMSON
Well, you try to say something nice about everyone, but … no. Not happening. South Carolina is trying its best, but the Missouri win is the only quality win the Gamecocks have this year, and it came as the result of a colossal downpour that negated Missouri’s offensive advantage and wouldn’t be repeated if the game were replayed today. Every win against even decent opposition has been a struggle, save for Vanderbilt. And this week, the Gamecocks have to go to Clemson, which is a bad matchup in every way imaginable. Clemson is probably looking forward to the College Football Playoff, yes. Will it matter? No.
South Carolina 14
TENNESSEE at VANDERBILT
You kind of knew this Volunteer season was going to come down to this, didn’t you? The Vols and Commodores are both 5-6. Bowl eligibility rests on the outcome of this game. New Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt needs to make a statement here to allay the fears of the Vol fan base over whether he’s the real answer or not. On top of that, Tennessee comes into this game having just been snuffed by Missouri, whereas Vanderbilt is on a bit of an upswing after wins over Ole Miss and Arkansas and keeping its game with Missouri close.
Tennessee has two very nice wins on its resume this year, Auburn and Kentucky, but also ugly losses to Florida and Missouri and a yacker of a 14-3 game against Charleston, which on the Wheel of Enjoyment, comes up just short of hitting the spot marked “Stomach Flu.” Tennessee is capable of more than Vanderbilt is, but the Commodores are playing more consistent ball at the moment, and almost seem like they have more to play for, even though the stakes are equal.
LOUISIANA STATE at TEXAS A&M
If you’re looking for the classic trap game this week, here it is, even though there’s technically no game on the other side of the “trap.” LSU is coming into the game off a blowout of Rice, but there are about 100 teams capable of blowing out Rice. LSU’s body of work pre-Rice? A narrow, uninspired 24-17 win over a walking-dead Arkansas team and a shutout loss at home to Alabama.
Not knowing really where LSU’s head is at, a quick inspection of Texas A&M reveals good wins over UAB and Ole Miss, but losses to Auburn and Mississippi State in the weeks before that. Short answer: Neither team is playing great football right now. And that makes LSU ripe for the upset, especially with the game in College Station, as well as LSU’s penchant for late-season egg-layers that date well back into the Les Miles time period. We’re at the end of the year, let’s take a flier on the unexpected.
Texas A&M 20