Last week’s record: 6-2 (75.0%)
Season record: 38-9 (80.9%)
As Week 5 arrives, the Predictions Dept. is running about average for the year. Last week, Arkansas surprised us not necessarily by the win over Texas A&M, but by how much of the game Arkansas was able to control. As for the Missouri-Boston College game, we almost picked that one and addressed Missouri’s issues on defense in the preview. This week, Alabama-Ole Miss is the real headliner, even though Arkansas-Georgia is also on the books. Florida faces Kentucky in the game that will likely decide runner-up in the SEC East.
FLORIDA at KENTUCKY
Prior to the season, we predicted Kentucky would take this game and finish in second place to Georgia in the SEC East. After seeing both teams for a month, we’re going to change that pick. Florida has been a little better than advertised, especially on defense, while Kentucky started fast but has fizzled a bit lately. The Wildcats took care of business against Chattanooga and South Carolina, but in neither case did Kentucky dominate like we would liked to have seen. Florida isn’t what it was in 2020, but the Gators have proven to be more than good enough to scare teams like Alabama and control teams like Tennessee. Kentucky has the talent to pull the upset and the game is in Lexington, but it will take a monumental effort from the Wildcats given what we’ve seen thus far in the season from both.
MISSISSIPPI at ALABAMA
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ARKANSAS at GEORGIA
At this point, the story of the year in the SEC is the Arkansas Razorbacks and its unlikely head coach, Sam Pittman. Two years ago, Arkansas was one of the softest teams in any major conference. Now? No one really relishes the idea of facing the Razorbacks, who aren’t particularly explosive, but are thoroughly physical. That attitude allows Arkansas to match up above its talent level. In regards to facing Georgia, it comes in the middle of a tough stretch for the Razorbacks, but the game is manageable for them still, as Georgia’s offense doesn’t have the kind of explosive potential that some of the Hogs’ other opponents have. But unlike Arkansas’ upset of Texas A&M, this isn’t a neutral-site game with a fair number of Razorback supporters in attendance, and despite Georgia’s offensive troubles, the Bulldogs have been far more competent on that side of the ball than has A&M. Arkansas’ own offensive inability to pull away from good teams will be the difference here.
TENNESSEE at MISSOURI
Missouri looked set to cruise through this matchup prior to the start of the season, but all bets are off now that the Tiger defense can’t seem to get its act together. Tennessee held steady with Florida last week for at least a half of football, more than was expected, really. Were the game in Knoxville, we might be inclined to pick the upset, but Missouri does at least have an offense that has the potential to be decently potent. This is probably the pivotal moment for Missouri’s season, as a loss here would likely have a demoralizing effect.
TROY at SOUTH CAROLINA
Relative to preseason expectations, South Carolina may have achieved more than any other SEC East team, Florida included. It mostly comes down to the Gamecock defense being saltier than advertised. Yes, South Carolina is coming off a 16-10 loss to Kentucky, but prior to the season, that looked like a 30-point game. The fact South Carolina has managed to go 2-2 thus far and stay competitive for at least broad parts of games against Kentucky and Georgia says something about the future of the program and its current spirit. This week, the Gamecocks get a Troy program coming off a horrid 29-13 loss to Louisiana-Monroe. Troy is spiraling right now, and if South Carolina’s defense continues to play at its current level, this might actually be an easy win for the Cocks.
South Carolina 31
CONNECTICUT at VANDERBILT
How UConn ever got to be a betting underdog in this game is just evidence of how ridiculously bad the Husky program has become. UConn is 0-5 on the year, which included getting beaten by 31 points by Army, as well as losing to Holy Cross. Vanderbilt is the first of three winnable games for the Huskies – UMass and Yale follow this one on UConn’s schedule – but given UConn has already parted ways with its head coach, and the season is shot, puts the Huskies behind the ‘Dores somewhat in terms of having something to play for. Vandy’s players are still trying to impress a new coaching staff, and the offense was starting to come around a bit prior to running into a dominant Georgia team last week. This will be the last time in 2021 we pick Vanderbilt to win a game.
AUBURN at LOUISIANA STATE
Two erstwhile SEC West powers duking it out under the lights in Baton Rouge while analysts attempt to determine which program has the craziest coaching staff situation. That’s what Auburn-LSU has devolved into. Auburn barely beat Georgia State last week – it would have been one of the most lopsided SEC-involved upset losses of all time had it gone through – and its response? Fire the popular wide receivers coach, of course. Then, former Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin put out a podcast targeting everyone from Auburn boosters to the current coaching staff to home-cookin’ sportswriters, the tone of which was basically akin to Franklin hosing down the campus and everything affiliated with it in gasoline and then tossing in a lit match. Almost makes LSU’s situation – remember, Ed Orgeron is still in charge down there – look like YMCA youth league by comparison. As for the actual nuts and bolts of this contest (instead of just the nuts), Auburn seems to intend to start Bo Nix at quarterback again despite the way the Georgia State game ended. The alternative is LSU transfer T.J. Finley, who the Bayou Bengals are obviously very familiar with. LSU has its own issues – how a team with so much talent ends up running the ball so poorly is a mystery worthy of a voiceover from Robert Stack – but whether they’re worse than Auburn’s issues is debatable. Auburn has a better defense, or at least the superior back seven of a defense, but LSU’s offense is far more potent. Any number of possibilities are on the table with this one. Just take the home team and be done with it.
MISSISSIPPI STATE at TEXAS A&M
This is not an unwinnable game for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are improving slightly week to week; Texas A&M is not. MSU almost upset LSU for the second straight year last week, while Texas A&M spent its time getting charred by Arkansas. Suddenly, things may not be so comfortable for Jimbo Fisher in College Station. Fisher is an ace recruiter with a track record to back up that reputation, but whether he’s truly an offensive guru – or at least, still one – has to be up for debate by now. Texas A&M has major quarterback issues, and beyond that, the Aggies are just … well, boring on offense. They can’t sleep on this game, and even though the Aggies’ championship hopes have been severely damaged, they’re still in it unless they lose here. Could be a closer game than expected.
Texas A&M 27
Mississippi St. 23
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN