Back from Bama’s off-week, the Predictions Dept. needs a strong finish to get back over our annual target of 80-plus percent success in picking SEC games. The highlight game of the week, if it’s not Alabama-LSU, is Texas A&M versus Auburn, with the winner staying in the race for the SEC West crown and the loser basically seeing its season go into play-out-the-string mode.
Last week‘s record: 2-2 (50.0%)
Season record: 60-18 (76.9%)
FLORIDA at SOUTH CAROLINA
Things are not well in Gainesville, where a once-promising season has now fully hit the skids. It wasn’t just that Florida lost to Georgia last week, it was how poorly the Gators looked while doing it. Many Florida fans, coming out of the Alabama game earlier in the year, thought Florida would ultimately rebound from that game to challenge Georgia for the SEC East. To put it kindly, that scenario has not occurred. At least this week Florida gets a team struggling as badly or worse than the Gators are. South Carolina doesn’t have the offense to keep up with Florida – for that matter, it might not have the offense to keep up with Florida Atlantic. The game is in Columbia, however, and anything can happen to a road favorite like Florida in an SEC game.
South Carolina 20
MISSOURI at GEORGIA
Missouri knocked off Vanderbilt as expected last week, but it was far from a convincing win. Georgia, meanwhile, dispatched Florida easily and to no one’s surprise was the No. 1 seed in the initial College Football Playoff poll that was released Tuesday night. Missouri’s offense is capable of putting up some points on the Bulldog defense, but likely not enough to make a real dent in things. Of greater concern to Missouri is a defense that has turned out to be a major liability, and even though Georgia’s offense is “vintage” in the way old Oldsmobiles are, the Tigers won’t be able to keep Georgia out of the end zone often enough to really have a chance here.
TENNESSEE at KENTUCKY
What a difference a couple of weeks makes. Kentucky went from challenging Georgia for the SEC East lead to getting beaten by Mississippi State and suddenly making a race for the the exits from the top 25. Tennessee, on the other hand, has found its offense, and was competitive for most of three quarters against Alabama in its last game.
What Tennessee doesn’t seem to have right now is a lot of answers on defense, and Kentucky – when it can keep ball security top-of-mind – is capable of running the Vols out of the building. This one will come down to whether Mark Stoops can help the Wildcats flush the disappointment of the last two weeks out of their collective memory, which has been a challenge for him over the years.
MISSISSIPPI STATE at ARKANSAS
This is an intriguing matchup between a couple of quality mid-pack SEC teams moving in slightly different directions. Mississippi State has shown a lot of improvement lately against all opponents other than Alabama, which completely throttled the Bulldogs.
Arkansas started off the season in explosive fashion but has leveled off as the season has exposed depth issues, mostly on the Razorback defense. MSU QB Will Rogers is heating up, and that will probably be the difference in this game, even though Arkansas has the home-field advantage.
Mississippi St. 38
AUBURN at TEXAS A&M
We’d say if the venue was reversed, Auburn would be the pick, but Texas A&M is the one SEC team that doesn’t seem to be affected much by the Jordan-Hare advantage. That would seem to suggest A&M is in an excellent spot here, because not only do the Aggies have the superior defense, the game is being played at Kyle Field.
However, Auburn has turned into a surprise team in the SEC, playing sound football well above the expectations of some of its talent. Quarterback Bo Nix has settled down and is making more and more plays and fewer and fewer mistakes. He’ll have to be practically mistake-free in this one, though, as the Aggie defense is almost as good as the Georgia defense that reduced the Tigers to kittens earlier this year.
The other question is whether Aggies QB Zach Calzada can make plays against an Auburn defense that has more than lived up to billing. The winner here remains in the SEC West race; the loser should get ready for a mid-level bowl.
Texas A&M 27
LIBERTY at MISSISSIPPI
Lane Kiffin goes from doing his own reunion tour at stops in Tuscaloosa and Knoxville, to hosting one as Hugh Freeze comes back to Oxford. Ole Miss probably should have beaten Auburn last week, especially given the Rebels’ defensive performance in the second half.
Ole Miss should be careful here; Liberty is 7-2 and can score points with relative ease. Not only that, but the Flames are ranked 10th in total defense. On the other hand, their best win is probably one against UAB. Ole Miss is a tired team and not healthy, but Liberty probably can’t do more than put a mild scare into the Rebels for about a half of football.
Ole Miss 47
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN