Two teams lost unexpectedly last week; one coach lost his job and the other is subject to the rantings of the rumor mill. Dan Mullen is no longer in charge of Florida, while Bryan Harsin’s honeymoon at Auburn has ended more quickly than an electric vehicle protest at the annual Sturgis bike rally. This week, Harsin gets an even tougher assignment, as the Tigers face off against SEC West champ Alabama, but the most entertaining matchup might very well be the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night.
Last week’s record: 8-2 (80.0%)
Season record: 77-26 (74.8%)
FLORIDA STATE at FLORIDA
Florida has replaced, on an interim basis, Dan Mullen with a coach who has never lost a game. Greg Knox is 1-0 on his career, a win in the Taxslayer Bowl as Mullen’s interim at Mississippi State prior to his most recent move. Knox’s elevation comes just a couple of weeks after two other assistants were fired, and now Mullen is out the door a week early. What makes this whole scenario even more interesting is that suddenly, Mike Norvell has Florida State on a 5-2 run that includes wins over Miami and North Carolina. The Seminoles must win this game to get bowl-eligible, but suddenly, so does Florida, thanks to an unexpected upset at the hands of Missouri last week. Few times in recent years has this game meant so little in the big picture, and yet, it also feels like something meaningful is on the line – for all the wrong reasons.
Florida State 27
ALABAMA at AUBURN
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GEORGIA at GEORGIA TECH
After slamming North Carolina and getting by Duke, Georgia Tech was 3-3 and suddenly there was optimism about Geoff Collins and the Yellow Jacket program. Then, Tech dropped four straight close games to fall to 3-7, and finally Notre Dame poleaxed the Jackets 55-0 last week, and suddenly Collins is in trouble again. There is no chance Georgia Tech beats Georgia – many Division-IAA programs would have a better shot – but if Tech can find a way to make this game closer than expected, it can still spin that result into future promise. Georgia, though, looks like a team on a mission.
Georgia Tech 10
KENTUCKY at LOUISVILLE
Kentucky has fallen back to the mean in the second half of the year, but Louisville has done about the best it could with the tools it had on hand, and managed to keep all five of its losses manageable against better opposition. The Cardinals have plenty of offense and are coming off a 62-point output against Duke, while Kentucky is staggering forth like a man in dire need of a field sobriety test. This would be an unexpected, and highly critical loss for Mark Stoops if the Wildcats were to drop this game, especially given where the program was eight weeks into the year. And if you know your Mark Stoops history, you’ll know that it’s a distinct possibility to turn out exactly that way.
MISSOURI at ARKANSAS
Missouri has righted its ship a bit down the stretch, and after two tight, gut-checking wins over South Carolina and Florida, is now bowl-eligible. In comes Arkansas, which gave Alabama all it wanted last week, and if QB K.J. Jefferson doesn’t suffer from familiar post-Alabama letdown, as many quarterbacks are wont to do, Arkansas should win this one going away. Missouri’s defense is tightening up, but the offense has been erratic, and Arkansas’ performance against the Alabama defense suggests there is some firepower on tap when needed.
CLEMSON at SOUTH CAROLINA
Prior to the season, this was a 50-point pick, and then crazy things started happening. First, Clemson completely imploded for about two solid months, victims of a quarterback change and a general hit to the talent level that was probably more cyclical than it was indicative of future difficulties. South Carolina was expected to win two or three games, tops, having no real quarterback on the roster, no offensive identity, and a bunch of blue-collar dudes on defense that were always finding themselves headed to the bench with this wound or that. At the end of the day, wins over Florida and Auburn in 2021 aren’t going to be remembered as monumental upsets, given where those two programs currently are, but a 6-5 record makes Shane Beamer a candidate for SEC Coach of the Year, and now he has a chance to stop a hated rival’s four-game winning streak. Over those four games, Clemson only scored one truly significant win, beating a solid Wake Forest team last week by three touchdowns. Other than that, Clemson’s best outing of the year was its first, a 10-3 loss to Georgia that now looks positively stupendous in retrospect. Clemson’s defense is its calling card, and is probably too much for South Carolina to overcome, but wouldn’t it be crazy to see it happen?
South Carolina 17
VANDERBILT at TENNESSEE
Tennessee’s boom-bust fortunes are exceptionally quarterback-dependent, but when the Vols hit, they hit. Vanderbilt has no ability to keep pace with Tennessee if the Volunteers start scoring, and the Commodore defense isn’t good enough to prevent it.
TEXAS A&M at LOUISIANA STATE
Buried at the bottom of this list is a game that could actually get interesting if the right LSU decides to show up. The Tigers continue to lose players to the transfer portal, and after this game, will forever lose the colorful Ed Orgeron as its head coach. But until Orgeron is completely done with things, LSU remains dangerous against any opponent due to its talent level. The next coach of the Tigers will enjoy a quick turnaround, and that turnaround will begin a month sooner if LSU loses this game, because bowl eligibility is on the line. And just because it would be crazy if LSU won – we’re picking the upset. What other way could Ed Orgeron go out, but the weirdest way possible?
Texas A&M 27
MISSISSIPPI at MISSISSIPPI STATE
The Egg Bowl got its name from a misshapen trophy, but the results are often skewed because, well, it’s Mississippi State and Ole Miss. On one side is Lane Kiffin and his wandering eyes; on the other, The Pirate himself, Mike Leach, and a scrappy bunch that finished up the regular season as a dangerous opponent to any team without a pass rush or a dominant secondary. Ole Miss lacks both. Not only that, but Ole Miss could still back into a tie for the division championship with a win here and an Alabama loss at Auburn, so there is actually something to play for – to say nothing of the fact the Rebels currently rank 9th in the College Football Playoff matrix. There is little chance Ole Miss could get into the playoff at this point, but one has to wonder how much external pressure that will put on Kiffin, who has a reputation for going sideways the longer a season progresses. The QB matchup here will be entertaining enough by itself, but if you need one sentence to describe just how screwy this rivalry can get, try this one on for size: Ole Miss placekicker Caden Costa has been suspended for this game, and if the Ole Miss message boards are correct, it’s for PEDs. Placekicker.
Mississippi St. 38
Ole Miss 37
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN