We’re at the last full week of the season, and the Predictions Dept.’s goal is to rise again above the 80-percent mark in terms of pick accuracy. We’d be there now if not for South Carolina’s upset of Tennessee, but who in Crimson is going to argue with that result? Rivalry games fill the schedule this week, with several hard-to-pick matchups.
Last week’s record: 7-3 (70.0%)
Season record: 81-21 (79.4%)
FLORIDA at FLORIDA STATE
Florida is stumbling to the finish line, and is coming off one of its worst performances in years, a loss to Vanderbilt. The Gators are already bowl-eligible, which is fortunate because Florida State is a team on the rise and the game is in Tallahassee. First-year Florida coach Billy Napier had the support of the entire fan base behind him after the opening win over Utah; that support has now eroded somewhat. Finishing the regular season 6-6 with a loss to hated rival Florida State isn’t going to win him many fans, either – and this will be a critical offseason for the Gator program.
Florida State 34
AUBURN at ALABAMA
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GEORGIA TECH at GEORGIA
This one was setting up to be a laugher for most of the year, and might still be. But Georgia Tech’s firing of Geoff Collins mid-season, and the elevation of Brent Key to the position on an interim basis, has reinvigorated the Yellow Jackets. They’re 5-6 now and could make a bowl by beating Georgia; that’s not going to happen, but this game might not be the steamrolling Georgia fans were convinced it would be a month ago. Plus, Key is making a real play for the permanent job here, going 4-3 since being installed as the interim head coach.
Georgia Tech 17
LOUISVILLE at KENTUCKY
What a difference a month makes. Kentucky had been inside the top 10 at one time; now the Wildcats are unranked and Louisville is sitting at No. 25. There’s a lot going on in this game; Mark Stoops recently had his contract extended through 2031 but is 1-3 in his last 4 games. Kentucky is just 6-5 despite having a star quarterback in Will Levis, and some of the Wildcat fans are grousing about the general inability of the program to take the next step up. Louisville would love to play spoiler to its big brother here, but Kentucky’s defense would seem to give it the edge in a competitive game.
MISSOURI at ARKANSAS
Unbelievable as it sounds, Sam Pittman is having to fight a bit to keep support lined up behind him. The Razorbacks’ rather stunningly easy upset of Ole Miss last week probably was enough to bring him back, but Arkansas is 6-5 and needs to finish strongly over a Missouri team that really is a level below the Hogs. Missouri becomes bowl-eligible with a win here, and while Eliah Drinkwitz’s job is almost certainly safe, if Missouri loses here and then follows it up with a losing record in 2023, things could change.
SOUTH CAROLINA at CLEMSON
Alabama will be watching this game closely because if there’s any chance for the Crimson Tide to leapfrog several teams to get into the College Football Playoff, it’s likely that this is an upset they will need. We’d scoff at the mere suggestion of a Clemson loss, except you can throw on the game tape from South Carolina-Tennessee last week and try to explain how that happened, and words would fail you. One thing’s for sure: South Carolina isn’t going to sneak up on Clemson in this game. The Tigers will have all senses pointed forward after watching what happened to the Volunteers last week. The fact Clemson actually has a defense might be what keeps the Tigers from suffering Tennessee’s fate.
South Carolina 21
TENNESSEE at VANDERBILT
Suddenly this game isn’t the cakewalk it might have looked like. Hendon Hooker tore an ACL, leaving Joe Milton as Tennessee’s quarterback, and Vanderbilt upset Florida last week to get within a game of being bowl-eligible. Milton is not a tremendous step down from Hooker; he has better arm strength and roughly equal scrambling skills, but he isn’t as accurate, nor is he as able to stay away from throwing interceptions. If Vanderbilt can somehow pull a rabbit out of the hat defensively – say, pick off Milton three times or score when the Commodores don’t have the football – it’s not completely insane to consider that Tennessee might be ready to fold up a bit after having its championship hopes dashed last week.
LOUISIANA STATE at TEXAS A&M
You wouldn’t have surprised too many people this year if you’d told them in the preseason that the eventual SEC West champion would be playing in this game. You would, however, have surprised them by identifying LSU as that team, not Texas A&M. The Aggies barely looked like a SEC team last week in an uninspired win over UMass; this week, a further depleted Aggie roster tries to hold off an LSU team that still has an outside shot at the College Football Playoff. To say the Tigers will have the upper hand here, both between the white lines and inside hearts and heads, is an understatement. The bigger question is how ugly will this game be.
Texas A&M 10
MISSISSIPPI STATE at MISSISSIPPI
We’re still not sure what to make of Ole Miss’ dreadful performance against Arkansas last week, and then this week, all the media has wanted to talk about is Lane Kiffin’s job status with Ole Miss and whether he’s going to be the new head coach at Auburn. As for Kiffin, he’s appeared to spend about as much time on Twitter trolling Auburn fans and the media as he has preparing to face Mississippi State. MSU has its own issues – the Bulldogs have lost three of their last five, one of the three wins came against ETSU, and the other saw State have to go to overtime to defeat Auburn. The home team in this series gets a big baked-in advantage, and even with Kiffin’s many distractions, it’s hard to see Mississippi State keeping up with Ole Miss. Even in defeat last week, Ole Miss ran up 700 yards of total offense. State can’t match that.
Ole Miss 51
Mississippi St. 37
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN