It’s hard to believe we’ve had eight weeks of football played already. Alabama football and LSU football will take a much-deserved break from the action this week to rest up for next weekend’s elimination game in Baton Rouge, but there’s still plenty of intrigue remaining on the docket this weekend for Southeastern Conference fans.
Auburn football looks to buck the trend of No. 1’s losing on the road when it travels to Ole Miss football. South Carolina football will look to continue Tennessee football’s downward spiral, while Arkansas football entertains Vanderbilt football at homecoming in the Ozarks. Mississippi State football will host an important contest with snake-bitten Kentucky football, and there’s the annual Georgia-Florida tilt in Jacksonville to highlight the slate.
Five teams in the SEC West are ranked and have already secured postseason eligibility. In the East, only South Carolina has achieved both of those distinctions. Those tidbits are just crazy to me.
So, onward we go with the predictions. In case you didn’t notice, I’m coming off my one and only perfect week in 2010. That’s right, not even Georgia and Ole Miss could foil me in the picks last week. Can we make it two-straight weeks? Probably not, but here goes anyway.
If you are a college football fan and have not ever attended a Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville, it should be atop your sports bucket list. I haven’t had the opportunity to go to a Red River Rivalry game, but I know the Cotton Bowl cannot hold a candle to Jacksonville Municipal Stadium as far as venues to host these annual “neutral” matchups. I know, I know, tradition and all but come on – would you rather worry about sitting in 60-year-old seats or have all the amenities of a state-of-the-art National Football League stadium to enjoy yourself? Plus, Jacksonville > Dallas.
Anyway, when I worked at Florida, this was far and away my favorite game of that 9-3 season. I didn’t really know what to expect heading in, but the 50/50 split is one of the neatest sights in the SEC. I do not consider Jacksonville, Fla., as a neutral site by any means. It’s within two hours of the University of Florida campus, and it’s barely a two-hour flight away from Athens, Ga. However, if they ever moved the game away from there, the real losers in all of this would be the fans that are void of the opportunity to party the weekend away at the Landing.
This game is one of the toughest to pick in the season. Georgia football is playing much better than Florida football right now, but I have seen plenty of mediocre UF teams (by Gator standards, of course) take out championship-level UGA squads. This includes the 2005 game I worked when Georgia lost DJ Shockley for the weekend and couldn’t muster enough offense to trump Florida’s 14 points. Of course, Georgia went on to win the SEC that year by demolishing LSU in the title game.
Urban Meyer is about unbeatable when he has more than one week to prepare for an opponent, losing only once in 17 tries at Florida. The one year the Gators did not enjoy the luxury of an off week prior to this game since his arrival is the only time any of UF’s big three rivals has gotten the best of a Meyer-led UF team. That, of course, was the infamous team celebration game in 2007.
Mark Richt may have righted the ship enough to save his job, but the current three-game winning streak Georgia is enjoying has come at the expense of teams that have combined for eight wins in 2010. Florida isn’t up to snuff when compared with the national championship teams of 2006 and 2008, but the Gators are still extremely talented and have a knack for coming up with big wins over the Bulldogs – no matter the contrast in confidence levels.
CBS brings its crew of Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson and Tracy Wolfson to the City of Bridges yet again, and the game will be broadcast to a national audience beginning at 3:30 p.m. EST. Earlier in the week I said I would be going with the Gators in this one. I am sticking with that pick.
Call it now: Florida 21, Georgia 17
• Tennessee at No. 17 South Carolina (Columbia, S.C., 12:20 p.m. EST, SEC-Network)
I remember Steve Spurrier getting that first big win at South Carolina like it was yesterday. Of course, I’m talking about the Gamecocks’ triumph in Knoxville over a Tennessee team that finished the season 5-6 in 2005, but still, here’s why I remember.
Three weeks after this game, I was in Columbia for the Florida-South Carolina contest. That Friday evening, I was hanging out in Five Points with some friends who attended and worked in the USC athletic department. One of these folks was a young lady who helped Spurrier’s secretary.
The Gamecocks were named Tostitos National Team of the Week following the win over Tennessee, and this distinction came with a party pack of goodies including a poster that had the winning score as well as Kenny McKinley’s winning touchdown catch emblazoned on the felt material. When my friend asked the Ol’ Ball Coach what he wanted to do with the poster, he quirked, “Pack everything up and send it up to Philip (Fulmer.)”
Spurrier hasn’t made very many headlines with his quips since taking over the USC program, but he has made at least one reference to Derek Dooley’s first Tennessee team by stating he was “proud of his team for being able to win with 11 players on the field.” Anyone who tries to convince himself that the game has passed Spurrier by is just sorely mistaken.
Tennessee is 2-5 for a reason, and South Carolina has the inside track at making it to Atlanta for the first time in school history. I don’t think the Gamecocks will lose their footing in the division race with a loss here. I also don’t think a win over the Vols will warrant another care package from the fine folks at Tostitos.
Call it now: South Carolina 31, Tennessee 17
• No. 3 Auburn at Ole Miss (Oxford, Miss., 5 p.m. CT, ESPN2)
This one took a bit of a twist on Wednesday night when it was revealed that Ole Miss had requested Auburn to wear its traditional home blue uniforms on Saturday night. Turns out, Ole Miss is paying homage to the 1960 team with throwback powder blue helmets and white jerseys.
Auburn is gaining momentum on offense thanks to its powerful run game led by Heisman Trophy front-runner Cam Newton. The fact that the Tigers have gained 300-plus rushing yards on four-straight SEC foes is downright unbelievable. With the Rebels giving up points in bunches (32 points per outing allowed), AU’s offense will have plenty of opportunities to build on its league-best 36.2 points per game average. Or at least, that’s the way it would seem on paper.
Ole Miss has gotten better week-in and week-out as Jeremiah Masoli has gained traction with his teammates and developed more knowledge for the playbook. Masoli’s playmaking ability is shadowed a bit by Newton’s eye-popping numbers, but the Flyin’ Hawaiian is the perfect specimen that has given Auburn’s defense fits this season. He is Randall Cobb with a much better arm.
With so many injuries along the offensive line, Houston Nutt’s team will have its hands full trying to slow down Nick Fairley and a ferocious defensive line that features two other seniors in the starting lineup besides Fairley. If Masoli can break containment from AU’s defensive ends, it could be a long night for the Tigers on that side of the ball.
However, the 26 seniors on Auburn’s roster have maintained incredible leadership throughout the season. While this game has “trap” written all over it according to the national media, something about this Tiger squad has kept it from losing all season. I expect that trend to continue two more weeks, at least. It may not be a wide margin (Auburn has not won a road game by more than seven points since a 34-0 shutout of Mississippi State in 2006), but the better team usually wins comfortably in this series.
Call it now: Auburn 34, Ole Miss 24
• Kentucky at No. 23 Mississippi State (Starkville, Miss., 6 p.m. CT, ESPNU)
Another home game for MSU results in another ESPNU showcase of Dan Mullen’s program. One has to wonder if Herm Edwards has looked into taking up residence in Starkville yet.
Kentucky is a team that has plenty of ability to pull off another upset of a ranked opponent, but the Wildcats have trouble getting out of their own way with turnovers or costly penalties. UK probably should have another win or two under its belt, and that is the difference in being 1-4 in the league as opposed to leading the division. Like I said, it’s a crazy year in the East, and there is no doubt in my mind that the Wildcats are talented enough to make it to Atlanta. However, there’s no way Joker Phillips and Co. will be representing the East in the Georgia Dome after giving away another great opportunity to Georgia last weekend.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are playing smart football and have done a fantastic job of playing within their strengths and forcing the opposition to change its game plans accordingly. Manny Diaz has the MSU defense playing up to par with any defensive unit in the country, and the offense simply hasn’t made the back-breaking mistakes that cost State wins against Auburn and LSU in early September. Chris Relf may not be a great quarterback, but Mullen and his offensive staff have done a terrific job of building game plans to stay within Relf’s capabilities.
It’s strength vs. strength in Davis Wade Stadium, which usually lends pickers to stick with the home team and/or the best defense when making predictions. I gave serious consideration to going with Kentucky, but I’m gonna go with the Maroon and White in this one. Please, keep the cowbell ringing to a minimum and only do so at the appropriate times, State fans.
Call it now: Mississippi State 17, Kentucky 13
• Vanderbilt at No. 18 Arkansas (Fayetteville, Ark., 6 p.m. CT, FoxSportsNet South)
This game isn’t a hard one to pick (Arkansas will win easily), but trying to come up with any kind of storyline of merit is the hard part.
Looking through the headlines on CollegeSportsMatchups.com on the Arkansas page reads like an injury report with very little mention of the game with Vanderbilt in any of the article titles. The biggest news items in Fayetteville this week have surrounded the health of Ryan Mallett, Joe Adams and Greg Childs or the University of Arkansas’ plans to build the new football operations center which was unveiled Wednesday.
Of course, it’s a win for the guys who are in charge of posting the Vanderbilt articles to even find news in the Tennessee papers, so there’s not much to report on from the Dores’ sidelines. VU will employ a third play caller for the first time this weekend at Arkansas, but that usually spells more trouble than offers more solutions.
Call it now: Arkansas 41, Vanderbilt 10
Last week: 6-0