Things are looking up in Northwest Arkansas after the 24-7 victory over Auburn a week ago. Thoughts of the postseason have now re-entered the minds of the UA faithful with a couple of more winnable games showing up in the next three weeks against Kentucky and Ole Miss.
But, it’s no time to get ahead of ourselves. We’ll get to more on Arkansas football in a bit.
Last weekend, South Carolina used a barrage of 21 first quarter points en route to a thoroughly convincing 35-7 victory over then-No. 5 Georgia. The Gamecocks took advantage of everything the Bulldogs defense gave them and put the proverbial nail in the coffin early on thanks to another punt return for a touchdown by Ace Sanders.
All USC gets as a reward for that convincing victory is a chance to do this again with a trip to Baton Rouge, La., to take on the reeling LSU Tigers.
LSU fell last weekend in Gainesville, Fla., to Will Muschamp’s Florida squad by a final of 14-6. The Tigers found ways to lose the contest with the Gators and cannot afford to drop any more games to stay in the race for the Southeastern Conference West Division with No. 1 Alabama.
The LSU defense is not as stout as it was a season ago, but it’s still dominating when called on to be so. However, opponents have been able to run on John Chavis’ unit when the play calls dictate doing so, which could spell disaster for the Bayou Bengals when going up against Marcus Lattimore Saturday night.
Connor Shaw has been terrific as a dual-threat quarterback, and he has mastered Steve Spurrier’s offensive system (or at least the South Carolina version of it). If the Tigers load up the box and do everything to stop Lattimore, Shaw will be able to make them pay. If single coverage on the outside receivers is good enough to slow down the USC passing attack, then the home squad can get back on the winning track.
If it’s not enough, look out for South Carolina to get a convincing win in Tiger Stadium. While winning in Baton Rouge is a tall feat for any team, I truly think that Spurrier and Co. can win this one with just 14 points thanks to its own stellar defense.
If anyone is going to take down Alabama in the SEC this year, it’s going to be South Carolina if the two meet in Atlanta.
ESPN will televise this one to a national audience at 7 p.m. CT.
Call it now: South Carolina 20, LSU 10
• Auburn at Ole Miss (Auburn, Ala., 11:21 a.m. CT, SEC Network)
In just 18 games, Gene Chizik has managed to take the Auburn Tigers from the top of the college football world as national champions to the bottom of the SEC. Over that span, AU has notched a 9-9 record approaching this weekend’s homecoming contest in Oxford, Miss.
Ole Miss has shown massive improvement under first-year head coach Hugh Freeze. The Rebels’ morale may have taken a bit of a hit, however, after last weekend’s gut-wrenching loss to Texas A&M. Despite forcing six turnovers and having a 10-point lead with 6 minutes to play, the Aggies were still able to earn a top-25 ranking and a 30-27 victory in their first SEC road game.
It’s been two years since UM has won a conference game. Auburn is a better team, but Ole Miss has shown much more cohesiveness thus far in 2012. This game could feature more quarterbacks than touchdowns as both coaches have promised to look at different signal callers if the offenses keep struggling.
Look for Hotty Toddy to ring loud and deep into the night in the Magnolia State when the final gun sounds Saturday afternoon.
Call it now: Ole Miss 16, Auburn 9
• No. 1 Alabama at Missouri (Columbia, Mo., 2:30 p.m. CT, CBS)
Coming off a bye week, the biggest question for Alabama is if the Tide can keep up the momentum it had built in the first five weeks of the year. Missouri just lost to Vanderbilt ... at home.
Is this really must-see TV for Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson, Tracy Wolfson and the rest of the CBS crew?
Call it now: Alabama 34, Missouri 10
• No. 4 Florida at Vanderbilt (Nashville, Tenn., 5 p.m. CT, ESPNU)
If you haven’t checked out Muschamp’s post-game celebratory antics from last weekend’s signature triumph over LSU, you’re missing out. My buddy Jon Rubin at GatorVision did a great job compiling the outspoken Muschamp’s energetic displays.
As possibly the biggest understatement I have written for The City Wire, this was by far the signature win for Muschamp’s young head coaching career. Getting a victory over a top-five team, no matter how you get it, is a great way to really put juice into your program and show your bosses that you do know what you’re doing.
Vandy had a big win of its own last weekend, going into the newest outpost in SEC country and taking down Missouri. James Franklin’s team had been a little quiet for a couple of weeks, so this was a good rebound as the schedule begins to lighten up the next couple of weeks against Auburn and Ole Miss.
However, Franklin and Co. have to get by the orange-hot Gators first – something they won’t be able to do.
Call it now: Florida 31, Vanderbilt 13
• Kentucky at Arkansas (Fayetteville, Ark., 6 p.m. CT, FSN)
As I said in the column’s opener, last week was huge for John L. Smith’s squad. Getting a win on the road at Auburn, no matter how much AU is struggling, was a much-needed breath of fresh air for the UA program – something that hasn’t really been plentiful since April 1.
Now comes Kentucky, a team that is no stranger to struggling. While getting a big win was a definite step in the right direction, Arkansas is still susceptible to a let-down – no matter how bad the opponent is. UK is potentially fighting for Joker Phillips’ job, but it won’t be enough this week on The Hill.
Call it now: Arkansas 38, Kentucky 21
• Tennessee at No. 19 Mississippi State (Starkville, Miss., 8 p.m. CT, ESPN2)
This could be one of the league’s most entertaining contests Saturday.
State has shown a penchant for playing to the level of its competition all year. That kind of effort could get the Bulldogs beat this weekend against a scrappy Tennessee squad.
I’m really interested to watch the matchup of Tyler Bray and Cordarelle Patterson against Jonathan Banks in the secondary. Banks is well on his way to being a first-round draft pick in this spring’s National Football League Draft, and he continues to wreak havoc for opposing quarterbacks in the meantime.
Establishing the run will be key for UT’s chances to escape the land of the cowbells with a victory. Dan Mullen has done an SEC Coach of the Year-worthy job so far this year (although it’s hard to argue with how well Kevin Sumlin has done at Texas A&M). I never thought I’d write those words.
Call it now: Mississippi State 35, Tennessee 21
• No. 22 Texas A&M at No. 23 Louisiana Tech (Shreveport, La., 8:15 p.m. CT, ESPN2)
In a game that was postponed thanks to Hurricane Isaac during college football’s opening week, the now-ranked Texas A&M Aggies will ride a four-game winning streak into Shreveport, La., to take on fellow top-25 foe Louisiana Tech.
It’s been one of those kinds of years in college football.
If the Bulldogs can pull off the win over the Aggies, it’s not hard to fathom La. Tech going undefeated. Sonny Dykes has been doing a great job in Ruston leading the LT program. It’d be nice to see a great guy like him making it to a big-time program at the end of the year.
The Aggies overcame six turnovers and a double-digit deficit late in the fourth quarter to eek out a 30-27 victory over Ole Miss last week. Sumlin and Co. have found a jewel in Johnny Football, a shoe-in for SEC Freshman of the Year. Look for another big week with more huge numbers (and a fifth-straight win) from the freshman signal caller for A&M.
Call it now: Texas A&M 41, Louisiana Tech 38
OVERALL RUSHING PICKS
Last week: 3-3