Who’s ready for a few FCS tuneups?
For most SEC teams, Week 12 offers a chance to rest up and get healthier before Rivalry Week. That usually involves laying a good beatdown on some hapless school like Austin Peay.
For the programs, this unpopular practice makes plenty of sense. For the fans, it is b-o-r-i-n-g. And with so many of these games clustered together on Saturday, we’re left with only a small handful of matchups that should be competitive.
So we’re tweaking the usual format for this Friday predictions column and focusing on games that offer at least some sense of intrigue. Here we go:
(All kickoff times ET)
No. 23 Florida at No. 16 LSU: Upset alert
The ex-Purdue QB bowl got the nod as my upset pick of the week, mostly because of how little upset potential exists in the SEC. But at least one possible universe exists where the Gators win this one. Danny Etling is a thoroughly beatable quarterback, and Florida’s secondary has a real chance to make him pay dearly for any mistake.
UF also has an SEC East title on the line. If Jim McElwain’s injury-depleted front seven can somehow step up against the tough LSU O-line, the Gators have a shot to squeak past the Tigers in a low-scoring slugfest. Special teams play and a respectable game out of Jordan Scarlett will go a long way in making that happen, as well.
Kickoff: 1 p.m., SEC Network
Line: LSU -14.5
Prediction: Florida 14, LSU 10
Missouri at No. 19 Tennessee: Vols sleepwalk through the first half … again
Trying to figure out what you’ll get out of Tennessee each week is like playing roulette. The Good Vols beat talented teams by double-digits. The Bad Vols fall behind early and lose to teams like South Carolina. Missouri is probably the worst team in the SEC, so UT won’t lose this one. But the Tigers do put up plenty of points, and by peppering the field with short, quick passes, Drew Lock can help neutralize the effects of stud pass rusher Derek Barnett.
Another factor to consider is Tennessee’s turnover tendencies (23 on the season). Missouri is tied for the SEC lead in interceptions with 13, and forcing one early could put the Vols in an early hole. But, as has become the norm, Josh Dobbs and the offense will wake up in the second half and dispatch a lousy Tigers defense.
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., CBS
Line: Tennessee -16
Prediction: Tennessee 38, Missouri 26
Chattanooga at No. 1 Alabama: Nick Saban pulls his starters in the second quarter
This game deserves recognition solely because the Crimson Tide are the SEC’s last hope. Chattanooga (8-2) isn’t a bad SoCon team, either — and Saban rightfully pointed this out many times during his Thursday night radio show. The only real point of interest will be how Alabama manages its starters. Conventional logic would assume that the first-stringers get plenty of rest in this game.
Nick Saban might be old-school, but he’s also shown the uncanny ability to adapt to any situation. In this case, Alabama has very little to gain on Saturday and much more to lose by way of injuries. If the Tide return to the national title game, that’ll be game No. 15 of the season for them, and that’s to say nothing of upcoming games against Auburn and one of Florida/Tennessee. Saban will want his guys to rest while he can.
Kickoff: 7 p.m., ESPN2
Prediction: Alabama 45, Chattanooga 3
Arkansas at Mississippi State: Nick Fitzgerald has his best game yet
The Hogs are now 0-4 when they allow 200-plus yards rushing, and 6-0 when they don’t. Injuries have taken their toll on Bret Bielema’s front this year, particularly the loss of linebacker Dre Greenlaw, which certainly didn’t help Arkansas in the drubbing LSU dished out last Saturday.
Mississippi State has quietly had one of the better rushing attacks in the country, and Fitzgerald has been an overwhelming part of that production. The sophomore actually ranks fourth nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks with 854 yards to go with 8 touchdowns. And lest we forget, Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight had a field day against the Razorbacks.
The Bulldogs are slim favorites in what should be a high-scoring affair and should outlast Austin Allen in Starkville.
Kickoff: 7 p.m., ESPNU
Line: Mississippi State -1.5
Prediction: Mississippi State 35, Arkansas 31
Ole Miss at Vanderbilt: Shea leads another fourth-quarter comeback
On paper, the Rebels should win this one easily, but their defense has kept too many games closer than expected. Despite a pretty good game in College Station, in which Ole Miss held the Aggies to 129 yards rushing, Ralph Webb (at least if he’s healthy) can hit that defensive front where it hurts.
Vanderbilt plays disciplined football (+5 turnover margin) and sound defense. It also bears reminding that Shea Patterson got off to a pretty slow start in his college debut. But the 5-star freshman and his wideouts are simply too talented for the Commodores to contain for four quarters. Watch out for another dramatic finish in Nashville from the young gunslinger.
READ MORE: Film Study: Analyzing Shea Patterson’s debut
Kickoff: 8 p.m., SEC Network
Line: Ole Miss -9.5
Prediction: Ole Miss 23, Vanderbilt 20