Consider Saturday the calm before the storm.
Week 9 is pretty quiet in terms of appealing matchups. Outside of Florida-Georgia and Auburn-Ole Miss, we have a pair of not-so-sexy SEC East contests (Tennessee-South Carolina, Kentucky-Missouri) and cupcake games for Texas A&M and Mississippi State.
But don’t fret: The action will get amped up a few notches soon enough. The giant Alabama-LSU clash waits in Week 10, Texas A&M hosts Ole Miss in Week 11, Florida and LSU finally play in Week 12 and then before you know it, boom, there’s Rivalry Week.
For now, though, we’ll dissect the six-pack of SEC games on tap this weekend and give you some cold, bold SEC football predictions to go along with each:
(All kickoff times ET)
Kentucky at Missouri: Upset alert
The Wildcats have won four of their last five games, and are running the ball to great effect with Benjamin Snell and Stanley Williams, while Missouri gave up 311 yards rushing in a homecoming loss to Middle Tennessee State. Yeah, UK is by far the easiest upset pick of the week. Look for Snell to follow up his 128-yard rushing performance last week with another big game. Missouri QB Drew Lock and the Josh Heupel spread offense will keep things close in another shootout, but Kentucky has the edge in just about every area other than quarterback.
Kickoff: Noon, SEC Network
Line: Missouri -5.5
Prediction: Kentucky 45, Missouri 42
No. 14 Florida “at” Georgia: Gators pitch a shutout
Take out the second half of the Tennessee loss, when the Vols scored 35 unanswered, and UF has only allowed 37 points in 22 quarters this season. That’s less than two points per quarter! The Gators also rank second nationally in yards allowed per play (4.13) and first nationally in red-zone defense. Georgia’s offense? Well, it’s been a slow-growing process under new coordinator Jim Chaney and freshman quarterback Jacob Eason. Against South Carolina in Week 7, the Bulldogs managed just 29 passing yards, and Florida’s oppressive secondary (Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson, Marcus Maye) is about five times better. Georgia’s receivers won’t have any space to work with on Saturday, and UF will simply stack the box and stuff UGA’s inconsistent ground game in a low-scoring affair. Florida, by the way, has won three of the last four times it was favored to beat Georgia by more than a touchdown.
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., CBS (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Line: Florida -7.5
Prediction: Florida 17, Georgia 0
It doesn't matter where you're from or where you grew up.
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) October 27, 2016
Samford at Mississippi State: Closer than you think
At first glance, this game would seem like an easy chance for MSU to get back on its feet after losing three straight to Auburn, BYU and Kentucky. But Samford is 6-1 this season, with its only loss coming to a pretty good FCS squad in Chattanooga, and the team’s biggest strength (the passing game) is also Mississippi State’s greatest weakness. Samford is averaging 363 yards passing per game, and quarterback Devlin Hodges has completed 71 percent of his throws for 24 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Dan Mullen’s defense has been pretty porous this season, allowing 15 passing TDs and a 41 percent third-down conversion rate, and the group has tended to commit bad mental mistakes (read penalties) at inopportune times. MSU is among the most-penalized teams in the SEC, and it’s already blown a game against a weaker foe in the season opener vs. South Alabama. Watch out.
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., SEC Network
Prediction: Mississippi State 40, Samford 28
No. 15 Auburn at Ole Miss: Three Tigers break 100 yards rushing
Whether it’s now-healthy Kerryon Johnson, Kamryn Pettway, Kam Martin or somebody else, the Tigers will continue racking up rushing yards with tremendous ease against Ole Miss, which just got embarrassed by LSU and Leonard Fournette. The Rebels continue to be one of the nation’s worst at defending the run, allowing 200-plus yards in five of their last six games, and Auburn just gouged Arkansas for 543 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground. Those are NCAA Football 14 numbers, people. It’ll be more of the same in Oxford this week.
Kickoff: 7:15 p.m., SEC Network
Line: Auburn -4.5
Prediction: Auburn 37, Ole Miss 24
No. 18 Tennessee at South Carolina: Jake Bentley comes crashing back down to earth
Bentley, the Gamecocks’ other freshman quarterback, looked pretty good during his Saturday debut against UMass. I wrote as much, and believe he’ll be an important piece of this team in the coming years. But Tennessee is several steps ahead of South Carolina right now, and its defense is leagues better than UMass, a team that allows almost 460 yards per game. Even as beat up as the Vols are, this offensive line (18 sacks allowed in seven games) isn’t equipped to handle Derek Barnett or his fellow UT pass rushers. Bentley will struggle, the offense will stall and this one won’t be close.
Kickoff: 7:15 p.m., ESPN2
Line: Tennessee -13.5
Prediction: Tennessee 33, South Carolina 14
New Mexico State at No. 9 Texas A&M: Starters get a breather by the halftime
This prediction isn’t bold, because there’s nothing bold about 2-5 New Mexico State. The lesser-known Sun Belt Aggies have one of college football’s worst defenses. In Week 3, Kentucky put up 692 total yards and 62 points. Two weeks ago, Idaho dropped 651 total yards and 55 points. NMSU can’t stop the run, the pass; heck, they’re even bad at stopping return men, allowing 3 return touchdowns, plus more than 16 yards per punt return and 28 yards per kickoff return. Christian Kirk will probably break off a big one, and the other playmakers who get the ball will also have big days. This’ll be little more than a chance for A&M to catch its breath after the Alabama loss.
Kickoff: 7:15 p.m., ESPNU
Line: Texas A&M -43.5
Prediction: Texas A&M 58, New Mexico State 20