We’re back to a full slate of SEC games in Week 10, with all 14 teams in action on Saturday, headlined by a top-15 matchup between Alabama and LSU.
While much of the nation’s eyes will be fixated on Death Valley, however, a number of other conference contenders will have to stay vigilant versus foes perceived as “weak.” Auburn and Texas A&M are double-digit favorites, but as we saw last week with Tennessee losing and Louisville’s scare at Virginia, the unpredictable can strike at any time.
We’ll look at those games and much more in this Friday’s set of bold predictions:
(All kickoff times ET)
No. 4 Texas A&M at Mississippi State: The game that sparks the ‘fire Dan Mullen’ talk
Let’s get this out of the way first: Should MSU fire its longtime coach? Absolutely not. Mullen has brought an unprecedented wave of football success to Starkville. But the Bulldogs have been miserable this season, particularly on defense. First-year coordinator Peter Sirmon’s unit has allowed 182 points over the last five games (36.4 PPG), including 41 points at home against Samford. The issue isn’t talent — it’s effort. Missed tackles, defenders pursuing the ball-carrier with no real haste … it’s an ugly look when senior safety Kivon Coman tells The Clarion-Ledger’s Michael Bonner that he hasn’t seen Mississippi State make mistakes like this “in years.” The problems are easier to overlook after a win — those have been pretty scarce this season — but against Texas A&M, a team that averages 38.4 points per game, there’ll be no hiding it. Fans will get angry, and you’ll see a few letters like this.
Kickoff: noon, SEC Network
Line: Texas A&M -13
Prediction: Texas A&M 45, Mississippi State 27
Vanderbilt at No. 9 Auburn: Kamryn Pettway emerges as a Heisman sleeper
Last year, Derrick Henry’s Heisman campaign didn’t really pick up until Nov. 7, when he ran for 210 yards and three touchdowns against LSU while his Tigers counterpart, Leonard Fournette, did little. His numbers entering that game: 1,044 yards rushing in eight contests.
Kamryn Pettway has 933 yards rushing through seven games, including last week’s 236-yard performance against Ole Miss. If Auburn can keep its surge rolling through November and give Alabama a game in the Iron Bowl, he could at least be in the running to make the cut as a finalist. As far as Saturday goes, Vanderbilt’s defense has been incredibly hit-or-miss. The Commdores shut down Georgia and Florida on the ground, but they’ve also given up 200-plus rushing yards to Georgia Tech, Kentucky and Western Kentucky. The way Auburn is playing right now, I suspect Pettway will have another big game on The Plains.
Kickoff: noon, ESPN
Line: Auburn -26
Prediction: Auburn 44, Vanderbilt 10
Georgia Southern at Ole Miss: Not the Sun Belt team you once knew
You might know Georgia Southern as the former FCS powerhouse that went 18-7 in its first two seasons at the FBS level. While that’s true, the Eagles’ success in 2014-15 came under Willie Fritz, who has since taken the head coaching gig at Tulane. New coach Tyson Summers, whose background is on the defensive end of things, has kept the triple-option offense in place, but it hasn’t worked nearly as well in 2016. The Eagles have scored 26 points or fewer six times this season. Much of that can be attributed to youth at key positions: GSU is starting two sophomores and a freshman on the offensive line, and recently turned the unit over to freshman quarterback Seth Shuman (13 of 35, zero touchdowns and three interceptions in two games). Ole Miss has lost competitive games to some good teams, but Georgia Southern isn’t one. The Rebels will take this one easily.
Kickoff: noon, ESPNU
Line: Ole Miss -27.5
Prediction: Ole Miss 43, Georgia Southern 17
No. 11 Florida at Arkansas: Austin Allen exposes Gators defense after Auburn embarrassment
This might seem like the closest game of the week on paper, and given how Arkansas’ offensive line has struggled this season, siding with an underrated Florida team is the safer choice. But these are bold predictions, dang it, so I’ll go out on a limb and say the Hogs have a chance to win comfortably thanks to their star quarterback, who is expected to play this game. Despite shoddy pass protection, Austin Allen has been a playmaker, combining for 771 yards and five touchdowns against playoff contenders Alabama and Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide and Aggies combined for eight sacks against Arkansas. Florida’s defense has been excellent, but it’s also hardly been tested. The only somewhat capable quarterback the Gators have faced — Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs — threw for 319 yards and four touchdowns against them in Week 4. Allen is a much better passer, and can help Arkansas pick up a statement win at home.
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., CBS
Line: Florida -4.5
Prediction: Arkansas 27, Florida 24
Missouri at South Carolina: More Mizzou misery
Barry Odom’s defense is still out of sorts, most recently allowing 582 total yards against Kentucky, making that its fourth straight game of giving up 500-plus yards. South Carolina seems to have found its quarterback in freshman Jake Bentley, who has a 70 percent completion rate and four touchdowns to zero interceptions, and fellow frosh Rico Dowdle is coming off his best game of the season (27 carries, 127 yards against Tennessee). Behind the efforts of Jamarcus King — reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Week — and linebacker T.J. Holloman, the Gamecocks pass defense has been underrated this season. And as underrated as Will Muschamp’s defense has been, Missouri quarterback Drew Lock has been just as inconsistent. The sophomore has gaudy numbers against bad teams, and little to show against better competition. Expect a couple of picks for South Carolina, which has 10 interceptions in 2016.
Kickoff: 4 p.m., SEC Network
Line: South Carolina -7
Prediction: South Carolina 31, Missouri 20
Tennessee Tech at Tennessee: John Kelly makes us forget all about Jalen Hurd
Boy, is this a well-timed cupcake game for the Vols. After losing to South Carolina and seeing starting tailback Jalen Hurd transfer out midseason, they need to regroup — especially on offense. Hurd was a productive player — last year’s 1,288-yard total is nothing to scoff at — but he’d been pretty disappointing in 2016, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and only crossing the 100-yard mark once. Kelly, a sophomore, looked great in limited action against Texas A&M and South Carolina, and seems to be drawing outstanding reviews in Knoxville. Expect Tennessee to give him plenty of reps as the home team cruises to an easy victory.
READ MORE: John Kelly ready to run with his opportunity
Kickoff: 4 p.m., SEC Network
Prediction: Tennessee 42, Tennessee Tech 13
Georgia at Kentucky: Upset alert
For some reason, Vegas keeps favoring some of the SEC’s worst teams over the Wildcats. I explain here why Georgia is not a good football team, and why Kentucky — with five wins in its last six games and an outside shot at capturing the division — has what it takes to earn another close victory in Commonwealth Stadium.
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
Line: Georgia -2.5
Prediction: Kentucky 28, Georgia 23
No. 1 Alabama at No. 13 LSU: Less than 100 yards for Leonard Fournette
Tigers fans seem to think their team has a shot at pulling off the upset Saturday night, which is cute. There are a couple of problems with that theory. First, while LSU’s offense has looked better lately, the “improvement” has come against some awful defenses in Southern Miss, Missouri and Ole Miss. The Golden Eagles allowed 532 total yards to UTSA on Oct. 8, while Mizzou and the Rebels rank 117th and 116th in total defense, respectively. Secondly, LSU’s offense has still largely depended on its rushing attack, and Alabama is once again the nation’s best team at stopping the run (70.1 yards allowed per game). The top-ranked Crimson Tide kept Fournette bottled up last year, and the same thing’ll happen in Death Valley this weekend. I’d bet all my money on that. Sorry to rain on your parade, LSU fans!
Kickoff: 8 p.m., CBS
Line: Alabama -7.5
Prediction: Alabama 30, LSU 22
— LSU Football Video (@LSUFBVideo) November 3, 2016