Get ready for the grand finale.
Week 13 is full of juicy nonconference matchups to feast your eyes upon, beginning with LSU at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving Day. The fledgling “Battle-Line” rivalry between Arkansas and Missouri is set for Friday. Saturday will feature the Iron Bowl, the Egg Bowl and a quartet of SEC-ACC rivalry matchups.
The SEC is on the road against a ranked ACC squad in three of those games, so the odds aren’t in the conference’s favor. But if there’s one thing we know about Rivalry Week, it’s to always expect the unpredictable.
Buckle up, because this one should be great. Enjoy these predictions while you enjoy your Thanksgiving.
(All kickoff times ET)
LSU at Texas A&M: Ed Orgeron earns job elsewhere with convincing College Station win
At this point, it seems unlikely Orgeron sticks around in Baton Rouge; all reports indicate Joe Alleva is hot after his man-crush, Jimbo Fisher. But the fiery Cajun coach has done a good enough job at LSU and Southern California to warrant another crack at a head coaching gig. An impressive Thanksgiving win at Texas A&M would seal it. Derrius Guice should start and put up nice numbers against an Aggies defense that’s allowed at least 28 yards rushing in three of its last six games, and the LSU defense will easily contain Jake Hubenak.
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., ESPN (Thursday)
Line: LSU -5
Prediction: LSU 26, Texas A&M 14
Arkansas at Missouri: Another Hogs RB sets career high
Rawleigh Williams III rushed for a career-high 205 yards and 4 touchdowns against Mississippi State last week. He only needed a few carries to cross the century mark. This Saturday, it’s freshman tailback Devwah Whaley’s turn to put up some big numbers. He got 19 carries in the Mississippi State game and should continue to see plenty of work. Originally, I thought this game could be a shootout, but then a Missouri linebacker went and said some dumb things. Missouri issued an apology for the comments of linebacker Eric Beisel, who said “Ar-Kansas” would be making a mistake if it showed up for Friday’s game. But it’s too late for that. The Hogs will whip the Tigers on their home turf Friday. Whaley will rumble for over 135 yards against a team allowing 240 per game.
READ MORE: Hey, Missouri guy, you’re 3-8, chill out
Kickoff: 2:30 p.m., CBS (Friday)
Line: Arkansas -9.5
Prediction: Arkansas 38, Missouri 24
Kentucky at No. 11 Louisville: No, the Heisman race really is over
In the wake of Louisville’s collapse at Houston, some have posited that Lamar Jackson is no longer the Heisman lock he was two weeks ago. 1) That’s preposterous. Anyone who saw that game knows the Cardinals offense line gave its quarterback zero help. 2) It won’t matter, because — sorry Kentucky fans — Jackson will run all over Kentucky this weekend. The Wildcats defense starts a slew of sophomores. The group as a whole hasn’t had the easiest time with dual-threat quarterbacks this season. Josh Dobbs alone accounted for 370 total yards and 5 touchdowns in Kentucky’s loss two weeks ago. Jackson will squash whatever doubts exist with a big game.
Kickoff: Noon, ESPN
Line: Louisville -25.5
Prediction: Louisville 45, Kentucky 24
Georgia Tech at Georgia: Defensive frustration keeps it close
Georgia fans have grown accustomed to beating their in-state rival every season. But this year’s matchup spells trouble because it pits a first-year coach and a young front seven against the triple-option, the bane of defenders everywhere. The guys up front absolutely have to play with discipline, especially early on in the game, or else the game enters dangerous territory. Credit Kirby Smart for getting his team to play a much, much better brand of football in recent weeks; the wins at Kentucky and against Auburn were quality. But too many times we’ve seen Georgia play down to its competition this year. What the Yellow Jackets lack in talent, they make up for with that tough scheme.
Kickoff: Noon, SEC Network
Line: Georgia -4
Prediction: Georgia 23, Georgia Tech 20
No. 13 Auburn at No. 1 Alabama: Not one of those exciting Iron Bowls
You could argue this is the best rivalry in the country right now. Auburn played in two title games, winning one, since 2010. Alabama won four titles since 2009 and is on track for its fifth under Nick Saban. Since 2002, 10 Iron Bowls have been decided by 10 points or fewer, including the legendary Kick-Six game and Auburn’s 1-point win in 2010. But this won’t be one of those years where Auburn really plays a competitive game. Without even factoring in the Tigers’ uncertain quarterback situation — Sean White will probably play, but is he truly healthy? — LSU, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Georgia have all held the offense to fewer than 24 points this season. Alabama might not score much, but the Tide defense certainly can shut their rivals down.
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., CBS
Line: Alabama -17
Prediction: Alabama 30, Auburn 13
Mississippi State at Ole Miss: Upset alert
With a bowl game potentially on the line for both schools — Mississippi State can still earn a spot at 5-7 — this should be a fun, energetic shootout for the Golden Egg. Both defenses have been abysmal this season. The Bulldogs maintain a slight edge in that department, mainly because of pass rushers Jonathan Calvin (5 sacks, 9 TFLs) and AJ Jefferson (4 sacks, 10.5 TFLs). Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald keeps getting better with experience, and Ole Miss winning the last two Egg Bowls should provide a little extra motivation. The underdogs should have this.
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., SEC Network
Line: Ole Miss -7.5
Prediction: Mississippi State 40, Ole Miss 34
South Carolina at No. 4 Clemson: Coach Boom punches something… and Gamecocks cover
Will Muschamp’s always-lit fire can be really amusing. Earlier this week, the South Carolina coach had this to say about Thanksgiving:
“We’ve got practice (Thursday) morning,” Muschamp said. “We’ll be in here early. It’s awesome. Thanksgiving is a meal. It’s not a day. We’re going to have a great meal and then we’re going to watch a little tape, then maybe watch a little more tape. We’ll get our walk-through cards ready for Friday, so it’s going to be awesome.”
That sounds like guy who really, really wants to upset Clemson on Saturday. Could it happen? The Tigers have had six of their games decided by a touchdown or less — they’re 5-1 in those games, by the way — and don’t always dominate teams that they should. Deshaun Watson was far from perfect against Troy (50 percent completion, 2 INTs), Auburn (56 percent completion) and Pittsburgh (3 INTs). South Carolina already has an upset of Tennessee in the bag. Josh Dobbs suffered one of his worst performances in that game. Don’t expect a blowout.
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., ESPN
Line: Clemson -23.5
Prediction: Clemson 34, South Carolina 24
No. 17 Tennessee at Vanderbilt: Vols forced to vacate Life Championship
When coach Butch Jones referred to his team as “champions of life” this week when asked about not winning the SEC East, it drew some funny responses on the Internet. But maybe the best point was made by my colleague Jesse Simonton, who notes that the Vols rank 13th in the SEC in graduation success rate (this number includes transfers). Vanderbilt, on the other hand, is second-best among conference teams in that category. Maybe the Commodores are more deserving of this so-called “life championship” after all. Saturday’s game will essentially be a battle for this fake title, along with in-state pride, and it could be closer than some think. Vanderbilt, now destined for a bowl game at 5-7 thanks to stellar APR scores, comes off its best game of the season — a 38-17 upset win against Ole Miss. Meanwhile, Tennessee continues to sleep-walk through the first half of games. The Vols entered halftime leading Missouri 21-20 before Josh Dobbs ran rampant the rest of the way. The Commodores have a stingier defense and home-field advantage here. Watch out.
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
Line: Tennessee -7.5
Prediction: Tennessee 31, Vanderbilt 28
No. 15 Florida at No. 14 Florida State: Gators forget how to offense once again
Lost in that shocking win against LSU: Florida picked up 36 percent of its total offensive yards on one play — the 98-yard touchdown pass from Austin Appleby to Tyrie Cleveland. It’s easy to pick on the Seminoles and their possible SEC-bound coach, but their defense still does one thing very well. Florida State leads the nation with 41 sacks, highlighted by senior Demarcus Walker’s 13-sack season. The Gators offensive line is much better at protecting the quarterback this year. But here’s a stat that should unsettle Florida: None of its other opponents have totaled higher than 26 sacks this year (LSU, T-40th, FBS). The best pass-rusher it faced, Derek Barnett, still managed 2 sacks and 3 TFLs. The improvements of Jordan Scarlett have been big for the Gators, but teams are also averaging just 3.3 yards per carry in Tallahassee. Florida State will keep its in-state rival quiet in a low-scoring bout.
READ MORE: 8 Florida starters could be out at FSU
Kickoff: 8 p.m., ABC
Line: Florida State -6.5
Prediction: Florida State 20, Florida 13