Alabama is already penciled into everyone’s College Football Playoff. Georgia is already penciled into everyone’s SEC Championship Game.
And then there’s Auburn.
The 10th-ranked Tigers are trying to prove there are more than two elite teams in the SEC, and toward that end they’ve laid some nice groundwork with three straight blowout victories. Now the hard work begins, and we get to find out how much of a contender Auburn really is, beginning with a three-game road swing opening Saturday in Death Valley.
Despite that early-season loss at No. 2 Clemson, Auburn is very much in position to wedge its way into the playoff conversation, thanks to a remaining schedule that features home games against No. 4 Georgia and the top-ranked Crimson Tide. But first comes this three-game road trip, bookended by challenging games at LSU and Texas A&M, with Arkansas in between.
It all starts Saturday in Baton Rouge, where Auburn tries to take its first step toward the nation’s elite. On to the predictions, with all kickoffs in Eastern time.
No. 10 Auburn at LSU: Auburn’s offense proves too much for LSU
LSU took some heat off coach Ed Orgeron last weekend with a needed victory at Florida, but the toll of the physical game was evident. Running back Derrius Guice remains beat up, and the offensive line figures to be without a handful of starters. Even under ideal circumstances, this isn’t an LSU offense built to keep up with the likes of Auburn, which is hitting on all cylinders. The opponent is better than what Auburn’s faced the last three weeks, but the result will be the same.
Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS
Line: Auburn by 7
Prediction: Auburn 38, LSU 24
BYU at Mississippi State: Nick Fitzgerald gets Bulldogs back on track
Turns out, that drilling LSU took in Starkville back on Sept. 16 only served as advanced notice of Tigers troubles to come. One-time media darling Mississippi State took a needed week off after being beaten by Georgia and Auburn by a total score of 80-13, and now hosts a BYU team that’s lost five straight. Watch for quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to get that Bulldogs offense back on track, and set the stage for an interesting contender-or-pretender matchup against Kentucky next week.
Kickoff: Saturday, noon, SEC Network
Line: Mississippi State by 24
Prediction: Mississippi State 38, BYU 17
South Carolina at Tennessee: Gamecocks bring Butch Jones era to an end
Taking South Carolina seems a little too on-the-nose here, but there’s so much dysfunction surrounding Tennessee right now that there’s no other real choice. There’s been a fight in practice, a subsequent suspension, and a player who liked a tweet knocking his coach. Oh, and the Vols will start a redshirt freshman quarterback as well. Fresh off their best defensive performance in years, the Gamecocks effectively bring the Butch Jones era in Knoxville to an end.
Kickoff: Saturday, noon, ESPN
Line: Tennessee by 3½
Prediction: South Carolina 27, Tennessee 20
Vanderbilt at Ole Miss: Staggered Commodores right the ship
Both teams got off to promising starts. Both teams have been sufficiently humbled since. Somebody has to win, right? Despite getting hammered by Alabama and Georgia and fading in the second half at Florida in between, the Commodores have the more balanced offense as long as they don’t forget tailback Ralph Webb is around (which they seem to have done in the Swamp). Ole Miss, coming off back-to-back losses at Alabama and Auburn by a total of 110-26, is playing for pride. The Commodores are trying to make a bowl game, and need to regroup after staggering through the toughest stretch on their schedule.
Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., SEC Network
Line: Ole Miss by 3½
Prediction: Vanderbilt 31, Ole Miss 30
Texas A&M at Florida: Gators can’t keep up with Aggies’ balanced attack
Speculation about coach Kevin Sumlin’s job status has eclipsed the fact that Texas A&M has made steady improvement the last three weeks, evident in the best game anyone’s given Alabama since last season’s national title contest. Freshman quarterback Kellen Mond has developed into a nice complement to Texas A&M’s ground attack, and the Aggies offer a balanced offense that the suspension- and injury-riddled Gators shouldn’t be able to match.
Kickoff: Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Line: Florida by 2½
Prediction: Texas A&M 34, Florida 27
Arkansas at No. 1 Alabama: Crimson Tide turns up tension in Fayetteville
You thought it was testy in Fayetteville after Arkansas was hammered last weekend at South Carolina? Wait until Alabama gets finished with the Hogs. The Crimson Tide looked downright human in spots last week, giving up touchdowns and committing a turnover in a close victory at Texas A&M. But this is in Tuscaloosa, against what may end up as the worst team in the SEC West. Amateur accountants across the Natural State will begin crunching the numbers on coach Bret Bielema’s buyout after Arkansas’ 11th straight loss to the Tide.
Kickoff: Saturday, 7:15 p.m., ESPN
Line: Alabama by 30
Prediction: Alabama 56, Arkansas 31
Missouri at No. 4 Georgia: No upset chance for Tigers this time
Missouri went on the road last week and gave historically underperforming Kentucky all it could handle in a 40-34 loss. A Tigers team that would finish 4-8 came within 1:31 of stunning Georgia in CoMo last season. Apologies, Mizzou, but there’s no chance of an upset this time around, not between the hedges in what could be the most lopsided game the Tigers play all season. And that’s saying something.
Kickoff: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
Line: Georgia by 30½
Prediction: Georgia 52, Missouri 24