At one school, the athletic director has been fired. At another, reports have surfaced that the administration has reached out to another high-profile coach. For Bret Bielema at Arkansas and Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, the signs couldn’t be any clearer.
If we didn’t know it before, we certainly know it now: These guys are in trouble.
Arkansas this week fired athletic director Jeff Long, who not only hired Bielema but signed him to a contract that includes a substantial buyout. USA Today has reported that Texas A&M is making overtures to Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Both teams still have two games remaining, but it appears decisions have already been made.
None of that makes game-week preparation any easier. Arkansas hosts No. 17 Mississippi State, which is fresh off pushing No. 1 Alabama to the brink, and with a victory can likely eliminate the Hogs from bowl contention. Texas A&M travels to Ole Miss, which has been much more competitive than expected in this scandal-plagued season, and with a victory would secure at least a break-even campaign that no one really saw coming.
Translation: For two coaches fighting for their jobs, it doesn’t get any easier. And at this point, the results may not matter at all. On to the predictions, with kickoffs in Eastern time:
No. 17 Mississippi State at Arkansas: Bulldogs guarantee Hogs a losing season
SEC Country writer Eric Bolin makes a good point: The Long firing actually complicates things with Bielema, given that the school will most likely give the new AD the courtesy of making decisions about the football program. That threatens to put Arkansas behind in the hiring cycle, and gets in the way of the new early signing day. On the field, things should be far less murky. Mississippi State last weekend looked every bit like a program close to taking the next step, and could well have a coaching problem of its own if Dan Mullen gets hired by someone else. Of course, that means things are heading in the right direction. The same can’t be said of the Hogs, whose final two games hardly look as winnable as they once did, even though both are at home.
Kickoff: Saturday, noon, CBS
Line: Mississippi State by 12½
Prediction: Mississippi State 35, Arkansas 20
Texas A&M at Ole Miss: Aggies survive in a shootout
Meanwhile, Sumlin and Texas A&M may be one loss from falling short of the eight-win plateau that’s been seen as the minimum for this program. Nick Starkel’s return to the starting quarterback role last week certainly revved up the offense, but that was against New Mexico. Ole Miss will be playing an emotional home finale with a potential winning season at stake, behind a backup quarterback who’s thrown for 368, 382 and 418 yards since Shea Patterson went down. The Aggies are unquestionably a more potent offensive team with Starkel behind center, and should have just enough to prevail in what shapes up as a shootout.
Kickoff: Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Line: Ole Miss by 2½
Prediction: Texas A&M 42, Ole Miss 38
Mercer at No. 1 Alabama: Tide try to heal up before Iron Bowl
Alabama certainly looked vulnerable in last week’s narrow escape in Starkville, and the national conversation has turned to how beatable the Crimson Tide might be. A recent ESPN column detailed the growing list of injuries that have plagued the Alabama defense, evident in the number of rush yards it’s allowed the last two weeks. Some of those guys, such as linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton, aren’t coming back. But coach Nick Saban has hinted that linebackers Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis might, and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick remains a day-to-day consideration. They have one week to rest everyone in a laugher against Mercer, before the battered Crimson Tide find themselves in the crosshairs yet again.
Kickoff: Saturday, noon, SEC Network
Prediction: Alabama 59, Mercer 6
Louisiana-Monroe at No. 6 Auburn: Warhawks cover spread
Remember when Auburn had problems on offense? We don’t either. The Tigers have rebounded from that sluggish start and are averaging more than 37 points per game, capped by a 40-17 thrashing of Georgia last weekend that thrust Auburn back onto the fringes of College Football Playoff consideration. This is a mere tune-up for the Iron Bowl against a Louisiana-Monroe team that’s not having a great season. But the Warhawks can score themselves, putting up 30 or more in all but two games this season, and that massive Vegas line of 37 just seems too big for a game in which the Tigers are almost certain to rest their starters in the second half.
Kickoff: Saturday, noon, ESPN2
Line: Auburn by 37
Prediction: Auburn 52, Louisiana-Monroe 17
Kentucky at No. 7 Georgia: Bulldogs rebound in big way
One year ago, Georgia needed a field goal from bespectacled wonder Rodrigo Blankenship as time expired to escape Kentucky, 27-24. It won’t be as close this time. The SEC East is so top-heavy that the Bulldogs are three-touchdown favorites over an opponent playing to secure second place in the division. The Wildcats will settle for third after Georgia takes out all its frustration over last week’s loss at Auburn and beats Kentucky for an eighth straight time. The Wildcats have played better on the road than at home this season, and Benny Snell has emerged as a game-changing running back, but their timing here — Georgia’s home finale on the heels of a loss — couldn’t be worse.
Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS
Line: Georgia by 21½
Prediction: Georgia 38, Kentucky 21
Alabama-Birmingham at Florida: Blazers pull shocker in Swamp
On top of injuries, suspensions, and a struggle for motivation for the moribund Gators, add this: a terrible matchup against a good team with zero name recognition but an offense that can put up tons of points. UAB hasn’t played a difficult schedule, but it has a sensational freshman running back in Spencer Brown, and the Blazers are bowl eligible in their first season since being temporarily shut down in 2014. One team comes in confident, and averaging 32 points per game. The other is talent-depleted, offensively challenged, and ready for the season to be over. If there’s an upset to be had on a weekend of mostly mismatches, this is it.
Kickoff: Saturday, 4 p.m., SEC Network
Line: Florida by 10½
Prediction: UAB 28, Florida 24
Wofford at South Carolina: Terriers make a game of it, for a half
The last time Wofford and its option offense came to Williams-Brice Stadium, one of Steve Spurrier’s best teams found itself in a 7-7 dogfight heading to the fourth quarter. These Terriers are 9-1, ranked seventh in the FCS, and bound for the playoffs. The Gamecocks have long had issues putting away FCS opponents, as last season’s game against Western Carolina would attest, not to mention The Citadel upsets in 1990 and 2015. Disciplined Wofford won’t be intimidated by the environment, and will stick around until quarterback Jake Bentley and South Carolina pull away in the second half.
READ MORE: Gamecocks add Charlotte to 2022 schedule
Kickoff: Saturday, 4 p.m., SEC Network Alternate
Prediction: South Carolina 38, Wofford 17
No. 21 LSU at Tennessee: Brady Hoke’s changes not enough for Vols
Butch Jones is gone, his new-agey, power of positive thinking gibberish failing to resonate with Tennessee fans or translate to results on the field. In steps interim coach Brady Hoke, who doesn’t have much time to try to fix the problems that have sunk the Vols to 0-6 in the SEC. He’s making the natural changes interim coaches make, like tweaking practice procedures and assistant coach responsibilities, but those things can only go so far. It promises to be a cold, blustery night in Knoxville, perfect for the kind of ball-control offense LSU will run behind Derrius Guice. The good news: Someone will have to win when oh-fer in conference Tennessee and Vandy meet next week.
Kickoff: Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN
Line: LSU by 16
Prediction: LSU 31, Tennessee 14
Missouri at Vanderbilt: Tigers win again to become bowl eligible
Break up Mizzou! After a first half to the season in which coach Barry Odom looked completely out of his depth, the Tigers have exploited a pillow-soft schedule to win four straight and get to .500. No stopping now — next up is a Vanderbilt team that has completely lost its way, despite a roster that’s too good to be winless in SEC play. Commodores coach Derek Mason isn’t talked about as being on the hot seat, but this season’s collapse has to raise some questions in the West End. Quarterback Drew Lock and the Tigers will roll up yards against a Vandy defense allowing more than 400 per game, and the turnaround will be complete. Enjoy Shreveport, boys!
Kickoff: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
Line: Missouri by 9½
Prediction: Missouri 42, Vanderbilt 30