They have a national championship history, one of the premier game-day atmospheres in college football, and a fan base with perennially high expectations. But there’s something else Georgia has become known for: under performing.
And so much of that goes back to an annual game in Jacksonville, Fla., otherwise known as the place where Bulldogs dreams go to die. How many promising Georgia seasons have been derailed by a loss to rival Florida? How many potential trips to the SEC Championship Game have been scuttled by defeats in the stadium once called the Gator Bowl? Too many to count.
Blame the Jedi mind trick Florida has seemed to have over its neighbor to the north. The Gators have won three straight in the series that resumes Saturday by the banks of the St. John’s River, and have gone 14-5 against the Bulldogs since 1998. Admittedly, some of those Georgia teams weren’t very good. But some of them were, and a handful appeared ticketed for bigger things, until that Jacksonville hex raised its head once again.
So no wonder there are worries this week among Georgia fans, with the Bulldogs undefeated, ranked No. 3 nationally, and apparently headed for a clash with No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. There’s a whole lot to lose, against a Florida team that’s kind of a mess on and off the field. Everybody remembers 2014, when a wreck of a Gators team under Will Muschamp — who would be fired two weeks later — hammered No. 9 Georgia 38-20, helping Missouri get to Atlanta.
This Georgia team has seemed different all season. This is the week the Bulldogs prove it. On to the predictions, with all kickoffs in Eastern time.
No. 3 Georgia vs Florida: Unbeaten Bulldogs buck recent Florida history
Despite the dismaying historical trends in this game from a Georgia perspective, the Bulldogs are 11-2-1 against Florida when entering the matchup without a loss. The Gators, meanwhile, are looking at taking a sub-.500 record into November, and are dogged by questions of what coach Jim McElwain meant this week when he referenced death threats to him and his family. As mentioned above, this sets up as the kind of game Florida has had a knack for winning in the past. But it’s hard to look at this Georgia team, winners of its last 5 by an average of more than 30 points, and see a similar upset this time around.
Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS
Line: Georgia by 14
Prediction: Georgia 38, Florida 21
Arkansas at Ole Miss: Hogs pull mild upset to end 3-game skid
Reality has to be settling in at Ole Miss. Quarterback Shea Patterson, the SEC’s leading passer, has been lost for the season with a knee injury. Last week’s showdown against LSU, the biggest game of the year in Oxford, turned into a letdown. The hangover will be evident for the Rebels and their fans, both of which may find it difficult to rebound for an 11 a.m. local kickoff against a struggling opponent. Arkansas’ running backs are good enough to exploit one of the worst rush defenses in the league, and coach Bret Bielema buys a little time by snapping the Hogs’ three-game losing streak.
Kickoff: Saturday, noon, SEC Network
Line: Ole Miss by 3½
Prediction: Arkansas 24, Ole Miss 17
Vanderbilt at South Carolina: Gamecocks clinch bowl eligibility
In all parts of the Palmetto State this week, the anxiety over this game was evident on sports-talk radio. South Carolina fans remember too well getting manhandled by Kentucky, and with a week off, they’re concerned Vanderbilt will rediscover its defensive mojo in time to drop a surprise on the Gamecocks in Columbia. But South Carolina was off last week, too, and the Gamecocks showed play-calling imagination in the second half at Tennessee. And it’s the home team’s defense that will dictate this outcome and punch South Carolina’s ticket to a second straight bowl bid.
READ MORE: Gamecocks get healthy over open week
Kickoff: Saturday, 4 p.m., SEC Network
Line: South Carolina by 7
Prediction: South Carolina 27, Vanderbilt 21
Missouri at Connecticut: Tigers pour it on another non-SEC opponent
Any way they can move this game to the SEC Alternate to the Alternate to the Alternate Channel? Because let’s be honest — watching this moribund Missouri program try to act like Alabama against weak non-conference opponents is starting to get old. We can guess what will happen: Quarterback Drew Lock will throw for a gazillion yards and 15 touchdowns, and the Tigers will put up 90 points. We saw it against Missouri State, we saw it against Idaho, we’ll see it once more Saturday. And then Mizzou will go back into SEC play and look like its old self again.
Kickoff: Saturday, 6:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Line: Missouri by 13
Prediction: Missouri 59, Connecticut 28
Mississippi State at Texas A&M: Defense makes the difference for Bulldogs
For all the focus on quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, it’s getting difficult to ignore what the Bulldogs are doing on the other side of the ball. Mississippi State has held its last two opponents to 17 points total, and tackle Jeffery Simmons has shaken his checkered past to emerge as a star on that defensive line. This matchup figures to be a tight one, given how near identical the Aggies and Bulldogs are statistically, with one notable exception — defense, where Mississippi State allows an average of 8 fewer points and 100 fewer yards per game. At Kyle Field, that defense should make the difference.
Kickoff: Saturday, 7:15 p.m., ESPN
Line: Mississippi State by 1½
Prediction: Mississippi State 27, Texas A&M 24
Tennessee at Kentucky: Wildcats rebound from mess at Mississippi State
OK, Kentucky. We need to talk. Our friends over at Upset Alert stuck their necks out for you last week, and the result was a 45-7 no-show at Mississippi State. Now we hear there’s bickering and complaining among players over social media. Need we remind you that you’re 5-2? With a disaster of a Tennessee program making its way to the Bluegrass State, without its best player? We’re going to stick with you again this week, Kentucky, but we need you to pull it together. You want to be seen as a program about to take the next step? Act like it.
Kickoff: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
Line: Kentucky by 3½
Prediction: Kentucky 38, Tennessee 20