I know what you’re thinking: This week is going to be a dud. The slate certainly lacks intrigue, with SEC West leaders Alabama and Auburn both taking on weaklings. But there are still SEC predictions to be made, and — yes, seriously — reasons to watch.
Among them: A rocket-armed quarterback trying to match the conference passing touchdown record, a budding star who’s averaged nearly 400 yards passing over his first three starts, and a program that’s beginning a new era after bidding adieu to its embattled coach.
Along with Hans Heiserer, I broke down those matchups and the rest of the Week 12 schedule on Bud Light’s Predictions Among Friends, which you can view here. This post is an in-depth look at this coming weekend.
First, let’s get the small-time stuff out of the way:
- The last time Alabama lost to an FCS team was … well, it’s never happened. Hell, the last time ‘Bama lost a regular-season game to any non-SEC team was 10 years ago (long live Kinsmon Lancaster). Collect your paycheck, Mercer, and skedaddle. The pick: Alabama.
- Auburn needs to stay on its toes against UL-Monroe. The Warhawks aren’t special, per se, but they’ve played all nine of their opponents close. Win or lose, the point margin has never strayed past 18 points, and five of their games have been decided by one score. Last week, Monroe upset Appalachian State with a huge day from quarterback Caleb Evans, who accounted for 400-plus yards and 5 touchdowns. Point being, Auburn won’t get the same cakewalk as ‘Bama this Saturday. The pick: Auburn.
- South Carolina welcomes Wofford, the No. 7-ranked team in the FCS, to Columbia this weekend. Despite the high ranking, the Terriers aren’t exactly a juggernaut; they opened the season with a pair of 1-point wins and needed overtime to beat Chattanooga two weeks ago. If the Gamecocks defense plays up to its normal level, there won’t be much drama here. The pick: South Carolina.
- How low can Florida go? A home loss against UAB isn’t rock bottom, but it’s not too far above it. The Dragons are playing excellent football, having won five of six, with the only loss coming by 1 point in overtime. Bill Clark’s team will take advantage of its opportunity to kick the Gators while they’re down. The pick: UAB.
Kentucky at No. 7 Georgia
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Was that a semblance of defense we saw from Kentucky last week? The Wildcats picked off Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur four times (he’d only thrown three interceptions all season) and held the Commodores to 60 rushing yards in an impressive 44-21 victory.
Meanwhile, Georgia played its worst game of the season and is at risk of not being able to refocus with a rivalry game vs. Georgia Tech on Nov. 25 and a spot in the SEC Championship Game already locked up. The ‘Dawgs, of course, can still win a national title. Their poor performance against Auburn was likely an anomaly, but no conference games are “easy” at this juncture of the season.
Expect the Bulldogs offense to get back on track, but not without a good first-half fight from the Wildcats. The pick: Georgia.
No. 16 Mississippi State at Arkansas
Saturday, Noon ET (CBS)
There’s nothing like a close loss to Alabama to give a team confidence. Mississippi State played an excellent game against the mighty Crimson Tide on Saturday, and figures to run all over an Arkansas team that has not allowed fewer than 33 points since a win over New Mexico on Sept. 30.
Bret Bielema’s squad looks dead in the water. Even the return of quarterback Austin Allen failed to stir up much change (he’s assured another start because backup Cole Kelley was arrested on a DWI charge following the Hogs’ game last Saturday). Look for the Bulldogs to continue rolling on their quest for 10 wins. The pick: Mississippi State.
No. 20 LSU at Tennessee
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
As outlined by our own Alex Hickey this week, LSU running back Derrius Guice is about to pass Bo Jackson in the SEC record book. The mark? Career yards per carry. Jackson averaged 6.62 during his career at Auburn. Guice is averaging 6.91 and needs just two carries against Tennessee to reach 400 on his career and become eligible for the record.
Any way you slice it, Guice appears to be in for a big day. Tennessee has been slaughtered on the ground this season, and gave up more than 400 rushing yards to Missouri — a pass-happy team — last Saturday.
But, there’s a major change in Knoxville this week. Butch Jones is out, and Brady Hoke is in as interim coach. It’s anyone’s guess how the Vols will respond, but I think they will put forth a surprisingly strong performance. Freshman quarterback Will McBride took a pounding in his first start, but he made several impressive plays that indicated he can move the offense if his line, you know, blocks somebody.
Louisiana State doesn’t have a consistent enough offense to make it a “lock” here. There’s juuuuuust enough room for some Rocky Top magic in Game 1 A.B. The pick: Tennessee.
Texas A&M at Ole Miss
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
If you haven’t gotten a chance to watch Jordan Ta’amu throw the football yet, this is your opportunity. The Hawaii native and former JUCO star has thrown for nearly 1,200 yards in his first three starts for Ole Miss, and has unquestionably created a quarterback controversy for a Rebels team that’s anticipating Shea Patterson’s return in 2018.
There’s a pretty good player on the other sideline, too. Nick Starkel has taken Kellen Mond’s spot in the Aggies starting lineup and is tearing it up. Against Auburn and New Mexico, he averaged exactly 300 passing yards and 3 touchdowns, and figures to do some damage against the Rebels’ soft defense.
With both offenses rolling (and neither defense providing much resistance as of late), the scoreboard should light up in Oxford. Count on Ta’amu and the Rebs to have the final say. The pick: Ole Miss.
Missouri at Vanderbilt
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Both of these teams are battling for bowl eligibility, and both quarterbacks are on the brink of historic seasons. Missouri’s Drew Lock has 35 passing touchdowns, which is three behind the school record (Chase Daniel) and five behind the conference record (Kentucky’s Andre Woodson). Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur has 21 of his own, which is tied with Jay Cutler for second-best in Vanderbilt history. He needs one more to match Whit Taylor.
The touchdowns should come fast and furious on Saturday night (for at least one team, anyway); Mizzou is 10th in the country with more than 501 yards per game and 15th with nearly 39 points per game. The Vanderbilt defense is 76th and 91st in those categories, and has allowed at least 34 points against every SEC opponent. The pick: Missouri.
How do you see the games playing out this weekend? Let us know in the comments section below.