SEC Predictions, Week 3: Tennessee-Florida, LSU-Mississippi State and several nonconference clashes with Power 5 teams
Tennessee may have snapped its ugly losing streak vs. Florida last season, but the Volunteers still have another monkey to shake off: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, aka “The Swamp.” UT has not won in Gainesville since 2003, and its attempt to do so leads the Week 3 SEC docket.
Along with Matt Stewart, I covered most of the action on Bud Light’s Predictions Among Friends, which you can view here. This post is a more in-depth look at Week 3.
Let’s get the less-dramatic stuff out of the way first.
- Texas A&M is a trainwreck right now. The Aggies could barely slip past FCS Nicholls State, 24-14, last weekend after blowing a 34-point lead to UCLA in Week 1. Louisiana (formerly Louisiana-Lafayette) has averaged 45 points in its first two contests, and figures to make life stressful for the 12th Man in College Station, but the Ags will pull out a “W” in the end. The pick: Texas A&M.
- Auburn isn’t in good shape, either. The Tigers offense managed just 6 points against No. 2 Clemson last weekend as Jarrett Stidham was sacked 11 times. FCS school Mercer should be a cure-all — at least temporarily — for the ailing SEC West power. The pick: Auburn.
- The only drama when Colorado State visits Alabama this weekend is whether the Crimson Tide will beat the spread (minus-28.5 as of Wednesday night). Nick Saban’s teams have a history of going easy vs. inferior nonconference opponents — on the scoreboard, at least — but CSU’s chances of actually winning are virtually zero. The pick: Alabama.
- FCS Samford is headed to Athens to face Georgia. Seeing as the home ‘Dawgs are coming off a nailbiting win at No. 24 Notre Dame and the away ‘Dawgs are coming off a nailbiting win vs. West Alabama, I think we can call this one in Uga’s favor. The pick: Georgia.
Now, the matchups that deserve a little more attention …
No. 23 Tennessee at No. 24 Florida
Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Besides a six-game home winning streak vs. Tennessee, there’s not a lot to like about the Gators’ chances against the Vols. Coach Jim McElwain still hasn’t reinstated a large group of suspended players that includes running back Jordan Scarlett and wideout Antonio Callaway. The offense was so dysfunctional against Michigan that coordinator Doug Nussmeier is moving from the field to the press box this week. Hurricane Irma forced the Gators to cancel their Week 2 game vs. Northern Colorado, meaning they’re a little rusty. And speaking of the storm: More than 60 players’ families were affected, so football probably is not the first thing on their minds right now (nor should it be).
In defense of UF: Tennessee is still iffy in the passing game and on defense. The Vols’ two best preseason receivers are out, and quarterback Quinten Dormady has not earned much confidence from the UT faithful through two games. On the defensive side, the Vols gave up a boatload of yards and points to Georgia Tech’s triple option in Week 1. They’re also coached by Butch Jones, whose teams are predictably unpredictable.
Still, Florida has way too many issues — both on and off the field — to deal with at the moment. The pick: Tennessee.
No. 12 LSU at Mississippi State
Saturday at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
If ever there were a chance for Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to throw his hat into the Heisman race, it’s this weekend vs. LSU. The junior put up Tebow-esque numbers for a middling team last season (21 passing touchdowns, 16 rushing touchdowns) and already has eight combined scores through a pair of September games. A big day against the Tigers would not only vault MSU into the Top 25 but thrust Fitzgerald near the top of any Heisman ballot.
This is the fantasy Bulldogs fans are viusalizing, but I don’t have the gumption to call this game in MSU’s favor. Louisiana State has been a machine in its first two games, outscoring BYU and Chattanooga 72-10. And the Tigers have a much more likely Heisman candidate than Fitzgerald on their squad: running back Derrius Guice, who figures to shred a defense that allowed 461 yards per game last season.
Mississippi State hasn’t beaten LSU in Starkvegas since ’99, and that won’t change Saturday. The pick: LSU.
No. 18 Kansas State at Vanderbilt
Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
You looked away for a couple weeks, and now Vanderbilt is a passing juggernaut. Commodores quarterback Kyle Shurmur — the same Kyle Shurmur who turned in a career-worst performance in the Independence Bowl — leads the nation in ESPN’s Total QBR, a stat that essentially answers, “Who is the best-performing quarterback in the country?”
Shurmur has completed 76.1 percent of his passes for 498 yards, 7 touchdowns and no interceptions against Middle Tennessee and Alabama A&M. Those opponents were questionable in strength, but Vandy’s passing passing offense never puts up those numbers. Shurmur has been the focal point of a high-flying offense that also features some running back named Ralph Webb.
Bill Snyder is bringing the No. 18-ranked Kansas State Wildcats to town this week, and it somehow might be the easiest game Vandy will play until November (the upcoming ‘Dores schedule is hellish, including Alabama on Sept. 23). With Kansas State, you know what you’re going to get: a dual-threat quarterback (Jesse Ertz) who muscles a scrappy offense to the end zone a few times per game, and an airtight defense — by Big 12 standards, anyway — that forces you to dink and dunk your way to paydirt.
These are two pretty evenly matched squads, but is Vandy’s early success a mirage? I feel like one of these teams is much more of a “sure thing.” The pick: Kansas State.
Kentucky at South Carolina
Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
South Carolina’s 2-0 start has been one of the nicest surprises of September. The Gamecocks haven’t done anything exceptionally well — except make sure Deebo Samuel gets the football — but they’ve earned high-scoring wins against Power 5 opponents away from home and suddenly look like SEC East contenders.
Kentucky is also 2-0, and the Wildcats have been similarly humdrum in their victories. Vengeance against Southern Miss and a scare against EKU don’t have many fans dreaming of Atlanta, but an upset win in Columbia will. The Wildcats’ primary goal will be to feed running back Bennie Snell (39 carries vs. EKU) and win the line of scrimmage. We’ll see how USC responds; both North Carolina State and Missouri primarily worked through the air against the Gamecocks.
It’s tough to see how Kentucky will slow Samuel, an early SEC Player of the Year favorite who has dominated on offense and on special teams. In a projected low-scoring game, it figures that he will make the big plays that change the course of the contest, much as he did in USC’s first two wins. The pick: South Carolina.
Purdue at Missouri
Saturday at 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Commence the fireworks. Purdue and Missouri have combined for 2,140 yards through the first two weeks, and figure to light up each others’ defenses at Faurot Field.
No one was surprised by Mizzou’s offensive beatdown of Missouri State in Week 1, but they also should not have been surprised by a disappointing Week 2 loss to South Carolina. That’s the way it has gone for the Tigers with Drew Lock at quarterback; inconsistency is a major issue.
Meanwhile, Mizzou’s defense has been so atrocious since last autumn that coach Barry Odom canned defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross earlier this week. It basically was a public relations move for Odom, a defensive coach who’s been calling most of the shots on “D” for a while now. This unit earned “dumpster fire” status against Missouri State, then broke down in the second half of the South Carolina game.
Enter Purdue, which hung with high-powered Louisville in Week 1 and dazzled against Ohio last weekend. Per Rivals.com, the Boilermakers have outplayed the spread by 38.5 points in their first two games. Jeff Brohm’s team has been especially effective in the red zone, where quarterbacks David Blough and Elijah Sindelar have completed 9 of 12 passes for 5 touchdowns.
The 7.5-point underdog should fare well against a Missouri team that still can’t get the little things right. The pick: Purdue.
Ole Miss at Cal
Saturday at 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
There are off-field distractions, and then there’s “our head coach was in an NCAA hearing for two days this week.” Ole Miss boss Matt Luke was forced to attend the Rebels’ long-awaited meeting with the Committee of Infractions (it ended Tuesday). Now, he needs to ensure his team is not only prepared for its next opponent, but prepared for a cross-country trip and 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff.
While Cal is nothing special, it can score in bunches, as it did in a 35-30 Week 1 win at North Carolina. The Golden Bears have a strong stable of receivers — including former 5-star Alabama commit Demetris Robertson — and a decent quarterback in Ross Bowers, who made his first career start vs. UNC. There are obvious issues on defense, though; Cal surrendered 20 first-half points to Weber State last week. Ole Miss should be able to exploit that weakness with its high-powered passing “O.”
But neither of these teams defends well, which tells me we’re headed for another exciting episode of “Pac-12 After Dark.” Let’s call it a double-overtime thriller. The pick: Cal.
How do you see the games playing out this weekend? Let us know in the comments section below.