Bold Predictions, Week 11: Vandy breaks through in SEC play, leaving Kentucky exposed again
We tried, Kentucky.
We were all in against Florida. We were all in against Mississippi State. We were all in against Ole Miss.
We bought into the record, bought into that defense and running game, bought into Stephen Johnson’s versatility at quarterback. We looked at the depth chart and statistics and liked what we saw. We believed that coach Mark Stoops was really turning around football fortunes in the Bluegrass.
And now we’re out, Kentucky.
Hey, the staff here at Bold Predictions can be stubborn (especially Bob in accounting), but we’ve finally come to our senses: The Wildcats are a mediocre football team hiding behind a decent record. Every game they’ve won, with the exception of a beatdown at South Carolina that continues to defy explanation, they could just as well have lost. Even worse, the reaction to some of those losses screams that this is a program not ready for prime time.
The rank immaturity that some members of the Kentucky team showed after the loss at Mississippi State, which exposed what had been a 5-1 football team for what it really was, should have been a sign. Now we have Stoops getting cranky, and the coach’s weekly call-in show getting contentious again. Wildcats fans have seen this movie enough times to know how it ends.
Maybe they turn it around. Maybe the Kentucky team that physically dominated South Carolina shows up again this weekend at Vanderbilt, which is favored Saturday even though it has yet to win an SEC game. Or maybe the Wildcats lose for the third time in four weeks, effectively cede second in the East to the Gamecocks, and face the prospect of trying to recover at Georgia, currently the No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff poll.
A few weeks ago we would have pushed all our chips to the middle of the table and wagered that Kentucky would figure things out in Nashville. Now? We’re finally thinking clearly, and we see the Wildcats for what they are: a sucker’s bet.
Kentucky at Vanderbilt: Commodores earn first SEC victory
They may not yet have an SEC victory to show for it, but the Commodores are coming off their best back-to-back games this season: a strong offensive effort in a loss at South Carolina, and a convincing triumph over a Western Kentucky team that won in Nashville two years ago. The Wildcats enter having lost two of three, the most recent setback coming at home to Ole Miss, and things are getting tense again in Lexington. Vanderbilt’s defense continues to struggle, but that offense is finally clicking entering the first of three very winnable conference games to close the regular season.
Kickoff: Saturday, 4 p.m., SEC Network
Line: Vanderbilt by 3
Prediction: Vanderbilt 34, Kentucky 31
Arkansas at LSU: Tigers rush their way to Golden Boot
Remember when the Golden Boot game was played on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and both teams were nationally relevant? Those were the days. Now we have an Arkansas team whose coach appears in even further jeopardy after a near disaster last week against Coastal Carolina. We have an LSU team that nobody knows what to make of, despite a somewhat competitive game at No. 1 Alabama. The only sure thing: LSU exploits a bad Razorbacks rushing defense to add to the misery of its rival, even with the Hogs being cagey about their starting quarterback.
Kickoff: Saturday, noon, ESPN
Line: LSU by 17
Prediction: LSU 34, Arkansas 17
Louisiana-Lafayette at Ole Miss: Rebels battle back to .500
Is interim coach Matt Luke in the running for the full-time job at Ole Miss? Assuming he’s not tainted by any NCAA violations, maybe he should be, given all he’s squeezed out of a Rebels football team most gave up on before the season. Coming off a crushing loss in which they squandered a huge lead, with their star quarterback out for the season, the Rebels showed a lot of grit last week winning at Kentucky. They can’t go to a bowl game, but they can get back to .500, which they should do in convincing fashion against U-La-La.
Kickoff: Saturday, noon, SEC Network
Line: Ole Miss by 20
Prediction: Ole Miss 52, Louisiana-Lafayette 21
Florida at South Carolina: Will Muschamp adds to former team’s struggles
It’s hard to have much faith in the Gators anymore after they laid down last weekend at Missouri. Florida’s quarterback situation appears a bigger mess than it’s ever been, if such a thing is even possible. Now they travel to South Carolina, which will effectively be going for an eight-win season given an FCS opponent awaits next week. Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp always says the right things about his time at Florida, and by all accounts maintains good relationships with the people there. But that doesn’t mean he won’t relish beating them.
Kickoff: Saturday, noon, CBS
Line: South Carolina by 5½
Prediction: South Carolina 34, Florida 24
No. 2 Georgia at No. 10 Auburn: Tigers end Bulldogs’ undefeated season
Georgia has done everything right to this point, and its perch atop the College Football Playoff poll proves it. But this weekend brings the most hostile environment the Bulldogs and young quarterback Jake Fromm will face this season. The Tigers present the type of strong rushing attack and stout defense capable of beating Georgia at its own game. And then there’s Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who will surely learn from the successes South Carolina’s Jake Bentley and Missouri’s Drew Lock had in losses to the Bulldogs earlier this season.
Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS
Line: Georgia by 2½
Prediction: Auburn 27, Georgia 24
No. 1 Alabama at No. 18 Mississippi State: Tide roll past another ranked foe
Remember the last two times Mississippi State faced highly ranked opponents? Sure you do, because Georgia and Auburn hammered the Bulldogs by a combined score of 80-13. Have things changed since in Starkville? Despite three convincing victories in October, it’s hard to believe so. Coach Dan Mullen has done a really nice job with this team, and Davis Wade Stadium will be in a cowbell-clanging frenzy for the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25. But there appears to be a clear ceiling for this Bulldogs squad, and it lies somewhere below Alabama, which should dispatch its second ranked opponent in as many weekends. Mississippi State has come a long way, but in terms of catching the Tide, there’s still a ways to go.
Kickoff: Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN
Line: Alabama by 14
Prediction: Alabama 38, Mississippi State 28
New Mexico at Texas A&M: No margin for error in Aggies’ closing stretch
The good news: New Mexico, at 3-6 and loser of four straight, shouldn’t present much of a problem for the home team. The bad news: That likely won’t change sentiment in College Station, especially if the Lobos go all Nicholls State and stick around until the fourth quarter. But there’s a real opportunity for Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin to relieve some of that pressure, and it begins with the first of three winnable games to close the regular season. That would get Texas A&M to eight victories, which seems to be the Mendoza line for this program. Could Sumlin’s future hinge on a bowl victory? Regardless, the margin for error looks thin.
Kickoff: Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU
Line: Texas A&M by 17½
Prediction: Texas A&M 44, New Mexico 10
Tennessee at Missouri: Back-to-back SEC victories for Mizzou
Well now, look who won a conference game! And judging from the Twitter replies here at Bold Predictions, the Missouri faithful are feeling awfully good about themselves after rolling a Florida team that played like it’s ready for the season to be over. Well, guess what: Make it another one! Another mess of a program shuffles its way to CoMo, and quarterback Drew Lock should light up the scoreboard once again. With an easy remaining schedule (Vandy and Arkansas to close), the Tigers are surely thinking bowl eligibility. Congrats, you’re buying yourself more years under Barry Odom, but with Lock in the NFL.
Kickoff: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
Line: Missouri by 12
Prediction: Missouri 41, Tennessee 20