In the words of Bruce Buffer, IT. IS. TIME!!!
That's right, SEC fans. After weekends of watching Southeastern Conference teams beat the snot out of Sun Belt opponents (well, except for Kentucky and Arkansas), they finally dig in to each other.
This weekend features two of the top ten "must-see" games of the year and the "Whose season is more epically screwed?" bowl (more on that in a few).
The first of our match-ups features the surging Florida Gators against the defending conference champs, LSU Tigers. While Will Muschamp's Gators had a bye last week, Les Miles and LSU were getting all they could handle from the mighty Tigers of Towson University. With LSU heading to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, could this be the week the king finally gets knocked off his perch? (Cue Coldplay's "Viva la vida").
In the nightcap, Georgia heads across the border to take on their rivals, South Carolina. Both teams took care of business last week, the Gamecocks, after a first half scare, dominated in Lexington, the Bulldogs in a shootout against Tennessee at home. Both teams like to put up points: Georgia has totaled 40 points in every game this season, South Carolina has scored more than 30 in every game except one (vs. Vanderbilt... but both the Commodores and Gamecocks are vastly different teams now). Will the Gamecocks take the step toward their first SEC East title since 2010?
But, to start the whole day off, Arkansas and Auburn continue their seasons they wish to forget. I've already wasted too many words on both of these teams in previous installments. Whatever. It's the race to two wins! On to the rankings:
Last Week's predictions: 6-0
1. Florida (Previous Rank: 1)
I hope Florida has enjoyed the run until now, because its going to end. I know, I know. They've looked great so far this season and LSU has looked... shaky. However, this game, unlike the new trend, will rest with defense. Despite all the laurels (me included), the Gators' defense has been giving up almost 19 first downs a game, LSU only 12. That will make all the difference as LSU will take the air out of the ball and turn this in to a possession and field goal barrage. Prediction: LSU 19, Florida 13
2. Georgia (2)
Speaking of things that are about to change, so long, Bulldogs. Again, we know how awesome their offense has been (250.4 rushing yards per game), but they haven't face a defense quite as stout (77.6 rushing yards allowed per game) as the Gamecocks (excluding South Carolina's first half against Kentucky last week). Additionally, Georgia has gone 0-9 over the last two years against ranked teams (they haven't beaten an SEC foe that finished the season ranked since 2008). If anyone can pull this out, it would be Mark "Hot seat?!? What hot seat? We dancin'!" Richt, but I think this may be too tall a task. Prediction: South Carolina 34, Georgia 24
3. South Carolina (3)
Seriously, South Carolina. What in the world happened last week in the first half? Kentucky, who isn't in the top 100 in points per game, was starting its third new quarterback in as many games (not to mention quarterback Jalen Whitlow is a freshmen who made his first start). I hope that was just a case of looking ahead to the Georgia game and not the precursor to a classic Steve Spurrier choke job. In that defense and Connor Shaw I trust. Prediction: South Carolina 34, Georgia 24
4. Tennessee (4)
There is no shame in losing a high scoring game to the Bulldogs, but the road doesn't get any easier. The Volunteers have a bye on Saturday to rest up before heading to Starksville. Tennessee better use the time wisely, Alabama and South Carolina, respectively, lay ahead in the approaching weeks. Victories will be as scarce as Lane Kiffin fans in the Volunteer State. Prediction: N/A (BYE).
5. Missouri (5)
Another week, another shaky performance by the Tigers. Central Florida isn't exactly among the elite in it's own conference (I see you, Tulsa). Maybe Missouri is destined for mediocrity. They have a chance to pick up some momentum this week against the SEC East's other disappointment, Vanderbilt, before a crushing duo of Auburn and Florida (with Kentucky wedged in between). Prediction: Missouri 24, Vanderbilt 20
6. Kentucky (7)
Way to come out swinging, Wildcats. Now, if only you could keep that up for 60 minutes (part of me thinks Kentucky was confused and thought it was a basketball game as their effort held up for about 40 minutes). This weekend's game against Mississippi State could be your opportunity to trap yet another opponent. Speaking of Kentucky, did anyone know that former Kentucky great, Jared Lorenzen, is the commissioner of the Ultimate Indoor Football League? What? Prediction: Mississippi State 30, Kentucky 10
7. Vanderbilt (6)
The Commodores are behind Kentucky. That's right, Kentucky. Vanderbilt is not in the top 100 in points per game and their defense gives up almost 20 first downs a game. Quarterback Jordan Rodgers averages 8.2 yards per attempt. Though, their schedule has been all bad luck (save for their game against FCS Presbyterian) all three of their losses have come against ranked teams. The fourth, however, will not. Prediction: Missouri 24, Vanderbilt 20
1. Alabama (Previous Rank: 1)
Alabama is giving up the fewest points per game in the nation. Ole Miss raised that ledger a touch, but were out of the game by halftime. Enough can't be said about the defense, but hats off to A.J. McCarron. 12 touchdown passes versus zero interceptions. Surely not a mark that will last the entire season, but definitely noteworthy at the quarter-season mark. The Tide get a week off before they head to Columbia, Missouri. Prediction: N/A (BYE)
2. Mississippi State (2)
Tune-up against the Wildcats before a semi-test against Tennessee (both the Volunteer and Middle State versions), before Alabama. The Bulldogs cannot afford to get ahead of themselves, but, c'mon, who thought this team could/should be 7-0 heading into a showdown against Alabama? Looking over the schedule again (Troy, Jackson State, South Alabama...), it was definitely possible. However, this is Mississippi State, the Charlie Brown of the SEC, doesn't something always come along to ruin this for them? Maybe this is their year. Prediction: Mississippi State 30, Kentucky 10
3. LSU (3)
Like the great philosopher of our time, Rick Flair, always says: "To be the man, you gotta beat the man". No matter how vulnerable LSU looks, they are still the champion (and should be favored) until they lose. Could that loss happen this weekend? Yes. In fact, based on the Tigers' schedule, Florida has the best chance to knock them off (I realize that the Crimson Tide is the defending National Champion, but this is about the SEC... LSU wears that belt). Again. Not going to happen. Nothing against Muschamp, but Les Miles has earned it. Prediction: LSU 19, Florida 13
4. Texas A&M (5)
Thank you for learning your lesson, Aggies. That was one, stupendous beat-down of the Razorbacks in Arlington (If it weren't for Geno Smith, everyone would have been raving about Johnny Manziel's game... 453 passing yards, 104 rushing yards, 4 total touchdowns). With three wins in a row, momentum is on their side for what should be five in a row when LSU comes a-callin' on the 20th. First things first, however, Ole Miss on Saturday. Prediction: Texas A&M 44, Ole Miss 23
5. Ole Miss (6)
Way to hang tough, Rebels. Taking a lead over the Crimson Tide in the second quarter is something to hang your hat on, something to build off of for next year. Though, the recognition that they can play with anyone is key for an Ole Miss program which has seen better times than the rain cloud that was the Houston Nutt era. Hugh Freeze has them pointed in the right direction, they just won't get there this year. Prediction: Texas A&M 44, Ole Miss 23
6. Auburn (4)
The crazy (or sad or awesome... I guess it depends on your viewpoint) thing for Auburn is that, despite their poor start, they are very much in the hunt for a bowl this season. There are five games left on their schedule that they should be favored in (Arkansas, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, New Mexico State, and FCS-Alabama A&M) and, thanks to a new amendment, a win against Alabama A&M will go towards bowl eligibility. Under the new rule, they could even drop one of those other games (Ole Miss, I'm looking at you) and still get in at 5-7 (Texas A&M, Georgia, and Alabama are the other games. So, yes, they will definitely be 6-6 at best). The BBVA Compass Bowl Selection Committee awaits these next few weeks with deep anticipation. Prediction: Auburn 25, Arkansas 20
7. Arkansas (7)
I guess it could be worse for the BBVA Compass Bowl Selection Committee. Imagine having to sell a 7-5 Connecticut vs. 5-7 Arkansas game... Safe to say no one is having any fun in Fayettesville. The game this weekend will end when John L. Smith goes for two points too early and deflates what little effort is left in his team. Prediction: Auburn 25, Arkansas 20
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