Time flies when you’re having fun, which I suppose explains how it is that the Southeastern Conference regular season has just two weekends left before it’s finished. Here’s a look at all the action in the league this weekend, followed by a prediction on each.
Commodores in an unusual position as Vols come to town
For about as long as I’ve been alive, the script for this game has been the same: one team has clinched a bowl game and needs to win this game to angle for a better bowl game, while the other is fighting mostly for respect. Of course, Tennessee has always been the team that’s riding high coming in, with Vandy hoping to give the Vols a good game and perhaps pull a shocker, though the Commodores have managed to do that just once (2005) since 1983.
Instead, I feel like I must have taken a ride in Marty McFly’s bizarro-world time machine to another date and maybe crossed over into another universe at the same time – because Vanderbilt has already clinched a bowl game and is 4-3 in the SEC, while Tennessee (0-6 in the SEC) has to win tomorrow and beat Kentucky just to get bowl-eligible. Las Vegas seems to confirm that this isn’t some sort of strange dream, as the Commodores are 3 ½-point favorites.
I think Vegas is right. I’ve watched Tennessee all year, and it’s shocking at just how awful that defense is. The Vols are allowing 37 points and 495 yards per game and it’s even worse in SEC games. Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers has been playing well and he’ll have a field day throwing to two of the league’s better receivers in Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, and running backs Zac Stacy and Brian Kimbrow should have no trouble finding daylight.
The drama will come in whether Vandy can get stops in return, as UT’s offense has been about as good as its defense has been bad. Nobody has been slowing down quarterback Tyler Bray and a group of great receivers, and the Commodores didn’t play the pass well against Ole Miss last week. VU also hasn’t been forcing any turnovers, either.
I see this as a shootout, but the Commodores have far more ability to get a stop than do the Vols, and that’s why Vandy will win. Vanderbilt 41, Tennessee 37
Elsewhere in the SEC
Ole Miss at LSU: The Rebels played so well last week until Vanderbilt broke their hearts in the final minute. In fact, the Rebels play well most weeks, but didn’t have tremendous talent to start the season, and now much of the roster is bruised and battered at this point. LSU has also had key injuries, but the talent pool on the roster is night-and-day different from Ole Miss’s. The Tigers have begun to play better and should win this one without too much difficulty. LSU 38, Ole Miss 13
Arkansas at Mississippi State: We’ve documented the disappointment that is Arkansas’ season, but what about MSU? Even though the Bulldogs are 7-3 and heading to a bowl, what has this team really accomplished? I don’t have a strong feel on this game, but my gut says that a home-field advantage coupled with the fact that MSU is much better at protecting the ball is probably enough to push the Bulldogs over the top. MSU 27, Arkansas 24
Syracuse at Missouri: Just when things started to go the Tigers’ way after upsetting Tennessee on the road, coach Gary Pinkel has suspended Missouri’s best player, defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, for tomorrow. That makes things a lot tougher against a Syracuse offense that’s been explosive most of the year, but the Orange defense has trouble stopping anybody and James Franklin is back at quarterback for Missouri. So, I say the Tigers win, anyway. Missouri 30, Syracuse 27
Western Carolina at Alabama: Don’t expect the Crimson Tide to have any trouble in their tune-up before next week’s tune-up against Auburn. Alabama 59, WCU 0.
Jacksonville State at Florida: The Gators inexcusably just survived against Louisiana-Lafayette last week, and will miss quarterback Jeff Driskel this week (sprained ankle), but stepping down a level in classifications will be just what the doctor ordered for the ailing Gator offense. Florida 41, Jacksonville State 7
Wofford at South Carolina: The only thing that makes this game interesting is the fact that Wofford runs a triple-option offense, which Carolina hasn’t seen all year. But it shouldn’t make it that interesting. Carolina 48, Wofford 13
Georgia Southern at Georgia: Ditto everything I just said above, inserting “Georgia Southern” for “Wofford” (a better version of Wofford, if we must quibble). Georgia 44, Georgia Southern 20
Sam Houston State at Texas A&M: The FCS’s version of Texas A&M meets the real deal. How long will coach Kevin Sumlin leave quarterback Johnny Manziel in to pad his stats in an effort to win the Heisman, I wonder? Texas A&M 51, SHS 20
Alabama A&M at Auburn: Even Gene Chizik can win this one. Auburn 48, Alabama A&M 10
Samford at Kentucky: Even Joker Phillips can win this one. I think. Kentucky 31, Samford 20