Here we are, the last week of regular season games. In-state and conference rivals face off, pitting families against each other like they’re the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. It’s the best week in conference football, when history, tradition, and sports all intertwine with each other.
Realignment within conferences has killed many of these games, but we’ll still get the opportunity to see some classics like Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, Ohio State-Michigan, and Florida-Florida State. It’s also not often the implications for bowl games this weekend are so high. Usually there’s two or three games that could decide who goes to a conference championship, but the advent of the College Football Playoff and increased parity in college football has upped that number to five or six games.
For instance, all three games I just listed could have implications for the playoffs, but so do Notre Dame-Stanford, TCU-Baylor, Penn State-Michigan State, and Iowa-Nebraska. Our list is up to seven games this weekend that essentially decide those last two playoff spots. I can’t freakin’ wait for this weekend. I’ll personally be attending the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game, but since that’s a late kickoff, I’ll have all day to watch all the other games I’ve listed above. I highly recommend you do the same.
Anyways, we’re now in Week 13 of the season, meaning this will be our last regular season weekly preview. We’ll have one up covering SEC games for bowl season, as well as a blurb for the SEC Championship game and any playoff games that an SEC team might be involved in.
Thanks so much for reading this year.
Arkansas vs. Missouri
Arkansas and Missouri kickoff on Friday 2:30 PM ET, giving both these teams a short week. This immediately gives Arkansas the upper hand, with this game being played at home, while the Missouri players will likely be traveling on Thanksgiving away from their families and friends.
Adding drama to this is the fact it’ll likely be Pinkel’s last game as head coach for the Tigers (unless they get an invite to a bowl game at 5-7). The Tigers had an opportunity do something special last week and win Pinkel’s last game at home against Tennessee, but the offensive woes game back and they lost 19-8. Being at that game for first half (I had to leave because it was below freezing), the score doesn’t indicate how badly the Volunteers could’ve beaten Missouri. The Vols attempted four field goals in Missouri’s red zone, due to either Butch Jones’ coaching negligence or him not running up the score on Pinkel.
The Missouri offense barely showed any punch or variety in their game plan, punting on eight of their first ten possessions, with the other two possessions being turnovers. Arkansas has somehow become the best offense in the SEC since mid-October, regularly putting up 50 points a game. Missouri still sports a top 15 defense in the nation, but they can only do so much. If Missouri consistently fails to move the ball down the field, they’ll be forced to put from inside their own 30 yard line, giving Arkansas a shorter field to work with; a problem they faced against Tennessee. Just getting some sort of rhythm and consistency, not even putting up points, will be the key for the Tigers. Help the defense out, get them some rest, and make Arkansas go 70+ yards on every drive.
For Arkansas, the key for them will be to get Alex Collins the ball as many ways as possible. Run up the middle, sweeps outside, screen passes. Do it all, because Missouri could not stop Tennessee on the ground. Tennessee’s running backs ran for almost 200 yards against the Tigers, and Alex Collins is the second or third best back in the conference right now. Give that man 30+ carries and they should be well on their way to victory. Their defense will give up points to the Tigers, but from a talent standpoint, there’s no way Missouri can keep up with Arkansas.
My prediction, Arkansas wins by at least two touchdowns in a 35-17 fashion.
Georgia vs. Georgia Tech
Here’s the first in a string of games where ACC fans will begin to scream “the ACC is better than the SEC!” Let’s all calm down for a minute, you have Clemson, Florida State, and North Carolina and that’s about it. Outside of those three, your conference is garbage (I’m ignoring the fact that there have been multiple weeks where the SEC has looked utterly atrocious).
Anyways, neither Georgia or Georgia Tech has looked like a competent football team since the start of November. Georgia has beaten a bunch of crappy five or six win SEC teams, and Georgia Tech’s three wins have come against Tulane, Alcorn State, and an upset of Florida State via a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. It’s one of the oldest rivalries in college football, but it might near unwatchable this season.
While I believe Georgia is the better team from a talent and coaching standpoint, their win against Georgia Southern last week makes me hesitate before proclaiming the Bulldogs as outright victors of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. Georgia barely squeaked by Georgia Southern 23-17 in overtime, and were trailing at a couple points during the game. They gave up a bonanza of rushing yards and Greyson Lambert still looked awful as a quarterback.
The main reason, however, why I’m not yet ready to label this a SEC victory is because Georgia Tech runs the triple-option offense better than any team in the nation, except for probably Navy. If Georgia struggled so mightily against Georgia Southern, what’s to say the same won’t happen against Tech? Georgia Tech has a better coach, better athletes, and a quarterback who’s been in the system for three years now. By facing Georgia Southern, the Bulldogs were able to ready themselves somewhat for Georgia Tech, but I think that game also exposed a lot of weaknesses. It’s a wonky week with Thanksgiving and all, so I’m not sure how well prepared or focused either team will be, which could play into the favor of the underdog Yellow Jackets. The line is -5 Georgia right now, but don’t be surprised if this game goes into overtime or comes down to a last second play.
#1 Clemson vs. South Carolina
It’s sad to see how far the South Carolina program has fallen over the past two seasons. It was only 2013 when the Gamecocks won 11 games and defeated Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl. Now, the Gamecocks sit at 3-8 with very little chance to win against the top ranked team in the nation.
Somehow in fitting fashion, it seems appropriate for Clemson to blow out South Carolina this weekend. The Gamecocks will be hiring a new head coach in the coming weeks, and a final loss to cap off the miserable end to the legacy of Steve Spurrier seems like a solid end point. The next coach will be able to come in and rise from the ashes, thus creating a program in his own mold.
South Carolina will be blown out this weekend, and somehow Clemson is over favored by 17 points. Clemson will be out for blood, looking to pulverize the Gamecocks into the ground in one last show of force before the College Football Playoff Selection Committee announce their four picks. Just accept this Gamecock fans, and your life will become that much easier.
Kentucky vs. Louisville
Similar to Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, neither of these teams are really that good. Louisville has six wins, while Kentucky will be looking to get to that point with a win this weekend. Here’s the thing, the Cardinals and Wildcats have been on complete opposite trends the second half of the season. The Cardinals are 4-2 in their last six games, while the Wildcats haven’t beat a Power Five opponent since Missouri in Week 4.
Both teams however, are dealing with major question marks at quarterback. Kentucky’s Patrick Towles regressed during his junior year, and was benched against Charlotte last week in favor of freshman Drew Barker. Similarly, Louisville benched their veteran quarterback, sophomore Kyle Bolin, in the fourth quarter of their loss to Pitt last week in favor of freshman Lamar Jackson.
Both teams will likely employ an offense that goes with the hot hand at quarterback. For Kentucky, that means they’re going to go with a pocket passer, regardless of quarterback. However, if Louisville decides to start Jackson, the Kentucky defense will be looking at a read-option game. Jackson has 124 carries, to Bolin’s 16. Jackson and Bolin are completing essentially the same percentage of their passes, and their interception rates. Kentucky will game plan for both quarterbacks, but will probably be expecting Jackson to get the majority of the reps.
Louisville also ranks 17th nationally in total defense, while the Wildcats don’t even rank in the top 50. A lot of the issues for Kentucky stem from them not being able to find a rhythm on offense, not unlike the Missouri Tigers. Louisville did give up a whopping 45 points in their loss to Pitt, but four of those scores game via the arm of Nathan Peterman and I don’t foresee either Towles or Barker throwing four touchdowns on Saturday.
Louisville will likely win this game, and by a wide margin. They rank better than Kentucky in every measurable category, and they pass the eye test. Louisville is favored by four, but I think they’ll put the hurt on the Wildcats this weekend.
#2 Alabama vs. Auburn
Auburn accomplished their goal of becoming bowl eligible last week by defeating Idaho, but they really have no shot against Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Clemson was ranked in the top spot by the selection committee, but I think Alabama has been playing the most dominant football in the nation since their dismantling of Texas A&M in mid-October.
Auburn has settled with Jeremy Johnson at quarterback, and he could have a three interception, Kyle Allen-esque game. Sean White might see playing time, but that’d only be in the fourth quarter of a blow out. Johnson had two passing and two rushing touchdowns against Idaho on Saturday, so while Auburn’s coaches are tightlipped on who’s starting, the safe money is on Johnson.
Alabama will play this game at home, and much like Clemson, will use this as one final piece of evidence to solidify their spot as a playoff team. The Crimson Tide are favored by a pair of touchdowns, but don’t be surprised if the score differential is much higher than that. If Alabama held Dak Prescott and Mississippi State to only two field goals, they could hold Auburn to a similar score. The talent on the Auburn offense is considerably lower than that of Mississippi State, with their only real threat being Peyton Barber. If Alabama held Leonard Fournette to 31 rushing yards, don’t expect Barber to have a career day.
This is essentially a guaranteed win for Alabama, but don’t expect them to come out and play lackadaisical football. This is still the Iron Bowl, and Alabama still has a playoff spot to play for, even if they’re a near lock. Alabama beat Mississippi State 31-6, and expect a score similar, if not more dominant, on Saturday against Auburn.
Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt
Tennessee just took down Missouri 19-8, making four field goals and a touchdown. Vanderbilt just got steamrolled by Texas A&M 25-0, and lost a fair bit of momentum going into this game. Both teams could’ve come into this game with a lot more hype, but that most of that has dissipated.
The score in the Vols game against Missouri doesn’t reflect their dominance on offense. Joshua Dobbs didn’t have a great day as a passer, failing to even reach 100 yards through the air, but when Jalen Hurd runs for 151 yards, you don’t need to Peyton Manning. Tennessee will need to stick to their “Thunder and Lightning” running back duo of Hurd and Alvin Kamara if they want to beat their suddenly perky in-state rival. Vanderbilt boasts a defense equally as strong as Missouri, with many of the same strengths. Vanderbilt will get after the quarterback, force runs outside, and rely on a physical secondary to bully receivers. Butch Jones will be able to rely on a similar gameplan to that of the Missouri game, but will need to convert some of those red zone opportunities. Kicking four field goals inside your opponent’s twenty is a great way to squander valuable points, something he won’t be able to do against Vanderbilt.
For Vanderbilt, they essentially need to everything that Missouri did on defense, but contain Hurd and force Dobbs to beat them through the air. If they can do that, they have a shot in this game. Missouri lost because Hurd kept breaking runs off the right tackle, and if Vanderbilt takes that away, they’ll go a long way in shutting down the run game.
Offensively, the Commodores still have no idea who the hell they’ll have at quarterback come the fourth quarter of this game. Johnny McCrary has been inconsistent all season, but offers more of run threat than alternative Kyle Shurmur. Against Kentucky, Shurmur played well for his first career start, completing half his passes and throwing a pair of touchdowns. It instilled enough confidence in Derek Mason to start him against Texas A&M the following week, in which he promptly completed 3 of 12 passes for 19 yards and an interception. At this point, any form of offensive consistency could do wonders for this team. It’d keep the defense fresher, put points on the board, and allow the starting quarterback to develop a relationship with his receivers.
I can see this game having a very similar result to that of the Tennessee-Missouri game. A great defense gets zero help from the offense, ending up keeping the game from being a blow out
#18 Ole Miss at #21 Mississippi State
Lots and lots of points, that’s what you can expect in this year’s Egg Bowl. Over their last six games, Mississippi State is averaging 35.6 points per game, while Ole Miss averages an even 36 points per game. Neither team boasts an outstanding defense, and both have quarterbacks who can sling the ball.
In terms of an aerial attack, these teams are very similar. They have quarterbacks who can find the end zone with their arm, and have two physical receivers. Mississippi State’s De’Runnya Wilson is listed at 6-foot-5 and beats defensive backs simply with his size, while the Rebels Laquon Treadwell is listed at a respectable 6-foot-2, but is a hefty 210-pounds and plays like he’s the size of Wilson.
The difference between these offenses comes in the style of their quarterbacks. Chad Kelly epitomizes the gunslinger. He believes he can fit a ball into any sized window, which results in turnovers. Kelly is a very stationary quarterback, and while he’s not a statue in the backfield, you won’t mistake him for Tim Tebow either. Mississippi State however, they have an all-time great SEC quarterback in Dak Prescott. He’s set to finish his career third in all-time touchdowns, behind Tim Tebow, Aaron Murray, and Danny Wuerffel. Prescott, known more for his physical running style, has made vast improvements as a passer this season, only throwing three interceptions in 393 attempts. Prescott has also maintained his threat as a runner, scoring nine touchdowns via the ground this season. Prescott’s threat as a runner keeps defenses honest, but it’ll be his passing that will separate these two teams.
In all three of Ole Miss’s losses, you’ll see a trend of breakdown in coverage by the secondary. Brandon Allen threw six (!!) touchdowns in a 53-52 Arkansas win, Memphis’s Paxton Lynch threw three touchdowns en route to a victory, and Florida’s Will Grier had four touchdown passes in a 38-10 route of the Rebels. This should concern Ole Miss fans considering these are the only three good quarterbacks the Rebels have faced this season, the defense has been shredded by them. Missouri sports one of the best defenses in the nation, and Prescott made them look like swiss cheese by throwing four touchdowns against them. Prescott slowed his roll recently against Alabama, but that’s more an exception rather than the rule, and he rebounded with five touchdowns against Arkansas.
In my “bold-not-so-bold” pick of the week, give me the Mississippi State “Clangin’” Bulldogs by a touchdown and a field goal over Ole Miss.
#12 Florida vs. #13 Florida State
Growing up in Florida as a South Florida fan (I had a tortured fanhood as a child), this game brought me great joy because I could taunt the fans of whichever team that lost. That won’t be any different this week because when Florida inevitably loses to the Seminoles, I’ll be able to text all my friends at UF and laugh about them missing the College Football Playoff (I also look forward to this when Alabama is winning 35-3 in the SEC Championship Game).
Florida’s molasses offense has been well-documented in recent weeks, so I’ll avoid going into a deep analysis of it here. If Treon Harris can’t get some sort of rhythm going in the first quarter, this game is over. Florida State’s defense has made up for their also-bad-but-not-Florida-bad offense, and if they smell blood in the water, they’ll jump all over it. Florida State ranks 11th in the nation in scoring defense, meaning any turnovers committed by Harris and company are likely to be converted into points. Digging themselves into a hole would be very bad for the Florida offense, considering it’s likely a hole they wouldn’t be able to climb out of.
Florida State’s path to victory has two major points: score 17 points and force turnovers. The Seminoles seem to finally have found a reliable option at quarterback in Sean Maguire, who has a 7:2 touchdown to interception ratio over the the past four games. Maguire isn’t the same athlete as former starter and Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson, but Golson simply wasn’t cutting it. He turned over the ball too much, and when he didn’t turn the ball over, he couldn’t capitalize on that and find the end zone. Maguire won’t come into the game and play like Tom Brady, but he also won’t be the collegiate version of Matt Cassel either. If the Seminoles force a few turnovers that result in good field position, they’ll have the momentum and the opportunity to steal a win in the Swamp for the third time in a row.
#15 LSU vs. Texas A&M
LSU and Texas A&M have more riding on this game than one might think. Neither team will make the playoff like they were expected to six weeks ago, and it seems like Les Miles is all but fired at this point. However, the rumblings of a Kevin Sumlin departure from College Station continue to persist, with many fans upset he’s never been able to get over the hump. The calls for his job won’t become more vocal until next season, but finishing 9-3 rather than 8-4 might quell some of the haters.
After a good showing against a tough Vanderbilt defense, Kyle Allen will hang onto the starting job going into the LSU game. Allen revealed some of his midseason struggles stemmed from an AC joint sprain he suffered in the Alabama game, but Sumlin will still keep his quarterback on a short hook. LSU sits outside the Top 50 in scoring defense, but come in at 35th in total defense. Texas A&M might struggle to move the ball at times against the Aggies, but it’s doubtful that Allen has a repeat, three-interception performance like his Alabama game (which we now know was in part due to a sprained AC joint).
The LSU players are in a weird spot in regards to their head coach. There hasn’t been any indication that Miles has lost the locker room, so it’s not as if his players have quit on him. All of these players have seen on ESPN that Miles is more than likely gone early next week, which may add motivation to win what’s likely their coaches final game. LSU also looks to end a three game losing streak, in which they’ve been outscored by an averaged of 17 points per game. The loss of Chavis looks even more amplified, as they’ve also allowed 30 or more points in those three losses. Unless you’re Bowling Green and regularly putting up 35+ points per game, you’re never going to win a game with a defense that allows 30 or more each Saturday.
Texas A&M’s biggest weakness is LSU’s biggest strength. The addition of Chavis as defensive coordinator has shored up the pass defense, but the Aggies still struggle stopping the run. They lack size up the middle, and none of the linebackers really stand out in any area of the game. At this point Leonard Fournette, has taken his name out of Heisman contention, but a big game here will help his case as a favorite going into next season. Expect to see a lot of runs that go for eight or nine runs between the tackles as Miles will look to exploit Fournette’s size and speed against Texas A&M’s interior defense.
LSU is favored by 5.5, but their defense hasn’t played like garbage for a month now. Texas A&M just hung 25 points on very good Vanderbilt defense, and Kyle Allen has his mojo back. LSU being favored here seems more like a product of this being Les Miles’ last game, rather than recent history. I’ll take the Aggies here.