Rivalry Week Makes For Difficult Picks

Remember all those turkeys we had in the Southeastern Conference last week? Happy Thanksgiving! Beginning today, it’s rivalry week, both in the SEC and across the nation, which means good games and which means tough work for the Almost Perfect Picks panel.

At least two games, and possibly three, will settle the question of which teams make it to the SEC Championship Game. The one of greatest concern in this corner is Alabama hosting Auburn on Saturday. Also on Saturday will be Mississippi State at Ole Miss. The Eastern Division representative will be Missouri or Georgia, depending on Friday’s Arkansas at Missouri game.

Two SEC teams – Kentucky and Tennessee – need weekend wins to become bowl eligible, joining 11 league teams already bowl eligible. One team – Vanderbilt – can’t get to six wins.

The rivalry weekend includes four SEC East teams playing rivals from the ACC – Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, Florida vs. Florida State, South Carolina vs. Clemson, and Kentucky vs. Louisville.

Recognizing the importance of these predictions, the APP panel began deliberations with Thanksgiving courage, a few shots of Wild Turkey.

The Thursday Game:

LSU (7-4 overall, 3-4 SEC) at Texas A&M (7-4, 3-4) at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN – Can you imagine LSU losing three games in a row? It hasn’t happened since Gerry DiNardo was about to be fired, paving the way for the Tigers to lure Nick Saban from Michigan State. LSU has lost its last two, to Bama and to Arkansas. Now, can you imagine Texas A&M tackling Leonard Fournette? Both teams have had quarterback shuffles, making it difficult to know what to expect. LSU 24, Texas A&M 17.

The Friday Game:

Arkansas (6-5, 2-5) at Missouri (9-2, 6-1) at 1:30 p.m. CST on CBS – Alabama followers go back and forth on what they want here (and because of events over the years, Bama fans believe what they wish for can come true). As it turnes out, in the words of former Tide linebacker Rolando McClain to almost every question from reporters, “It don’t matter.” If Missouri wins, the Columbia Tigers are in the SEC Championship Game, which is probably an easier opponent than Georgia, which gets in if the Tigers lose to the Razorbacks. Arkansas has been playing very, very well, but Missouri gets the upset win at home and its second consecutive trip to Atlanta. Missouri 24, Arkansas 20.

The Saturday Games:

Georgia Tech (9-2) at Georgia (9-2, 6-2) at Noon EST, 11 a.m. central, on SEC Network – Bulldogs angst over whether it has a chance to win the SEC Championship will be over by the time the Bulldogs take on the Engineers. Everyone knows that Georgia has great running with Nick Chubb and even without Todd Gurley, but the difference may be how well Hudson Matson has played at quarterback for the Dogs. Georgia 34, Georgia Tech 17.

Kentucky (5-6, 2-6) at Louisville (8-3) at Noon EST, 11 a.m. central, on ESPN2 – Is Kentucky looking forward or looking back. Ahead with a win would be a bowl game for the Wildcats. But UK may be reeling from its five-game losing streak that has put it in this difficult position. There has been a lot of talk about Kentucky having a tough defense, but some of the scores (113 points allowed in the last two games) don’t back that up. Louisville has a solid program, and that’s about all it takes. Louisville 31, Kentucky 17.

South Carolina (6-5, 3-5) at Clemson (8-3) at Noon EST, 11 a.m. central, on ESPN – Back when the self-proclaimed Ball Coach was doing a good job, South Carolina started what has become a five-game winning streak against Clemson, which most consider the second best program in the ACC. On the one hand you have former Bama wide receiver Dabo Swinney as head coach at Clemson and former Tide defensive back Whammy Ward as defensive coordinator at South Carolina. Dabo has had a much better year. Clemson 28, South Carolina 21.

Mississippi State (10-1, 6-1) at Ole Miss (8-3, 4-3) at 2:30 p.m. CST on CBS – It may seem both these teams have fallen on hard times since those heady weeks in October when both had dreams of a national championship. Since then the Rebels have tumbled, but State is still hopeful…and capable. As so many games, this one likely will come down to which quarterback plays best, Bo Wallace at home for the Rebels or Dak Prescott for the Bulldogs. Wallace lost a lot of help when wide receiver Laquon Treadwell was lost for the year, and he needs all the help he can get. Mississippi State 28, Ole Miss 17.

Florida (6-4, 4-4) at Florida State (11-0) at 3:30 p.m. EST, 2:30 central, on ESPN – It seems almost everyone is picking Florida to end the Seminoles 27-game winning streak in Will Muschamp’s last game as head coach of the Gators. That’s partly because almost everyone wants FSU and its quarterback Jameis Winston and its coach Jimbo Fisher out of the national championship conversation. Someone will give FSU its comeupance, but it won’t be the Gators. Florida State 31, Florida 14.

Tennessee (5-6, 2-5) at Vanderbilt (3-8, 0-7) at 3 p.m. CST on SEC Network – Tennessee is not back to the days of being a championship contender, but when James Franklin left Vanderbilt for Penn State he left the Commodores in their old familiar position of being a bottom dweller. The Vols will get bowl eligible and end Vandy dominance in the state. Tennessee 38, Vanderbilt 10.

And finally…

Auburn (8-3, 4-3) at Alabama (10-1, 6-1) at 6:45 p.m. CST on ESPN – Last year both teams had positive goals on the line, the opportunity to go to the SEC Championship Game and perhaps the BCS title game. Auburn won the game, but couldn’t close the deal for the SEC’s eighth straight BCS championship. This year only Alabama has the positive goal of the SEC Western Division championship, while Auburn has the negative on which it thrives – running the season for Bama. Auburn has a lot of star power, notably quarterback Nick Marshall, but Bama is more solid on defense. The home field seems to help Alabama this year, too. Alabama 31, Auburn 21.

For the year, the APP has done pretty well just on picking winners, 83-19. There is a good reason the APP urges that no one risk good money on these picks. Against the spread and the over/under, APP is only 88-67.

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