Tennessee-Alabama headline intriguing SEC schedule

The InsideTennessee staff predicts this week's SEC slate.

It's yet another slate of enormous SEC games this week headlined by Tennessee-Alabama clashing for the 98th time in the Third Saturday in October.
Will Mississippi State miss the loss of Will Redmond enough to fall to Kentucky? Which team will bounce back from big-time losses in the Ole Miss-Texas A&M clash in Oxford? Can one team score at least once in Vandy-Mizzou? These are all pressing questions we'll see answered by Saturday night.

Managing editor Danny Parker has continued his lead with a 55-10 lead, while publisher Josh Woodward has overtaken beat writer Cory Gunkel after successfully picking Vanderbilt over South Carolina. Here are this week's picks:

DANNY PARKER'S PICKS (55-10)

Tennessee vs. Alabama

If "too many five-stars on the field" was a penalty, the Volunteers' chances at a win would greatly increase. However, that rule has not yet been put into place. On the positive side for Tennessee, Amari Cooper will be in San Diego on Saturday afternoon instead of lining up across from Emmanuel Moseley. The Vols secondary has to have its best game of the season because the defense must load the box in attempt to make the Tide one-dimensional. Todd Kelly Jr. needs to play more and LaDarrell McNeil less. It's time for Justin Martin to get a starting nod, too. On the flip side, Joshua Dobbs has to make plays with his legs and extend things. The horizontal passing game is going to depend on receivers and tight ends blocking for one another because it will be tough sledding to get much of anything done from within the box and pocket. Tennessee has its best chance at beating its rival since 2009 and it has confidence after rallying past then-No. 19 Georgia. It also has a schematic advantage on special teams and that must show up in a major way in terms of making every kick and winning the field position battle. In the end, it's too much NFL-bound talent in Bryant-Denny Stadium for the home team. Alabama, 42-23.

Auburn vs. Arkansas

This matchup doesn't have the luster we thought it would back in the summer but that was "August Fever" affecting us. Have to think Bret Bielema will provide Will Muschamp with a heavy dose of Alex Collins and see if the Tigers can stop him. If they can't, they don't stand much of a chance. Arkansas, 34-20.

Missouri vs. Vanderbilt

Ugliest SEC game of the year? Has to get extremely strong consideration unless you absolutely love defense and punts. Speaking of which, both teams are playing quality defensive football. That spells bad news for the quarterbacks. Missouri 3.141-2.

Texas A&M vs. Ole Miss

In the Which Team Will Show Up Bowl, simply think the overall talent the Aggies possess is the difference. Laremy Tunsil's return is huge for the Rebels but two future NFL first-rounders will be out. It's Kyle Allen's chance to bounce back following some bad decisions versus 'Bama. Texas A&M, 35-31.

Western Kentucky vs. LSU

If the Bayou Bengals aren't paying attention from Snap 1, they could get bitten and this one could still be a tight football game going into the second half. However, talented ground attacks are much more consistent than those that depend on pushing the ball downfield through the air. Leonard Fournette could be on the cusp of passing the 1,500-yard mark if he's in all four quarters. LSU, 42-17.

Kentucky vs. Mississippi State

One of the tougher games to pick of the SEC season. Neither is a bad football team. Both might would be in the College Football Playoff picture if they were in the Big Ten West Division where Iowa (yes, Iowa) is undefeated. The Wildcats don't quite look like a team that knows how to finish ballgames (sound familiar?). Mississippi State, 17-16.

CORY GUNKEL'S PICKS (50-15):

Tennessee vs. Alabama

Since that fateful Saturday in 1928 when General Robert Neyland, in a spot of gamesmanship, asked Alabama coach Wallace Wade to cut the fourth quarter short if his team was being pummeled by the Tide, the Third Saturday in October has become one of college football's most tradition rich rivalries ever created. Tennessee went on to upset the Crimson Tide 15-13 in that game, sparking a fierce rivalry that has seen its share of twists, streaks and battles. This iteration of Tennessee-Alabama is much more intriguing than most the past 10 years. The Vols believe they are talented enough to stack up, and Alabama knows it is talented enough to make those Big Orange dreams a nightmare. There is a blueprint to beating Alabama that is as easy to type as it is hard to accomplish: win the turnover battle decidedly, create a big splash play and keep your foot on the throat until the beast is suffocated. Bama is great at stopping the run. Tennessee hangs its hat on the ground. Two monsters will collide in Derrick Henry and Jalen Hurd, both 240+ bulldozers with an unceasing gas pedal. Tennessee has to keep Henry from beating it and force Jacob Coker to chip away at them through the air. On defense, the Vols must put Alabama in third down situations (the Tide are last in the SEC in third down conversions with just a 36% conversion rate) and steal a possession for an easy score. Tennessee has a decided advantage in special teams with punter extraordinaire Trevor Daniel and the best kickoff return team in the country. That's where the Vols have a shot at making things very, very interesting. But at the end of the day, Bama is Bama, and the Tide's roster littered with five-star talent is still too much to overcome. It could be Tennessee's best effort, but still a loss in the W/L column. Alabama 35, Tennessee 24.

Auburn vs. Arkansas

Which program has disappointed more? That's a tough guess. Each of these teams desperately needs a win, but Auburn won't be able to match up with the Razorbacks' physically dominant offensive line and run game led by Alex Collins. Bret Bielema is happy to pound the ball down the Tigers' throat. Arkansas 23, Auburn 14

Missouri vs. Vanderbilt

Hide your kids for this one. There really might not be an offensive touchdown, and I don't know if that excites me or makes me want to commit seppuku. Vandy's offense is actually better than the one Mizzou pretends to trot out. I've been trying to will Vandy to a win by picking them to actually win a game or two. It's going to happen eventually. Vanderbilt 13, Missouri 7.

Texas A&M vs. Ole Miss

Two teams coming off bad losses to opponents that absolutely mauled them. Who will respond better? This might be the most evenly matched game of the SEC schedule this week. The Rebels are in the comfy confines of Oxford, but Texas A&M's offense is simply better despite a porous showing against the league's best defense last week at Kyle Field. The Aggies leave with a hard-fought win. Texas A&M 35, Ole Miss 28

Western Kentucky vs. LSU

This game has the potential to get weird, but Western Kentucky will have no shot at stopping the boulder from Indiana Jones known as Leonard Fournette. WKU should be able to use its prolific offense to find some success in the air, but the Tigers are too big, physical and talented to let the Hilltoppers come into Death Valley and snatch a victory. LSU 48, Western Kentucky 24

Kentucky vs. Mississippi State

MSU just lost its shutdown corner in Will Redmond with a torn ACL, so expect Patrick Towles to exploit this over and over again Saturday night. The Bulldogs' offense will be able to score against Kentucky's secondary, spearheaded by a Dak Prescott who hasn't thrown an interception this season. The Wildcats will likewise be able to score, and this one could provide us with some fireworks, but Kentucky has burnt me too many times this year to pick them again when playing the sport with the football. Mississippi State 31, Kentucky 24

JOSH WOODWARD'S PICKS (53-12):

Tennessee vs. Alabama

The Vols look for the upset of the year over the Tide, and it will be an uphill battle as Alabama has been firing on all cylinders since the Ole Miss loss. I look for Tennessee to battle hard in this one, but the loss of Shy Tuttle really hurts the defense with Derrick Henry coming out of the Tide backfield. On offense, look for Tennessee to get Hurd going which, with this Alabama defensive front, will be hard. This will likely be another big game for Josh Dobbs as he is the key for Tennessee to keep it close. If I were Tennessee I would get Ethan Wolf more touches down the middle. He could be a big bonus for the Vols. Tennessee will keep it close, but in the end Alabama is just to strong. 31-20 Crimson Tide

Auburn vs. Arkansas

Should be a good game, but I like the way Arkansas runs the ball. 28-17 Razorbacks

Missouri vs. Vanderbilt

Man, neither team has any offense. Maybe there will be a special teams touchdown. I doubt it though. I'm going with a safety and field goal. 3-2 Missouri

Texas A&M vs. Ole Miss

The battle of the offenses of the SEC. Heck, we might see over 100 points scored in this game. I look for A&M to pull away. 52-31 Aggies

Western Kentucky vs. LSU

LSU could rest their starters and breeze through this one. 49-20 Tigers

Kentucky vs. Mississippi State

Kentucky has shown flashes this year, but with this game being in StarkVegas I'm going with the Bulldogs. 24-13 State.


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