Kentucky @ Florida
MO: So, now we see what Kentucky looks like when it has to face real competition. After starting off the season with four straight victories, the Wildcats have slipped back into the record that most people expected by losing to two of their first three opponents. In fact, their only SEC victory this season has come against the lowly Razorbacks, and even that win was by a scant 1 point. Florida, on the other hand, has rebounded well from a shocking home loss to Ole Miss, pounding Arkansas by 31, then beating a top five team LSU by 30. Of course, that was two weeks ago, and the Gators have had a chance to heal up since those big wins, which spells disaster for Kentucky. The Wildcats continues to stumble along the SEC schedule as Florida hits ‘em early and often, winning by 28.
JW: I actually think it was kind of unfair to Wildcat fans for UK's schedule to be set up the way it was. I mean, you've had a couple of decent seasons recently, and you start off this season going undefeated in the four games before SEC play? That's enough to get anyone's hopes up. But then reality slowly set in. Sure, close losses to Bama and South Carolina aren't anything to be ashamed of, but a one-point win over Arkansas sure is. Florida looks like it's regained its mojo after the inexplicable loss to the Rebels, and I agree – this one isn't gonna be pretty. Gators by 24.
Mississippi @ Arkansas
JW: I can only imagine the hail of "boo"s that's going to rain down when Houston Nutt takes the field in Fayetteville this weekend. Arkansas fans have worked themselves up into a nice ball of rage over what they believe to be his sub-par coaching stint at Arkansas, while Ole Miss fans now of course think he's just the man to turn their program around. And, honestly, he very well might be. Ole Miss has looked a lot more dangerous this season than they did under any season with Coach O (which makes the Vandy win in Oxford that much more satisfying), and in another year or two the Rebels might be looking pretty good. Of course, I'm already sick of hearing the words "wild" and "rebel" anywhere near each other, so I imagine if Ole Miss really does become a pretty good team, I'm going to be sick most weekends. So, about this game. Ole Miss put a scare into Bama last week in Tuscaloosa, scoring 17 unanswered points in the second half, forcing the Tide to rely on a fortuitous defensive stand to seal the game in the final minutes. The Rebels have lost by 2, 6, 7, and 4 points this season, reminding me a lot of Vanderbilt's many past heartbreaking losses. This makes it much easier for me to relate to my Ole Miss grad mom's pain. I don't really have any advice on how to deal with it, but at least I know what she's going through. Arky, on the other hand, just hasn't looked that pretty. Sure, you can point to their 3-point win over Auburn as evidence that they can be dangerous, but even I have to admit that win isn't looking so impressive these days. In the end, while Arkansas will have a stadium full of fans hating Houston Nutt from start to finish, I think that rage will only increase by the end of the fourth quarter, as the Rebels will post a 10-point victory.
MO: Arkansas didn't look all that bad against Kentucky – then again, it was a Kentucky team that just about lost to MTSU earlier in the season. I really like the added emotion that comes with this game, and the Hogs may be learning Petrino's system faster than originally expected. Ole Miss has had it's fair share of heartbreakers, which really shows me that they haven't found the knack for closing out a game, something that they MUST do this week against a seething crowd and a Hog team ready to show that they are better than there former coach. I'll take Ole Miss against my better judgment, though, as they have the better athletes and (for the time being) the better coach. Rebels by 2.
Middle Tennessee St @ Mississippi St.
MO: The very sight of these two teams playing each other almost makes me feel sick. Nothing personal against those teams, but this game is a reminder of the last two times we had a season-starting win streak snapped against a team that was far worse than the teams we'd already beaten. So you'll forgive me if I'm a little bitter about having to pick a winner in this one. Wait a tick; maybe I don't! Karma comes back to bite both teams in the behind as MTSU's bus breaks down on the way to Starkville with no hope of being able to catch another bus, causing them to call into the Bulldog athletic department and cede the game to Mississippi State. The only problem is that the phone lines are tied up by SEC and NCAA officials who are furious that State has refused to put any effort into banning the illegal use of cowbells by the fans. State is forced to forfeit the rest of the season as well as all previous home games, giving Vanderbilt its sixth win and providing the college football world with a rarely-seen double forfeit. Vandy fans win by 10.
JW: Quick side note – has anyone noticed how Maryland has won practically all the games it should have lost, and lost all the games it should have won? Case in point – losing to MTSU by 10, then turning around and beating Cal by 8. It makes no sense, people! Anyway, I'm with Mike. I'd really rather not pick this game. But I know our tens of fans rely on our expert picks every week, and I can't let them down. So I'll just not do much analysis and let my abject hatred of the Blue Raiders guide me. These are two not very good teams, but I have to say MSU gets the advantage from being in the SEC and only recently making it onto my "teams I strongly dislike" list. I'm sticking with the veteran of that list coming out and showing the Bulldogs how to really roll over. MSU by 17.
Alabama @ Tennessee
JW: This could be a trap game for the Tide. I mean, with the much more formidable Arkansas State looming on the horizon, it must be hard for Bama's players to focus on a game against Tennessee. Sure, Alabama didn't look so hot in the second half against Ole Miss, but I don't foresee them having any trouble putting together a complete game against the hated orange. Neyland Stadium might even be a half-full sea of crimson by the end of the game, and I will be smiling smugly to myself at some bar in Nashville (hopefully while toasting to a solid Vanderbilt victory). I don't think anyone expected Alabama to be THIS good, but, well, they are. As much as we all hate Nick Saban, the guy can obviously coach, and I don't see UT being more than a minor speedbump on the road to the big showdown in Baton Rouge in a couple of weeks. I know I'm not supposed to revel in anyone's misery, but if I can't enjoy watching the UT Implosion Express, what CAN I enjoy? Bama by 17.
MO: I dunno – Tennessee looked impressive against Mississippi St. Granted, it's Mississippi St., but still – if you beat any SEC by 31 points it's a good showing. The offense was managed well, and the defense set up short fields later in the game – the key to how Vanderbilt has been winning as well. With time, this team can become a force to be reckoned with, especially if their defense continues to perform as well as they did against the Bulldogs. But that won't happen this week. It's a huge rivalry game, and while that typically favors the underdog, it won't make much difference this week. The Tide's gonna roll big this week, with Bama winning by 24.
Georgia @ LSU
MO: The heavyweight battle of SEC this week. Georgia has rebounded well from a dismal first half against Alabama, outscoring their opponents 80-38 over the last 10 quarters. The Bulldogs are no slouch, but LSU is looking to prove they're better than their #13 national ranking. Really? A one-loss SEC team that has only lost to the current #10 team in the country is #13 in the country? Expect to see the Tigers come out in force early and try to control the tempo of the opening quarters. Then expect to watch them fail. Miserably. Georgia's clicking on all cylinders right now and looks like the team that the experts expected to see when they ranked them #1 in the preseason polls. Georgia rolls, making an impressive statement as they try to make their way to Atlanta, where they expect to settle the score with Alabama once and for all this season. Dawgs by 17.
JW: This is a tough game to pick, because while I think both teams are good, I don't think either has really proved they deserve to be at the very top of the SEC. Both have had lackluster games, both have had blowout losses, and neither has really put together a solid win over an SEC opponent. Georgia has a very impressive weapon in Knowshon Moreno, but I actually think LSU will be able to control the tempo of the opening quarters, thanks to a rowdy crowd in Baton Rouge. Georgia will pull things together and make it a tight game between two talented teams, but I have to give the edge to the Tigers. LSU by 3.
Duke @ Vanderbilt
JW: Ok, sure, Duke has scored some points in its past games. And Vanderbilt might not have the hottest offense around. David Cutcliffe has done some good work for the Blue Devils (and I'll be curious to see if UT decides to come calling), and the wins over Navy and Virginia as well as the almost win over Miami, FL look pretty decent. However, I think this is the game our offense finally comes to life. Mackenzi Adams has had some time behind center in actual games now, and he'll be much sharper than he was last week. Duke has a good offense, but I have little doubt that our defense has the edge in that match-up. We might not have as much of an edge as many fans would like (or expect), but I think our advantages, paired with a boisterous homecoming crowd, will combine to send Vanderbilt to its sixth win of the season. I wouldn't be surprised to see a Rice-like game, with the Duke offense putting up some early points, but the Vandy D putting down the clamps in the second half. Despite the views of a lot of VandyMania regulars, I actually liked what I saw against Georgia. If that same team takes the field on Saturday, we'll be bowl eligible by the end of the day. Vandy by 10.
MO: I honestly have no idea how to feel about this game. I am cautiously optimistic about our chances – we've played well this year, and I too thought Vanderbilt looked pretty good as they held their own against a very good Georgia team last week. But every time I get too high, I remember the games that have kept us from reaching this point in the past, which I won't mention for fear of gnashing what little bit of teeth I have left. With that said, I think this is the game where we finally get over the hump. We've beaten Duke time and time again, even when we thought they had a pretty good team, and even though Cutcliffe seems to have our number, our number this week will be 6, and no amount of Blue Devilry will keep us from reaching it. Vanderbilt wins an emotional Homecoming game this week, giving the alumni and fans the win that they've yearned for all those years. Dores by 6.