Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Week 7 Predictions

Only 6 games on the SEC slate this weekend, with 5 conference games, South Carolina visiting Chapel Hill, and the Gators taking the week off to lick their wounds.

Here's how the weekend will shake out...

Alabama (4-2, 2-1) @ Ole Miss (2-4, 0-3)
11:30 CDT, LFS
Wednesday's Line: Alabama -6.5

This is one of the more lopsided rivalries historically in the SEC with Alabama holding a 43-9-2 record in the series, including 17 of the last 20 and 3 in a row. The last 2 wins have come by a total of 6 points though, and the Rebels have won 2 of the last 3 in Oxford.

For the Tide, QB Wilson has actually regressed this year under HC Saban. His QB rating is down, as are his ypg and ypa. The offense has been carried most of the season by RBs Grant and Coffee with more than 900 yds and 8 TDs between them. The defense has been steady under Saban’s tutelage, but has given up 21+ points in 4 straight games. The Tide secondary will be forced to handle a revamped Ole Miss aerial attack, led by QB Adams and WR Wallace.

As for the Rebels, last week’s shutout couldn’t have come at a better time for a beleaguered defense, but it’ll be a different story against the Tide Saturday morning. The Rebels D still ranks last in the league in rush defense (208.2 ypg) and will be tested by the power running game of the Tide. LB Ashlee Palmer is coming off a career day against LTU last weekend and he and All-Conference Greg Hardy will need to bottle up the run game enough to force the Tide to rely on Wilson to make tough throws.

Both teams snapped a multi-game losing streak last weekend against out of conference opponents. You have to figure that with all the close games this season and last, the Rebels have to beat somebody they’re not supposed to. While Alabama owns the Rebels all-time, the elements are in place for the Rebels pull this one out. I look for the defense to build off of last week’s shutout and pressure Wilson into bad throws. This will the first signature win of the Orgeron era in Oxford.

Straight Up Winner: Ole Miss
Against the Spread: Ole Miss

(#25, NR)Tennessee (3-2, 1-1) @ Mississippi St. (4-2, 1-2)
1:30 CDT, No TV
Wednesday's Line: Tennessee -7

Tennessee leads this series all time with a 26-15-1 record. The Vols have won 7 of the last 8 in this series, including the last 4 by an average score of 43-17. Mississippi State is receiving votes in both polls for the first time in years.

Much like Auburn, Tennessee experienced something of a rebirth last week with a drubbing of Georgia. Most telling in their win was that they did without much production from QB Ainge, who threw for 165 yds and 0 TDs. A trick play and 190 yds and 4 rushing TDs gave the Vols the easy win. The Vols pass defense, which ranks second to last in ypg and efficiency against, will get something of a reprieve this weekend against MSU’s QB situation, but their 9th in conference run defense can expect to be pounded from MSU’s first snap.

The Bulldogs manhandled UAB in the second half last week, outscoring them 27-3. The 2-headed RB attack of Ducre’ and Dixon combined for 172 yd and 3 TDs, but the QB was again terrible (11/20, 199yds, 0/2 ratio). The Bulldogs are last in the league in total yards by nearly 30 ypg. While they’ll be able to run the ball this weekend against the Vols, at some point in the game, the QB – whether it’s Carroll or Henig – will have to step up and make a big throw on a 3rd down. The Dead Guy just doesn’t see that happening.

The Bulldogs are flying high after picking up their 4th win last week, but like I said in an earlier post, reality sets in Saturday. Tennessee has too many athletes on the defensive side of the ball to be beaten by a one-dimensional opponent like the Bulldogs. With the Bulldogs bowing up to stop UT’s run game, Ainge should have another solid game. The Vols will cruise to an easy victory in Starkville.

Straight Up Winner: Tennessee
Against the Spread: Tennessee

(#1, #1)LSU (6-0, 3-0) @ (#17, #18)Kentucky (5-1, 1-1)
2:30 CDT, CBS
Wednesday's Line: LSU -9.5

LSU leads this series all-time 38-15-1, including a 49-0 thumping last year in Baton Rouge. LSU has won the last 4, as UK hasn’t won since 1999 (31-5 win). LSU is 23-3-1 against UK when ranked in the Top 25.

LSU took over the top spot in both polls last week after a hard-fought victory over Florida. I will eschew the “immovable object versus the irresistible force” comparison many are making about this game. Suffice it to say, LSU’s defense has lived up to its preseason billing, leading the conference in basically every defensive category, including sacks, ppg, turnovers forced, rushing defense, and total defense. The offense hasn’t been bad either, putting up 37.8 ppg, 4th in conference.

Meanwhile, Kentucky’s offense continues to be the best in conference statistically, but the defense… well, isn’t. Neither was clicking last year in Baton Rogue, and it’ll take the best effort of the season from both sides to win this game. QB Woodson looked shaky against South Carolina last weekend, but back home at the friendly confines, he should be more confident, and hopefully hold on to the ball a little better. This is the 2nd of 3 games in UK’s midseason Schedule of Doom. An 0-3 record would almost certainly relegate them to a bottom rung standing in the SEC East.

It’ll be interesting to see how much LSU has left in the tank after such a draining game against Florida last weekend. If they were a team that relied more on their offense, I’d be more concerned about a letdown in this game. But that defense and those RBs are too good and too deep to have a let down. The D will play significantly better than they did against Florida last week as they line up against a more traditional offense in UK. LSU wins, though an inspired effort by Woodson keeps the margin less than 10.

While this loss will disheartening to the Big Blue Nation, it certainly won’t compare to the last time the Tigers came to Lexington.

Straight Up Winner: LSU
Against the Spread: Kentucky

(#7, #12)South Carolina (5-1, 3-1) @ North Carolina (2-4)
2:30 CDT, ABC
Wednesday's Line: USC -7

These border rivals meet for the first time since 1991, with UNC holding a 34-16-4 edge in the all-time series. Both are founding members of the ACC before USC left for the much greener pastures of the SEC. HC Spurrier is 3-0 against UNC from his days roaming the sidelines for Duke. These two head coaches met in the 2000 Sugar Bowl, with Davis’ Miami Hurricanes besting Spurrier’s Gators 37-20.

The Tar Heels are coming off a big upset win last week over Miami, while the Gamecocks are riding high from their big win over UK. Talent-wise, this game shouldn’t be close. USC is ranked in the top 10 in the country for the first time since 2001, and they currently sit atop the standings in the SEC East. Their #1 ranked passing defense should handle UNC QB Yates, who has thrown for ~1400 yds and 9 TDs this season. USC QB Smelley continues to settle into his role as starter, tossing for 256 yds and 2 TDs against UK last week.

The Tarheels have been in every game this season except a 37-10 loss to USF. HC Davis will certainly have them in the top 25 by 2009, but it’s just not there yet this season. The Gamecocks will certainly have to avoid a letdown, but after a close 1st half, the defense will take over and USC wins easily.

Straight Up Winner: USC
Against the Spread: USC

(#24, #23)Georgia (4-2, 2-2) @ Vanderbilt (3-2, 1-2)
5:00 CDT, ESPN2
Wednesday's Line: Georgia -7

Georgia is 47-18-2 all-time against Vanderbilt, including 21-3-1 in the last 25. Vandy did spring the upset last year 24-22 in Athens though, snapping a 12-game losing streak to UGA. Vandy hasn’t beaten UGA in back to back years since 1956 – 1958. They haven’t beaten UGA in Nashville since 1991.

Georgia is the most schizophrenic team in conference, if not the country. One week after rushing for 300+ yds against Ole Miss, they managed less than 70 against a Tennessee defense that had served as a punching bag in its other two games against BCS competition. QB Stafford is at the heart of the inconsistency with game-by-game completion percentages of 75%, 43.2%, 70%, 54.3%, 61.9%, and 48.5%. FR RB Knowshon Moreno will have to step up in this game, as SR RB Thomas Brown is out with a broken collarbone.

All-SEC WR Earl Bennett needs just 7 catches to become the league’s all time leader in receptions. With no other offensive threat to mention – WR Sean Walker is 2nd on team with 10 receptions – teams have been effectively limiting Bennett’s touches. If Vandy is to win this game, Bennett has to get the ball early and often. That starts with good OL play, allowing RB Jackson-Garrison to get into open space. The ‘Dawgs are 5th in both passing and rushing defense, so yards may be tough to come by for the Commodores.

Based on the Stafford’s good-bad pattern, he’s due for a solid game in this one. Vandy has one of the better pass statistical pass defenses in the conference, but other than Ole Miss, hasn’t really faced a strong passing offense. The ‘Dawgs have their backs against the wall in this one, as another loss – particularly in the division – would all but eliminate them from title hopes. The ‘Dawgs bounce back from their UT loss and win a close game in Nashville.

Straight Up Winner: Georgia
Against the Spread: Vanderbilt

(#22, #25)Auburn (4-2, 2-1) @ Arkansas (3-2, 0-2)
6:45 CDT, ESPN
Wednesday's Line: Arkansas -2.5

Auburn leads this series 9-6-1 all-time, including 3 of the last 4. The Razorbacks upset Auburn last year 27-10. The visiting team has won 4 of the last 5. Arkansas HC Houston Nutt is 6-3 against Auburn HC Tommy Tuberville.

Break up the Auburn Tigers. The Tigers manhandled Vandy last week, holding them 221 total yds, including just 88 passing. The Tigers also sport the conference’s 3rd best rushing D, which will be tested to the utmost extreme Saturday against the conference’s two best RBs in McFadden and Felix Jones. After opening the season with sub-par games, QB Cox has rebounded with 3 straight solid outings. He’s not throwing for a lot of TDs, but since the loss to Mississippi State he’s completed 71% of his passes and only tossed 1 INT.

The same can’t be said about the Hogs’ passing game. QB Casey Dick has yet to complete 60% of his passes for a game, and hasn’t thrown for more than 210 yds in any game. DMac and Felix Jones are great, but they need some help if the Hogs expect to win. The Hogs lead the SEC in total ypg, mainly due to their ridiculous rushing totals, but their defense ranks 9th in points allowed and ypg. While Auburn ranks 9th in total offense, those numbers are slightly skewed by pitiful offensive showings earlier in the year.

All the distractions surrounding this Arkansas team – particularly Nutt – will either serve as a rallying point for the team or the breaking point. The sheer omnipresence of the HogNation’s discontent for Nutt makes me think it’ll impact the team negatively this weekend. Well that, and the fact that Auburn is rolling right now after back to back conference wins, and the Hog defense has been less-than-stellar all season. McFadden and Jones will get their numbers, but an inefficient passing game and porous D will drop Arkansas to 0-3 in conference.

Straight Up Winner: Auburn
Against the Spread: Auburn

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