Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Week 8 Predictions

Another thin slate this weekend, with only 6 games for a second consecutive week. The Georgia Bulldogs take the weekend off, while the Mississippi State brand head to West Virginia for a big non-conference tilt. A couple of big games this weekend with UF@UK and the yearly 3rd Saturday in October showdown between Alabama and Tennessee.

Here’s how the weekend will shake out…

(#21, #20) Tennessee (4-2, 2-1) @ Alabama (5-2, 3-1)
11:30 CDT, LFS
Wednesday's Line: Pick ‘Em

The times have definitely changed when this game is available for JP LFS to pick up to air at 11:30. The Tide lead this series 44-38-7 all-time, but the Volunteers are 10-2 the last 12 years. The home team has won the last 3 meetings.

The Volunteers won on the road last week in Starkville, rolling up 47- yds of offense against a very good MSU defense. Tennessee leads the conference in passing yds per game with 270.5, and trails only Kentucky in passing TDs with 13. They’ll be facing a Tide D that is last in the league in passing TDs surrendered with 12. RBs Foster and Hardesty combined for 217 yds last week, and will be looking for similar numbers against the Tide.

After a 2-game slide, the Tide has rebounded with back-to-back down to the wire wins against Houston and Ole Miss. QB Wilson threw the ball 40 times last week against the Rebels but didn’t find the end zone. He struggled against UT last year, completing only 45% of his passes for 158 yds. He’ll have an opportunity to improve on those numbers against a soft UT pass D ranked 10th in conference.

This could be a high scoring affair, as both teams move the ball well consistently, but don’t always stop the other team from doing the same. Fulmer – as much grief as he takes from UT fans and opposing fans alike – owns Bama, much to the Tide’s chagrin. This year will be more of the same. The Tide have scraped by the last two weeks against inferior opponents, but their luck runs out Saturday against the Vols. The Vols are playing well right now, and will pick up their now customary 3rd Saturday in October win.

Straight Up Winner: Tennessee
Against the Spread: Tennessee

Vanderbilt (3-3, 1-3) @ (#6, #6) South Carolina (6-1, 3-1)
11:30 CDT, PPV
Wednesday's Line: South Carolina -13.5

South Carolina leads this series all time 14-2, including victories the last 7 years. USC HC Spurrier will look to improve to 15-0 all time against Vanderbilt, a record he achieved against Kentucky 2 weeks ago.

For the Commodores, their season is approaching desperation mode. They led UGA by 10 last week at half, but were held scoreless in the 2nd half and lost on a last second FG. WR Earl Bennett continued to struggle against quality SEC teams this year, as the QB duo of Nickson and Adams can’t seem to get him the ball. Even with Bennett needing just 4 catches to become the SEC’s all-time leader in receptions, there’s no guarantee he’ll get there this weekend. USC’s pass D ranks 3rd nationally, surrendering less than 150 ypg. If RB Jackson-Garrison is ever going to have a breakout game, this would be a good time to have it against the soft USC run D. Yards through the air will be much tougher to come by.

The Gamecocks sleep walked through the second half of their game last week against UNC and it almost cost them, as the Tarheels had chances in the 4th quarter, but were unable to convert. QB Smelley continued to wage battle with UGA’s Moreno and Bama’s Grant for SEC Freshman of the Year, as he improved to 4-0 as a starter. This will be a good game for Spurrier to work on shoring up a porous run defense, as well as build on RB Cory Boyd’s 95-yd performance last week, his 2nd highest of the season. He and RB Mike Davis have 9 TDs between them this season, but have yet to score rushing TDs in the same game. That could change this week.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the Commodores win this game. Unless the Gamecocks are looking ahead to the huge showdown with Tennessee next weekend, it’s hard to imagine this game is close. Vandy’s offense is struggling, ranking 11th in conference with just over 320 ypg. The Gamecocks will win this one comfortably, setting up a big game with major SEC East implications next weekend in Knoxville.

Straight Up Winner: South Carolina
Against the Spread: South Carolina

Arkansas (3-3, 0-3) @ Ole Miss (2-5, 0-4)
1:00 CDT, No TV
Wednesday's Line: Arkansas -5

Arkansas leads this series either 28-24-1 or 29-23-1, depending on which side you ask. They’ve won 5 of the last 6, including last year’s 38-3 win, which was the most-lopsided win in series history.

The Razorbacks are coming off of their worst offensive outing of the year, after gaining only 193 total yds and 11 1st downs against a surging Auburn team. The defense played well though, holding Auburn to 3 FGs. RB/KR Felix Jones must be licking his lips as he leads the conference in KR average, and Ole Miss ranks last in KO coverage. With the Rebel offense much improved over last year, Jones will get a few shots to break one for a TD, just like he did to open last year’s rout in Fayetteville. QB Casey Dick will have a chance to play well against a Rebel pass D that ranks 11th in conference in pass efficiency defense. There’s even a chance that top WR Marcus Monk gets significant PT this week.

After the most frustrating loss in a growing number of painfully close SEC losses, it will be a real test of the coaching staff to get the Rebels ready to play. They were embarrassed last season in Fayetteville, and a win here would help out that game and last week’s debacle out of their minds. Rebels bottled up McFadden last season, as he had on 65 yds on 17 carries. But without all-world (apparently soon to be all-pro) LB Patrick Willis in the middle of the field, the Rebels’ run D is bad (at best), allowing 194.6 ypg, only slightly better than UK’s 194.7.

Unless the team has completely quit on Nutt, there’s no way that DMac and Jones get bottled up like that again. There’s a good chance the Rebels come out flat this week after last’s emotional game, and they’ve struggled against the run all year. Both teams will reach the 20s and first one to 30 wins. That’ll be the Hogs.

Straight Up Winner: Arkansas
Against the Spread: Arkansas

Mississippi State (4-3, 1-3) @ (#9, #9)West Virginia (5-1)
2:30 CDT, ESPN Regional
Wednesday's Line: West Virginia -24.5

Last year’s 42-14 win by West Virginia was the first ever meeting between these two schools. The Mountaineers gashed Mississippi State for 314 yds rushing, which is the most the Bulldogs have allowed under Croom. The Mountaineers are coming off a bye week, which gave star QB Pat White an extra week to rest his legs and chest, both of which caused him to miss portions of WVU’s last 2 games. They’re currently averaging 43 ppg and 510 yds of offense.

This will be a real test for the Bulldog defense. The D has carried them throughout the season, as the offense and the QB carousel has been paltry at best. The Mountaineers lead the Big East in Total Defense, and rank 4th in ppg allowed. FR QB Carroll played well at times last week, as the Bulldogs had a few sustained drives, but too many 3 & Outs. How he performs in a hostile, unfamiliar environment remains to be seen.

Last year’s score is misleading, as WVU tacked on 2 TDs in the final 3 minutes of the game. This is an improved MSU team – at least defensively – and WVU has a huge game next week against Rutgers, in a game that will greatly impact the Big L East standings. WVU will win, but MSU’s defense will keep it within 3 TDs.

Straight Up Winner: West Virginia
Against the Spread: Mississippi State

(#15, #14)Florida (4-2, 2-2) @ (#7,#8)Kentucky (6-1, 2-1)
2:30 CDT, CBS
Wednesday's Line: Florida -6.5

The Gators travel to Lexington this weekend for an unusually important game for both these schools. Florida owns this series all time 40-17, and has won a ridiculous 20 straight against the ‘Cats by an average of 23 ppg. When ranked in the top 25, Florida is 24-3 against Kentucky. Kentucky, though, is 3-1 against the Gators when the ‘Cats are ranked.

The Gators had a much-needed off weekend last week. With QB Tebow getting banged around so much (105 carries, nearly 40 more than 2nd most on team) and a 2-game losing streak, the extra prep time will serve them well. The youthful Gators failed to close out LSU in Baton Rouge in their last game, but that experience will serve them well in the future. Kentucky ranks last in the conference in rushing D, so Tebow and the host of other Gators who run the ball will have their opportunities to make plays.

As for the Wildcats, all attention will be on QB Woodson. He played very well down the stretch last week against LSU, finishing with 250 yds and 3 TDs. While his completion percentages have been down the last 2 weeks, much of that credit goes to the pass D of LSU and South Carolina. The Gators – while very good against the run – struggle against the pass, allowing 230 ypg, 11th in conference. Starting RB Little is mostly like out for this game and next, meaning the ‘Cats will rely on FR RB Derrick Locke. He played well last week, but can he duplicate that success against Florida?

This concludes Kentucky’s brutal 3-game stretch against Top-10 caliber teams. They’ve split the first two, but who knows how much they’ll have left for the Gators? Meanwhile the Gators are coming off consecutive losses, and there’s no way they drop a 3rd straight. HC Meyer is 21-2 with an extra week to prepare. Both teams should move the ball well, as their offense match up well with the opposing Ds. This one might be close for a while, but in the battle of Heisman candidate QBs, a reinvigorated and rested Tebow will be too much for the ‘Cats in the 2nd half.

Straight Up Winner: Florida
Against the Spread: Florida

(#17, #18)Auburn (5-2, 3-1) @ (#4, #5)LSU (6-1, 3-1)
8:00 CDT, ESPN
Wednesday's Line: LSU -11.5

One of the most even rivalries in the conference is renewed this weekend in Baton Rouge, with LSU holding a 21-19-1 lead over Auburn all time. The home team has won the last 7 games in this series, including Auburn’s 7-3 win on the Plains last year.

Not coincidentally, Auburn’s recent hot streak began when QB Cox stopped turning the ball over, which began when the offensive line started jelling as a unit. He’s completed 67.1% of his passes and thrown just 1 INT in the last 4 games – all wins. RB Brad Lester’s 2nd game of the season went well as he picked up another 89 yds. He and Ben Tate form a formidable tandem that will pressure that much-ballyhooed LSU defensive front.

As for LSU, they’ll need better play out of the QB position than what they got in Lexington last week. QB Flynn completed just 48% of his passes and had a QB Rating of 83.8. With the smashmouth brand of football LSU plays, they need more than that. LSU ranks near the top of the conference in nearly every significant defensive statistic, and they’ll need an All-American effort from Glenn Dorsey and Titus Jackson to bottle up Auburn’s power run game.

This has all the makings of another defensive slugfest. LSU ranks 2nd in the country in total D (223.1 ypg) and Auburn is 9th (279 ypg). The last 3 games have been decided by a total of 8 points, with Auburn winning 2/3. While these teams certainly seem more evenly matched than they did after Week 3, LSU will win this game. LSU is a different team under the lights of Tiger Stadium. The crowd noise, combined with a team desperate to stay in the National Title hunt will prove to be a little too much for the Auburn Tigers.

Straight Up Winner: LSU
Against the Spread: Auburn

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