Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Week 11 Predictions

We've officially turned the corner and are headed down the home stretch of the season. While the SEC West is all but wrapped up, the SEC East is anything but. There's even a feasible scenario with a 6-way tie at 4-4. (See Balance of Power on righthand side) As for this weekend's games, we've got five conference games and the road team is favored in 3 of them and another is a Pick ‘Em game. Welcome to SEC Football at its finest.

(#21, #23)Alabama (7-3, 4-2) @ Mississippi St. (5-4, 2-3)
11:30 CST, LFS
Wednesday's Line: Alabama -5.5

Alabama owns this series all-time, holding a 71-17-3 lead in the series, and is the longest running series for the Crimson Tide. MSU HC Croom played and coached at Alabama before ending up in Starkville. Though the Bulldogs have 2 road conference wins this year, their 24-16 win in Tuscaloosa snapped a 23-game road conference game losing streak. It also – for all intents and purposes – marked the end of HC Shula’s Tide career.

Imperative for the Tide in this game is to actually score an offensive TD. The Bulldog D has held the Alabama without and offensive TD the last 2 seasons. Alabama is scoring 31.8 ppg this season, while the Bulldogs are surrendering 25.2 ppg, so that streak will come to an end this year. They’ll need a better game from QB Wilson, who last year threw for just 187 yds and 2 INTs. If he can get the ball to WR Hall, he should be alright. Hall leads the league in ypg (93.3) and is tied for 3rd in TDs (6). Wilson’s performance will need to resemble his game against UT (32-36, 363 yds, 3 TDs) than his game last week against LSU (14-40, 234 yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT). They’ll need improved efforts from their RBs as well (23 carries for 54 yds).

Much of this game will come down to how FR QB Carroll handles the pressure of the game, as well as a Tide pass D with 17 sacks and 15 interceptions. He played very well in the upset of Kentucky a couple of weeks ago and MSU will need a similar effort this weekend. RB Dixon will need to find some holes in a strong Tide run D (3.6 ypc) to but Carroll some more time in the pocket. Dixon is tied with Arkansas RB McFadden for second in the SEC with 12 rushing TDs. He’ll definitely need to add to that total for the Bullies to spring the upset.

This is the first sellout since MSU expanded their stadium to its current capacity in 2001. The Tide will be looking for revenge after last year’s embarrassing loss, while the Bulldogs will be looking to clinch bowl eligibility for the first time since 2000. While the atmosphere will be as raucous as it’s been in years in Starkville, the Tide players are used to rowdy crowds. While MSU is improved, they don’t have the talent to overcome the number of penalties likely to be called on them. The Tide will make a few more plays down the stretch and pull out a tough road win.

Straight Up Winner: Alabama
Against the Spread: Alabama

Arkansas (6-3, 2-3) @ (#22, #24)Tennessee (6-3, 3-2)
11:30 CST, LFS
Wednesday's Line: Pick ‘Em

Tennessee has dominated this series all time, holding a 12-3 record, including 5-1 in Knoxville. Arkansas won last year 31-14 in Fayetteville, though UT QB Ainge sat the game out with a bum ankle. The last time Arkansas trekked to Knoxville, it took 6 OTs to determine that UT was 3 points better.

If QB Dick is ever going to have a breakout game, this would be the time to have it. The Vols pass defense ranks last in conference, allowing nearly 245 ypg. The Hogs basically eschewed the passing game last week against South Carolina, as they rushed the ball58 times for 542 yds, 487 yds by RBs McFadden and Jones. Dick did play well, completing 8/10 passes for 86 yds with 2 TDs and 0 INTs. The defense allowed 489 yds, but was on the field for more than 37 minutes of the game, so those numbers are skewed.

Tennessee continued its improved play at home with a thumping of hapless ULaLa last week. Ainge was his usual consistent self – 69.6% completions, 125 yds, and 1 TD. The Vols will need more this weekend to keep up with the Hogs. Ainge isn’t asked to throw downfield much, but the Hogs defense is strong enough to make a few plays and disrupt dink-and-dunk drives. With McFadden and Jones able to break a long TD run any time they touch the ball, look for the playbook to open up a bit. RB Foster will need step up to the challenge of having the best 2 RBs in conference invading his home stadium.

After less-than-stellar beginnings for these two teams, it’s hard to believe this game is as significant as it is. Tennessee has been dominant at home lately and Arkansas has been on fire lately, averaging 50 ppg the last 3 weeks. You could argue that the Hogs are the 3rd best team in conference right now behind LSU and Auburn. Tennessee has had trouble stopping teams this season and has had to outscore people. That won’t happen this weekend. McFadden and Jones will both have an easy time with a porous UT run D giving up 4.5 ypc and 167.7 ypg. In what should be another high-scoring affair, the Hogs will run to a road win in Knoxville.

Straight Up Winner: Arkansas
Against the Spread: Arkansas

(#24, #22)Kentucky (6-3, 2-3) @ Vanderbilt (5-4, 2-4)
11:30 CST, LFS
Wednesday's Line: Kentucky -3.5

Kentucky leads this all-time series 38-37-4, including last year’s 38-26 win in Lexington. In addition to nearly an identical win-loss record, the games in this series have been close, with 32 (41%) of the games decided by a TD or less. The teams are 14-14-4 in those games.

It was a stellar game for both QBs last season, as UK’s Woodson threw for a career high 450 yds (4 TDs/0 INTs) and VU’s Nickson nearly matched him with 446 yds of his own. Each team’s marquee receiver played well, with UK’s Burton tallying 171 yds and 2 TDs and VU’s Bennett added a then-career-high 220 yds. Don’t look for either team to approach those numbers this year.

UK’s high-powered attack, all but grounded by MSU a couple of weeks ago, will look to return to its early season form against an up and down Vandy defense. After playing well for 3 weeks, the ‘Dores D allowed nearly 500 yds to Florida and dug itself a 35-7 hole by halftime. With a senior-laden ‘Cats team playing their last few games together, they’ll be rearing to go and will put some points on the board early. When Kentucky scores though, the fun may just be beginning. If it’s windy enough to keep the ball out of the end zone, VU KR Moore averages nearly 30ypr and seems more and more due to break one for a TD with each passing week.

The loser of this game is normally relegated to the cellar of the SEC East (which would still be 3rd in the Big 10, but I digress). That may not be the case this year as no team has more than 4 wins or fewer than 2 losses. It will be Vandy to tests out the theory though. Kentucky played too poorly at home 2 weekends ago to not bounce back with a solid performance this weekend in Nashville. The game will most likely be close – as they – all seem to be, but Woodson and crew have too much firepower for the ‘Dores.

Straight Up Winner: Kentucky
Against the Spread: Kentucky

(#18, #17)Auburn (7-3, 4-2) @ (#10, #10)Georgia (7-2, 4-2)
2:30 CST, CBS
Wednesday's Line: Georgia -2

Auburn leads this series 53-49-8, but Georgia blew out the Tigers 36-15 last year in Auburn. The Tigers actually lead the series 18-9 in Athens, and have won 10 of the last 12 there.

Auburn is playing some of the best football in the country right now, having won 6 of 7, with the lone loss a heartbreaker to LSU. Their success is tied directly to the fact that QB Cox has thrown just 1 INT in those 7 games. He won’t beat you with his arm – only 6 TDs in those same games – but he doesn’t have to. He’ll look to move the ball against a UGA pass D that leads the league in pass TDs allowed (8) but is last in interceptions (4). RB Lester rested against TTU last weekend, but he and fellow RBs Tate and Fannin will be called upon to attack a Dawg rush D that has given up 14 TDs, tied for 2nd worst in the league.

As for the ‘Dawg O… little has gone wrong the last two weeks, having rolled up 878 yds and 86 points in wins over Florida and Troy. Their job will be a little tougher Saturday against an AU defense that has allowed fewer TDs than any other team in conference ranks 2nd in total defense behind LSU. RB Moreno – a virtual lock for SEC Freshman of the Year – spearheads a ‘Dawg running attack ranked 5th in conference with 173.7 ypg. He’ll need QB Stafford to continue his recent hot streak – 434 yds, 5 TDs last 2 games – trying to stretch out the stout Tiger D. Without the threat of a vertical passing attack, the running lanes with be few and far between.

AU HC Tuberville ranks as one of the best big game coaches in the country. His Tigers are 9-2 in their last 11 games against Top 10 opponents, including their victory over Florida earlier in the season. While the “good” UGA offense has been out the last 2 games, AU’s D will bring out the ‘Dawgs that struggled against South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. As usual in this series, the hometown fans will go away unhappy.

Straight Up Winner: Auburn
Against the Spread: Auburn

(#17, #18)Florida (6-3, 4-3) @ South Carolina (6-4, 3-4)
6:45 CST, ESPN
Wednesday's Line: Florida -6.5

Florida has dominated this series through the years, holding a 20-4-3 advantage in the series, including last year’s 17-16 squeaker in Gainesville. The Gators are 14-1 against the Gamecocks since they joined the SEC in 1992, though that 1 loss was 2 years ago in Columbia.

Just 7 days after being run over by McFadden and Arkansas, the Gamecocks must somehow regroup and play a desperation game against a bitter divisional rival. One bright spot from last week’s game was the play of QB Mitchell who threw for 364 yds and 2 TDs with his team in catchup mode all night. He’ll have a chance to exploit a young, banged up UF secondary allowing a 60% completion rate. They’ll need some kind of production from RB Boyd though. He’s rolled up 254 yds the last 2 weeks, but the Gators are allowing only 105.6 ypg and 3.1 ypc.

As for the Gators, they really made a statement last week against an improved Vanderbilt team scoring 5 TDs in the first half. QB Tebow continues to play well despite a dinged up shoulder. His pass game will be tested this weekend by a strong USC secondary allowing only a 51.9% completion rate and 149.2 ypg. BMF Harvin and RB Moore should be able to find success against a USC defense probably not sleeping well from dreams of the Razorback dynamic duo.

I picked the Gamecocks to surprise and win the SEC East this year, but key defensive injuries, lack of a running game, and inconsistent QB play have all but ended those chances. While the East is muddled enough to where just about anything is possible, the Gamecock chances will officially be nil after another gut-wrenching loss Saturday. The defense will rebound from being embarrassed last weekend, but the offense just doesn’t have the guns to run with the Gators for 60 minutes. A close game, but too much Tebow/Harvin at the end of the day.

Straight Up Winner: Florida
Against the Spread: South Carolina

Louisiana Tech (4-5) @ (#2, #2) LSU (8-1, 5-1)
7:00 CST, PPV
Wednesday's Line: LSU -36.5

LSU owns a 16-1 record all-time against Louisiana Tech, including a 49-10 win in 2003 the last time they played. LaTech has managed just 32 points in the 17 games and has been shutout 12 times. LSU is 16-0 against WAC members, but HC Miles is just 1-1 against LaTech (from his OKSt days).

One fact sums up this matchup… This Bulldog team couldn’t score against Ole Miss. That’s all you need to know. This game won’t come down to Les Miles’ magic 8-ball of questionable coaching moves. No one cares if QB Perrilloux plays or not. This will just be an ugly, massacre of the most talented team in the country running over its ugly, red-headed stepchild on a chilly night on the Bayou.

Straight Up Winner: LSU
Against the Spread: LTU

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