The hype for this weekend’s premier game has built for over a month and finally, the moment has arrived. Presumably, the SEC West will be settled this weekend along with the front-runner in the BCS title race. By the end of next weekend, SEC fans should know which teams will be playing in the conference championship game. That’s amazing when one considers there is a quarter of the season left to be played. Outside of the two big games, other teams fight for chances at bowl spots or just plain old pride.
LSU (8-0) @ Alabama (8-0)
There are a dozen different ways to look at this game and I keep going in circles. LSU has speed but so does Alabama. LSU’s defense causes havoc to the opposition. Alabama simply puts the clamps on the opposition and squeezes the life out of it. LSU’s offense pounds you with the running game and then hits the big play. Alabama pounds you with one of the best running backs in the country and then hits you with a big play down field.
The one place where LSU has an advantage is in special teams, specifically the kickers. Alabama’s aren’t that special and they don’t really have to be, though I’m sure Nick Saban would prefer their play to be more consistent. Even homefield advantage comes to a draw. Alabama is 25-1 at home over the last three years and it isn’t giving up a lot of points or yards. In fact, take out last year’s meltdown vs. Auburn and Alabama has dominated all kinds of opponents on its turf. LSU has proven it can go on the road and beat marquee teams.
So, here’s what I think I can use to decide a winner. I don’t know what Alabama QB A.J. McCarron will look like when he’s under pressure the likes of what he’ll see Saturday. I do know what LSU QB Jarrett Lee looks like, and it’s not good. I do think Lee has grown a bit but he’s still prone to mistakes in those situations. That’s something Alabama can exploit as the game wears on. Alabama’s offense has found ways to take those opportunities created by the defense and cash in for plenty of points.
I actually expect the bulk of the points to come early and then the defenses to grind this to a halt in the second half with dramatic stops to preserve the win.
Pick: Alabama 14, LSU 10
South Carolina (7-1) @ Arkansas (7-1)
Arkansas has stubbed its toe for two weeks in a row now having to stage dramatic comebacks to get wins over seemingly far inferior opponents. South Carolina, without RB Marcus Lattimore, is just plain boring on offense and hasn’t been able to move the ball well against seemingly lesser opponents.
So what gives? Well, Arkansas still has their full cadre of weapons to move the ball up and down the field. South Carolina’s defense is salty but it won’t be able to withstand that barrage for four quarters. I just don’t think the Gamecocks have the firepower to win this one on the road.
Pick: Arkansas 27, South Carolina 17
Vanderbilt (4-4) @ Florida (4-4)
I am as surprised as anyone that these two teams have identical overall records going into this game, but after a litany of injuries for Florida and an inability to finish games for Vanderbilt, that is exactly where we are. Vanderbilt’s identity change is refreshing but it still lacks the kind of depth needed to finish off opponents in the conference that possess that kind of depth.
Florida is a classic example of a team taking on the personality of the head coach. Will Muschamp is talented but his hot-headed temperamental ways often lead his team to folding the tent in the face of adversity. Both teams have a lot of growing up to do but Florida is still further along than Vanderbilt. That and homefield advantage are enough to give the nod to the Gators.
Pick: Florida 24, Vanderbilt 16
Ole Miss (2-6) @ Kentucky (3-5)
Ole Miss is terrible at halftime adjustments, so it needs to jump out to a lead early and hope it holds. Kentucky is just way too inconsistent. In spite of having talent on defense, the Wildcats give up way too many yards. Ole Miss can move the ball (albeit erratic) and that should give it enough of an edge to get the win.
Pick: Ole Miss 24, Kentucky 20
Out Of Conference Games
Tennessee-Martin (5-3) @ Mississippi State (4-4)
How disappointing this season must be for the overzealous Mississippi State fans who thought it might be a darkhorse SEC West contender. Now it is fighting for a decent bowl trip (e.g. not Shreveport, LA or Birmingham, AL). Too bad Joe Schad from ESPN can’t manufacture enough unsubstantiated rumors to make Mississippi State much more relevant than this.
Pick: Mississippi State 24, Tennessee-Martin 10
Middle Tennessee (2-5) @ Tennessee (3-5)
Tennessee plays with a lot of heart but injuries and inexperience have left it on the wrong side of the scoreboard so many times this season that it is going to be in scramble mode to try and make a bowl game. Middle Tennessee is not what it used to be in the Sun Belt and should provide fertile opportunity for the Volunteers to get win number four.
Pick: Tennessee 28, Middle Tennessee 10
New Mexico State (3-5) @ Georgia (6-2)
Georgia gets a tune-up before its annual tussle with Auburn. Expect the backups to get plenty of work in the second half of this one.
Pick: Georgia 45, New Mexico State 7