Although Carolina is not playing, this weekend has no shortage of potentially great, dramatic games. The most important battle in terms of SEC and national rankings will be taking place in Baton Rouge, but the Nutt Bowl, Vandy-Duke, and Phil Fulmer's last-ditch effort to save his job should also be exciting.
Check out our buddy's blog The Ghost of Chucky...Mullins, That Is for some more great previews.
Note that one important game has already taken place: Auburn's loss last night in Morgantown.
Kentucky at Florida
Kentucky comes into this game fresh off a dramatic comeback victory over Arkansas, while Florida took a week off after blasting LSU two weeks ago. On the surface, obviously, Florida is the clear favorite: the Gators are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and appear to be hitting their stride after routing the Bayou Bengals. Kentucky has a good defense, but their offense has had lots of problems, and conventional wisdom tells us that the Wildcats won't score enough points to hang with the Gators.
Do I think the Wildcats stand a chance? Perhaps more than most people think, but they're going to have lots of trouble. They'll need a great game from their defense, and by great I don't just mean that they need to slow the Gators down, I mean that they need to create several turnovers. If they can set up some easy scores for their offense, they could find themselves with a chance to win late. Ole Miss was favored with turnovers when they played Florida, and the Rebels took full advantage.
However, there's a major difference between Ole Miss and Kentucky: Ole Miss has an explosive offense that allowed them to utilize the good field position they received. Even if the Cats' defense has an epic performance, I just don't think they'll be able to make Florida pay enough to win this game. Gators win, although it might be closer than expected.
More picks after the jump.
Duke at Vanderbilt
Fighting the inertia of years of horrible football, both of these two teams have improved dramatically this year, although the improvement in Nashville has been more gradual. Both have legitimate chances to become bowl eligible. Vandy has a better chance: the Dores come into this game at 5-2 and becomes eligible with this win, while Duke sits at 3-3. Both teams face a number of likely losses down the stretch, making this game very significant to their post-season aspirations.
Duke, led by offensive guru and future Tennessee head coach David Cutcliffe, is very capable of scoring lots of points. Other than an abysmal outing against Georgia Tech, Duke's offense been legitimately effective. The Blue Devils also give up lots of points, although their defense has played opportunistically at times, such as when they forced six turnovers in a rout of an apparently decent UVA team.
Vanderbilt, on the other hand, has not been an offensive juggernaut this year, and their defense has covered up for its shortcomings by taking advantage of the mistakes of opposing offenses. While I don't want to take anything away from the fantastic job done by Bobby Johnson and his staff, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that Vandy has benefitted from the bounce of the ball, as they have been statistically unimpressive.
In sum, this game looks like a push: Duke has better numbers but has done it against a weak ACC slate. When you have a push, go with the home team. This game is in Nashville, and Vandy has defended its own turf admirably this year. I say the Dores win a close one and get to bowl eligibility for the first time since the first Reagan administration.
Georgia at LSU
This is a huge inter-divisional game: an UGA loss will mean that the Dawgs will need to be perfect down the stretch, while an LSU loss will make it all but impossible for the Tigers to make it to Atlanta. The game also has major national implications, as both teams are still in the running for the BCS Title Game, although the weight of the Tigers rout at the hands of Florida means that they will really have to impress down the stretch.
Which team comes in with the advantage? Both the Dawgs and the Tigers have been somewhat disappointing this year. Georgia, the pre-season top-ranked team in the country, was blown off the field by Alabama and has had trouble with mid-tier teams like South Carolina and Vanderbilt, while the Tigers were thoroughly destroyed by Florida and also struggled a bit against South Carolina and awful Auburn.
Despite these similarities, I would say that UGA is a slightly stronger team. They boast a seasoned, star-laden, and balanced offense. UGA might not be as explosive as Florida, but the the one-two punch of Knowshon Moreno and Matt Stafford/AJ Green should cause similar problems for an inexperienced LSU defense.
Much as they did against South Carolina, LSU will likely try to take advantage of a somewhat soft UGA offensive line, but with more offensive weapons, the Dawgs will make the Tigers pay for their vanilla blitz schemes. Even though LSU has homefield advantage, Georgia will score lots of points in this game, and the Tigers won't be able to keep up in a shootout. UGA by 10+.
Ole Miss at Arkansas
There will be hugs and good feelings all around as Houston Nutt returns to Fayetteville to revisit his adoring fans. Yes, that sentence was dripping with sarcasm. There will likely be quite a bit of booing going on as Nutt and his Rebels take the field, which is often the case when a coach takes off for a divisional rival.
Arkansas seems to be improving; although they looked like one of the nation's worst teams early in the year, they have beaten Auburn and almost beaten Kentucky in recent weeks. Ole Miss, on the other hand, is 3-4 but has been competitive in all of their losses. The Rebels also beat Florida in one of the year's biggest upsets.
On paper, Ole Miss definitely has an advantage. They've played better for most of the year. However, the Hogs have recently begun to look more like a Petrino-lead team, and that could be bad news for Ole Miss. The Rebels have an explosive offense, but their defense has been shredded by a number of teams, and their secondary has been especially problematic. That could spell trouble for Ole Miss against Arkansas, a team that passes the ball effectively when Casey Dick is on his game, which, admittedly, isn't always the case.
For these reasons, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the Hogs get another big win, although I'll have to admit that my faith in Casey Dick stepping up to the plate is a little fragile.
Middle Tennessee State at Mississippi State
To say that this game is flying under the radar during this exciting week would be an understatement. However, this game will potentially be exciting and spells potential disgrace for the SEC if MTSU wins. The Blue Raiders have beaten a good Maryland team as well as come close against Kentucky, so a win for them in Starkville isn't only not out of the realm of possibility, it's actually quite likely.
The Bulldogs, to put it mildly, are a terrible offensive team. Heck, they make Auburn look like an offensive juggernaut. They will have trouble scoring against the Blue Raiders, and if they give up as many turnovers as they did last week against Tennessee, MTSU might run away with it. I'm going with MTSU in this game.
Alabama at Tennessee
Perhaps the most intriguing game of the week. On paper, this looks like a huge mismatch--Bama is rolling to a possible national title shot, while Tennessee has been horrible this year. The Vols, in fact, have yet to post anything resembling a quality win, lost to horrible UCLA, and almost lost to Northern Illinois. They are bad.
However, expect a close one here. The game is in Knoxville, for one, and the Volunteer faithful will be out in full force to cheer against the hated Tide. Second of all, Tennessee actually has a very good defense that is led by Eric Berry, one of the SEC's best players. Berry is the kind of player who can change a game with a magical interception, and he'll be at the top of his game tomorrow.
Finally, Phil Fulmer knows he has to win this game to have a shot at keeping his job. Fulmer may not be the greatest coach in the world, but the guy has been a Volunteer for a long time and he won't go down without a fight. He'll have his team motivated and ready to play the game of their lives.
Alas, it may not be enough for Tennessee. The Volunteers' offense is very bad, so bad that even a some big plays by Berry and Co. might not be enough to help the Vols out. Alabama is just a much better team and they'll win a close one.