Week 5 SEC Predictions And Previews

    Vanderbilt (1-3) at Kentucky (2-1) Sept. 27, 12:00, SEC Network Here’s The Deal: In most years, Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky equals the battle for last place

    September 26, 2014

    Vanderbilt (1-3) at Kentucky (2-1) Sept. 27, 12:00, SEC Network 

    Here’s The Deal: In most years, Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky equals the battle for last place in the SEC, but this year, more than ever, this really should be for the No. 14 spot for the loser with a brutally loaded SEC West the best division in football and the East stronger than it looked last week with Florida and Missouri both losing. Kentucky did a great job of battling hard in a heartbreaking three overtime loss to the Gators two weeks ago, showing that things are quickly improving under head coach Mark Stoops. With ULM coming up in a few weeks, there’s a good chance with a win this week to get to four wins and within two games of bowl eligibility by the middle of the season. 

    Vanderbilt is in true reloading mode, loaded with really, really young and inexperienced players, and it showed so far with a painful 1-3 start and needing everything in the bag to that one win over UMass. The Commodores will beat Charleston Southern, and they have Old Dominion on the slate along with home games against Florida and Tennessee, so there’s still a pie-in-the-sky dream of getting close to six wins if they can pull off the fourth straight win in the series. This is the 81st meeting in the series with UK coming up with the win the first time around – a 45-0 victory in 1916. 

    Why Vanderbilt Might Win: It was a struggle, and they ended up getting beaten by double-digits, but there were finally some signs of life for the passing game with Wade Freebeck hitting on some big throws and Patton Robinette connecting on four of his five passes for 55 yards and a score. Vandy’s air attack has been a total disaster so far, but if Jeff Driskel can throw for 295 yards and three scores, and if the Florida passing game can produce against the UK secondary, Vandy’s can, too. But there’s one big difference …

    Why Kentucky Might Win: Florida had a power running game that brought the UK safeties up. Vanderbilt can’t run the ball a lick. Last week the Commodores averaged over five yards per pop against South Carolina with a few nice dashes, but for the most part, they struggled to get moving. Kentucky isn’t going to be a brick wall up front, but it should be able to do just enough to not have to do anything quirky to deal with a Vandy O that’s averaging just 284 yards per game. The Commodores are way too mistake prone, struggling with turnover margin and penalties. As long as UK can play a relatively clean game, Vandy will beat itself.

    Who To Watch Out For: Kentucky appears to have its guy. Patrick Towles struggled when given a shot as a freshman, took last year off to save his eligibility, and has come out roaring with 377 yards against UT Martin to open up the year and 369 against Florida. He gave up three picks against the Gators, and he needs to be more accurate hitting just 54% of his passes over the last two games, but he has the 6-5, 240-pound size, good mobility, and the arm to push the ball all over the field. He’s looking like the franchise star the program has been waiting for. 

    What’s Going To Happen: The Wildcats should look rested and sharp after two weeks off, and while Vanderbilt will get some yards and points, it’ll screw up just enough to give UK a few easy moments to put the game away in the second half. 
    Prediction: Kentucky 38 … Vanderbilt 30 
    Line: Kentucky -17 o/u: 52 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: Roosevelts: An Intimate History – 1: Red Band Society … 2.5  

    Tennessee (2-1) at Georgia (2-1) Sept. 27, 12:00, ESPN

    Here’s The Deal: The last several games have been close, but Georgia has owned the Vols the last four years and won five of the last six meetings. But Tennessee is improving and is looking like a far, far stronger and more dangerous team, even after getting blown away by Oklahoma two weeks ago. With a veteran quarterback in Justin Worley and good recruiting classes loading up the team’s speed and athleticism, there’s the potential to make some noise in an interesting SEC East with a win in Athens. With no Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M or Mississippi State to deal with from the West, the schedule isn’t all that bad for Butch Jones’ rising program. With two weeks off to prepare, this could be a really, really dangerous trap for a Bulldog team that has to be perfect the rest of the way. 

    It’s going to take some help from South Carolina losing again, and there are several big games to deal with, but it’s still all there for the taking for the loaded Bulldogs. Win out, and they’ll almost certainly find their way into the SEC championship and with a shot at the national title, but the passing game has to be stronger, the defense has to prove it can play after getting rocked by South Carolina two weeks ago. Destroying Troy 66-0 was nice, but it’s SEC time again. With the Vandy free space up next, this is when Georgia has to start building up momentum going into a rough midseason stretch. 

    Why Tennessee Might Win: The passing game has to get effective and stay that way, pushing and testing the Georgia secondary for the entire game. South Carolina was able to run a bit on the Georgia front seven, but it won because Dylan Thompson completed 21-of-30 passes for 271 yards and three scores. The Tennessee pass protection has been spotty compared to last year, but if Worley is given a little bit of time, he should be effective and should be able to keep the pressure on. The Tennessee defense has been solid so far, and with two weeks to prepare for Todd Gurley and the Bulldog backfield, it should give the Vol O chances – Worley has to come though and be better than he was at Oklahoma. 

    Why Georgia Might Win: You can’t throw the ball on your back. Oklahoma brought the heat into the Tennessee backfield from all angles, cranking up five sacks and 12 tackles for loss, overwhelming the O line with a variety of looks. Georgia has the linebackers to camp out in the backfield and force Worley to hurry. Give Worley time to drop back, scan the field, and get his feet set, and the results are deadly. Make him rush, and he’ll misfire, completing just 48% of his throws with two picks against the Sooners. This is a good Tennessee offense, but does it have the firepower to keep up? The running game won’t scare the Dawgs – expect them to tee off. 

    Who To Watch Out For: The SEC is loaded with good linebackers, but this game will showcase the cream of the crop. Tennessee’s A.J. Johnson has been All-America good again, cranking up 29 tackles and doing some nice things against OU with 11 tackles and two tackles for loss. 6-1, 230-pound sophomore Jalen Reeves-Maybin added nine stops against the Sooners, and this week these two will have to make really, really good friends with Mr. Gurley. Johnson made 12 stops in last year’s game against the Bulldogs and 11 two years ago – he’s a lock for double-digit tackles again this time around. 

    This is the game for the Georgia linebackers, and they need to be the stars now that they’re two weeks removed from a rocky game against South Carolina. They mostly got the week off last week against Troy, and they should be ready to come up with a huge performance. Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson should stuff the Vol ground game, and Leonard Floyd has to get into the backfield. 

    What’s Going To Happen: Tennessee will keep it close with a good fight, but like the last few years in this series, close won’t be good enough. Johnson and Reeves-Maybin will make way too many plays down the field, and Gurely will be effective enough to balance out the Georgia offense in the second half. The Bulldog D will control the temp in the fourth. 

    Prediction: Georgia 38 … Tennessee 24
    Line: Georgia -17 o/u: 55.5 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: Roosevelts: An Intimate History – 1: Red Band Society … 3  

    Arkansas (3-1) vs. Texas A&M (4-0) in Arlington. Sept. 27, 3:30, CBS 

    Here’s The Deal: The two old Southwest Conference rivals are now into their biggest and most important battle league battle since the 14-0 Aggie win in 1987. This time around, every win in the SEC West is about survival in a division loaded from top to bottom, and this time, one of the programs will be able to make an emphatic, potentially season-directing statement with a huge win in Arlington. 

    After losing the opening weekend to Auburn, a loss effectively ends any and all SEC title hopes for Arkansas. No one’s predicting an SEC title, even with a win over the Aggies, but if the Hogs are good enough to beat A&M, they might be good enough to be really, really dangerous with Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss all home games and with five of the next six games on home turf. The running game is humming, the team is starting to take on the brash attitude of its head coach, and there are signs that the program is about to become a major player, if it isn’t one already. But Beating Texas Tech doesn’t qualify as a big win, at least not on the SEC West world. Arkansas has lost its last 13 SEC games and has just one West win – Auburn in 2012 – in its last 14. 

    It’s statement time for Texas A&M. The Aggies set the tone to start the season with an emphatic and dominant win over South Carolina, and while there hasn’t been anything more than a light speed bump to deal with over the last three games against Lamar, Rice and SMU, the offense has been sharp as a tack with Heisman-contender Kenny Hill taking target practice. With road games against Mississippi State, Auburn and Alabama still to deal with down the road, there’s almost no margin for error in a neutral site game like this. And on the flip side, if A&M can handle the rising Hog team with ease, it would be as intimidating and impressive as any win by anyone this year, proving the 2014 Aggies can get physical to go along with all of the flash. 

    Why Arkansas Might Win: Is this when the Texas A&M run defense gets exposed? The Aggies got up so quickly on South Carolina that Mike Davis and company didn’t have a chance to establish itself. Rice ran for 240 yards in the blowout loss, and SMU and Lamar are SMU and Lamar, so while the Aggies have yet to give up a rushing score, they haven’t been challenged. The South Carolina line was and is terrific, but Arkansas brings more power, and A&M has to get used to it in a hurry. Defensively, the Razorbacks already dealt with a high-powered, high-octane passing attack with the win over Texas Tech, and once they adjusted to the speed and rhythm of the Red Raider attack, they were just fine. Texas A&M is more than a passing game, but throwing it is how the machine runs best. 

    Why Texas A&M Might Win: Does Arkansas have the ability to keep up? The Hogs will run first and run often, and even if they get behind, the answer will be to run and run again. The passing game is ultra-efficient, but that’s a function of the ground game that opens everything else up – if the D isn’t committed to putting nine guys up to focus on the running backs, it’ll get steamrolled over. Yeah, the Hog secondary did a nice job of containing the Texas Tech passing game, but it was picked apart by the Auburn quarterbacks and allowed the FBS quarterbacks on the schedule to complete 63% of their passes with seven scores. Arkansas has a pass rush, but Kenny Hill is getting the ball out of his hands so quickly, and the A&M offense so efficient, that he’s neutralizing the pressure with great decisions. If Arkansas won’t allow the deep ball, Hill will just dink and dunk to his heart’s content. A&M doesn’t care about time of possession – the offense scores in a hurry – but if it needs to go on a long march to keep the Hog O off the field, it can. 

    Who To Watch Out For: One special teams play probably isn’t going to be enough to change this shootout around, but there should be some explosions. With so many offensive stars and with so many weapons on both sides of the ball, expect lots of points and lots of kickoffs, playing into a major strength for each team. Arkansas has only returned eight kicks, but it has been terrific with Korliss Marshall averaging close to 38 yards per try with a score, bringing one back against Northern Illinois. Texas A&M hasn’t had too many opportunities to bring out kickoffs, but Trey Williams has been excellent and Speedy Noil took his one try out 53 yards. 

    What’s Going To Happen: Both teams will play to their respective types. Arkansas will get its yards on the ground, A&M will get its yards through the air, and while the Hogs will battle hard and make it a fight, Hill and the Aggie offense will be too effective for a full four quarters. Arkansas will need to throw late, and it won’t be able to.

    Prediction: Texas A&M 41 … Arkansas 31 
    Line: Texas A&M -8.5 o/u: 69.5 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: Roosevelts: An Intimate History – 1: Red Band Society … 4  

    Missouri (3-1) at South Carolina (3-1) Sept. 27, 7:00, ESPN 

    Here’s The Deal: It was one of the best games of last year, if not the game of the year. Connor Shaw stepped in and pulled off an epic comeback in Columbia – the Missouri version – for a classic 27-24 win. After all the fun, it didn’t matter since Mizzou still went on to take the East, but it was still an amazing performance on both sides that might have signaled the start of a rivalry even though this is just the fifth time the two teams have met. 

    Sort of like last year’s game, South Carolina comes in with little margin for error. The loss to Texas A&M to start the season won’t matter if the Gamecocks run the table, but all the positives from the win over Georgia two weeks ago would go bye-bye if they can’t go 3-0 against Missouri since it joined the SEC. Can they be consistent? Can they come through with an even performance on both sides of the ball for the first time all season long? The team has yet to play up to its potential. 

    Speaking of which, just when it seemed like Missouri was lurking again as a possible dark horse candidate to repeat as East champions in a rebuilding year, they melted down late against a mediocre Indiana squad and lost in heartbreaking fashion in the final moments. As bad as the end might have been, Mizzou should’ve never been in the dangerous spot in the first place, needing a fourth quarter rally to finally take the lead. But the loss didn’t matter as long as the Tigers don’t slop up the rest of the way – they’re still 0-0 in the SEC. With no Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss or Mississippi State from the West to deal with, and with Georgia at home in two weeks, the schedule isn’t horrible, but there can’t be another Indiana flop or 2013 South Carolina collapse. 

    Why Missouri Might Win: South Carolina’s defense only shows up once in a while and the secondary has been a disaster. Granted, just about everyone’s numbers would stink against Kenny Hill and Texas A&M, Shane Carden and East Carolina, Hutson Mason and Georgia, but allowing Vanderbilt’s struggling quarterbacks to hit 60% of their passes for 223 yards and a score is a big problem. You and a few friends could complete 70% against a soft Gamecock secondary that’s getting absolutely no help whatsoever from the pass rush that’s generated just four sacks so far. Mizzou’s O line has been strong giving up just five sacks. 

    Why South Carolina Might Win: So what happened and went so wrong for Missouri against a mediocre team like Indiana? The Hoosiers were able to keep the Tiger defense at bay with a balanced offense that took advantage of every opportunity and came up big when it had to down the stretch. The IU O couldn’t convert on third downs and had a problem with the athleticism and speed of the Mizzou defensive front, but it was still able to come up with just enough stops to hold serve – the South Carolina defense can do that. The Gamecocks aren’t a brick wall defensively, but they’re just good enough once in a while to come up with the stop when absolutely needed – they were great at that against Georgia. 

    Who To Watch Out For: Last year’s South Carolina game was a hit-or-miss moment for Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk. He connected on several big plays, but he only completed 10-of-25 passes with a touchdown and a pick. When he had to come up with just one big drive to put the game away, he couldn’t do it. He improved his accuracy this year, hovering around the 60% mark with 14 touchdowns on the year with four picks, but the rally against Indiana fell short, and now he and the Tigers have to redeem themselves with an efficient, effective performance. 

    On the other side, Dylan Thompson wasn’t awful in last year’s game – completing 15-of-27 passes for 222 yards with a pick – but the offense needed a spark and that’s where Shaw came in to make magic. Bombing away, he cranked out a gut-check 201 yards and three touchdowns for the win, but now this is Thompson’s team and he’s been great – and unnoticed. With 11 touchdowns and just three picks, he’s been good enough to get the offense moving. 

    What’s Going To Happen: Missouri’s about to get its groove back. The pass rush will get to Thompson early and often, and Mauk will go off with a huge day. The difference? Special teams. The Tigers will tilt the field for most of the game. 

    Prediction: Missouri 34 … South Carolina 30 
    Line: South Carolina -5.5 o/u: 63 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: Roosevelts: An Intimate History – 1: Red Band Society … 4  

    Memphis (2-1) at Ole Miss (3-0) Sept. 27, 7:30, FSN 

    Here’s The Deal: Mid-South rivals Memphis and Ole Miss meet for the 60th time, both hoping to keep their early-season momentum going. The tenth-ranked Rebels are after their first 4-0 start since 1970, back when Archie Manning was still behind center. This is their final non-conference tune-up before Alabama visits for one of Ole Miss’ biggest games of the past decade. It’ll fall well beneath the radar, but Justin Fuente has Memphis playing good football in his third season. The Tigers are 2-1 for the first time since 2004, and they almost shocked UCLA in the Rose Bowl in Week 2. 
    Why Memphis Might Win: QB Paxton Lynch and the offense are dramatically improved from a season ago, but it’s been the play of an opportunistic D that’s really galvanized the Tigers. Even as star DE Martin Ifedi has recovered from a knee injury, Memphis has 11 sacks, while allowing just 3.2 yards per carry. DT Terry Redden and especially LB Tank Jakes are playing at a borderline SEC level. 
    Why Ole Miss Might Win: The Rebels aren’t just winning; they are obliterating opponents by an average score of 44-10. QB Bo Wallace is off to the best start of his career, completing 75% of his passes, while spreading the ball around to a corps of big-play receivers. On defense, Ole Miss has been downright oppressive against the pass, picking off eight throws and allowing just one touchdown. 
    Who To Watch Out For: Can Memphis win the battle of the running games? The Tigers are underrated at the point of attacking, yielding one sack while averaging five yards a carry behind Doroland Dorceus and Brandon Hayes. Ole Miss, meanwhile, is giving up more yards per rush than it’s making. If Memphis can spring Dorceus and Hayes, it’s going to change the dynamic of this matchup. 
    What’s Going To Happen: Ole Miss is saying all the right things, but this is the ultimate trap game. Alabama is in the on-deck circle, and a Rebel rise into the top 10 is in the rear-view mirror. Plus, Memphis is a historical rival playing its best ball in years. The Rebels will survive at home, but not without breaking a sweat and having to convert a few pivotal third-down tries in the second half. 
    Prediction: Ole Miss 37 … Memphis 28 
    Line: Ole Miss -19 o/u: 61 
    Must Watch Factor: (5: Roosevelts: An Intimate History – 1: Red Band Society) … 2.5 

    New Mexico State (2-2) at LSU (3-1) Sept. 27, 3:30, SEC Network 

    Here’s The Deal: Someone forgot to give LSU the memo that it’s not supposed to lose at home to New Mexico State. Down 34-10 in the fourth, the Tigers came up with a furious late fourth quarter rally with 19 unanswered points and a missed Hail Mary that almost ended up with one of the greatest comebacks of all-time in the loss to Mississippi State. Now it’s breather time for the team to get its breath back before going on the road to deal with Auburn and Florida, while New Mexico State is hoping to be more than a well-paid road kill. The Aggies lost their last two games including a heartbreaker to New Mexico, but they beat Georgia State for a 1-0 Sun Belt record and hope for a stepping-stone season. This is the second time the two teams have met – LSU won 63-7 in 1996. 
    Why New Mexico State Might Win: So how did Mississippi State do it? It cranked up a balanced offense and dangerous rushing attack, ripping off over 300 yards and controlling the tempo up until the end. NMSU can’t and won’t run wild on LSU – or at all – but it’s good at moving the chains with a controlled, mid-level passing game that can dink and dunk a little bit. The Aggies have cranked out over 300 yards through the air over the last two games, but … 
    Why LSU Might Win: The run defense has been a mere rumor. New Mexico does nothing but run, and it did whatever it wanted with 432 yards and three touchdowns a week after UTEP ran amok for 344 yards and five scores. New Mexico State’s defensive front can get powered on up the middle and can’t handle speed and quickness on the outside. LSU’s running game that got stuffed for just 89 yards and a score against MSU should be able to do whatever it wants. 
    Who To Watch Out For: So now what for the LSU quarterback situation? Anthony Jennings has been the main man, but he only hit half his passes against MSU, couldn’t get the offense moving, and didn’t run anywhere. In came Brandon Harris – who has more talent, but is still just a freshman – and he almost pulled it off hitting 6-of-9 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns with a Hail Mary pick at the end. You schedule New Mexico State to get some key guys rested, and others more experience. Expect both LSU quarterbacks to see time creating a bit of a controversy going back into SEC play. 
    What’s Going To Happen: LSU won’t take it easy. It’ll take a quarter to get revved up, and then the ground game will dominate with over 300 yards without breathing hard. New Mexico State’s Tyler Rogers will throw well, but he won’t be able to keep up the pace. 
    Prediction: LSU 52 … New Mexico State 6 
    Line: LSU -43 o/u: 54.5 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: Roosevelts: An Intimate History – 1: Red Band Society … 1.5 

    Louisiana Tech (2-2) at Auburn (3-0) Sept. 27, 4:00, SEC Network 

    Here’s The Deal: Auburn is still unbeaten and ranked No. 5 nationally. But it was close in Manhattan last Thursday night. On an evening when the offense was uncharacteristically ineffective, the Tigers slipped past Kansas State, 20-14, behind the play of the defense. Now, Auburn hopes to pick up the pace before SEC plays resumes with next week’s visit from LSU. Louisiana Tech’s loss to FCS Northwestern State last Saturday was about as shocking as its road routs of Louisiana and North Texas the prior two weeks. The Bulldogs need to figure out what kind of a team it plans to be in 2014. 
    Why Louisiana Tech Might Win: The Bulldogs are going to benefit from being a sandwich game for Auburn. The Tigers won an emotional game at Kansas State last week, and are hosting rival LSU next Saturday. Prior to Week 4, Tech did little wrong, getting offensive balance from QB Cody Sokol and RB Kenneth Dixon, and limiting big plays on D. 
    Why Auburn Might Win: The offense stalled a week ago. Don’t expect it to become a habit on the Plains. Louisiana Tech lacks the defensive personnel to do what Kansas State did, namely stall the Auburn ground game. The Tigers will quickly return to rolling on the ground with QB Nick Marshall and backs Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. If receivers Duke Williams and Sammie Coates eliminate the drops, this one will be over before halftime. 
    Who To Watch Out For: Auburn will let Sokol try to win the game with his arm. The Tigers are more concerned with hitting Dixon near the line of scrimmage. They’ll enjoy a significant edge at the line of scrimmage, yet will still press up LB Cassanova McKinzy and S Johnathan Ford to halt Skip Holtz’s ground-based attack. 
    What’s Going To Happen: It’s back to business for Auburn, which wasn’t pleased with the way the offense performed last week. Marshall will pilot a swift turnaround, using his arm and his legs to put away Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs are feisty, but lack the talent to hang with the Tigers for more than a quarter. 
    Prediction: Auburn 55 … Louisiana Tech 20 
    Line: Auburn -33 o/u: 61 
    Must Watch Factor: (5: Roosevelts: An Intimate History – 1: Red Band Society) … 2


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