The SEC Crystal Ball had another good week last week by going 6-0 to raise the season record to 38-11, good for a .776 winning percentage.
The picks get tougher with six conference games scheduled, and for the first time this season there are no non-conference teams on the schedule. The conference race in the SEC East heats up with two huge games that will impact the lead in the division. Georgia and South Carolina will meet in Columbia, while LSU and Florida play in The Swamp. When the day is over there will be one undefeated team — or two — leading the East.
Let’s take a look at the game that will produce an undefeated team in first place in the East.
Georgia at South Carolina- The Bulldogs and Gamecocks usually meet in the SEC opener for both teams, but this year it has been moved back and that means the teams will go into the game with identical 5-0 overall records with 3-0 SEC marks.
The game pits the Georgia offense, which leads the SEC in scoring at 48.2 points per game, against the South Carolina defense, which is second in the league in scoring defense at 11.2 points per game.
The game will feature stars all over the field. Georgia’s offense features quarterback Aaron Murray, freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Defensively, nose tackle John Jenkins, linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree and free safety Bacarri Rambo are the keys for Georgia. Georgia’s offense took a hit this week when split end Michael Bennett was lost for the season with an ACL tear.
South Carolina has two offensive stalwarts in running back Marcus Lattimore, quarterback Connor Shaw and receivers Bruce Ellington and Ace Sanders. Ends Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney are the Gamecocks’ rocks on defense — a unit that has only given up five touchdowns this season.
It’s Lattimore, though, that has been a pain in Georgia’s side over the past two years. He has torched Georgia for 358 yards and three touchdowns against the Bulldogs.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of success in the past slowing Lattimore down, so that will be a great challenge for us,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
South Carolina has won the past two games in a rivalry that goes back to 1894, but Georgia leads the series with a 64-14-2 record. South Carolina brings a nine-game winning streak, the longest in school history, into the game. The winner takes over first place in the SEC East and, if LSU beats Florida, then the winner of the Georgia-South Carolina game will be all alone at the top of the division.
Prediction: Georgia 35, South Carolina 31
LSU at Florida- LSU (5-0, 1-0 SEC) sleepwalked through an unimpressive win over Towson last week but the chances are the Tigers had spent the week prior to that game and the 60 minutes of the game thinking about Florida. The Towson game, on top of the narrow win over Auburn two weeks ago, has dropped LSU from No. 2 in the AP poll to No. 4. Les Miles’ team needs a strong showing against a good team to recapture some of the lost ground in the rankings.
LSU has been slightly inconsistent on offense, but it is getting the job done. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has had a good start to the season with six touchdowns and only two interceptions. The strength is the ground game with a strong offensive line and a host of fine running backs. The LSU defense was surprisingly porous against Towson, but don’t look for it to be that way Saturday.
The Gators (4-0, 3-0) are off to a fine start but most fans want to see how the Gators do against LSU before going all in on Will Muschamp’s team. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is growing into being a consistent SEC quarterback, Mike Gillislee gives the Florida ground game some teeth and the defense is playing well and should have linebacker Jelani Jenkins back after missing two games with a broken thumb.
This is far and away the biggest game of Muschamp’s career, but Miles and the Tigers have been in many big games over the years. They will not be burdened by the enormity of the situation.
Prediction: LSU 24, Florida 17
Texas A&M at Ole Miss- Texas A&M has that first SEC win on its resume after a 58-10 win over Arkansas last week. Now the Aggies are looking for their first conference winning streak when they visit Ole Miss. Aggies freshman Johnny Manziel is making big news as a dual-threat quarterback. He’s fifth in the conference in rushing and fourth in passing and has accounted for 16 touchdowns in just four games.
Ole Miss is coming off consecutive losses to Texas and Alabama, even though the Rebels did actually take a brief — 15 seconds to be exact — lead against the top-ranked Crimson Tide. Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace is considered a dangerous quarterback even though he only has one more touchdown pass than he does interceptions. He has made some questionable decisions throwing the football lately.
“One of the keys is great quarterback play,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “Ours is suspect right now and theirs is very, very steady. The system that they run fits him very well. We’ve got our hands full with them.”
Prediction: Texas A&M 33, Ole Miss 14
Arkansas at Auburn- Auburn needs a conference win and should come into the game with some confidence after a close loss to LSU. As hard as it is to imagine, Arkansas has more trouble than thought possible just a few months ago. Since losing its coach and then four consecutive games in their first five, the Razorbacks have fallen off the radar in what was expected to be a championship year. Can quarterback Tyler Wilson get this team back on track? It won’t be so easy against an Auburn defense that is growing up before our eyes.
Tigers quarterback Kiehl Frazier is getting better each week. And if Auburn can continue to get some help on the ground from Tre Mason and Onterio McCalebb, and continued excellence from tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen and wide receivers Emory Blake, look for the Tigers to come up with a much-needed win.
Prediction: Auburn 24, Arkansas 10
Vanderbilt at Missouri- Missouri is still looking for that elusive first SEC win and Vanderbilt should be just the ticket. Missouri quarterback James Franklin is a dual-threat but has not been as big a factor running the ball the last couple of games, which presents Missouri coach Gary Pinkel with some problems.
“I think it depends on how it goes and how defenses play that has a little bit to do with that,” Pinkel said. “The first couple of games, when he’s carrying the ball 27 times a game it’s that he’s carrying the ball too much, and now he’s not carrying the ball enough. It goes that way in our business. His mobility, I think is important and there is certainly that balance between.”
In his place, senior tailback Kendial Lawrence stepped up against UCF with 104 yards rushing and a touchdown and four receptions for 50 yards.
“It’s very typical of how he’s played since August,” Pinkel said. “He’s come out and he’s been a difference maker. Now he’s catching the football with his hands, he has good hands, but those couple of runs he had in the last quarter, cutting back and going 30 yards on one and getting a touchdown. His explosiveness and quickness, and all those things are really good. A senior stood up and made some plays, and that’s what we need.”
Vanderbilt, at 1-3 and 0-2 in the SEC, needs a win to recapture some excitement Vanderbilt fans were feeling at the first of the season. Vandy coach James Franklin knows his team has got to do better in forcing the action.
“Missouri has an advantage in the turnover battle right now, and we have to do a better job in creating turnovers,” he said. “I think that’s one of the biggest differences between this season and last season.”
Playing at Columbia, the Tigers fans are going to be sky high in anticipation of getting their first SEC win.
Prediction: Missouri 35, Vanderbilt 21
Mississippi State at Kentucky- Mississippi State will take its 4-0 record on the road to Lexington to meet Kentucky, another team that needs a victory. State is bringing a strong offense into this game behind quarterback Tyler Russell and running back LaDarius Perkins. Kentucky has a stronger passing game than rushing, but the Wildcats defense can’t stack up with Mississippi State’s. The Bulldogs are only giving up 13.25 points per game and Kentucky is giving up 30.8 points per game so unless Kentucky can generate some consistent offense, which the Wildcats haven’t been able to do to this point, this one looks like a mismatch.
Prediction: Mississippi State 38, Kentucky 10