2009 SEC Fearless Predictions
Week 9 ... Oct. 31 Games
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Game of the Week
Florida (7-0) vs. Georgia (4-3), 3:30 EST, Saturday, October 31, CBS
Why to watch: It's still the Cocktail Party, no matter what anyone else wants to call it and no matter if Georgia isn't quite hold up its end of the bargain when it comes to expectations. The Bulldogs have been extremely disappointing with no consistency on offense, too many problems on defense, and few big plays in key spots. To be fair, the schedule has been a bear, facing six straight likely bowl bound teams before finally getting a break against Vanderbilt, and while the 4-3 start has soured the season, everything can quickly change around with a big victory to ruin what might be Florida's SEC East championship party.
Georgia might be disappointment, but Florida, considering the talent, experience, and the expectations, has been underwhelming. Of course, 7-0 is 7-0, and all teams should have so many problems and still be ranked No. 1 in the nation, but after shaky outings against Arkansas and Mississippi State, it's time to act like the best team in college football. Florida doesn't need any style points and it can win every game in overtime by one point and still play for the national title, but for a team that looks ripe for the picking by someone having an extremely sharp day, blowing away Georgia would be nice. A win might also wrap up the East title if South Carolina loses to Tennessee, but it's not like Florida will be printing t-shirts for being the division champion. Call this a step in the process, and a potentially dangerous one if things aren't clicking. Georgia will be rested and ready after two weeks off, and with nothing to lose, should make this a memorable party.
Why Florida might win: Yeah, Florida hasn't looked great. Tim Tebow has been off, there's little production from the receivers, and it has taken too long to put away some mediocre teams. Oh, and by the way, the Gators are No. 1 in the nation in defense, No. 2 in scoring defense, and eighth in total offense. Florida is playing by a different set of standards and a different set of rules, and while the total package hasn't always been pretty, the foundation is rock solid. Georgia has no prayer whatsoever of running the ball on a Florida defensive front that's getting healthy at the right time. Not only is All-America LB Brandon Spikes coming back from a groin injury, but the interior gets back its rocks with Lawrence Marsh (ankle) and Jaye Howard (knee) coming back at defensive tackle.
Why Georgia might win: Georgia is having a nightmare of a time coming up with takeaways. The Dawgs have only recovered one fumble and picked off a mere five passes. However, Florida has had a knack of handing the ball over on a platter over the last few games. From the four bad fumbles against Arkansas, to the two pick-sixes thrown by Tebow against Mississippi State, to the brain-cramp by No. 15 on a bad late throw against LSU, the Gators have been loose and Georgia has to try to take advantage of every opportunity. If field position becomes a factor, Georgia has a huge advantage with Drew Butler the best punter in the nation this season, and the Dawgs leading the nation in net punting, while Florida is averaging a mere 5.05 yards per punt return.
Who to watch: Alright, Tim Tebow, if you want the Heisman, it's time to go and get it. He's not having a bad season, but he hasn't been anything special and the whole leadership/intangibles thing hasn't been enough to overcome the lack of a dangerous passing game. He's now more than a month removed from the concussion suffered against Kentucky, and he's a bit jumpy trying to make more things happen, but being just a game manager isn't in his nature. It's all the team needs, make the third down throw, and run, don't turn the ball over, and let the defense do all the work is all that's necessary, but this is Tebow. He ran for three touchdowns in last year's ultra-efficient performance against the Bulldogs, completing 10-of-13 passes for 154 yards and two scores, and he hasn't made any mistakes in the three games in the series, but it's not like he has been jaw-dropping. He needs to be this week just to show once again that he can do it.
What will happen: Florida is way overdue to flex its muscles. Georgia might have had two weeks to rest up and come up with a few wrinkles, but it won't matter as the return of the key players on the Gator defensive front seven will shut down the Dawg attack cold, while Tebow and the offense will be balanced and unstoppable for a long enough stretch to make the second half nothing more than a scrimmage.
CFN Prediction: Florida 38 … Georgia 10 ... Line: Florida -16
Must See Rating: (The Damned United 5 … Cougar Town 1) … 4.5
-Free Expert Football Predictions
Ole Miss (5-2) at Auburn (5-3), 12:21 EST, Saturday, October 31
Why to watch: Everyone went flying off the Ole Miss bandwagon last month with an ugly performance against South Carolina in a 16-10 loss, and a 22-3 home loss to Alabama put the bandwagon in the junkyard. But the Rebels fought back and had a shot late against the Gamecocks, and Alabama is, well, Alabama, and the rest of the year hasn't been that bad. With a stunningly easy win over Arkansas last week, Ole Miss is back in the hunt for a New Year's Day game and the possible honor of being the SEC's third best team. After this week's date at Auburn, the next three games are at home before finishing up at Mississippi State, so with a win this week there's a good chance of finishing 10-2, or at worst 9-3 if there's a home gaffe to Tennessee or LSU. Speaking of bandwagon jumping, everyone has left Auburn's a few weeks ago as the passing game has gone kaput, the defense has been disappointing, and the program has come back to earth after a 5-0 start. Furman is up next week for the Tigers before finishing up at Georgia and Alabama, so while getting to six wins won't be a problem, getting a win this week might be a must or there's a good chance of finishing 2-5 in SEC play.
Why Ole Miss might win: Auburn was stunningly good throwing the ball over the first five games with 13 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. The air attack was efficient, explosive, and dangerous. And then came the Arkansas game and everything changed. Over the last three weeks the Tigers have thrown just one touchdown pass with two interceptions and 309 yards total after averaging close to 260 yards per game over the first five. Ole Miss has been fantastic against the pass, and while there haven't been a slew of great passing teams on the schedule, Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett only completed 12-of-34 passes for 254 yards and a touchdown last week. The Rebels are third in the nation in pass efficiency defense.
Why Auburn might win: Which Jevan Snead will show up? The Ole Miss quarterback has been strong over the past few weeks, but he'll give the ball away at least twice. He has thrown 11 interceptions on the season with four against Alabama last week and two against Arkansas, and Auburn has to take advantage of every opportunity to help out the struggling offense. The Auburn offensive line has done a nice job in pass protection and should be able to hold its own for a few stretches against the fantastic Rebel defensive front, and the running game should work. Alabama ran for 200 yards and UAB ran for 230 making it two times in the last three weeks the Rebels have allowed more than two bills. Auburn has to get …
Who to watch: … Ben Tate back on track. The Tiger senior had rushed for 100 yards in five of the first seven games before getting slowed down for 67 yards by Arkansas. He needs room to move, and he's not going to get it if the passing game doesn't open things up a bit and keeps the Rebel linebackers off the line. For Ole Miss, do-it-all star Dexter McCluster finally exploded. He had a nice game against South Carolina, bringing the team back in the fourth quarter, but he didn't do much over a long stretch before running for 123 yards and catching seven passes for 137 yards and a score last week against Arkansas. His emergence as more of a playmaker has helped out Snead immeasurably.
What will happen: Auburn's offense will continue to sputter and cough as Greg Hardy and the Rebel defensive front will control the game from the start. Snead will be good enough to get the win, but he won't have a huge game.
CFN Prediction: Ole Miss 27 … Auburn 17... Line: Ole Miss -3
Must See Rating: (The Damned United 5 … Cougar Town 1) … 3
-Free Expert Football Predictions
Eastern Michigan (0-7) at Arkansas (3-4), 7:00 EST, Saturday, October 31, ESPNU
Why to watch: If you're interested in seeing the Arkansas offense stretch its legs a little bit, this is the game for you. The Hogs have made a lot of noise with blowout wins over Texas A&M and Auburn, and a near-miss in a 23-20 loss to Florida, but for all the positive, they're only 3-4 and have a lot of work to do to be assured of a bowl bid. Fortunately, the next four games are at home, including next week's battle with South Carolina, before closing out the year at LSU. The offense has been hit-or-miss, but it's about to put up a monster number on the board. Eastern Michigan has gone 0-7 since Ron English took over and is looking for something positive to build on. A home loss last week to a winless Ball State sank the season to a new low, and things aren't likely to get much better with four road games in the final five.
Why Eastern Michigan might win: Eastern Michigan leads the nation in pass defense. Last week, Ball State quarterback Tanner Justice completed 2-of-10 passes for one yard with one interception, and while teams have been able to run at will on the Eagles, the secondary really has been strong outside of a rough day against Dan LeFevour and Central Michigan. Arkansas has one of the few defenses struggling as much as EMU's, having major problems against sharp, efficient passers. However …
Why Arkansas might win: … Eastern Michigan doesn't have a sharp, efficient passer. Andy Schmitt leads the team with 428 yards and two touchdown passes, and he was knocked out for the year in the third game of the season. The Eagles don't have nearly enough offense to keep up the pace if and when the Hogs get rolling failing to score more than 17 points in five of the seven games. Arkansas is averaging 32 points per game, and EMU hasn't scored more than 27 yet. And then there's the run defense. Yes, EMU is No. 1 in the nation in pass defense, but it's also dead last against the run allowing 275 yards per game and was rumbled on for 463 net yards and four scores last week allowing 203 yards to Cory Sykes and 301 to MiQuale Lewis. That means …
Who to watch: … Michael Smith should go ballistic. The senior missed the Florida game and was limited against Ole Miss, but he's expected to be ready to rumble this week along with Dennis Johnson, the rumbling sophomore who has been one of the team's main kickoff returners and was brilliant against Florida with 107 yards. If Ball State could run at will, then Arkansas should look like Darren McFadden and Felix Jones are in the backfield again with its biggest rushing day of the season.
What will happen: Arkansas will be emptying the bench midway through the third quarter. After the loss to Ole Miss, and the anger around the team for not taking that game seriously enough, expect a focused effort and an ugly outcome.
CFN Prediction: Arkansas 63 … Eastern Michigan 17 ... Line: Arkansas -38.5
Must See Rating: (The Damned United 5 … Cougar Town 1) … 1.5
-Free Expert Football Predictions
Mississippi State (3-5) at Kentucky (4-3), 7:00 EST, Saturday, October 31
Why to watch: Kentucky isn't one of the SEC's top teams, but it's playing well, highlighted by the win over Auburn two weeks ago, and now it's time to go on a big run. The Wildcats don't play a team that will end up in a bowl game over the next three weeks, with Eastern Kentucky and Vanderbilt to follow, and now they need to overcome the injury problems and the inconsistencies to find a way to keep the current momentum going. The defense has stepped up its play while the offense has been timely. While UK could lose this game and still probably end up going to a bowl, Mississippi State can't lose this game if it wants a 13th game. With Alabama, at Arkansas, and Ole Miss to close things out, this might be the Bulldogs' last honest chance at a win. They stayed alive last week in a loss to Florida with two pick-sixes to make the final score look good, but it was still the team's fourth loss in five games. The team isn't bad, but it's not good enough to come up with wins against the strong teams. Yeah, MSU has lost four of its last five games, but those came against LSU, Georgia Tech, Houston, and Florida.
Why Mississippi State might win: Kentucky's offense doesn't work if the running game isn't rolling, and MSU isn't bad stopping the run. There's no worrying about the Wildcat passing attack, there isn't one, and the three times this year MSU struggled against the run were against Auburn, who was humming at the time, Georgia Tech, and Florida. The Bulldog linebackers are strong enough to keep UK from breaking off too many big plays, and while the Wildcat O line is a strength, don't expect more than 200 rushing yards.
Why Kentucky might win: Kentucky might be having problems throwing the ball, but Mississippi State is having just as many problems and don't have the explosiveness. The Wildcat defense is fantastic against the pass, and while the run defense got ripped apart by Florida, Alabama, and Auburn, it's better than the overall statistics. Able to pin its ears back, the front seven should be able to fully focus on stopping the MSU ground game and is better at coming up with big stops than MSU is. MSU will give the ball away and UK shouldn't have a problem winning the turnover battle.
Who to watch: Can UK RB Derrick Locke get back to being his early season self? UK needs him to be. He doesn't have a serious problem, but his knee is a bit banged up and he sputtered a bit last week against ULM with 36 yards on ten carries. If he's not right, it'll be the ultimate running-back-by-committee approach with WR Randall Cobb getting several carries, even with a knee problem of his own, and Alfonso Smith and John Conner need to be more and more effective. For MSU, star RB Anthony Dixon has yet to do much against UK. The senior has had a stellar career and hit the 100-yard mark in five straight games before getting stuffed by Florida, but he ran for just 48 yards in last year's loss to the Wildcats, 75 yards in the 2007 win, and 14 yards in the 2006 loss. If he's not great, MSU can't win.
What will happen: Kentucky is banged up and needs to manufacture its offense from several different areas. It's not going to be pretty, but the Wildcat defense will come up big late to get out of town with a tough win.
CFN Prediction: Kentucky 26 … Mississippi State 21 ... Line: Kentucky -3.5
Must See Rating: (The Damned United 5 … Cougar Town 1) … 2
-Free Expert Football Predictions
Week 9, Part 2 (South
Carolina at Tennessee, and more)