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Two Games to Watch
Auburn at Georgia (3:30 ET/CBS) – The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry convenes again this weekend in Athens as Georgia looks to essentially lock up a trip to Atlanta with a win. The Bulldogs need to beat Auburn and Kentucky to punch their ticket. A split and a South Carolina loss to Florida would also do the trick, but the easiest path to an outright Eastern Division title is to just win, baby. Auburn enters the game riding a modest wave of momentum after enjoying a bye last week and dominating the second half against Ole Miss the week before en route to an easy victory.
Will Auburn generate yardage on the ground against the Georgia defensive front? Clint Moseley entered in relief of Barrett Trotter against Florida and sealed a win there, and he proved he could manage a game and limit mistakes as Auburn cruised in putting away Ole Miss. Sandwiched in between the two was a nightmare performance against LSU, but the Bengal Tigers have battered and bruised a lot of teams so far this year. It’s too soon, though, to rely on Moseley’s arm to take over a game. The key matchup here is Auburn’s offensive line and Michael Dyer running up against a Georgia defense that’s been stingy against the rush most of the season. Allowing only 91 yards per game on the ground, the Dawgs rank 8th in the nation in stopping the run. They’ve fared respectably against the pass, as well, but haven’t faced many challenges through the air so far this year.
Mark Richt and Todd Grantham have turned this unit into one of the most solid groups in the country, and Auburn should have tough sledding for much of the day. If the Tigers are to have any chance to win, they’ll need their best weapon (Dyer) to have running lanes. He’s a top-20 rusher for a reason, and he’ll need to approach his season average to have a chance to keep this one close. To win, however, he’ll likely need one of his best performances of the season. In fact, an Auburn win might require Dyer to go north of 150 yards for the afternoon.
Georgia has held five of its past seven opponents under 63 yards rushing. They’ve held two of the past four to negative yards on the ground for the entire game. Expect Auburn to keep this close, but Dyer and the Tiger offense will come up just short of pulling the upset. Barring a major collapse against Kentucky, the Bulldogs will be making their way back to the Dome.
OKTC Prediction: Georgia, 27, Auburn 20
Alabama at Mississippi State (7:45 ET/ESPN) – In a game that has had “trap” written all over it since the 2011 schedule was released, Alabama enters Starkville on the heels of its first loss this season. The Crimson Tide suffered a demoralizing setback at home in overtime against LSU and now needs outside help to have any chance at playing its way back into the national title discussion. Mississippi State throttled Tennessee-Martin 55-17 on Homecoming.
Where is Alabama’s head right now? Winning has been contagious in Tuscaloosa since Nick Saban’s arrival, but the Tide hasn’t been fantastic coming off losses during his five-year tenure. Alabama lost back-to-back games four times in 2007, and its only losses in 2008 came in the final two games of the season against Florida and Utah. The loss against Utah was its first game after being taken out of the national title hunt, and the team played flat and uninspired. (That scenario may sound familiar right about now.) Last year, the Tide never lost consecutive games despite dropping three on the season, but the team’s overall demeanor and performance level waned after its first loss on the road against South Carolina. The point? This team may or may not pull together after having the rug pulled out from under it last week by LSU. If the body language is a bit off coming out of the gate on Saturday night, it could spell trouble.
To Alabama’s credit, the players are saying the right things. Translating that onto the field is a totally different endeavor, though, and Mississippi State is good enough to pull off a shocker here despite a total mismatch on paper. Cowbells will be ringing loud and early, and Dan Mullen really needs a signature win this season to right his own ship.
Still, Alabama is a prohibitive favorite – and for good reason. Mississippi State’s weakness of late (a sluggish offense) plays right into Alabama’s strength (a dominant defense.) Alabama still leads the nation defensively in basically every major statistical category, and State has struggled putting points on the board against legitimate defenses all season. Against LSU, Georgia and South Carolina, the Bulldogs scored a grand total of 28 points combined, so it’s not unrealistic to expect them to be held in the single-digits on Saturday night. But again, that’s working under the assumption that their opponent competes like it actually has something to play for. If Alabama sleepwalks, expect a nailbiter. Otherwise, a replay of 2008, 2009 and 2010 is likely (Alabama won those games with near carbon-copy performances: 32-7, 31-3 and 30-10.) The Tide will show up, and it will roll.
OKTC Prediction: Alabama 30, Mississippi State 9
Arkansas 35, Tennessee 16
South Carolina 17, Florida 14
Vanderbilt 27, Kentucky 17
LSU 45, Western Kentucky 7
Louisiana Tech 27, Ole Miss 24
Season Prediction Record: 42-9
Season ATS: 24-24-3