Two Conference Games to Watch
Florida vs Georgia (3:30 ET/CBS) – History battles reality on Saturday as two teams headed in seemingly different directions meet in Jacksonville. One has owned the series while the other has owned the last month of the current season. Both teams enter the game coming off bye weeks, but that’s where any recent similarities end. Florida enters riding a 3-game losing streak, having suffered a trifecta of defeats against the SEC West for the second time in as many seasons. The Gators lost to Alabama, LSU and Mississippi State in 2010 before getting well against the Bulldogs. Georgia, on the other hand, is playing for a possible SEC title berth having run off five wins in a row since falling to Boise State and South Carolina to open the year.
We all know the history here. Florida has dominated Georgia over the past two decades the way no other team in history has. When the Gators are good, they beat Georgia. When the Gators are bad…they still usually beat Georgia. In fact, they have lost only three times in this annual series since 1990. That’s a long time, but has to seem much longer to anyone in Athens. This is a year where everything seems to be lining up for a Georgia win, but then again, we’ve seen this movie play out before. In 2002, 2003 and 2005, Georgia enjoyed great success and claimed at least a share of the SEC East. Each year, they fell short against Florida. Will this be another season where they head to Atlanta despite falling to their bitter rival?
Has Georgia turned a corner, or are they simply feasting on bad opponents? And, this year, is Florida just another “bad opponent?” Georgia’s five-game win streak has, at least momentarily, quieted most rumblings about Mark Richt’s job security. Another loss to Florida may turn the heat back up, but for now, things are just fine for the ‘Dawgs. Consider, though, that the wins during late September and the month of October came against arguably four of the five worst teams (Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt) in what is seemingly a watered-down version of America’s best conference. The first win of the year was notched against Coastal Carolina – the same team whose coach became an overnight Youtube sensation when, during a press conference, he was more concerned with the pack of feral cats harbored in his neighborhood than that week’s opponent.
Still though, in a year when (beyond the league’s top two teams) consistency has been hard to come by, Georgia has remained steady.
The return of John Brantley should definitely help bolster Florida’s offense, but let’s face it…over the past month the Gators have been absolutely anemic regardless of who’s played quarterback. The offense ranks 90th in the nation in yards per game and 71st in the country in scoring offense. A key matchup will be Florida’s corps of running backs facing off against Georgia’s 18th ranked rush defense. If Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps, Mike Gillislee and Trey Burton can find room to run, Florida can potentially find a way to win. If they’re hemmed in, Georgia will test Brantley’s mobility and things could head south quickly.
Ultimately, this is a game Georgia should win if Mark Richt’s team can keep its composure and avoid costly mistakes that have plagued it in this series over the years. With South Carolina’s date at Arkansas looming next weekend, this is a win that could put the ‘Dawgs in the driver’s seat for Atlanta. Or will history repeat itself, as it did in 2005, when a new Florida coach came into the game as an underdog and emerged with a narrow win? Georgia entered that game undefeated and lost a heartbreaker, 14-10. If Florida wants a similar outcome this year, they’ll have to have a similar gameplan and keep the game in the teens. Look for Georgia to get just enough offense out of Aaron Murray while shutting the door with a late stop as they extend the winning run to six.
OKTC Prediction: Georgia 20, Florida 14
Arkansas at Vanderbilt (12:20 ET/SEC NETWORK) – At the beginning of the season, this was probably one of the least appealing conference matchups of the entire year. Arkansas was expected to roll into Nashville with a potential national title on its mind, and Vanderbilt was supposed to to be playing out the string until the arrival of basketball season. Arkansas hasn’t disappointed, but a blowout loss at Alabama, a thrilling comeback against Texas A&M and a near-disastrous upset in Oxford last weekend have certainly kept things exciting in Fayetteville. Vanderbilt, astoundingly, enters the game only two victories shy of bowl eligibility with five more opportunities to get those wins.
Were last week’s hiccups an anomaly, or were they signs that Arkansas has some serious deficiencies heading into the regular season’s final month? An Ole Miss team that had lost nine straight SEC contests was supposed to roll over and play dead against a top 10 opponent, but a funny thing happened on the walk through the Grove, and Arkansas trailed 17-0 midway through the 2nd Quarter. From there, the Hogs launched a spirited comeback and eventually won 29-24, but the game’s final moments weren’t without drama as Ole Miss recovered an onside kick and had a chance to win in the final minute.
A near slip-up in the middle of the season is forgivable, but this was hardly a trap game for Arkansas. Their current stretch includes meetings against Auburn, the previously mentioned win at Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Tennessee. Hardly murderer’s row for a team vying for its second straight BCS bowl bid. The first half at Ole Miss was no fluke, either. Arkansas got manhandled in just about every way possible for 25 minutes of game clock. As wild as this may sound, a similarly dull performance might not end with a similar result if the Hogs come out flat against a Vanderbilt defense capable of keeping itself in the game for 60 minutes.
It’s critical that Bobby Petrino keep this team focused, but it’s also imperative that the Razorbacks shore up their defensive issues. They’ve allowed at least 24 points in four of the last five, and Vanderbilt ranks in the top 35 in the country in total defense and scoring defense. Arkansas may take a series or two to get going, but ultimately expect this game to play out the way Vanderbilt’s losses against Alabama and South Carolina did. Even though Arkansas has defensive issues, Vandy doesn’t have the weapons needed to exploit them. Those two wins that separate the ‘Dores from a bowl may eventually come, but one won’t happen this weekend.
OKTC Prediction: Arkansas 31, Vanderbilt 16
Other quick reads:
Was last week Houston Nutt’s annual shot at an epic upset? Much is made of Nutt’s ability to win one game each year that he seemingly has no business being in – and you have to wonder if coming up short at home against Arkansas may have been his final true chance to get this program turned around. It wouldn’t be a monumental upset for Ole Miss to win this weekend at Auburn. The Tigers have plenty of issues of their own. But can the Rebels mentally rebound from the disappointment of not sealing the deal last week?
The first five minutes of this game may give an indication of the mental health of this Rebel team. If Ole Miss is still reeling from last week, Auburn should cruise in front of its home crowd. If Ole Miss comes out as fired up and precise as it did last weekend, though, it’s not out of the question that they could get their first SEC win in 11 tries. Auburn hasn’t scored more than 17 points since Sept. 24, so it’s hard to see this one getting out of hand one way or another. Auburn finds ways to win the games it’s supposed to win, though, and this weekend should be no different.
OKTC Prediction: Auburn 23, Ole Miss 13
Mississippi State 28, Kentucky 20
Tennessee 20, South Carolina 17
Byes: Alabama, LSU
Season Prediction Record: 32-7
Season ATS: 19-18-2