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BBVA Compass Bowl Preview – 1/3/14

bbva compass bowlAfter a month of moaning, Vanderbilt fans will finally hit the road for Birmingham and the Commodores’ third bowl in three years.  Will the team be ready for action or will they have heard the booster grumbles and feel their “above” the BBVA Compass Bowl?  For that and more, here’s our game preview:

 

BBVA Compass Bowl

Vanderbilt (8-4) vs Houston (8-4)

TV:  1pm ET tomorrow on ESPN

Opening Line:  Vanderbilt -1.5

Current Line:  Vanderbilt -2.5

Cool Factor:  Uh.  Well.  Um.  Ask a Commodore fan and you’ll quickly learn that there’s zero Cool Factor for this one.

What’s At Stake:  Vanderbilt’s reputation as an improving football program.  Now, there’s no question that VU is indeed getting better under their fiery third-year coach.  But fans and media alike tend to swing from one extreme to the other.  Win a game and you’re the best team/coach/program ever.  Lose a game and you’re a bum coaching bums.  Dore fans are growing tired of hearing that just two of their school’s 17 wins over the last two years have come against teams with winning records.  They’re tired of hearing that bowls aren’t interested in them because of decades of losses and empty seats in a 40,000-seat stadium.  Facing a Houston team with a winning record is the perfect opportunity to shhh a lot of the naysayers.  It’s also a chance for Vandy fans to take over a city and a stadium.  Will they?

Keep An Eye On:  Vanderbilt’s attitude.  James Franklin has proven to be a master motivator in his short tenure in Nashville and his abilities will be tested once more.  The Dores enter the game with a back-up quarterback.  They’ll be playing in a bowl that many Vandy fans feel is beneath them in a stadium that’s been allowed to fall into disrepair.  Oh, and Franklin himself has been named in connection with head coach openings at Penn State, Texas, and Cleveland and Minnesota of the NFL.  (He’s said  that he loves Vanderbilt, but he hasn’t said he won’t leave.)  Add it up and there are plenty of potential distractions for VU’s players as they saddle up for this game with Houston.

Hidden Tidbit:  Backup QB Patton Robinette will be making just his third start of the year versus the Cougars.  In his previous two starts (in a loss at Texas A&M and in a win at Florida), the redshirt freshman completed 21-of-40 for 273 yards, one TD and two interceptions.  Robinette also came on in relief of Austyn Carta-Samuels in VU’s win over Georgia.  Down the stretch he was used as more as a running option, but he did see action in the Commodores’ last three games and scored the game-winning rushing touchdown versus arch-rival Tennessee.  That said, Robinette has thrown just nine passes in Vandy’s last three games.  A nice ground game would aid him.

Hidden Tidbit:  While Robinette might be rusty, receiver Jordan Matthews should be in his same sweet groove.  The SEC’s leading receiver this year (and all-time) caught 107 passes for 1,334 yards and five touchdowns for the season.  Houston ranked just eighth in the 10-team AAC in pass defense.  They allowed more than 250 yards passing to Southern University (FCS), Rice, UT-San Antonio, BYU, South Florida, and Cincinnati.  They also surrendered 195 plays of 10 or more yards this season, which also ranked eighth in the AAC.  Expect the Cougars to try and double-up Matthews and/or sit over the top to prevent long gains and force Robinette to make one accurate short throw after another.  But others have tried to shut down Matthews in those ways and it hasn’t worked often.  The senior had seven or more catches in 10 of Vandy’s 12 games including eight games of 100+ yard production.

Prediction:  Vanderbilt 27, Houston 21

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Liberty, Chick-fil-A Bowl Previews – 12/31/13

liberty chickfila logosA happy and safe New Year’s Eve to everyone out there.  After a solid win by Ole Miss yesterday, the SEC is off to a 1-0 start this bowl season.  Two more games today… which we preview… right now.

 

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Mississippi State (6-6) vs Rice (10-3)

TV:  4:00pm ET on ESPN

Opening Line:  Mississippi State -7

Current Line:  Mississippi State -7

Cool Factor:  Meh.  Sorry, but this game rarely has a cool factor.  In most years, one of the SEC’s stragglers goes up against the champion of Conference USA.  The SEC’s reputation is on the line, though it’s a little unfair considering the matchup.  Mike Slive’s league is 4-1 versus C-USA in Liberty Bowls since 2006, but the games have always been close.  Carolina over Houston 44-36.  Mississippi State 10-3 over UCF.  Kentucky 25, East Carolina 19.  Arkansas 20-17 over East Carolina.  And UCF 10-6 over Georgia.  Pay attention, MSU.

What’s At Stake:  Dan Mullen’s popularity.  There was a widening gap between the pleased and displeased in Starkville this season.  An end of the year win over hated Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl seemed to shift the crowd back in Mullen’s direction.  A fourth consecutive bowl trip — for the first time in school history — didn’t hurt, either.  But make no mistake, there are some in the MSU camp who want wins over SEC teams with winning records.  Many believe Mullen cannot get the Bulldogs to the next level.  If State gets fried by Rice in front of a cowbell-ringin’ crowd today, State will finish 6-7 on the year.  If that happens, this offseason could be a noisy one in the Magnolia State as MSU fans debate the direction in which their program is moving.

Keep An Eye On:  The battle in the trenches.  Rice boasts the 15th best ground attack in the nation (240.1 yards per game).  The Owls ran for 306 yards versus Texas A&M back in September.  MSU has America’s 49th best rushing defense (allowing just 151.0 yards per contest).  However… five times State allowed a team to average more than five yards per rush against them (Arkansas, Alabama, Bowling Green, LSU and Oklahoma State, with the Cowboys averaging 7.1 yards per carry on 40 attempts).  We should know early on whether Rice’s ground game is good enough to challenge State.  On the season, the Fighting Pilafs have gained 4.97 yards per carry in the first halves of games and just 4.39 yards per carry in second stanzas.  Typically, the best rushing teams wear foes down in the second half.  Rice’s numbers suggest that if the Bulldogs hold their ground early, it’s unlikely — barring turnovers — that the Owls will be able to make a charge late.  Rice topped the 250-yard mark through the air just twice all season.  So focus on how well MSU stuffs the run early on.

Hidden Tidbit:  Rice is going for it’s 11th win overall and it’s 10th win in 11 games.  The Owls’ win total is impressive, but that tally includes some close calls with weak teams (18-14 over FAU, 30-27 over Tulsa in overtime, 27-21 over UT-San Antonio and 37-34 over UAB in overtime).  The Owls did hang 31 points on Texas A&M’s porous defense in their season opener (losing 52-31), but Dak Prescott and the MSU offense should be able to put up enough points to win this one.  After all, Mullen has made a career of beating smaller programs… and Ole Miss.  (State’s six wins this season came over Alcorn State, Troy, Bowling Green, Kentucky, Arkansas and the Rebels.)

Prediction:  Mississippi State 30, Rice 24

 

Chick-fil-A Bowl

Texas A&M (8-4) vs Duke (10-3)

TV:  8:00pm ET on ESPN

Opening Line:  Texas A&M -11.5

Current Line:  Texas A&M -12.5

Cool Factor:  If you like offense, this one figures to have lots of it.  In fact, it wouldn’t surprise us if A&M/Duke come close to the point total of the last college football game played in the Georgia Dome (102 points in Auburn’s win over Missouri).  The Blue Devils had a below average ACC defense this season (allowing 24 points per game and 419.8 yards per contest).  The Aggies’ defense cost them a shot at greater glory (30.9 points per game allowed and 460.3 yards allowed per contest).  We still wonder what happened to all the A&M fans who bashed us in the preseason for daring to suggest this year’s team wouldn’t have the success of last year’s team, but that’s neither here nor there.  Expect points aplenty in Atlanta.

What’s At Stake:  Once again, the SEC’s reputation is at stake.  The Chick-fil-A Bowl — which will become the Peach Bowl again starting next season — enjoys the #2 selection from the ACC and the #5 pick from the SEC.  Like the Liberty Bowl, this really isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison.  But if Duke wins, that won’t stop the masses from saying the Southeastern Conference is overrated.  (Unfortunately, when you have to win all of your bowl games every season just to silence the doubters, eventually you’re going to slip up.)

Keep An Eye On:  The Johnny Manziel-to-Mike Evans connection.  Reports claim they’ll both turn pro at after this game and it’s hard to blame them.  Manziel passed (3,732 yards) and ran (686 yards) his way to New York for another Heisman ceremony (after winning the trophy last year).  Evans (1,322 yards and 12 TDs) developed into one of the nation’s top wideouts.  What more do they have to prove at the college level when injuries are becoming more and more common?  Sure, it’d be fun to see these guys stick around the SEC (especially since Manziel has displayed a new level of maturity since August), but no Aggie fan should begrudge either young man for jetting if that is indeed his next action.  So enjoy one last Manziel/Evans show tonight while you can.  Years from now, folks will still be talking about extraordinary college skills of Johnny Football.  You can say you watched what should be his final scintillating performance in the collegiate ranks.

Hidden Tidbit:  If Duke is to upend A&M they’ll need a big day on special teams.  And that’s entirely possible.  The Blue Devils rank #8 in the nation in both kick returns (25.0 yards per) and punt returns (14.5 yards per).  DeVon Edwards led the ACC in kickoff returns averaging 31.0 yards per return and taking two to the house.  Jamison Crowder was second in his league in put returns (16.0 yards per return) and he scored two TDs as well.  Texas A&M wasn’t bad in kick coverage (third-best in the SEC), but they finished 13th in the league in punt coverage surrendering 10.4 yards per return.  Having coached at Tennessee where General Robert Neyland’s game maxims are gospel, expect David Cutcliffe to remind his Duke team to “press the kicking game,” where the breaks are made.

Prediction:  Texas A&M 48, Duke 38

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Music City Bowl Preview – 12/30/13

FAMC_MusicCityBowl_logo7Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Ole Mss (7-5) vs Georgia Tech (7-5)

TV:  3:15pm ET on ESPN

Opening Line:  Ole Miss -1.5

Current Line:  Ole Miss -3

Cool Factor:  The Rebels and the Yellow Jackets once shared a conference, but they’ve only played three times all-time and the last came 40 years ago.  Always fun to see unusual match ups.

What’s At Stake:  This Ole Miss team has been better than last year’s squad.  But.  If the Rebs lose they’ll finish up with the same record as last year’s squad.  Fans want to see constant improvement (whether that’s a realistic expectation for a team playing so many freshmen or not).  SFor that reason, Hugh Freeze’s bunch needs to end the season on the right note with a win for many backers to call his second year a success.

Keep An Eye On:  UM’s offense.  Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see how Ole Miss deals with Tech’s old-fashioned triple-option offense, but the real story here is the Rebel attack.  After an impressive season (#5 in the SEC in total offense), Freeze’s up-tempo unit stalled at season’s end.  Ole Miss put up less than 400 yards against both Missouri and Mississippi State and scored just one offensive touchdown.  Time for Bo Wallace to rev his team’s engine again.

Hidden Tidbit:  Georgia Tech ranks #22 nationally in scoring offense (36.6 points per game) while Ole Miss ranks #58 (30.4 points per game).  It’s not been a banner year for SEC defense, but we’ll go out on a limb and say the Rebels have still faced a tougher schedule in 2013 than the Jackets.

Prediction:  Ole Miss 35, Georgia Tech 31

 

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SEC Game Previews – 11/28/12

Thanksgiving-Cornucopia-Recipe_slideshow_imageFirst, a big ol’ Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at MrSEC.com to you.  We hope you all have a fun, safe day with family, friends and/or football on TV.

We’re splitting this week’s game previews into two parts.  Below are the stats, thoughts and picks for the SEC games to be played tonight (the Egg Bowl) and tomorrow (the battle for the Golden Boot).  Saturday’s previews will go up tomorrow afternoon as per usual.

Best of luck to whoever you’re rooting for!

 

Ole Miss (7-4) at Mississippi State (5-6)

TV:  Tonight, 7:30pm ET on ESPN

Opening Line:  UM -3

Current Line:  UM -4.5

One To Watch:  MSU QB Damien Williams.  We penciled in Williams as our guy to watch before State’s win over Arkansas last week, too.  Only that sneaky Dan Mullen started a banged-up Tyler Russell as his quarterback instead.  At least until Russell got hurt (again).  Williams came in and scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime.  Dak Prescott is definitely out this week and Russell is once again listed as day-to-day.  If Williams does get the start, how will the freshman play and what will the Rebels throw at him?  (We expect both Russell and Williams to see action.)

This And That:

1.  State head coach Dan Mullen needs to win this game.  The momentum he created with an Egg Bowl win in his first season and a nine-win campaign in his second is long gone at the end of Year Five.  With the Iron Bowl, both Alabama and Auburn can be good at the same time.  The Egg Bowl rivalry is different.  It seems that only one team at a time can rise in the Magnolia State.  From ’08 to ’11, MSU was that team.  Then came a Hugh Freeze-led rout last November and a top five recruiting class for the Rebels.  Mullen has to win this one to go bowling (for a fourth straight year) and to steal back a little sizzle from “the school up North.”

2.  Can Mississippi run the football?  In the Rebels’ seven wins they’ve averaged 243 yards per game rushing and 5.3 yards per carry.  Great numbers.  But in their four losses?  Just 107 yards per game and an unhealthy 3.4 yards per carry.  UM also rushes for 50 yards less per game on the road than at home.  Top Rebel back Jeff Scott is once again less than 100%, but MSU has allowed seven of its 11 opponents to rush for more than 160 yards (including three that went over 200).  If the Rebels can run the ball effectively (and steer clear of turnovers), it’ll be hard for State to win this one.

3.  Ole Miss leads the Egg Bowl series.  Ole Miss has the better team this season.  But Ole Miss hasn’t won in Starkville since 2003.  In fact, the Rebels have lost six of the last seven Egg Bowls played in Oktibbeha County.

Bonus:  MSU will be wearing gold helmets as they continue to inch toward Oregon and Maryland status with regards to daffy uniforms.

Double Bonus:  Anyone remember Dan Mullen’s statement to his team after a 2010 Egg Bowl win?  “We’re never losing to this team again.”

Prediction:  Ole Miss 27, Mississippi State 21

 

Arkansas (3-8) at LSU (8-3)

TV:  Friday, 2:30pm ET on CBS

Opening Line:  -24.5

Current Line:  -25.5

One To Watch:  LSU’s mindset.  The Tigers will have go to guard against a letdown tomorrow afternoon.  Last Saturday they walloped Texas A&M 34-10 and, arguably, played their best game of the season.  Now they’re coming off a short week against a foe that will be easy to overlook.  Will Les Miles team be sharp… or sloppy?

This And That:

1.  November 25, 2011.  Arkansas carried a #3 national ranking into its date with #1 LSU.  Three minutes into the second quarter, the Hogs held a 14-0 lead.  That was the equivalent of James Longstreet’s July 3rd assault on Union forces at Gettysburg — it was the Razorbacks’ high-water mark.  LSU would roar back for a 41-17 victory in that game.  Less than five months later Bobby Petrino would wreck his motorcycle and set off a chain of events that’s seen the Hogs’ football fortunes plummet.  Since that last Arkansas visit to Baton Rouge, UA has gone just 8-16 (2-13 in the SEC).  It’s a long, long drop from #3 to winless in the SEC.

2.  Bret Bielema’s team is playing for nothing but pride at this point and that usually results in nothing but losses in the SEC.  The coach said this week that he’s told his team to “have fun with it, try to make the most of a very difficult situation and be something that you can remember for a lifetime.”  Not exactly Gene Hackman’s speech from “Hoosiers,” but to be fair, there’s not really much to be said.  Arkansas has lost eight games in a row.  The first-year coach has gone from hero to “maybe he’s not the right guy” in three months’ time (which isn’t fair considering Arkansas’ roster and his preferred style of play).  Can the coach find any way at all to milk a competitive effort out of his squad at Tiger Stadium?  Or are his players simply ready to close the lid on this season and bury it?

3.  The numbers just don’t add up for Arkansas.  The Hogs are 0-4 on the road.  LSU is 6-0 at home.  The Tigers average a hundred yards per game more on offense than the Razorbacks.  They allow 60 yards per game less.  LSU is minus-two in turnovers for the season, but Arkansas is much worse at minus-nine.  Any way you want to slice it, this one looks like it’s going to be a long, hard slog for Bielema’s boys.

Prediction:  LSU 38, Arkansas 14

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SEC Game Previews – 11/15/13

mrsec game previewIt’s a light weekend for the SEC with only five games on the schedule.  But with four league-vs-league games on the slate, hopefully the action we do get will at least be interesting.

Below is our usual roundup of TV times, betting odds, players to watch, game keys, hidden stats and predictions.

Best of luck to your favorite team tomorrow!

 

Troy (5-5) at Ole Miss (6-3)

TV:  12:00pm ET on ESPNU

Opening Line:  UM -28

Current Line:  UM -28

One To Watch:  Troy QB Corey Robinson.  Let’s face it, the Trojans’ chances of victory are pretty slim.  This is a team that Mississippi State crushed 62-7 back in September.  To pull the upset, Troy will need a lights-out performance by its quarterback.  In his team’s wins this year, Robinson has completed 74% of his passes with a TD-INT ratio of 11-to-three.  In Troy’s losses he’s completed just 62% of his passes with eight TDs and five INTs.

This And That:

1.  There was a time when Troy could give an SEC foe a scare.  Those days are gone.  Larry Blakeney’s program has fallen off a bit as evidenced by losses to Arkansas State, Duke, UL-Monroe and UL-Lafayette (in addition to the MSU loss mentioned earlier).  The Trojans are allowing 462 yards per game (seventh in the eight-team Sun Belt Conference) against a schedule that’s included Savannah State, Georgia State and South Alabama.

2.  Turnovers are upset fuel.  If the Rebels slip tomorrow, they will have given the ball away multiple times.  But that has not been their DNA so far in 2013.  The Rebels are plus-two overall in turnover margin (fifth best in the SEC) having lost six fumbles and seven interceptions.  Credit quarterback Bo Wallace for greatly improving his accuracy/decision-making from a year ago.  Troy, on the other hand, is minus-eight on the season and — not surprisingly — they’re minus-six in their losses.

3.  Speaking of Wallace, did ya know that he now ranks fourth in the SEC in passing yardage (265.8 per game)?  Only Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger have been more prolific through the air.

Prediction:  Ole Miss 52, Troy 14

 

Kentucky (2-7) at Vanderbilt (5-4)

TV:  12:21pm ET on SEC TV

Opening Line:  VU -13.5

Current Line:  VU -12.5

One To Watch:  Kentucky QB Jalen Whitlow.  The Wildcat signal-caller has seized the starting role and kept himself healthy the last two weeks (despite being sacked 10 times).  He’s rolled up 600+ yards of offense (not counting the lost sack yardage).  Whitlow, once viewed as “the running quarterback” in UK’s system, has improved his accuracy, too.  In his last three starts (versus the defenses of South Carolina, Alabama and Missouri), Whitlow has completed 50-of-77 passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions…

This And That:

1.  The problem has been a lack of playmakers around him in Neal Brown’s Air Raid attack.  Whitlow’s 7.6 yards-per-attempt average in those three starts would rank just ninth in the SEC.  A rash of injuries at the receiver spot hasn’t help the Cats when it comes to creating big plays through the air.  Which means you should expect to see Whitlow use his legs quite a bit versus Vandy.  The Commodores are giving up 148 yards per game on the ground.  Kentucky will try to take a run-first approach.

2.  Everyone knows the old statement: “They remember what you do in November.”  Well, that’s certainly becoming the case in Nashville where James Franklin has led the Commodores to an impressive 7-2 November record during his three-year stint on the West End.  With Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest ahead, it’s not inconceivable that the Dores could once again sweep through the month (they already beat Florida last week), finish 8-4 and go bowling for a third straight year.  Vandy, it’s said, ain’t a team that’ll play dead when the skies of November turn gloomy.  (A nautical song, Commodores, Anchor Down… whaddya want it’s a free site.)

3.  Vanderbilt hasn’t exactly been tearing it up on offense since losing starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels against Georgia.  Last week’s big road win at Florida was the result of some good defense and an opportunistic offense that scored on three post-turnover drives of less than 22 yards.  This week, however, VU will face the league’s 12th best team in total defense… not the league’s best (Florida).  Keep an eye on quarterback Patton Robinette and his ability to protect the football (three picks in 45 passes over his last three games).

Prediction:  Vanderbilt 34, Kentucky 21

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SEC Game Previews – 11/8/13

mrsec game previewWeek 11 of the SEC season will get off to a very early start tomorrow.  Five league games will kickoff between noon and 12:30.  That’s to make room for the CBS double-header tomorrow night… the one that includes the much-anticipated renewal of the Alabama/LSU rivalry.

Below are the issues, odds, stats and views on all seven games that you need leading into the second Saturday in November.  Enjoy.

And good luck to your favorite team tomorrow!

 

Vanderbilt (4-4) at Florida (4-4)

TV:  12:00pm ET on FSN

Opening Line:  UF -7.5

Current Line:  UF -10

One To Watch:  Vanderbilt QB Patton Robinette.  The redshirt freshman had a tough first start at Texas A&M two weeks ago.  He was 15-of-28 for 216 yards, one TD and two interceptions.  Even with multiple injuries Florida’s defense is better than A&M’s.  Robinette will need to show big improvement in the Swamp…

This And That:

1.  The Commodores haven’t shown the kind of rushing attack that can alleviate the pressure on a young quarterback.  Vandy ranks dead last in the SEC in rush offense (141 yards per game).  Inside the league they’re averaging just 118 rushing yards per contest.  Florida still ranks second best at stuffing the run (107 yards per game allowed).

2.  At what point does Florida collapse due to injuries?  We — along with some other sites — count nine season-ending injuries for the Gators.  Others claim 10.  Whatever the number, it’s a lot.  Too many for most team to survive.  Yet Florida showed a lot of grit by shutting out the Georgia offense in the second half of last weekend’s contest.  But which D will Vandy see?  The one that allowed UGA to build a 23-3 lead?  The one that buckled down and allowed the Gators to creep back into the game, 23-20.  Or the one that couldn’t get Georgia’s offense off the field for the final eight minutes of the game?  And keep in mind, Vanderbilt’s offense isn’t Georgia’s.

3.  Both teams need two wins to reach a bowl game.  The Commodores have an easier path the rest of the way (Kentucky, Tennessee, and Wake Forest).  The Gators still have dates with Georgia Southern, South Carolina and Florida State.  This is much more of a must-win game for Will Muschamp’s bunch.

Prediction:  Florida 24, Vanderbilt 17

 

#8 Missouri (8-1) at Kentucky (2-6)

TV:  12:00pm ET on ESPNU

Opening Line:  MU -13.5

Current Line:  MU -14

One To Watch:  Missouri’s Starting QB.  Whoever that may be.  Gary Pinkel said last week that he thought James Franklin would be ready to go this week.  But Maty Mauk could get another start to allow Franklin even more time to heal up his bum shoulder.

This And That:

1.  Kentucky’s pass defense ranks 10th in the SEC against league competition (allowing 269 yards per game).  This week they’ll face a tall test — pun intended — from Missouri receivers Dorial Green-Beckham (6-6), Marcus Lucas (6-5) and L’Damian Washington (6-4).  Whoever gets the start behind center for the Tigers should see some open targets at Commonwealth Stadium.

2.  Mizzou has picked off a league-leading 17 passes this season.  But Kentucky has thrown just two picks all season and starter Jalen Whitlow has only tossed one.  If Kentucky is to have any chance on Saturday, Whitlow and his Cats will need to protect the football while dinking and dunking their way down the field.  (Whitlow’s 6.7 yards-per-attempt average is one of the worst for a starter in the SEC>

3.  In SEC play, Kentucky has allowed an average of 33.7 points per game while scoring an average of 16 points.  Missouri’s got one of the league’s best offenses, but Kentucky has a healthy quarterback.  So…

Prediction:  Missouri 38, Kentucky 20

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SEC Game Previews – 11/1/13

mrsec game previewOK, so the Week 10 SEC schedule isn’t exactly sterling.  In fact, there are only two matchups in which the Vegas line is less than 10 (which tells us that most desert bettors are anticipating blowouts tomorrows).

As usual, we break down the bad with the good.  All six games and the key points you need to know about each are right below.

Good luck to your favorite team this weekend!

 

Mississippi State (4-3) at #14 South Carolina (6-2)

TV:  12:21pm ET on SEC TV

Opening Line:  USC -11.5

Current Line:  USC -12.5

One To Watch:  South Carolina QB Connor Shaw.  Shaw entered last week’s game at Missouri and promptly rallied his troops like the Palmetto State’s fictional Benjamin Martin in “The Patriot.”  Without him… offense lifeless.  With him… offense darn near impossible to stop.  This week Shaw battled back from an illness and is expected to be good to go tomorrow.  If he’s not, might USC’s offense drift off to Sleepytown again?

This And That:

1.  Both the talent on the two teams’ rosters and MSU’s history under Dan Mullen suggest that this one should be a rather easy victory for Carolina.  But the Gamecocks’ offense has a bad habit of turning the ball over.  Currently they’re minus-four on the season (12th in the SEC), having given the ball away 15 times.  Mississippi State is plus-four in turnover margin, third-best in the league.  If you want a prescription for an upset it’s turnovers plus…

2.  Emotion.  The Gamecocks are coming off a heart-pounding come-from-behind win at Missouri.  Now they get a 4-3 State team at home.  USC has been up and down all season — whipping North Carolina, losing at Georgia, letting Vanderbilt back into a game, struggling at UCF, letting Kentucky back into a game, crushing Arkansas, losing at Tennessee, and then last week’s late-game turnaround.  We’re not just talking about the 12:21pm start time when we say the Cocks had better have their alarm clocks set properly.

3.  Mississippi State’s rush defense versus BCS opponents ranks just 11th in the SEC as it’s allowed 197.2 yards per game.  This week the Bulldogs will face the league’s leading rusher in Mike Davis (116.2 yards per game).  But Davis put the ball on the ground twice last week and we all know of Steve Spurrier’s lust for aerial yards.  Will he ride Davis — who is listed as A-OK after narrowly dodging a broken leg last week — or will the Ol’ Ball Coach try to wing the ball all over the yard?  In some of those games we mentioned above, Carolina’s offense sputtered as Spurrier relied too heavily on his passing game.

Prediction:  South Carolina 34, Mississippi State 20

 

Georgia (4-3) vs Florida (4-3) at Jacksonville

TV:  3:30pm ET on CBS

Opening Line:  UGA -2.5

Current Line:  UGA -3

One To Watch:  Florida QB Tyler Murphy.  The redshirt junior made his debut against Tennessee after an injury to Jeff Driskel.  Against the Vols, Kentucky and Arkansas, Murphy averaged 221 yards per game of total offense.  He averaged 8.5 yards per play.  But in UF’s last two games, Murphy has turned into a pumpkin: 74.5 yards of total offense per game and just 2.0 yards per play.  That 2.0 yard-per-play number includes passes, folks.  Murphy will have to play better for Florida to win tomorrow.

This And That:

1.  It’s not all on Murphy, though.  He lost 58 yards versus LSU and Mizzou in part because his O-line couldn’t protect him.  And as we’ve been asking for years now — literally, years — where are the skill position players who should be lined up around Florida’s quarterback?  From Steve Addazio to Charlie Weis to Brent Pease, it’s been a while since a Gator offensive coordinator had at his disposal a single running back or receiver who struck fear into the hearts of opposing defense coordinators.  UF will face a Georgia defense that’s actually sixth in the SEC versus BCS-level foes (a surprising number, no?).  Can the Gators generate enough offense?

2.  Both teams have seen their championship hopes severely damaged by injury.  The difference tomorrow, however, could actually be a key player who’s returning to action.  UGA’s electrifying running back Todd Gurley will finally be back after a three-game absence.  He registered 154 yards against Clemson, 132 against South Carolina, 91 against North Texas (before being pulled), and 73 in a half against LSU.  His big-play ability has been missing from UGA’s attack in an overtime win over Tennessee and back-to-back losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt.  Meanwhile, Florida’s rush defense has gotten progressively worse as injuries have mounted.  Over the last four weeks their opponents’ yards-per-rush average has gone from 2.29 (vs Kentucky) to 3.83 (vs Arkansas) to 4.49 (vs LSU) to 5.54 (vs Missouri).  If Gurley thrives, it’s going to be very hard to Florida to win.

3.  Tomorrow’s contest will basically be an elimination game in the SEC East race.  Georgia’s Mark Richt will also be trying to notch a third victory in a row over Florida, something UGA hasn’t done since 1987-1989.  But — as is the case in so many games — keep an eye on the turnover battle.  Florida isn’t bad at plus-one.  Georgia is 13th in the SEC at minus-five.  To stay alive in the East and remain in the catbird seat in this rivalry, the Dawgs will have to protect the football.

Prediction:  Georgia 24, Florida 17

#Auburn (7-1) at Arkansas (3-5)

TV:  6:00pm ET on ESPN2

Opening Line:  AU -7.5

Current Line:  AU -8

One To Watch:  The scoreboard.  Bret Bielema has made it abundantly clear that he’s no fan of Auburn’s Gus Malzahn.  Malzahn — leading a much better team — might take the opportunity Saturday to remind Bielema not to ever publicly accuse him of misconduct (as he did in this week’s game tape kerfuffle).  The Natural State native son might also want to let the Razorback administration know that he should be coaching in Fayetteville not Auburn.  If he gets the chance, how much will Malzahn pour it on?

This And That:

1.  Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall is listed as day-to-day for the Tigers.  According to Malzahn, backup Jeremy Johnson has taken “almost equal reps” with the first team offense this week.  No QB announcement is expected before gametime.  Marshall — who has an injured throwing shoulder — ranks 10th in the SEC in total offense with a sizzling 461 yards gained on the ground.  As a passer he’s completing 57.6% of his tosses.  Marshall’s the runner.  Johnson’s strength is in the passing game.  He’s completed 69.2% of his passes and thrown six TD passes in just three games of work.  Johnson has rushed just seven times for 47 yards.  Arkansas will have had to prepare for two distinctly different styles of quarterbacks.

2.  Like Auburn (tops in the SEC), Arkansas (fourth in the SEC) loves to run the football.  But unlike the Tigers, the Razorbacks haven’t had enough success throwing the ball to keep defenses honest.  The Hogs rank 14th in the league in passing yards per game (146.6) which is right at 50 yards per game less than Auburn’s aerial output.  Against SEC foes, Brandon Allen has completed just 39.5% of his passes, throwing three TDs and six picks.  But only Missouri allows more passing yards per game than Auburn, so keep an eye on Allen’s ability to supplement Arkansas’ ground attack.  If he can, the Hogs could hang around on their homefield.  If he can’t, this could be a slaughter.

3.  Just how good is Auburn’s rushing attack?  Its 315.3 yards-per-game average is best in the SEC and fifth best in America.  The Tigers have had four different players rush for 100+ yards in a game this season (Marshall and running backs Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne, and Corey Grant).  The combination of up-tempo speed and Malzahn’s gap run schemes is once again proving extremely difficult to defend.

Prediction:  Auburn 44, Arkansas 27

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SEC Game Previews – 10/25/13

mrsec game previewWeek Nine is already underway — congrats to Mississippi State for last night’s win; kudos to Kentucky for showing continued fight — which means it’s time for our weekly SEC football primer.  Included are TV listings, Vegas odds, statistical comparisons, game keys, opinions and predictions.  It’s everything you need for Saturday’s six-pack of SEC contests.

And as always, good luck to your favorite team…

 

Vanderbilt (4-3) at #16 Texas A&M (5-2)

TV:  12:21pm ET on SEC TV

Opening Line:  A&M -18.5

Current Line:  A&M -17

One To Watch:  Vanderbilt QB Patton Robinette.  The redshirt freshman will make his first career start after subbing for an injured Austyn Carta-Samuels last week.  Robinette — who initially picked North Carolina over Vanderbilt — finished nine-of-15 last week with 41 yards and an interception.  He also had a nine-yard touchdown run.  Texas A&M’s defense is bad.  Can Robinette take advantage and keep the Commodores in this one?

This And That:

1.  A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is expected to play tomorrow despite injuring his throwing shoulder against Auburn last weekend.  He was clearly in pain as he led A&M’s last-gasp drive and he was in a sling earlier this week.  It’s hard to imagine Johnny Football sitting this one out, but some are wondering if he should play, even if he’s cleared.  Fair question.  But from a football point of view only, Manziel at 75% is still better than most quarterbacks at 100%.

2.  We know the Aggies will surrender yards and points (they’re 14th in the SEC in both categories), but can Vandy slow Kevin Sumlin’s offense?  The Dores have been up and down on D all season allowing: 489 yards to Ole Miss, 139 to Austin Peay, 579 to South Carolina, 248 to UMass, 362 to UAB, 523 to Missouri, and then just 221 to an injury-riddled Georgia offense.  Against SEC foes only, VU ranks 10th in yards allowed and 12th in points allowed.  Chances are, A&M will get theirs.

3.  On the road against a ranked opponent that loves to go up-tempo.  Giving a quarterback his first start ever at rocking Kyle Field.  Those are the kinds of things that would normally lead a coach to rely on his run game and try to eat clock.  But Vandy’s strength is throwing the ball (#6 in pass offense in the SEC), not running it (#14 in rush offense).  So can the Commodores (4.1 yards per carry, #13 in the SEC) produce enough of a ground game against A&M’s shoddy defense (#14 in the SEC versus the run) to take some of the pressure off Robinette?

Prediction:  Texas A&M 47, Vanderbilt 27

 

Tennessee (4-3) at #1 Alabama (7-0)

TV:  3:30pm ET on CBS

Opening Line:  UA -26.5

Current Line:  UA -28.5

One To Watch:  Tennessee QB Justin Worley.  During Tennessee’s 3-2 start, the junior from South Carolina tossed eight TD passes and six interceptions.  In an overtime loss to Georgia and in an upset of Carolina last week, Worley has thrown two touchdowns against zero picks.  It hasn’t been pretty, but it has been effective.  If the Volunteers are to have any shot at all against Alabama, they’ll need for their quarterback to protect the football once more.  That won’t be easy against Bama’s D.

This And That:

1.  Alabama has been tested exactly once this season and they passed it with a 49-42 at College Station.  In the Tide’s other six games, they’ve won by a combined score of 236-26.  That’s a 39-4 average score, a five-touchdown margin of victory on average.  The best game anyone’s given Nick Saban’s team since its win over A&M?  Well, Ole Miss came within 25 in a 25-0 shutout loss.  Anything’s possible as we saw last week, but Bama is not the team any school wants to see on its schedule right now.

2.  Keep an eye on the red zone success for both squads.  Neither team is particularly good inside the opponents’ 20 (UA is #7 in the SEC while UT is #8).  Both teams are good when it comes to red zone defense.  Alabama is tops in the conference allowing scores just 63% of the time.  Tennessee ranks third best in the SEC allowing just a 73% conversion rate.  The difference?  Foes have only reached the red zone against the Tide 11 times all year (seven fewer than anyone else in the league).  Vol foes have reached the red zone 30 times, which is the most in the SEC.

3.  Turnovers played a major role in the SEC’s Upset Saturday a week ago.  In fact, all six SEC games went to the team that committed the fewest turnovers.  As mention above, the Vols have been better about giving the ball away in recent weeks, but UT is still 12th in the league in turnover margin (minus-two) when you look at conference games only.  Alabama is third best (plus-three).  Unless the Red Elephants get a sudden case of the whoopsies, the improving Vols’ chances just don’t look too good.

Prediction:  Alabama 38, Tennessee 10

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Kentucky / MSU Game Preview – 10/24/13

mrsec game previewWeek Nine of the SEC schedule gets an early start with Kentucky’s visit to Mississippi State this evening.  Below is our preview for that one.  We’ll break down the other six games on this week’s schedule tomorrow afternoon as usual.

Now on with the battle between the Cats and Dogs…

 

Kentucky (1-5) at Mississippi State (3-3)

TV:  7:30pm ET on ESPN

Opening Line:  MSU -10

Current Line:  MSU -10.5

One To Watch:  Game Two of the World Series between the Cards and Sawx starts at 7:30.  What?  Too cruel?

This And That:

1.  The quarterback situations at both schools are less than perfect.  Maxwell Smith will be back in as starter for the Wildcats.  Jalen Whitlow — who looked good against South Carolina — was injured versus Alabama two weeks ago and Mark Stoops says he’ll be available “if we need him.”  At State, there’s still a flip-flop rotation between Tyler Russell (more the passer) and Dak Prescott (more the runner).  Prescott and and Smith rank 11th and 12th in passing yards per game.

2.  If Mississippi State wants to go bowling at season’s end, Dan Mullen’s club probably can’t afford a stumble at home to Kentucky.  The Cats’ rush defense is the SEC’s worst outside of the unit playing in College Station.  State’s rushing offense, on the other hand, ranks fourth best in the league and is worth 214.3 yards per game.  Expect a heavy dose of ground n’ pound from the Bulldogs tonight.

3.  If Stoops is to record his first SEC win in Starkville, Kentucky will need turnovers.  UK hasn’t been bad in that area (plus-one on the season, #7 in the SEC), but MSU has been better.  The Bulldogs have given the ball away just eight times all year while forcing a whopping 18, more than any other SEC team.  Advantage: Maroons.

4.  One extra note since we got a little cute above: Kentucky has dropped 11 in a row and 15 out of their 16 away from Commonwealth Stadium.  The last true road game UK won came in the 2010 season opener at Louisville.  That’s a lot of losses over a lot of time.

Prediction:  Mississippi State 30, Kentucky 21

 

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SEC Game Previews – 10/18/13

mrsec game previewSaturday marks the end of the two months worth of SEC football for 2013.  As we kick off Week Eight of the season, below is your usual weekend primer.  Television listings, Vegas odds, updated stats and our own views and predictions.  Everything you need for Saturday’s six-pack of SEC action.

As always, good luck to your favorite team this weekend…

 

#15 Georgia (4-2) at Vanderbilt (3-3)

TV:  12:00pm ET on CBS

Opening Line:  UGA -9.5

Current Line:  UGA -7

One To Watch:  Georgia QB Aaron Murray.  The senior signal-caller could snap a pair of SEC career records on Saturday — Tim Tebow’s record for career total offense and Danny Wuerffel’s record for career touchdown passes.  More importantly, with the Dawgs’ arsenal of weapons nearly depleted and the defense struggling, more weight now falls on Murray’s shoulders.  Last week he made mistakes and Georgia couldn’t overcome them.  It’s not easy to play a perfect game, but that’s what Murray’s having to do these days.

This And That:

1.  As mentioned above, injuries appear to be catching up with the Bulldog offense.  Against Clemson and South Carolina to open the season, UGA posted 545 and 536 yards respectively.  They put another 494 on LSU back in September.  But the Dawgs have had their two worst days for total offense over the last two weeks (434 yards versus Tennessee and 454 yards versus Missouri).  Those are still good numbers to be sure, but Mike Bobo’s bunch no longer looks as unstoppable as it did early in the season.

2.  Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews needs 98 yards receiving to break Terrence Edwards’ SEC career mark of 3,093 yards.  The Vandy senior is second in the SEC this season averaging 118.2 yards per game.  Expect Georgia to do its best to shut him down, but Matthews has caught 100+ yards worth of passes in five of VU’s six contests.  Even with opposing Ds keying on him.  And Georgia’s pass defense ranks just 12th in the SEC.

3.  If the games winds up as close as we believe, the turnover battle could be the decisive stat.  Vandy is guilty of nine giveaways on the season and rank 12th in the SEC at minus-two in turnover margin.  Georgia is even worse.  In fact, UGA’s minus-four turnover margin (including nine giveaways) is dead last in the league.  Remember the old adage: The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.

Prediction:  Georgia 35, Vanderbilt 31

 

#11 South Carolina (5-1) at Tennessee (3-3)

TV:  12:00pm ET on ESPN

Opening Line:  USC -7

Current Line:  USC -7.5

One To Watch:  Tennessee QB Justin Worley.  Like the rest of his teammates, Worley’s best moments of the season came two weeks ago in the second half of an overtime loss to Georgia.  Did the junior from the Palmetto State turn the proverbial corner?  Or will he turn back into a Big Orange pumpkin against his home state team tomorrow?

This And That:

1.  If the Volunteers want to hang with the #11 Gamecocks they’ll need to force some turnovers.  That’s not something Tennessee has done against top-drawer competition.  Against unranked opponents the Vols are plus-seven in turnover margin.  But against ranked foes (Oregon, Florida, and Georgia), UT is minus-five in turnovers.  That’s quite the flip-flop.  South Carolina is even in turnover margin (plus-10 and minus-10) on the year.

2.  How will the second half unfold?  The Vols are coming off a much-needed open date, but Butch Jones’ roster is still paper thin in a lot of areas.  Carolina runs the ball better in the second half of games (815 yards to 539 yards).  They could wear UT down.  But up until last week the Cocks had not played a complete game.  They’d scene Vanderbilt, UCF and Kentucky make comebacks against them.  That was not the case in their blowout win at Arkansas.  Will Tennessee wear down in the second half?  Will Carolina go to sleep at halftime?  Stay tuned.

3.  Keep an eye on the mano a mano battle between Jadeveon Clowney and Tiny Richardson.  The Vol tackle played the Gamecock defensive end to a draw last season in Columbia… right up until Clowney strip-sacked Tyler Bray to secure a hard-fought victory in the game’s final seconds.  Expect Richardson to get plenty of help on Clowney who played a fine game in Fayetteville last weekend.

Prediction:  South Carolina 31, Tennessee 21

 

#22 Florida (4-2) at #14 Missouri (6-0)

TV:  12:21pm ET on SEC TV

Opening Line:  Pick

Current Line:  UF -3

One To Watch:  Florida’s defensive line.  Specifically, keep an eye on the middle of that line.  Until last week the Gators had survived the loss of defensive tackle Dominique Easley.  But last week, the Gators played a quality team in LSU.  The Tigers ran for 175 yards — many coming right up the gut — against the league’s best run D.  If Missouri — the league’s #2 rushing offense — can run on the Gators, it will take a whole lot of pressure off new quarterback Maty Mauk.

This And That:

1.  Mauk stepped in and got the job done last week at Georgia when James Franklin went down in the fourth quarter.  But now he’ll have to captain the Tiger offense from start to finish.  And instead of going up against one of the SEC’s worst defenses, he’ll be playing against one of the league’s best in Florida.  Not only are the Gators good against the run and pass, but they also force their opponents into mistakes.  Only two SEC teams have forced more turnovers (12) than Florida.  (Missouri is one of those two, by the way).  A new young QB making his first start against a smart, tough defense?  That looks like trouble for Mizzou.

2.  Meanwhile, Gator quarterback Tyler Murphy crashed back to earth last Saturday at LSU.  After a hot start to his reign as UF QB, Murphy led the Gators to just six points and 240 yards in Baton Rouge.  This Tiger defense doesn’t boast the reputation of that other Tiger D, but Mizzou is #1 in the SEC in turnover margin (plus-nine overall), #3 in rushing defense and #6 in scoring defense.  Where Missouri struggles is in pass defense, ranking 14th in the 14-team SEC in that category.  Is Murphy good enough as a thrower to exploit that weakness?  He looked like it against Kentucky and Arkansas, not so much versus LSU.

3.  Murphy — like so many Gator quarterbacks before him — is in serious need of some playmakers around him.  Will Muschamp said this week that he wants to see more explosive plays from his team’s offense.  Only Kentucky and Tennessee have fewer plays of 10 yards or more.  No SEC squad has fewer 20+ yard plays than Florida.  Ditto 30+ yard plays.  And 40+ yard plays.  You get the picture.  Florida has to grind its way down the field with long, multi-play drives.  Now remember what we said about Missouri’s ability to force turnovers.

Prediction:  Florida 21, Missouri 20

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