story by Chris Rushing
Follow me on Twitter: @rushicw
Welcome to “Pad Your Stats Saturday” as my good friend Andy Staples of SI.com said earlier this week on Twitter. In the Southeastern Conference, seven (that’s right: half) of the league will take on Football Championship Subdivision competition this weekend looking to get perhaps that last victory of the season before postseason play or coaching searches heat up.
In those games, I fully expect the SEC to go 7-0 with a couple of close calls for a lot longer than the home crowd would like in Auburn vs. Alabama A&M and Kentucky vs. Samford.
In one of the other games that actually features competition, Arkansas travels to Mississippi State for a battle that doesn’t mean much of anything aside from MSU’s bowl hopes this postseason.
Tyler Russell has been wildly efficient this season, and he’s probably licking his chops thinking about facing the Arkansas secondary this weekend. In the Bulldogs’ home finale, Russell will have plenty of opportunities to pad his passing efficiency rating as Dan Mullen’s team continues jockeying for a desirable January bowl bid.
Arkansas, to put it mildly, has owned this series since 1999. Two years ago, the Razorbacks narrowly escaped in overtime in their last trip to Starkville. The Hogs are much more talented than the Bulldogs, but that hasn’t meant as much as it should have this season.
The positive thing is that there are only eight more quarters left for the coaching regimes at Auburn, Kentucky, Arkansas and (most likely) Tennessee. While the rest of the league is jockeying for bowl position, this quartet will be re-entering the arms race looking to make the biggest splash on the coaching market in 2012.
The SEC Network will have the call from Davis Wade Stadium Saturday at 11:21 a.m. CT.
I picked the Hogs last week and immediately regretted the choice in the first quarter against South Carolina. I’m going against my better judgment again and say that the streak in this series continues.
Call it now: Arkansas 27, Mississippi State 21
Elsewhere in the league …
• The Magnolia Bowl between LSU and Ole Miss should be on any SEC fan’s bucket list. While it’s hard to really consider this a rivalry as an outside observer, this matchup has featured some classic moments in SEC lore throughout the years. This weekend’s edition could provide yet another one.
• Hugh Freeze came up short in his bid to get the Rebels bowl eligible in the first attempt last weekend against Vandy, but there is no doubt that Freeze knows how to motivate and get the absolute most out of a roster that is down to just 59 scholarship athletes. He’ll have the opportunity to turn down bigger jobs this offseason if he wants.
LSU is better. They’ll win. But it won’t be easy.
• Missouri can secure a bid to the Liberty Bowl with a win over Syracuse this weekend in the Zoo. The Tigers have had a tough transition to the SEC this year, and the Orange is coming off a huge win over then-undefeated Louisville a week ago. However, Arizona State is better than Syracuse, and the Tigers didn’t have any problems with the Sun Devils earlier this fall.
• Will Tennessee miss the postseason for the second straight year and finish with a losing record for the third time under Derek Dooley? To avoid answering yes to both these questions, the Vols have to shake off a horrendous five-overtime loss to Missouri last weekend and take on a scrappy Vanderbilt bunch that has already secured a bowl bid (most likely the Music City) in Nashville. The Dores have done nothing but overachieve under James Franklin, and the Vols have done nothing but underachieve under Dooley. Those facts make this one an easy call.
Now, for the predictions:
Call it now:
Alabama 52, Western Carolina 3
Florida 35, Jacksonville State 14
South Carolina 41, Wofford 7
Georgia 49, Georgia Southern 0
Auburn 35, Alabama A&M 14
Texas A&M 70, Sam Houston State 10
Kentucky 24, Samford 10
Capital One: Georgia
Cotton: Texas A&M
Chick-fil-A: South Carolina
Gator: Mississippi State
Music City: Vanderbilt
BBVA Compass: Ole Miss
Last week: 3-4