story by Chris Rushing
Follow me on Twitter: @rushicw
This week is always bittersweet for me.
I absolutely love the pageantry of college football, and there is no other weekend that puts the game on such a showcase as this one as rivals line up across from each other throughout the United States. Upsets happen, and memories are created to be passed on from generation to generation.
The Southeastern Conference is home to some of the best hate-fests of college football, and the line has been drawn throughout the states of Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida as the intrastate tilts take center stage Saturday.
CBS, for whatever reason, has picked the Iron Bowl as its 2:30 p.m. CT showcase, but the most intriguing matchup (to me) will be the Egg Bowl in Oxford, Miss.
For three years, Ole Miss fans have had to hear Dan Mullen’s quips about “The School Up North” as well as suffered through a rare three-game losing skid to Mississippi State in the annual grudge match. Mullen promised the MSU faithful that they would never lose to TSUN as long as he is coaching State – a pretty big promise to say the least.
The job that Hugh Freeze has accomplished in his first season at the helm of the UM program is close to remarkable. The Rebels have had their chances to win three other SEC contests where they came up just short, including last week’s heartbreaking 41-35 defeat at the hands of LSU. While getting to a bowl game is a huge incentive for Freeze’s program in year one, this one is about turning the rivalry back into Ole Miss’ favor.
Will the Rebels take care of business on their home turf this weekend? I’m not sure. I do know this, however: the moment that Ole Miss gets the upper hand on Mississippi State, it is not going to be pretty for the cowbell-clanging crowd that hails from Starkville. That day of reckoning for Mullen and Co. could be Saturday, or it may be sometime in the future. One thing is for sure: it’s a heck of a lot closer now than it would be if Houston Nutt were still in charge.
ESPNU will televise the Egg Bowl at 6 p.m. CT from Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. It doesn’t hold a lot of zest and appeal nationally, but this one will be entertaining from kickoff until the final buzzer.
Call it now: Mississippi State 35, Ole Miss 27
• LSU at Arkansas (Fayetteville, Ark., 1:30 p.m. CT, Friday, Nov. 23, CBS)
The countdown is reading four more quarters in Fayetteville, and our next reporting on Arkansas football should be a diagnosis of Jeff Long’s hire to guide the UA program into the foreseeable future.
LSU has its weaknesses, and Zack Mettenberger hasn’t exactly been stellar on the road this season. However, the junior signal caller has shown tremendous maturity and progress in the past three weeks against very good defenses, so you know that he’s looking forward to facing a defense that gives up as many SEC Player of the Weeks as it does touchdowns at Arkansas.
This game, in the preseason, was pegged as one of the league’s must-watch contests thanks to what has ridden on the line the last three years when these two pair up. However, thanks to the seasons at both schools, now it’s just about the Golden Boot.
Call it now: LSU 38, Arkansas 17
• Georgia Tech at Georgia (Athens, Ga., 11 a.m. CT, ESPN)
Georgia has wrapped up the SEC East and awaits the official unveiling of its opponent from the West once the Iron Bowl has finished Saturday evening in Tuscaloosa. The Bulldogs also have regained dreams of reaching the Bowl Championship Series championship game thanks to last weekend’s upset losses by Kansas State and Oregon.
I would say that Mark Richt’s team needs to focus on one game at a time, but that doesn’t really hold much water right now with a very weak Georgia Tech squad coming into Sanford Stadium.
At least the Yellow Jackets have a division crown of their own to boast about before they get drummed by Georgia and Florida State the next two weeks.
Call it now: Georgia 41, Georgia Tech 10
• Kentucky at Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn., 11:21 a.m. CT, SEC Network)
The Derek Dooley Era is officially over after last weekend’s blowout loss to Vanderbilt, and we now have a game featuring a lame duck head coach and a staff in complete disarray that most likely will be without its star quarterback after last weekend’s benching against the Dores.
Yea, don’t wake me up for this one.
Last year, Kentucky got its first win over Tennessee in 26 years. Much like the Navy-Notre Dame game of old, you could always count on a UT victory like you can count on taxes and death. I hate to say this for my friends who claim Tennessee as their school, but you’re about to understand what it’s like to have a losing streak to the Wildcats.
Call it now: Kentucky 17, Tennessee 10
• Auburn at Alabama (Tuscaloosa, Ala., 2:30 p.m. CT, CBS)
This game has featured the last three national champions and two of the last three Heisman Trophy winners.
No rivalry in the country compares to the Iron Bowl as far as deep-seeded hatred and passion between two fanbases. Harvey Updyke should be enough evidence of that point, if you dare to argue it with me.
If you have never lived in the Yellow Hammer State, you just simply will never understand it. The game truly lives for 365 days, and there isn’t a moment when college football is being discussed that the two programs aren’t measuring themselves against the other.
Alabama will beat the tar out of Auburn this year, and Paul Finebaum’s callers will be mostly ecstatic because it means that the Tide is eight quarters away from national championship No. 15 because, let’s face it, Georgia and Notre Dame don’t stand a chance. Unfortunately for Auburn supporters who have endured a season of disappointment, the Tigers don’t stand a chance, either.
Call it now: Alabama 52, Auburn 0
• Florida at Florida State (Tallahassee, Fla., 2:30 p.m. CT, ABC)
This game features one of the weirdest looking trophies I have ever come across. When I was working in the University Athletic Association at UF, I walked by it for four months before I realized what it was in the football coaches office area.
This game features plenty of national prominence thanks to Steve Spurrier and Bobby Bowden, and there is plenty on the line for both UF and FSU Saturday afternoon as best friends Will Muschamp and Jimbo Fisher square off in Tallahassee.
The Gators can wrap up a BCS at-large berth with a triumph, while the Seminoles can quietly make a case for a shot at the SEC’s champion in Miami in mid-January with a win and a Notre Dame loss to Southern Cal. Fisher took away Florida’s stranglehold on the rivalry when he ascended to the head coaching position two years ago, and the Noles have just enough weapons to hold onto the weird looking trophy one more season.
Call it now: Florida State 28, Florida 14
• Vanderbilt at Wake Forest (Winston-Salem, N.C., 2:30 p.m. CT, ESPNU)
If you were watching College GameDay last Saturday, you saw one of the most touching stories to be aired on the program in its 20-year history. If the piece ESPN put together on Wake Forest assistant Tom Elrod didn’t make you tear up, you have no heart.
I have found myself having a hard time coming up with reasons not to root for Wake (or any future staff that Elrod is a part of), but no amount of cheering from me is going to make a difference Saturday afternoon. Vandy is better. Vandy is going to be 8-4 at the end of the day.
Who’s going to be first to get James Franklin out of Nashville?
Call it now: Vanderbilt 27, Wake Forest 7
• Missouri at Texas A&M (College Station, Texas, 6 p.m. CT, ESPN2)
These two former Big 12 foes will put the finishing touches on their debut seasons in the SEC Saturday night in College Station.
I figured one team would do well and the other would struggle mightily to obtain bowl eligibility, but I had the two reversed. Of course, none of us could have seen Johnny Football coming when fall practices started in August.
The Tigers are 5-6 and must win this one to get a postseason bowl bid. Unfortunately, Texas A&M has an outside shot at a BCS bid and is much better than Mizzou.
Call it now: Texas A&M 45, Missouri 30
• South Carolina at Clemson (Clemson, S.C., 6 p.m. CT, ESPN)
It’s not often that this game features two top-15 teams, but we’re in an era where that is set to become the norm with these two Palmetto State programs being guided by Spurrier and Dabo Swinney.
I’ve never had the pleasure of attending a South Carolina-Clemson game, but I have it near the top of my sports bucket list since I’m so fascinated with how much resentment the two fan bases have towards each other. I can only imagine how much fun this one is as an innocent bystander.
With the right cards falling into the right places, Clemson can get back into the BCS as an at-large team with a win Saturday night in Death Valley. That’s plenty of incentive to end South Carolina’s three-game winning streak in the series that, historically, has been dominated by the Tigers.
When South Carolina has faced teams of Clemson’s caliber this year, the Gamecocks are 1-2. With Marcus Lattimore, I would like USC’s chances a lot more on the road. Back-to-back double digit win seasons will hinge on a Chick-fil-A Bowl win or loss for Carolina.
Call it now: Clemson 28, South Carolina 24
BCS Championship: Alabama
Sugar: Texas A&M
Capital One: Georgia
Chick-fil-A: South Carolina
Gator: Mississippi State
Music City: Vanderbilt
OVERALL RUSHING PICKS
Last week: 9-2