Weekend Open Thread for these and other games opens at 11 a.m. ET and goes all day long
KIND OF LIVING UP TO SOME SEMBLANCE OF EXPECTATIONS
LSU at Ole Miss, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
I've already written quite a bit about how the preseason expectations line up with this game actually playing out, but this matchup is the best of the weekend and will go a long way toward deciding which of these teams has a chance of getting to something resembling what fans wanted to see when the season began. A Rebels win here would still allow Ole Miss to get its first 10-win season (counting the bowl) since Eli Manning was under center, which isn't a Western Division title but also isn't a bad consolation prize. The Bayou Bengals could ensure a better record than last year's disappointing 8-5 mark simply by winning this game and could set them up for what will be remembered as a rebound even if it was less than spectacular at times.
But what I said in Ten Games Reconsidered still holds true here: By almost any statistical measure, Ole Miss' lines have played better this season than LSU's. True, Ole Miss has played two FCS teams and managed to dodge Florida in the SEC East slate, but the stats are all we have to go with until we see the teams side by said.
Even aside from all that, the LSU offense is just bad. Jordan Jefferson in or out, it's just not the kind of attack you write home about. The scoring offense is 9th best in the league, which might actually be an accomplishment when you realize that the total offense is only 11th in the SEC.
And while Ole Miss isn't quite what some of the preseason hype made them out to be, they're still gaining almost 406 ypg and have only scored less than 30 once since the 22-3 defeat against Alabama (a 30-22 defeat to Auburn). The defense is also competent and should be able to stay out of LSU's way as the Tigers implode.
When the inexplicable faces the inconsistent, I'm inclined to favor the inconsistent. We at least have a reason to believe they can do well.
Ole Miss 34, LSU 17
PAST IS NOT ALWAYS PROLOGUE
Kentucky at Georgia, 7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN2
This is not as easy a game for Georgia as you might think. The Dawgs have struggled in recent years to put away the 'Cats, with Kentucky even managing to pull the upset in 2006. That would have been a strong contender for the most disappointing Georgia team of the Mark Richt Era before this year's edition, meaning that the historical starts would appear to be aligned for Kentucky.
Then again, Georgia will presumably come into this game with a bit of a motivational boost from trying to win one for Uga. Which is good, because last week's victory against Auburn was the only win against serious SEC competition in nearly two months for Georgia. The offense is subpar and we've all heard about the trouble with the defense -- though, at 7th in total defense in the SEC, Willie Martinez's charges are actually outperforming Mike Bobo's (10th in the league).
The problem is that Kentucky isn't much better in any category, despite pairing about the same level of SEC schedule against a punching bag of a nonconference slate. Doing the same against worse competition gives me an idea about where to go with this one.
Georgia 13, Kentucky 10
BECAUSE SOMETIMES THE NUMBERS CAN LIE
Vanderbilt at Tennessee, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Tennessee is recovering from a season-worst defeat against Ole Miss, while Vanderbilt is recovering from ... well, the entire season, really. The Commodores have only won two games and haven't been on the right side of the scoreboard since a Sept. 26 victory at Rice.
But Tennessee still has the surprisingly competent QB (Jonathan Crompton) and the defense put together by legend Monte Kiffin. They still have the higher-regarded recruits, even with most of the roster still being comprised of Phil Fulmer holdovers. There's no logical reason to pick Vanderbilt in this game.
Sometimes, though, you have to ignore logic and go with your gut. That's what I'm doing here, which probably means another week of recovery is in Vanderbilt's future.
Vanderbitl 14, Tennessee 13
Mississippi State at Arkansas (Little Rock), 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network / ESPN360
Total offense: 10. Total defense: 97. That's the story of Arkansas' season in brief, and it's the key to understanding the swings in Arkansas' season. When you allow 52 points to an offense led by Joe Cox, you really have no one to blame but yourself.
Meanwhile, Mississippi State's defense is not one of the stronger squads in the league. In fact, it's one of the worst and is now tasked with shutting down the Petrino offense. Good luck with that. If you manage to do that, it's possible that your offense could make enough yards to make a difference, but I wouldn't count on that.
A defeat for the Western Division Bulldogs would officially eliminate Mississippi State from bowl contention and shore up Arkansas' case for a New Year's Day Bowl. Consider both done.
Arkansas 48, Mississippi State 34
Florida International at Florida, 12:30 p.m. ET, PPV / ESPN360
It's become almost a cliche to call these games "cupcakes" now, but Florida International really is so very awful. The Golden Panthers rank 118th in total defense and 101st in total offense, a combination that against Florida leads to swift and certain doom. Alabama beat FIU by 26 points, which sounds like an accomplishment until you realize that Middle Tennessee State won by 27. Even for the notable problems that Florida has had cruising through games against inferior competition, this game should be over by halftime.
Florida 48, FIU 3
RIP VAN WINKLE
Chattanooga at Alabama, 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network / ESPN360
The Mocs are actually a decent enough Southern Conference team, but that's about the best thing you can say about them. The key to an Alabama win -- other than WE SEC SMASH -- is to shut down B.J. Coleman and the Chattanooga passing attack, which ranks 23rd in the FCS. The rushing offense is terrible and won't be able to carry too much of the load, which means the Mocs also are devoid of the best strategy for pulling the improbable upset (run the clock and play solid defense). Not that it would happen anyway. But that's just one more reason to realize it won't.
Alabam 52, Chattanooga 7
BYES: South Carolina, Auburn