I've already said this is a quarterfinal game for the SEC Championship, and there's no reason to back off now. But, on second thought, LSU needs this one worse than Georgia. The Dawgs, if they lose, will have two conference defeats and head into Jacksonville with a chance to hand Florida the Gators' second loss and grab the tiebreaker.
LSU has no such luxury. Lose here, and they need to beat Alabama AND get help from someone else, either Tennessee this weekend, Mississippi State Nov. 15 or Auburn Nov. 29. The odds of Alabama losing any of those games can be summed up thusly: Mike Shula is no longer the head coach.
Statistically, this is a fascinating game, and one that might look a bit more tilted toward Georgia than you might think. Georgia is first in the conference and third nationally against the run, which is the backbone of LSU's offense, ranked third in total yardage. The top team in total offense in the SEC? Georgia, who will meet a defense that's not as good as you might think when you see "LSU" (ninth in total defense in the SEC).
What we've seen from the Bayou Bengals is that they're not great -- 51-21, anybody? -- but they're still pretty good -- 24-17, Gamecocks? Meanwhile, Georgia is still propped up by our preseason opinion of them, though the box scores, fans will tell you, are much better than the actual scores. ("Pay no attention to how wins or losses are determined.")
This might be giving Mark Richt a bit too much credit, but this was about the point at which Georgia began to take off last year. Nothing actually happened to this team between the preseason and now -- yeah, they got blown out by Alabama, but in retrospect that's not such a surprise -- and there's no reason to believe that they'll keep piling up the yardage while leaving the points somewhere in the red zone. Things I thought I'd never say: LSU's defense won't be quite enough.
Georgia 28, LSU 20
YOU'RE GOING TO NEED THAT DEFENSE
Kentucky at No. 7 Florida, 12:30 p.m. ET
Kentucky has some things going for it in this game. It's, um, first in the SEC and second in the country in pass efficiency defense. Sure, Florida is second in the conference in rushing offense, but Kentucky is ... ninth in the conference in rushing defense. Florida is fifth in the SEC in total defense -- too bad Kentucky is eighth in the SEC in total offense.
Yeah, this one will probably get pretty ugly. Not horrible, blood-running-in-the-streets, Pete-Carroll-running-up-the-score-in-Tim-Brando's-imagination ugly, but Rich Brooks is still going to utter his trademark expletive if Meyer tries to compliment the Wildcats' performance. Kentucky's defense is good, but not that good, and the Wildcats just don't have enough weapons to keep up.
Florida 38, Kentucky 14
WE CAN BEAT YOU AT TRIVIAL PURSUIT, TOO
Duke at Vanderbilt, 3 p.m. ET
Both these teams were nice stories about two weeks ago. The Commodores were 5-0 and headed into a likely sixth win against Mississippi State. The Blue Devils were 3-1 and, heck, anything can happen in the ACC. The private schools of the Southeast were on the march!
And then Vanderbilt got CROOMed before being knocked back into their normal place in the pecking order against Georgia. Meanwhile, Duke got clobbered by Georgia Tech and beaten convincingly by Miami. Duke does nothing particularly well, except excelling in turnover margin; about the same can be said about Vanderbilt, though they can pressure the quarterback.
In the end, Duke has better numbers against a demonstrably weaker schedule. Vanderbilt finally, finally finds that elusive sixth win.
Vanderbilt 17, Duke 13
BOWL OF NUTT
Mississippi at Arkansas, 7 p.m. ET
Giggity giggity giggity! Houston Nutt's coming back to Fayetteville with his new-look Ole Miss team, which looks a lot like his old-look Arkansas team except for having an actual quarterback. (Casey Dick is putting up the yards but has a worse passer rating than Jevan Snead.)
Arkansas has been pretty much what we thought they would be, though not as universally horrible as expected. They actually have won an SEC game (yes, it was Auburn, but still...) and have a running back in Michael Smith that could almost replace Felix Jones, if not Darren McFadden.
The rest of the schedule, though, is going to be a painful ride. The numbers don't lie: the Rebels are just better.
Mississippi 24, Arkansas 10
THE THIRD FOURTH WEEK IN OCTOBER
Alabama at Tennessee, 7:45 p.m. ET
No respect for tradition, as the annual clash between these two rivals has been pushed back to the fourth week in October, though you have to believe Phil Fulmer would be fine with having it pushed all the way off the schedule. Unless Fulmer's players come out fired up because of the rivalry, this game probably won't last very long.
Sure, Mount Cody might be out for the game, but it's not like the Vols have done anything on offense that would lead you to believe they could exploit the defense if Alabama played without any nose tackle at all. Tennessee ranks 85th or worse in every major offensive category.
The Vols' best hope comes down to this: They are pretty good on defense, and rushing defense in particular (3rd in the SEC). But -- no, the Tide will be one of the two best offenses Tennessee has faced this season, and the Vols probably can't stop them enough to make up for the dreadful shortcomings of the Clawfense.
Alabama 20, Tennessee 10\
Mississippi State holds Middle Tennessee State at 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU. This is the kind of team that can lead to a midseason firing if the Bulldogs drop it. They won't. Mississippi State 14, Middle Tennessee State 3