So, let’s revisit a question we asked a few weeks ago: Who has the best chance of getting to a bowl game? South Carolina, Kentucky or Vanderbilt?
Tom Stephenson (@tcstephenson1): Looking at the remaining schedules, it’s probably Kentucky, currently 4-3 with a game remaining against an 0-7 Austin Peay team. That means the Wildcats just need to beat either Missouri (road) or Georgia (home) and they’re bowling.
Vanderbilt is a weird case because the Commodores will probably get to a bowl game if they go 5-7 thanks to having the fifth-highest APR score in all of FBS, but just where that fifth win comes from is an open question; maybe they win at Missouri on November 12? Other than that, Vandy would have to win at Auburn or beat either Ole Miss or Tennessee at home; S&P+ doesn’t see the Commodores having more than a 19% chance at winning any of their games. As for South Carolina, unless one of Tennessee, Florida, or Clemson badly screws up, I can’t see them getting to 6-6.
Will Marshall (@awillmarshall): As much as I’m hesitant to write it, I think Kentucky is the most likely. The schedule is relatively kind over the next three games, and then they play a severely banged up Tennessee to close their SEC season. Like Tom said above, I think they can get two wins there, and I would no longer be surprised if they sweep Missouri, Georgia, and Austin Peay which seems dumb.
I said back in June I sort of thought Vanderbilt and Kentucky would turn out better than Missouri and South Carolina. Vandy’s win at Georgia is better than the entire lot, and if they can get past Missouri I think my summer prediction will come to fruition.
Julian (@JulianCouncil): I said Kentucky a few weeks ago, and I’m sticking with that pick. I still have a hard time getting over the Wildcats opening day loss to Southern Miss, but this is a team I thought would surprise people with its standing in the East when November rolled around. The Wildcats have won essentially every game they should have outside of defeating the Golden Eagles. A win in Columbia and another over Austin Peay and Mark Stoops will lead his program to its first bowl appearance and earn job security not involving a massive buyout.
South Carolina is still horrible no matter who’s playing quarterback and I’m not sure Ole Miss, Auburn, or Tennessee are going to poop all over themselves like Georgia did two weeks ago and lose to Vanderbilt. Unfortunately, for Derek Mason he’ll likely have to look back on a loss to the Gamecocks for the reason why his program once again misses out on a bowl.
We witnessed another woeful performance for Missouri. How bad do you foresee things getting before it gets good again in Columbia?
Tom Stephenson (@tcstephenson1): I think Missouri’s struggles are overblown; it looks more like they’re mostly related to the Tigers playing LSU and Florida and to Middle Tennessee not actually being a bad team, or at least not as bad as they’re being made out to be. I would not be surprised if they beat Kentucky, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas to get to 6-6.
Will Marshall (@awillmarshall): I think things are set to get worse. The defense has not played well this season, and it looks like in the last game they lost three more starters including leading tackler Michael Scherer, John Gibson, and Terry Beckner, Jr. I agree that they’ve lost to some good teams, and to Georgia by only a point, but they really haven’t been that competitive either. Add in the rumors of team turmoil, and an open frustration with the defensive schemes, then it may not be until the off-season.
Julian Council (@JulianCouncil): Can things get worse? Mizzou’s offense looked like the most potent offense in the league back in September. That’s why we try our best not to overreact to things until mid-October when we know who’s actually good at this whole college football thing. The issue with Mizzou has been their defense, simple as that. The Tigers have given up at least 520 yards each of the past three weeks. One of those was a 634 yard performance put up by LSU who had just fired Les Miles for not being able to offer the same type of offensive explosions.
Mizzou’s secondary hasn’t been great but neither has its tented defensive line. The issue with the defense started back in August when Harold Brantley and Walter Brady were both ruled out for the season. Mizzou has built its program, like many in the SEC, on the strength of the defensive line. That’s what carried them to Atlanta in 2013 and 2014, and what they’ll need to do the rest of the way in order to stop the bleeding.
What will be the biggest key to this upcoming edition of ‘The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party?’
Tom Stephenson (@tcstephenson1): Does Georgia’s offense show up? Nick Chubb and Sony Michel have looked surprisingly pedestrian this year, and that’s forced the Bulldogs to rely on Jacob Eason more than they probably wanted to. But relying on Eason to pick apart Florida’s pass defense is asking for trouble, so if Chubb and/or Michel can get going this game could be competitive. It’s really strange that I’m having this many questions about Georgia’s run game in 2016.
Will Marshall (@awillmarshall): Florida’s defensive injuries. Georgia’s offensive line is woeful this season which has impacted their running game, but also forced even more pressure on the shoulders of a freshman quarterback. If all four of Florida’s defensive starters return this weekend as expected, then I don’t see how the Bulldogs will be able to consistently move the ball against an elite defense.
Julian Council (@JulianCouncil): Georgia cannot allow Florida to run wild like they have the past two seasons. Florida has dominated the Gators on the ground with Treon Harris starting at quarterback. Yes, Georgia ignorantly ran out Faton Bauta last season--thanks Mark Richt--and was atrocious offensively, but that has nothing to do with Florida putting up 418 and 258 yards in back-to-back years.
The SEC is a line of scrimmage league. If Georgia cannot win at the line of scrimmage on both balls then they will have an extremely difficult time winning this game. More so because Jacob Eason will be facing the best secondary that he’s gone up against in his short college career. The need for NIck Chubb and Sony Michel to be running behind a competent offensive line will never been greater than it will be on Saturday.
Florida hasn’t looked dynamic offensively this year, but still has a clear path to the SEC title game if they win out. Luke Del Rio will be asked to do enough against a stout Georgia secondary to win the game. I don’t expect Del Rio to be the star of the offense, but he will need to take care of the football. The pressure is undoubtedly on Kirby Smart and Georgia to win this game.