Predictions for the final five weeks of the SEC regular season
There are five weeks left in the regular season. Bowl projections are starting to come out. The contenders are starting to separate themselves from the pretenders. And everyone is trying to figure out how these five weeks are going to shake out.
Some predictions are easy to feel good about. Others are shots in the dark, with the hope that we might be on to something. So, without further ado, here are 10 predictions for the rest of the SEC regular season, with No. 1 the most likely to happen and No. 10 the least likely.
1. Tennessee will win its final five games and finish with 8 wins in the regular season for the first time since 2007: The Volunteers’ final five games are against Kentucky, South Carolina, North Texas, Missouri and Vanderbilt. Tennessee will be a heavy favorite in all of these games. The rivalry game Saturday at Kentucky may be closer than expected, and facing Missouri’s defense in Columbia will not be easy. But the Vols have significantly more talent than both and should find a way to win.
2. Auburn, picked by many to win the SEC, will not make a bowl game: Auburn’s final five games are against Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia, Idaho and Alabama. The Tigers will defeat Idaho but the other games will be a major challenge. Texas A&M would be the most likely win to steal considering the struggles of Aggies QB Kyle Allen. But Kyle Field isn’t one of those places that a sub-.500 team can walk into and win. This Auburn defense, which allows 29.7 points per game and 430 yards per game, just isn’t good enough to contain the offenses of its final four conference opponents.
3. Missouri will lose its final four games, finishing 1-7 in conference play: In the past two seasons, Missouri won the SEC East with a 7-1 record. The rapid downward spiral of this team is astounding. It’s one thing to lose to Georgia by 3 points on the road. It’s a lot worse to lose to a Vanderbilt team that had lost its previous 11 conference games. Missouri’s offense was terrible in that game. It went 0-for-14 on third down, and at one point, it went 41 minutes without a first down. Missouri’s defense, which only allows 12.5 points and 280 yards a game, might find a way to keep the Tigers close against BYU. If Missouri loses its final four games, it will be the program’s worst season since Gary Pinkel took over as coach in 2001.
4. Alabama will defeat LSU and win the SEC West: Alabama’s defense allows less than 80 rushing yards per game. If there is a team that can contain LSU RB Leonard Fournette and force LSU QB Brandon Harris to beat them, it’s Alabama. Harris will have a tough time dealing with Alabama’s pass rush and its rapidly improving secondary. Therefore, the Crimson Tide will find a way to win its biggest game of the regular season. After LSU, Alabama will win its final games against Mississippi State, Charleston Southern and Auburn. Ole Miss will lose to LSU or Arkansas, paving the way for Alabama to win another SEC West title.
5. Alabama RB Derrick Henry will be the frontrunner in the Heisman race at the end of the regular season: Here’s how: When Alabama defeats LSU, the Tide will contain current Heisman-frontrunner Fournette and Henry will have had a great game. Alabama’s best offensive weapon, Henry has rushed for 236 and 143 yards, respectively, in his past two starts against Texas A&M and Tennessee. There is a good chance that he will have a similar performance in prime time against LSU. If Alabama wins the SEC West, Henry will also have the opportunity to showcase his skills in the SEC championship game and lead his team to a spot in the College Football Playoff. That should be good enough to win the Heisman.
6. Florida will defeat Georgia and win the SEC East: Though the underdog has won three of the past five meetings between these two teams, I think Florida finds a way to win. Georgia QB Greyson Lambert has struggled against teams with a good pass rush and a solid secondary (10-of-24 for 86 yards and one interception vs. Alabama and 23-of-32 for 178 yards and one interception vs. Missouri), and Florida defensive backs Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Tabor are among the conference’s best.
7. Vanderbilt will defeat Kentucky and finish fourth in the SEC East: Vanderbilt’s defense is really good, allowing only 16.3 points per game. Kentucky’s defense is bad, and it got lit up by Dak Prescott, who accounted for six TDs and 465 yards in a 42-16 loss to Mississippi State. Vanderbilt’s mediocre offense should be able to put up enough points to win.
8. Kentucky will earn its first bowl bid under coach Mark Stoops: Kentucky will defeat Charlotte and find a way to beat in-state rival Louisville in its final two games of the regular season. The game against Louisville is in Lexington, and a passionate home crowd will give Kentucky the energy it needs to pull off the upset.
9. Kyler Murray will be Texas A&M’s starting quarterback before the end of the regular season: Kyle Allen has looked lost in his past two starts and isn’t in sync with his receivers. Though junior-college transfer Jake Hubenak replaced Allen against Ole Miss, there’s no reason why Texas A&M wouldn’t give Murray a chance if it makes a change. Murray was regarded by many as the nation’s No. 1 dual-threat quarterback recruit coming out of high school in 2015.
10. Arkansas will defeat Mississippi State and Ole Miss and finish with a 5-3 record in conference play: Arkansas plays a physical style of football. It runs the ball well with Alex Collins and its defense is good at stopping the run. Ole Miss, in particular, will have a tough time dealing with Arkansas on the line of scrimmage.