SEC Week 3 predictions
A 1-10 record against the spread last week coupled with a 7-4 mark from my colleague means I’m going to spend the next month of the season just trying to claw my way back into this race thanks to uninspiring performances from Auburn, Arkansas and South Carolina.
If we’ve learned anything thus far through two weeks of the season it’s that 10 ranked teams was far too many after the first Saturday. There are several good teams, but few most would deem elite — at least based on what we’ve seen on the field.
RELATED: Week 3 AP Top 25
We’ll have a better understanding of just how talented LSU and Ole Miss are this season following Saturday’s games against 18th-ranked Auburn and second-ranked Alabama, teams many projected as the SEC’s top two College Football Playoff contenders.
Week 2 pick results:
- Brad (@BCrawfordSDS) — 1-10 (against the spread); 8-3 (straight up)
- Christopher (@csmithSDS) — 7-4 (ATS); 9-2 (straight up)
- Brad (@BCrawfordSDS) — 6-18 (against the spread); 20-4 (straight up)
- Christopher (@csmithSDS) — 15-9 (ATS); 20-4 (straight up)
UConn at Mizzou (-21.5)
Brad: Keep an eye on Kentrell Brothers, the runaway favorite at this point for SEC defensive player of the year. The senior linebacker has consecutive 16-tackles games, picked off two passes in last week’s win at Arkansas State and has developed into the vocal leader this defense needs. We haven’t yet seen Mizzou’s best offensively and won’t know how good this team really is until SEC plays begins, but Saturday’s game against UConn will us an indication on improvements needed prior to next week’s trip to Lexington.
Mizzou 34, UConn 14
Christopher: Without RB Russell Hansbrough, the Missouri offense has had all sorts of struggles. Last week, the Tigers relied on a stout defense and occasional scrambling by Maty Mauk to scrape past Arkansas State. The running game beyond Hansbrough has been mediocre at best early in the season, and the pass-catchers are promising but inexperienced. Granted, Villanova and Army didn’t exactly test the UConn pass defense, but the Huskies ranked 37th in the country in that category last year and are 22nd now. On the other side of the ball, though, Connecticut finished 125th in the nation in 2014 by averaging just 15.5 points per game. The Huskies could have trouble scoring. But if they reach double digits, I don’t think Mizzou covers.
Missouri 31, Connecticut 10
Nevada at Texas A&M (-34)
Brad: More Kyler Murray please. Seriously, Kyle Allen and the Aggies’ five-star true freshman were nearly flawless during last week’s win over Ball State. Watching a couple games simultaneously, every time I looked up Texas A&M was snapping the football inside the red zone during a fireworks-filled first half. Kevin Sumlin said his 1s did exactly what they wanted to do and Murray continues to show promise with the 2s. Another walk-over win this weekend, the Aggies improve to 3-0 rather easily before their showdown with Arkansas at AT&T Stadium.
Texas A&M 52, Nevada 20
Christopher: This line has ballooned from 27.5 when it opened at the Wynn in Vegas on Sunday. The Aggies now are getting pushed as a top SEC West contender after getting picked sixth in the division by the media. Texas A&M’s value also skyrocketed after some impressive early-season wins in 2014, and then the team pancaked back to earth after a near-free fall. I expect the ’15 version of this team to remain more stable, as Kyle Allen shouldn’t endure a mid-season quarterback change and the defense already seems better at creating havoc. Still, the Wolfpack feature a decent Mountain West Conference defense headlined by Ian Seau, the nephew of former NFL great Junior Seau. I expect Nevada to keep this one close enough to cover.
Texas A&M 44, Nevada 14
Auburn at LSU (-7.5)
Brad: You’d think Auburn is looking to prove it belongs back in the national title picture in Death Valley, but the matchup isn’t favorable for a struggling offense against one of the nation’s top defensive units. Not only will Jeremy Johnson have to play well, but Will Muschamp’s unit on the other side of the ball must deal with Leonard Fournette who is coming off a career-best outing. LSU wins a hard-fought home opener, but Auburn covers.
LSU 20, Auburn 17
Christopher: The status of Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson in this game is critical, in my opinion. And as of Wednesday night, the Tigers are not offering any clues. (Coach Gus Malzahn said “everybody is day-to-day.”) Both of these teams should approach this contest with a conservative game plan, hoping that the opponent will make a critical mistake or two. I’d be surprised if either coach decides to put the game in the hands of the quarterback unless it becomes necessary, like on third-and-long or in the case of a late deficit. So we could have a battle between Leonard Fournette and Peyton Barber. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, as I think these teams are pretty evenly matched. But I’ll take Fournette and LSU, which already have won an SEC game in similar fashion.
LSU 24, Auburn 21
Northwestern State at Mississippi State (-41)
Brad: I got the feeling late in the fourth quarter of last week’s loss to LSU that for the first time this season, Mississippi State’s offense began to find its rhythm, a scary development for remaining competition. When the Bulldogs click, they’re tough to stop. The owner of several new passing records in Starkville, Dak Prescott will add to his tally with a statistically-provocative bounce back outing against Northwestern State.
Mississippi State 49, Northwestern State 7
Christopher: Coach Dan Mullen’s teams don’t perform all that well against the spread against Group of 5 non-conference foes. Mullen tends to substitute liberally, and with the backups playing a large chunk of the snaps, Mississippi State sometimes doesn’t demolish foes like UAB (2014) or Southern Miss (2015) to the extent that could be possible. That proclivity to play backups, though, could actually help the Bulldogs cover against an FCS opponent, as those players will be doing more than running out the clock, trying to develop before the remainder of the SEC schedule arrives.
Mississippi State 52, Northwestern State 10
Austin Peay at Vanderbilt (-40.5)
Brad: Finally, a game the Commodores can win with relative ease … or can they? Vanderbilt’s offense has been treacherous in the red zone, a turnover-prone disaster thanks to faulty decision-making from Johnny McCrary. Derek Mason’s team hung around with Georgia last week before ultimately shooting themselves in the foot several times down the stretch. Expect Vanderbilt’s defense to control this game from start to finish, but it’s not going to be enough to cover 40.5 points.
Vanderbilt 31, Austin Peay 10
Christopher: If you’re betting on this game and you’re not a fan of either program, you probably have a problem. On top of the fact that it should be one of the least-watched games in the SEC this season, the Commodores to this point have been an incredibly difficult team on which to gamble. Vandy is just good enough on defense to prevent its offensive failings from leading to complete embarrassment, and should hover very near the Vegas line for most of the season. At this point, though, I’m just not sure the Commodores offense is capable of scoring 41 points. If Vandy does, it may need to shut out Austin Peay to cover this spread.
Vanderbilt 38, Austin Peay 7
South Carolina at Georgia (-17)
Brad: The Gamecocks are 8-2 against the spread in their last 10 games under Steve Spurrier as a double-digit underdog and they always seem to play well against Georgia. The talent gap’s considerable and I wouldn’t expect a former walk-on quarterback (Perry Orth) to have his way against the Bulldogs’ athletic front seven, but unless South Carolina has totally thrown in the towel this early in the season, this one’s not going to be a blowout. We’ll see just how much fight the Gamecocks have left after a disappointing loss to Kentucky.
Georgia 34, South Carolina 20
Christopher: Georgia just got done beating Vanderbilt by this exact number. That game was in Nashville and this game is in Athens. But surely the Gamecocks are better than the Commodores, right? The major concern for me about backing South Carolina against the spread in this game is that the team’s run defense remains atrocious. (Saturday’s game could’ve been even worse, but Kentucky stopped running the ball as much in the second half.) The Gamecocks have allowed 5.9 yards per carry in two games this year, and Georgia is averaging 6.6 with Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Keith Marshall. I also am skeptical that South Carolina is going to be able to move the ball much against a good UGA defense that knows the Gamecocks must try to run the ball. Perry Orth needs to have a pretty good game for South Carolina to stay competitive, and I’m skeptical that will happen.
Georgia 31, South Carolina 13
Western Carolina at Tennessee (-33.5)
Brad: Quarterback Joshua Dobbs told his team after Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma that he wanted them to remember the feeling and make sure it never happens again. That’s what I love about college football, the stories like that exemplifying true leadership. The Vols get a week to nurse their wounds against the Catamounts before heading to Gainesville for a possible season-defining contest.
Tennessee 44, Western Carolina 10
Christopher: The Vols entered this season as a potential SEC East contender, with one major caveat: Team 119 was too thin to endure many significant injuries. But now that Curt Maggitt should be out for an extended period of time — in addition to significant injuries to starters Rashaan Gaulden, LaDarrell McNeil and Marcus Jackson. Tennessee’s offense looked susceptible to blitzes in Saturday’s second half against Oklahoma, and the team also went away from second running back Alvin Kamara. Suffice to say there are some issues to work through in Knoxville. Fortunately for UT, an unranked FCS school is coming to town. I don’t think the Catamounts are good enough to corral even the Vols’ backups.
Tennessee 41, Western Carolina 7
Texas Tech at Arkansas (-11.5)
Brad: Disregard last year’s score. Offensive coordinator Dan Enos has already proven that his preference is through the air — a mindset that is damaging to this team’s title hopes. Even as a double-digit favorite, I think the Razorbacks will sweat this one out unless they get back to what they do best.
Arkansas 28, Texas Tech 24
Christopher: All the focus is on the Arkansas running game this week. To an extent, that makes sense. But the Razorbacks offense didn’t exactly punish power-conference opponents in 2014, even when the team succeeded. At least of equal concern is that the team’s pass defense, which became so good by the end of last season, has slipped at least one notch. We’ll see if that trend reverses against a pass-heavy Red Raiders offense. The nasty edge and overwhelming physicality hasn’t been there to the same extent as it was in 2014. The Texas Tech game last year was one of Arkansas’ best performances of the season. Perhaps the team can leverage this matchup to get back on track. If you look at Arkansas like a stock, though, the team is much more affordable after losing to Toledo.
Arkansas 34, Texas Tech 20
Florida (-3) at Kentucky
Brad: I have finally learned not to pick South Carolina over Kentucky, a bad selection that has cost me back-to-back years. I can assure Wildcats fans it won’t happen again. Mark Stoops’ squad could jump into the Top 25 with a win this weekend over the Gators, a team they haven’t beaten in nearly three decades. Kentucky’s offense has looked impressive in spurts this season, but I’d still like to see Shannon Dawson put a heavier emphasis on Boom Williams in the run game. He’s a dynamic playmaker who has proven himself when given opportunities. In arguably the biggest home game during the Stoops era, Kentucky pulls the upset.
Kentucky 27, Florida 24
Christopher: Everything is leaning toward Kentucky in this game. The Wildcats are thrilled to have beaten the Gamecocks last week, and are thrilled at the possibility at a 2-0 start in SEC play with a pair of wins against divisional opponents. Vernon Hargreaves III may remain out for this game, which would be a boon for UK’s Air Raid offense. This could be the game that Kentucky finally decides to feed Boom Williams as well. This is Jim McElwain’s first SEC road game as a head coach, and his team underwhelmed last week against East Carolina. Still, Will Grier and Treon Harris ought to be able to exploit the Wildcats secondary with some precise intermediate passes. Florida also owns a significant advantage at the line of scrimmage. The narrative points toward the end of a 28-game win streak for the Gators, but reality doesn’t always fit into a nice headline.
Florida 31, Kentucky 27
Ole Miss at Alabama (-6.5)
Brad: The Rebels aren’t scoring 70 points this week, but Hugh Freeze’s rhythmic offense could still cause serious problems for a defense that’s shown recent ineptitude against quick, spread teams. I’d take Ole Miss to win (like I did last season) outright if this game was in Oxford again, but Alabama’s going to be juiced up at night inside Bryant-Denny knowing that a loss could potentially derail a special season. Chad Kelly’s first real test against an athletic defense is one of several intriguing storylines that will determine the outcome of this game. Ole Miss keeps it close with a solid defensive performance, but doesn’t muster enough points down the stretch.
Alabama 24, Ole Miss 17
Christopher: This game is tricky to project. Can Chad Kelly and a free-wheeling Rebels passing game cause problems for an Alabama defense sometimes exploited for long throws in 2014? Or has Alabama’s shift to smaller, faster, coverage-first safeties helped alleviate some of those issues? Bama should shut down the Ole Miss running game. I think the Tide will be able to run the ball pretty well even if the Rebels send help near the line of scrimmage, as we’ve yet to see new middle linebacker C.J. Johnson against a powerful running team. Ole Miss is without defensive tackle Issac Gross for the season as well. But the Rebels probably feel like the secondary is good enough to defend Jake Coker and the Alabama run game with minimal resources, and Ole Miss is better equipped than most teams to play against throws to the tight end or running backs. The bottom line: I’m not so sure Kelly is ready to handle the pressure cooker of a game like this.
Alabama 27, Ole Miss 20