By Kendall Webb
I wrote in this space last week that Texas A&M’s biggest foe most weeks is its own defense. Everybody knows what the Aggies have on offense, and Johnny Manziel and company have yet to score fewer than 41 points in a single game this year while ranking No. 3 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total offense with 588.7 yards per game.
But that defense? Well, the Aggies rank 109th against the run and 99th against the pass checking in at No. 118 out of 125 teams in total defense. That’s where you rank when you don’t do anything particularly well, and the Aggies can be attacked successfully on both the ground and through the air.
And so it was last week the Aggies found themselves in another SEC shootout. Having previously been on the short end of a 49-42 loss to Alabama at home while surviving road shootouts at Arkansas (45-33) and Ole Miss (41-38), it wasn’t going to surprise anybody that Auburn was finding ways to score on the Aggies’ defense. The question was whether the Aggies would be able to answer every Auburn strike with a score of their own.
Just the previous week I had picked Ole Miss in an upset feeling that eventually the Aggies’ ability to outscore their defense would fall short somewhere. It turned out I was one week off. An Auburn team I didn’t give much of a chance on the road came to Texas A&M, and put up 45 points on that maligned defense while doing just enough to slow the Aggies down late on offense. That included even temporarily knocking Manziel out of the game with a shoulder injury that still clearly bothered the quarterback after his return. For once, college football’s greatest magician ran out of magic as the Aggies lost at home 45-41.
The loss left the Aggies at 5-2 and knocked them out of the national championship picture barring a miracle. And as for those Auburn Tigers? Well, don’t look now, but they are 6-1 in their first year under Gus Malzahn and suddenly ranked as high as No. 11 in the country.
Week Eight Recap
Do we really have to do a recap this week? Well, all right, I’ll be a good sport.
All I can say is last week in the SEC is the reason we all still tune in and watch the games. If any of us that make predictions honestly knew how everything would turn out, then there wouldn’t be any reason for us to follow the games. It would be the team sport equivalent of, say, pro wrestling, and who wants that?
Last week, five of the six underdogs in SEC games pulled the upset. There was Vanderbilt’s 17-point fourth-quarter rally to nip Georgia 31-27 at home. There was Tennessee’s Michael Palardy kicking a 19-yard field goal on the game’s final play as the Volunteers snuck past South Carolina 23-21 in Knoxville. There was Auburn’s 21-10 fourth-quarter rally to slip past Texas A&M 45-41, and there was Ole Miss holding off a fourth-quarter LSU comeback on Andrew Ritter’s 41-yard field goal to nip the Tigers 27-24 with just two seconds remaining. I was on the wrong end of all of them.
But on a week where picking all of the favorites would have resulted in a 1-5 record, I managed to go to 2-4. That’s because I finally got wise and quit picking against the Missouri Tigers, and they came through in a 36-19 win over Florida. My other pick was Alabama in a predictable 52-0 win over Arkansas.
My two correct picks were the only two games not decided by four points or less in the game’s final minutes, and my overall 2-4 result left me at 56-14 for the season.
This Coming Weekend
The SEC is quickly eliminating itself from the national title picture as 11 of the league’s 14 teams already have two or more losses. Alabama and Missouri remain undefeated at 7-0 while Auburn checks in at 6-1. Gone from the conversation are two-loss teams like South Carolina, Texas A&M and LSU along with a three-loss Georgia. Needless to say, there’s a lot of football left to be played although there aren’t many big marquee match-ups this weekend.
Kentucky is quickly running out of leeway if it hopes to make a run to the postseason, but honestly, at 1-5, those thoughts are realistically already long gone. Besides, it’s almost basketball season in Kentucky, and the Wildcat faithful will soon be distracted by that. But at 3-3, this game probably is a make-or-break game for Mississippi State, too. The Bulldogs barely escaped Bowling Green from the MAC last week at home, and they can’t afford to overlook a desperate Kentucky squad either.
PREDICTION: A loss would leave Mississippi State at 3-4 with back-to-back road trips to South Carolina and Texas A&M along with home games still remaining against Alabama and Ole Miss. To say this is a ‘must win’ is no exaggeration, but the good news is, we think the Bulldogs will get it done before a big Thursday night ESPN crowd. They better hope I’m right.
Johnny Manziel is always the story, and this week is no different. This time, however, the angle is whether Manziel will even see the field. The defending Heisman winner was banged up and beat up in last week’s loss to Auburn sustaining a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter that even caused him to miss a series. He was obviously still bothered by it after his return and spent a few days in a sling this week as he tried to recover. Vanderbilt has quarterback issues of its own, as the Commodores’ senior starter Austyn Carta-Samuels was also knocked out of his team’s game against Georgia last week. Redshirt freshman Patton Robinette played well enough in relief to lead the Commodores to a comeback win over Georgia.
PREDICTION: The word at press time for this column is that Manziel is expected to play. If he’s healthy and not hampered by the injury, then it probably doesn’t matter who Vanderbilt has on the other end as the Aggies should find a way to win – if their defense doesn’t prove to be too porous against the Commodores.
Alabama hasn’t lost to Tennessee since October 21, 2006, when Phillip Fulmer’s Volunteers handed Mike Shula’s Crimson Tide a 16-13 loss in Knoxville. Yeah, that seems like a long time ago, and it’s an eternity for Tennessee fans who’ve grown accustomed to disappointment on the third Saturday in October.
PREDICTION: Unfortunately, they’ll be disappointed again this Saturday for the seventh year in a row, and they’ll have to be satisfied with a moral victory in this game. The Crimson Tide have won the last three games all by 31 points so anything less than that would be a start. The Tide are favored by 28, though, so there isn’t much confidence in Vegas that they’ll come in much under that, and Alabama should win this comfortably at home.
LSU is probably still shell-shocked by the loss at Ole Miss that ended its hopes for a national title run. They need this game just to recalibrate for the stretch run.
PREDICTION: LSU in a rout.
Hey, three games ago I cracked that 4-0 Missouri would eventually be 4-4. Facing a string of SEC games in which it was obvious they would be underdogs, it didn’t seem possible that Missouri could emerge from that any better than 5-3 at best. Instead, the Tigers have proven their mettle in back-to-back-to-back wins as an underdog, and after missing the first two, I got wise and took them last week to beat Florida. And now, Mizzou is actually a three-point favorite against a South Carolina team that would have been favored if the Tigers had stumbled anywhere in the past three weeks.
PREDICTION: It still doesn’t feel like it will be easy, but what the heck, they’re on a roll, and this is kinda fun. I’ll go with Missouri to pull off another win at home to get to 8-0. I deserve it for saying they’d be no better than 4-4.
Auburn is one of the surprise teams in the SEC, and their emotional win at Texas A&M came just one year after losing to the Aggies 63-21 in the midst of a winless SEC campaign. They deserve a break this week.
PREDICTION: And they’ll get it against an FAU team that isn’t much better than an FCS-level opponent.
It was a big win for the Ole Miss Rebels against one of the SEC West’s upper-echelon teams in what’s been a bit of an up-and-down campaign. That included a big 3-0 start with a 44-23 win at Texas followed by three straight losses against three of the SEC West’s top teams. That’s the kind of performance you can expect from a young team like the Rebels, however, and they showed with the win over LSU that they will be a team to be reckoned with every week in the near future.
PREDICTION: Idaho comes in at just 1-6 as an FBS independent, and they won’t offer much resistance to an Ole Miss team that’s favored by a whopping 41.5 points. And they’ll probably cover. Ole Miss in a rout.