In & around SEC football: Week 3 Previews and Predictions

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By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent 

Alabama Week 2 Recap
Alabama escaped Austin with a 20-19 victory over Texas last week thanks to Bryce Young’s late-game heroics. The Heisman Trohy-winning quarterback led the Crimson Tide to back-to-back scoring drives in the fourth quarter, with the final drive culminating in Will Reichard’s 33-yard game-winning field goal. Young threw for 213 yards and a touchdown on the afternoon despite being pressured by the Texas defensive front, and he delivered several timely throws and scrambles on the final two possessions. Alabama improved to 2-0 on the year and returns home this Saturday (Sept. 17) against UL-Monroe.
Auburn Week 2 Recap
Nothing about Auburn’s 24-16 win over San Jose State was aesthetically plea-sing, but the Tigers avoided disaster in the second half as they pulled away from the Spartans. San Jose State led 10-7 at the half as AU struggled on offense, but quarterback T.J. Finley eventually settled in and avoided second half turnovers. Finley and Robby Ashford both threw interceptions in the first half, but Finley looked more in control of the Auburn offense in the third quarter. Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter each scored a touchdown for the Tigers, who improved to 2-0. Auburn hosts Penn State on Saturday.
Week 3 SEC Rankings
1. Georgia (2-0)
2. Alabama (2-0)
3. Arkansas (2-0, 1-0)
4. Kentucky (2-0, 1-0)
5. Mississippi State (2-0)
6. Tennessee (2-0)
7. Ole Miss (2-0)
8. Florida (1-1, 0-1)
9. Texas A&M (1-1)
10. Auburn (2-0)
11. LSU (1-1)
12. South Carolina (1-1, 0-1)
13. Missouri (1-1)
14. Vanderbilt (2-1)
Week 3 Previews and Predictions (Week 2: 9-3)
Game of the Week: Penn State at Auburn (+3). This is a make-or-break year for second-year AU head coach Bryan Harsin, and though the Tigers are 2-0, they certainly do not look like an upper echelon SEC team. Perhaps the game plans have been va-nilla against two inferior opponents, but the offense has struggled and has not yet found a rhythm with either T.J. Finley or Robby Ashford at quarterback. Harsin has an opportunity on Saturday to prove his program is trending in the right direction as Penn State visits The Plains after the Nittany Lions beat the Tigers, 28-20, a season ago. If Auburn can upset Penn State at home, the Tigers will have a chance to start 5-0 and earn Harsin some more time and trust. If Auburn loses at home, the Tigers will have an uphill battle when conference play begins. Prediction: Auburn 23, Penn State 20.
Georgia at South Carolina (+24.5). Georgia is back in the top spot in the polls, and deservedly so. The Bulldogs were dominant against Oregon, and the roster remains loaded with talent despite losing several players to the NFL. Quarterback Stetson Bennett has been phenomenal through two games, and the Bulldogs have picked up right where they left off defensively. South Carolina has some talent at skill positions, but the Gamecocks are no match for the Bulldogs on either side of the ball. Georgia 38, South Carolina 10.
Youngstown State at Kentucky. Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops just keeps winning games. All the attention last week was on Florida, but the Wildcats went into Gainesville and beat the Gators for the second straight season. Kentucky doesn’t get the attention of Florida and Tennessee, but ‘Cats might be the second-best team in the East Division yet again. Prediction: Kentucky 38, Youngstown State 16.
Abilene Christian at Missouri. The weather certainly didn’t help matters, but Missouri looked completely overmatched in a road loss at Kansas State. The Tigers have a chance to make improvements this week before traveling to Auburn next Saturday to open SEC play. Prediction: Missouri 51, Abilene Christian 12.
Ole Miss at Georgia Tech (+16.5). Lane Kiffin hit the transfer portal harder than any other coach in college football, so it’s understandably taken some time for the Rebels to gel on both sides of the ball. Ole Miss has not yet been challenged and should cruise to a win over a struggling Georgia Tech team. However, it’s certainly possible the Rebels have difficulty for a few weeks when conference play begins. Prediction: Ole Miss 37, Georgia Tech 16.
Vanderbilt at Northern Illinois (+2.5). Before the season, Vanderbilt was projected for only 2.5 wins by oddsmakers. Clark Lea’s team already has two victories, and they have a chance to exceed preseason expectations already with a win over Northern Illinois. Mike Wright has produced explosive plays for the Vanderbilt offense, and while the Commodores will still likely finish last in the East, Lea has already made improvements to the roster overall. Prediction: Vanderbilt 34, Northern Illinois 31.
UL-Monroe at Alabama (-49.5). While Alabama is likely one of the three best teams in college football, Saturday’s narrow road win at Texas did expose some potential flaws in the Crimson Tide. The offensive line struggled in pass protection for most of the game, and the receivers did not generate much separation to create explosive plays. Alabama will still be favored in every regular season game, but there are certainly improvements to be made over the next few weeks before the schedule toughens. Prediction: Alabama 59, UL Monroe 3.
Mississippi State at LSU (+2.5). Brian Kelly’s tenure in Baton Rouge did not get off to a fast start with a loss to Florida State, but it’s still surprising to see the Tigers listed as underdogs at home to Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have the potential to be a really good team, but LSU has more talent on its roster. A 1-2 start would be less than ideal for Kelly, so expect a much better effort from the Tigers on Saturday than what they produced against the Seminoles. Prediction: LSU 30, Mississippi State 27.
Missouri State at Arkansas. Bobby Petrino returns to Fayetteville on Saturday for the first time since he was dismissed after the 2011 season. He faces a Razorback team that has emerged as one of the top programs in the league under Sam Pittman. The Hogs are 2-0 with two impressive wins and should cruise on Saturday before the schedule toughens considerably. Prediction: Arkansas 51, Missouri State 13.
Akron at Tennessee (-47.5). It took overtime, but Tennessee finally emerged from Pittsburgh with an impressive victory over the Panthers to start the year 2-0. The Volunteers have one of the most explosive offenses in the country, and they’ll fine tune some details on both sides of the ball before the Gators visit Knoxville next week. Prediction: Tennessee 56, Akron 7.
South Florida at Florida (-24). After the Gators upset Utah in Billy Napier’s de-but, pundits were already clamoring for Anthony Richardson to be mentioned as a Heisman Trophy favorite. The Florida offense was then shut down in the second half in a home loss to Kentucky, and reality set in that this might be a rebuilding year in Gainesville. Florida should handle its business against a bad South Florida team, but another marquee matchup looms at Tennessee. Prediction: Florida 45, South Florida 10.
Miami at Texas A&M (-5.5). This matchup lost a bit of its luster after the Aggies were upset at home against Appalachian State, but they have an opportunity to rebound with a victory over the surging Hurricanes. Texas A&M has struggled offensively through two games, and turnovers doomed the Aggies in the upset loss. Mario Cristobal has Miami trending in the right direction but expect a bounce back performance from Jimbo Fisher’s squad on Saturday night. Prediction: Texas A&M 24, Miami 17.

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