Chris Marler provides score predictions and drink pairings for each week’s slate of SEC games.

Well, last weekend I had my first blemish of the season. I just couldn’t play it safe. I had to get cute. I just had to. After finishing my first week a perfect 8-0 I was off to another solid start last week. I told you that Bama and UGA wouldn’t cover the spread, and I even picked Rutgers to upset Arkansas. However, I had to get greedy, and pick another upset with Troy over Miss St. How’d that end up? In a game where I thought Miss St’s character would be revealed the Bulldogs made an emphatic statement with a 62-7 win. Touche, Mississippi St. Touche. Overall, on the year I’m 16-1 which isn’t too shabby.

This week, is a very exciting week for me for a number of reasons. One, there are actually some ranked conference matchups with LSU @ UGA and Ole Miss @ Bama which I’m sure every SEC fan appreciates after last week that saw a few SEC teams play glorified high school squads. And two, it’s my fahja’s birthday this Saturday. The old man turns 53 on Saturday, and he will undoubtedly spend his birthday celebrating and enjoying his favorite past time during his favorite time of year. He’ll be watching college football on a beautiful fall Saturday in the South.

Like many fans in the Southeast I grew up watching football on fall Saturdays with my dad. To this day it is one of our deepest bonds. I think that’s one reason why college football, and especially football in the SEC, is so important to people in this region. It embodies traditions and rituals that are embedded and entrenched into families from generation to generation. It symbolizes something much more than merely a game, as it is more an innate passion that fuels a way of life and culture that few outside these states can understand. As someone who rarely is at a loss for words I still find it hard to articulate the importance it has in the lives of people from this part of the country. Regardless, I’m just happy I get to share it with him for 13-to-14 Saturdays every fall.

Now enough with all the sappy shit, let’s get to the slate.

UAB @ Vanderbilt (-20) – 7:30 PM FSN Tennessee

Vanderbilt closes out their September by hosting a struggling UAB squad in Nashville, Tenn. this Saturday. Vandy comes into the matchup with a 2-2 record after a couple of valiant efforts that came up just a little short against Ole Miss and South Carolina. Sound familiar? Of course it does because we’re talking about Vandy here. Vandy is the only team in the conference that should have three separate categories in their win-loss column, as there should be an extra that counts moral victories.

UAB comes into this game with not much to talk about. Honestly, the only noteworthy thing about this team is that they’re still allowed to play their home games in the football capital of the south known as Legion Field. That’s about it. Offensively they’re led by a pair of standouts at RB and WR in Darrin Reaves and Jamarcus Nelson. Reaves is second in the CUSA in rush ypg, and Nelson comes in boasting six TD’s this season which include a punt and kickoff return for scores.

As far as Vandy is concerned they are still led by their all-everything WR Jordan Matthews. Matthews continues to lead the SEC with 32 receptions on the year and is also 4th in the nation in total receiving yards with 471. At this point, you almost have to feel sorry for Matthews because he’s so talented and surrounded by nothing but mediocrity. It’s kind of like when Spike was mistakenly put on Rick Moranis’ team instead of Ed O’Neill’s in “Little Giants.” Not to pat myself on the back here, but I pretty much nailed it a few weeks ago when I compared Vandy to a 1950s domestically abused housewife that just keeps coming back for more. Make it stop Vandy. We want to help you, but at some point you have to help yourself.

Good news Vandy fans, you’ll enjoy a dominating victory. However, savor it because you’re about to hit the meat of your schedule where you play seven SEC games in a row.

Score: Vandy 38, UAB 16

Booze: Scotch. Johnny Walker Blue to be exact. Why? Because, much like a commodore on board a sinking ship, Vandy fans know the end is near. They’ll barely leave September above .500, and that’s before they start a stretch of seven straight games against SEC opponents. So, pour a couple of glasses of this top shelf scotch, and drink until you get drunk enough to challenge every person in the bar that’s bigger than you/ every other SEC team to a fight. What you lack in athletics they lack in academics, and vice versa. Then take one swig from the bottle, pass out, and wake up the next day on your couch watching “Groundhog Day” because the Vandy football team is Bill Murray in that movie.

South Alabama @ Tennessee (-18.5) – 12:21 PM SEC Network

Well, I can’t say I’m surprised that things seem a bit unsettling on Rocky Top. The Vols were off to such a promising start, but then they ran into quite the obstacle . . . (Gasp!) a pair of ranked teams. How’d those games end up? About as well as a sobriety test from former QB Tyler Bray.

Tennessee comes into this game in dire need of a breather. After being physically dominated the past two weekends during road trips to Oregon and Florida, the Vols welcome South Alabama to Knoxville. Justin Worley will retake his position as starting QB after freshman Nathan Peterman proved to be an experiment gone wrong in The Swamp last week. Peterman’s stat line included four turnovers and a broken throwing hand. Oh dear. Worley will look to improve a Tennessee offense that ranks last in the SEC in both pass ypg and total ypg. Good news Justin, much like the pole vault in the Special Olympics, the bar has been set very low.

USA, as they’re unfortunately and undeservingly called, comes in with a defense that is ranked first in total D in the Sun Belt Conference. However, they’re still giving up an underwhelming 372 yards of total offense a game. Ironically enough their mascot is the same as the most underwhelming team in the NFL: The Jaguars. Look for Tennessee to iron out some offensive inefficiencies and beat up on South Alabama . . . mainly because they’re not good enough to beat any other college teams from the state.

Score: Tennessee 41 South Alabama 17

Booze: A screwdriver. However, make it with premium orange juice and shitty vodka. Because nothing says, “Deep down I know I’m not good enough” like a cocktail of Simply Orange and Mr. Boston’s. No, vodka isn’t as “SECey” as a bourbon, but you don’t know what else to do considering what happened the last two Saturdays. Yes, you should be a little apprehensive drinking it because you know what vodka does to you. It makes you sloppy to the point where you forget who you are, and are drunkenly cheering for anything involving Vol Nation. First, it’s screaming at the TV during a Tennessee women’s basketball game, and next thing you know you’re defending a group of your students for butt chugging. Regardless, it doesn’t matter. It’s back to basics, and hey, at least it’s orange which is something you have to cling to at this point.

Arkansas St @ Mizzou (-21.5) – 7:30 PM ESPN3

Last week I told a buddy of mine that if there was any game to bet a shit ton of money on it was Missouri covering one point at Indiana. Mizzou has flown under the radar for a majority of the season. That’s primarily due to two reasons: Their unimpressive debut season in the SEC a year ago and the fact that they’ve played a fairly soft schedule in the month of September. How did the Tigers respond? With a 45-28 drubbing of the Hoosiers. Despite lacking the attention or notoriety of most other SEC schools, Missouri continues to get better every week– they rank eighth nationally in scoring offense with 47 ppg and seventh nationally in total offense with 567 ypg.

I hate to dismiss or disrespect Arkansas State with a lack of coverage or info about them in this article. However, I won’t waste anyone’s time because there is one stat that I deem important for this game. The Red Wolves have given up over 1,500 yards in their last three games. Combine that with the offensive stats aforementioned about Missouri, and there’s really no need to break down this game any further.

Missouri will close out September with another big win behind the leadership and play of senior QB James Franklin. Franklin, who ranks 2nd in the SEC in total offense, will continue to pace the Tigers before they begin SEC play next week against Vandy in Nashville.

Score: Mizzou 51 Arkansas St 20

Booze: Malibu and pineapple. It’s a little effeminate. You don’t care. It’s going down smooth and you’re on top of the world. Hell, you’ve had roughly 14 of them since breakfast, and you still feel fine because much like your schedule this drink gives you nothing to worry about. Now, pour one last big one. I mean a cauldron full. Garnish it with an array of fruit around the rim, and cheers your spouse as you celebrate an undefeated September with a conga line like you’re at a Sandals resort in Jamaica. Then pour one more and soak in this memory because starting next week you begin conference play and the honeymoon is over.

South Carolina (-6.5) @ Central Florida – 12:00 PM ABC

This game screams a “not so fast my friend” from Lee Corso. The Gamecocks head down to Orlando after a bye week to face a Central Florida team that is coming off their biggest win in school history over Penn St in (not so) Happy Valley. USC should be somewhat familiar with their surroundings even though they’re the visiting team. Remember last time they played in this stadium was against Michigan in January, where they won the Outback Bowl and Jadaveon Clowney almost decapitated someone. This is a very intriguing game, and the fact that Vegas put the line at only 6.5 in favor of the #13 team in the country should echo that.

Central Florida is led by QB Blake Bortles who has seven TD’s on the year, has a completion rate of 72 percent, and is ranked fifth in the country in pass efficiency. He his aided by one of the most underrated RB’s in the country in Storm Johnson. Johnson, a former high school All-American, has already scored six times this year in just three games. Not only that, but the Golden Knights also rank 14th nationally in scoring defense, as they’re giving up just under 13 ppg.

Carolina comes in after a few disappointing performances against UGA and Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks, who were looking to turn the corner from good to elite, seem to still have a few areas of concern. However, things aren’t as bad as they may seem. Despite DE Jadeveon Clowney’s slow start, the Gamecocks still have 10 sacks on the year, and on the offensive side of the ball QB Connor Shaw has been very impressive completing nearly 65 percent of his passes with six TDs on the year.

This is an identity game for both teams. For UCF, a victory would catapult the Golden Knights into the Top 25 while making them nationally relevant. For USC, it is the first step towards a long road where the Gamecocks need to run the table in order to still be in contention for a conference, and possibly, national championship. Normally this could be a trap game, but I don’t see it happening under a veteran coach like Spurrier, especially after a week off. Look for the Gamecocks to weather the storm early from UCF, and pull away late because of their edge in talent and depth.

Score: USC 34 UCF 21

Booze: Call A Cab from Wet Willie’s. Because much like this game, this drink teeters between “Man that was awesome” and “What the fuck was I thinking?!” Carolina heads into this game needing a confidence boost. Nothing like a frozen concoction of frozen fruit and grain alcohol to provide a confidence boost. Before you even finish your first you’ll be spitting game at hot girls all around the bar. But, if you’re not careful and get too confident you’ll end up battling brain freezes as you try not to piss your pants in front of a huge audience. Just make sure to pass on the extra shot of Bacardi 151, and you should be fine Carolina.

Texas A&M (-15.5) @ Arkansas – 7:00 PM ESPN2

And, in your weekly “game that would’ve mattered in the 1980s” match-up, we get this divisional battle between the Aggies and Hogs. This game features two of the more fun personalities in college football, Bret Bielema and Johnny Manziel. However, this game just flat out lacks luster.

The Aggies are coming off a very impressive win against an offensive juggernaut in SMU, as their defense finally stepped up against the high-powered Mustang offense. On the other side of the ball, Johnny Football continued his Sherman-esque furious march toward another Heisman. On the season Manziel has 15 TDs, has completed over 70 percent of his passes, and has accounted for over 370 ypg. If he keeps those numbers up, that money flashing sign won’t just be for post-touchdown celebrations–he’ll get a big payday as a potential first rounder in April’s NFL draft.

Arkansas, on the other hand, is coming off their first major hiccup under new head coach Bret Bielema. The Hogs squandered away a 24-7 second half lead last week against Rutgers. After averaging nearly 300 rush ypg in their first 3 games, Arkansas was held to a mere 101 yards against a stingy Rutgers D. Hmmm, didn’t someone call that? Oh yeah. Me.

There’s something about this game that just seems unfair and/or uncomfortable. I feel sorry for what is about to happen to the Hogs. Arkansas will again be without their starting QB which prompted Vegas to delay broadcasting the line of 15.5 until Thursday. Not only that, but they’re also having to face an angry A&M team that is on a mission to regain control of their destiny, so they can get to Pasadena. Arkansas does run the ball well which is something the Aggie defense has struggled with. However, look for this one to be over by halftime, as Johnny Football will put a few more Heisman voters in his pocket and few more dollars in Floyd Mayweather’s.

Score: A&M 49 Arkansas 17

Booze: Red Bull Vodka! Red Bull Vodka! Red Bull Vodka! Now! Now! Now! Because A&M desperately wants back in this national title race, so they need something to get them hopped up and feeling invincible in order to finish the rest of the year unscathed. My advice is to pop an Adderall with the first sip. That way you’ll have plenty of energy for the three and a half hours, and you’ll still be able to focus on accomplishing the task at hand. Then, after the victory you’ll be on cloud nine waiting outside the locker room yelling, “Johnny! I wanna party with you man!” Be sure to slip him one too because he’s not one to turn down a good time.

Florida (-13) @ Kentucky — 7:00 PM ESPNU

Oh dear Lord. Talk about a game that probably shouldn’t even be played regardless of conference or divisional obligations. Florida has beaten Kentucky in 26 straight games. That’s right 26. That means that the last time Kentucky beat Florida I was in diapers, people thought Alf was funny, and Ricky Martin was just a young Latino lad pretending to like girls in Menudo. That’s a long time you guys.

Here’s all I can say about Kentucky. The other day at work, I asked a friend of mine, who’s a big UK fan, “So, you think the Cats have a chance this weekend?” She replied with, “I don’t even know who we’re playing,” and shortly after told me to the hour exactly how many days were left til Midnight Madness for college basketball. That about sums it up.

Headed into Lexington this week is a Florida team that looks eerily similar to last year’s squad that posted double digit wins. The Gators feature an offense that is inept at best and a defense that is possibly the best in the country. In fact Florida leads the country in rush yards allowed per game with 55 as well as third down efficiency, as opponents are converting at a paltry 18 percent clip.

A lot has been made about the loss of QB Jeff Driskel after he suffered a season-ending broken fibula last week against Tennessee. However, this is the SEC, a league in which championships are more often won on defense than by the dude taking snaps under center. If you think I’m exaggerating ask an Alabama fan what they’d rather have a great QB or a suffocating defense. Keep in mind they won a national title in ’09 where QB Greg McElroy had only 58 yards passing in the national title game. Despite what many have said, Florida is still very much in contention for a conference championship, and they’ll get back on the title track this weekend with a big victory.

Score:  Florida 27 Kentucky 6

Booze: Mike’s Hard Lemonade. For two reasons. One, just like playing this game you’re wondering why this atrocity is still around, and two, at some point after 26 years of losing you have to laugh at yourself. And, since Smirnoff Ice has become too cliché (God help us all), and you haven’t been able to find a Zima anywhere since Fred Durst was popular, it looks like Mike’s Hard Lemonade will have to do.

Ole Miss @ Alabama (-14.5) – 6:30 PM ESPN

The Rebels are riding a wave of confidence like no other right now. Not only did they celebrate a dominating victory at Texas, but they also were able to enjoy the latest 30 for 30 installment from ESPN about the Mannings, a documentary that celebrated the accomplishments of Archie and Eli Manning, who share two things, besides their last name: numerous stats in the Ole Miss record books and a pair of smiles that rival only Simple Jack from “Tropic Thunder.”

Ole Miss heads into Tuscaloosa looking to shock the world with a victory over the top ranked Crimson Tide. And, if you listen to anyone around Oxford it’s almost a certainty that this team can pull it off. Hugh Freeze’s spread offense leads the conference in rushing at over 250 ypg, and QB Bo Wallace seems to be making much better decisions and avoiding turnovers which plagued him last season. In addition to Wallace, the offense is led by a handful of playmakers at the skill position with RB Jeff Scott, WR Donte Moncrief, and freshman sensation WR Laquan Treadwell. Earlier this week Wallace even went so far to say that the Ole Miss receivers were as good if not better than Mike Evans and the receiving corps at Texas A&M and that “they will score against Alabama.” Apparently Bo knows a lot. But, what Bo doesn’t know is how to keep his mouth shut before a big game like this.

From everything I’ve read in the media this week I honestly don’t even know if Alabama should play this game, as many have set this miracle upset by the Rebels in stone. This is primarily due to Alabama’s less than impressive 31-6 win over Colorado State last week. As a whole, the team looked flat last week. The lackluster performance even prompted senior All-American LB C.J. Mosley to light into the team in the locker room following the game. If you didn’t see the game this is most likely the Cliff’ Notes and brief synopsis you heard: Bama looked bad on offense, they had many mental errors, and were in danger of possibly losing this game heading into the 4th quarter. Lou Holtz even went so far to slur that “Alabam ith not detherving ath the betht team in the ETH-E-C or the country.” What you did not hear was that Alabama played that game against their former offensive coordinator of four years and current head coach at Colorado St. What you also didn’t hear is that it played without three starters on offense and one on defense. So, don’t read too much into how bad the offenth and defenth were from Lou Holtz.

It’s September, and I’m already tired of Ole Miss. Every year Ole Miss seems to win an offseason SEC championship, as their fans perception of their team seems to be as pretentious as their wardrobe choices for gameday. Hey y’all, every Saturday in the SEC is a war, so dress accordingly. There’s no need to continuously show off your collection of Brooks Brothers hand me downs and Ralph Lauren Christmas gifts. I’ve never seen a fanbase that has as many “victories” in the months of February through August, and that’s saying something because I live roughly an hour away from Athens, Georgia. Look for Ole Miss to come out strong early, as they’ll be highly emotional and will most likely have a few trick plays up their sleeves. However, look for the Tide to be focused and out to prove a point after a week of doubting from everyone outside the program.

Score: Bama 38 Ole Miss 23

Booze: O’Doul’s. Because one of you is a fraud. Yeah, you look real, and you even taste somewhat acceptable, something’s not right. I mean you’ve already polished off a sixer of this stuff, and you’re still highly aware of how shitty this jam band is playing at the Delta Sig pregame tailgate. You’d grab something different, but the ice water in the cooler has made labels fall off every single bottle. You don’t know what to believe. Don’t worry after a few hours we’ll get to the bottom of this, and figure out what’s real and what’s not.

LSU @ UGA (-3) – 3:30 PM CBS

In a weekend that features a few exciting matchups in the conference this one is by the far the cream of the crop. LSU heads to Athens in a showdown of top-10 ranked teams that will garner the attention of the entire nation. This game will also be the first time Zach Mettenberger returns to the Classic City since he did his best Ben Roethlisberger impersonation and was kicked off the team due to a sexual assault charge. This game has about as much talent as it does storylines, and I’m sure it won’t disappoint.

The LSU Bengal Tigers have been easily this most improved team in the SEC, and in my opinion are the best team in the league so far the season. After losing 11 underclassmen to the NFL last offseason many wrote off LSU as a contender in their own division let alone the conference. However, thanks to Cam Cameron, the improvement of QB Mettenberger, and a young defense loaded with talent, Les Miles’ team hasn’t missed a beat. Mettenberger’s 10 TD’s is almost equal to his season total of 12 last year. He is aided by a punishing rushing attack that is led by RB Jeremy Hill who ran for a career high 181 yards last week in the win against Auburn.

UGA comes into this matchup looking to close out the month at 3-1 against easily the toughest September schedule in all of college football. Much like last year the Dawgs are led by one of the best offenses in America, and a serviceable defense that teeters between an identity of “bend but don’t break” and “average at best.” Luckily, senior QB Aaron Murray’s play thus far has been impressive enough to outweigh any defensive inefficiency. Through 3 games, UGA UGA ranks 7th in the country in total offense with 574 ypg thanks in part to Murray and the best RB in the country, Todd Gurley. Gurley, who looks like a taller and less bow-legged Trent Richardson, leads the SEC with 126 rush ypg. The Dawgs will need both to bring their A game this Saturday if they’re get a victory in between the hedges.

This is an extremely tough pick. I think both teams will look to pound the ball early to win the battle up front. I think that game plan gives an edge to LSU, as their O-Line is better than UGA’s D-Line, and Jeremy Hill may be the second best back in the conference behind Gurley. However, UGA has already been battle tested this season with back-to-back games against Clemson and South Carolina. Those tough tests are much more helpful that the string of patsies that LSU has played so far this season. I really want to pick LSU because of how improved Mettenberger, as well as the team as a whole, has been so far this season. However, I can’t pick against a Georgia team that is playing at home with a QB like Aaron Murray especially with their backs against a wall. This will be one of the most exciting games of the season, and look for UGA to pull away late as Aaron Murray outduels his former teammate.

Score: UGA 37 LSU 31

Booze: Woodford Reserve. A perfect selection for a game like this. While it’s not the peak of the top shelf, it’s as top shelf as you should get for a regular season game. After all nothing says a fall Saturday in the SEC like a smooth and delicious bourbon. However, this bottle of Woodford will foolishly be mixed, or should I say tarnished, with ginger ale. Why? Woodford on the rocks is upscale. It’s elite. And, neither one of these teams know how to be that yet even though they’re both damn near close and may be ready by the end of the season.