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The latest edition of the College Football Playoff Rankings welcomed Georgia to No. 1 this week, and it will put that No. 1 position on the line in a tricky road spot against Mississippi State in Starkville, Mississippi. The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs are looking to play spoiler against an SEC East foe they don’t face very often and in doing so start to get more attention from the CFP selection committee as well.
Georgia and Mississippi State have played just twice since 2012, with the Bulldogs winning 31-3 in Athens in 2017 and then winning again, 31-24, in Athens, Georgia, in 2020. This is the first time that these two teams have played in Starkville since 2010, when Dan Mullen handed Mark Richt a 24-12 defeat in Mississippi State’s first win in the series since 1974.
But the lack of familiarity between these SEC foes, which have only met in total 25 times with Georgia holding a 19-6 lead, does not change the intensity and stakes that come with having the No. 1 team in the country in town. Georgia is battling for its playoff future, while Mississippi State is looking for respect, and a better bowl position having reached bowl eligibility last week.
Date: Saturday, Nov. 12 | Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Davis-Wade Stadium — Starkville, Mississippi
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Both teams enter coming off victories, but different kinds of victories: Georgia was one of the stars in one of the biggest games of the college football season hosting Tennessee in a matchup of No. 1 and No. 2 in the AP Top 25 poll as well as being the first-ever meeting of No. 1 in the AP poll and No. 1 in the CFP Rankings. The Bulldogs rolled Tennessee, with the 27-13 final score not even representing what was a lopsided game for much of the afternoon. That win moved Georgia to No. 1 in the CFP Rankings, gave Kirby Smart’s team the inside track on a fifth SEC East title in six years and created renewed buzz in the reigning champions’ chances to repeat. Mississippi State, on the other hand, faced a feisty challenge from Auburn in its first game since Bryan Harsin’s dismissal, as interim coach Cadillac Williams and the Tigers stormed back from a 24-6 halftime deficit to push the contest into overtime. But Jo’quavious Marks punched in the winning score in overtime and secured Mississippi State’s 13th consecutive season of postseason eligibility.
Georgia’s pass rush emerging at the right time: All season long, Georgia’s defense has remained one of the best in the country in terms of points allowed and yards per play. But one area where some had noticed a drop off was with the Bulldogs pass rush, with the sacks and tackles for loss numbers not quite on par from the 2021 pace. Georgia had just 10 sacks as a team through the first eight games of the season, but totaled six sacks in the win vs. Tennessee alone — against a Vols offense that has allowed just 13 sacks all year — and to do so after losing sack leader Nolan Smith to injury marked an impressive turning point for the Bulldogs defense. It’s rare air when you are able to discuss how one of the best units in the country just recently seemed to level up, but that’s the situation for Georgia’s defense and its efforts to replace more than a dozen NFL Draft picks from a year ago. It took time for some underclassmen to emerge, but Javon Bullard (a sophomore with two sacks in the Tennessee win) and others are now settled into their roles and thriving late in the season.
Red zone execution will decide the game: While Mike Leach, quarterback Will Rogers and the passing attack for Mississippi State bring the expectation for offensive success, it is Georgia that has been better in terms of scoring, yards per game and yards per play on the season. These are two of the three top passing offenses in the SEC (the other being Tennessee), and these are two of the best teams in the country at converting on red zone opportunities. Georgia No. 1 among all FBS teams scoring 50 times in 51 red zone opportunities (35 touchdowns, 15 field goals) while Mississippi State is No. 11 with 25 scores on 27 opportunities (23 touchdowns, two field goals). With both teams having great success at turning those scoring opportunities into touchdowns, the spotlight turns to the defenses and how they perform in those situations. Tennessee is also one of the better teams in the country at scoring touchdowns in red zone chances but Georgia forced a couple of field goals on the Vols’ early scoring chances and it changed the leverage in the game. If Georgia can do that again against Mississippi State, we could see a similar outcome on the scoreboard.
Mississippi State has failed to cover the spread in three straight games while Georgia seems to be hitting its peak here in the most important part of the season. Georgia’s defense has performed at an even higher level than Alabama’s, and the Crimson Tide were able to put on tape the way to shut this year’s Mississippi State offense down. I think the Athens-based Bulldogs will be able to do the same. Prediction: Georgia -16
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 11, and which top-25 teams will go down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned almost $3,000 in profit over the past six-plus seasons — and find out.
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