Now that we’re a third of the way through the season, there’s a picture starting to form. We’re seeing a pair of dark horse candidates with conference title game hopes flounder early (Arkansas, Tennessee), two teams go old school and ride their Heisman-caliber tailbacks to wins (LSU, Georgia), and the beginning of the end for a dynasty (Alabama) while another team continues their formation of a dynasty (Texas A&M). Then we have a whole mess of teams in the middle who we aren’t totally sure where they land, as they all have some fatal flaw but may still somehow work their way to eight or nine wins.
Several teams this week have must-wins for various reasons, ranging from playoff hopes to just needing a win. Alabama and Georgia face off, in a game that could send the state of Alabama reeling if the Crimson Tide were to lose. Against South Carolina, a sketchy Missouri offense will start a true freshman at quarterback after starter Maty Mauk was suspended. To wrap it all up, Texas A&M, who still lurk as contenders for the College Football Playoff, face off against Dak Prescott and Mississippi State. It’ll be a good weekend down south, with hopes and dreams on the line.
South Carolina at Missouri
As a Missouri fan, it’s been tough to watch the Tigers slog through unsuccessful drive after unsuccessful drive. However, I’m just thankful that I’m not a South Carolina fan and have to watch my team get annihilated by Georgia and then almost lose to winless Central Florida the week after. For this game, the lynchpin for both teams will be true freshman Drew Lock making his first start at quarterback. For the Tigers, they need him to show that he can move an offense down the field with an inexperienced receiving corps and injured running backs. It’s a tall task, but Lock has shown that ability in limited time this season. As for South Carolina, they need to capitalize on Lock’s inexperience. On defense, they need to send extra blitzers, disguise coverages, and fluster Lock as much as possible. If Lock can make some things happen and the Missouri defense shuts down the Gamecocks the Tigers will win, if they fail to do either of those, it’s South Carolina’s game.
#8 Georgia vs. #13 Alabama
Game of the week right here. If Georgia wins, there’s really not much stopping them from going 12-0 and reaching the SEC championship down the road in Atlanta. If Alabama wins, they’re back in the race for a playoff spot, provided they make some improvements down the road. Georgia is currently favored by two points, and with it being that close it’s going to be hard to pick a winner. Both quarterbacks are playing at a high level, although I believe Lambert is overrated. Sure he set an FBS record, but it was against South Carolina, who are quickly bringing Steve Spurrier’s coaching days to end. Both running backs are freaks of nature, so that matchup is a push. Georgia has the offensive line to be able to hold up against Alabama’s stacked front seven, and while Georgia’s front seven has two of the best linebackers in the SEC in Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins, they haven’t been tested with the caliber of running back that is Alabama’s Derrick Henry. I’ll give Georgia a slight edge in the secondary, but ultimately I think that’s negligible factor in a game that’s set to be low-scoring and run-oriented. I think Georgia is playing at a higher level right now, but Alabama has better talent overall. It’ll be a close one that’ll ultimately come down to a fourth down conversion late in the game, but give the Dawgs by a field goal here.
San Jose State at Auburn
With a 2-2 record overall, and 0-2 in the SEC West, the Tigers are fighting for a bowl spot at this point. After their game against this week against the Spartans, Auburn plays five SEC teams in a row before their next non-conference opponent. That means this week is all about new starting quarterback Sean White. After incumbent Jeremy Johnson failed to reach his absurdly high projections, Guz Malzahn benched him and went with the redshirt freshman White against Mississippi State. Outside of throwing an interception in the redzone, White actually didn’t look awful in his first college start. He completed 20-of-28 passes for 188 yards and added another 29 yards on the ground. If the Tigers want to go at least .500 in their upcoming SEC gauntlet, it’ll be on the shoulders on White, and this is a good game for him to get some more reps.
#3 Ole Miss at #25 Florida
I have issues with Florida being ranked, but they are one of two undefeated teams in the SEC East, the other being eighth-ranked Georgia. Their offense isn’t great, and they squeaked by Tennessee mostly on the incompetence of Butch Jones in late game situations. However, their defense still remains at a near-elite level, much like it was in the Will Muschamp days. This will be a good test for the Rebels, who will likely keep their game plan similar to the one they employed against Alabama. Keep the defensive pressure off of Chad Kelly with quick, short throws, and target receivers not covered by future top-five pick, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. The Rebels also sport a talented defense of their own, with defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche potentially set up for a big day against the Gators. Florida seemingly always has a solid crop of offensive linemen, but this year that seems less so than in the past. Dealing with pressure up the middle is difficult to handle for a young quarterback like Will Grier, and it could result in some costly mistakes. I can see Florida playing this game close most of the way, before Ole Miss pulls away in the fourth quarter.
Arkansas at Tennessee
Just a pair of teams that aren’t great places right now. Tennessee is quickly failing to take advantage of the fact that this was supposed to be “the year”. Their head coach lacks the fundamental ability to make changes mid-game when the situation calls for it, and quarterback Josh Dobbs hasn’t played very well against in their two games against power conference opponents. Arkansas goes into this game on a higher note than the Volunteers, having just taken fourteenth-ranked Texas A&M to overtime before losing. However, they still sit a 1-3 and their coach is the laughing stock of the conference. A loss for the Razorbacks essentially kills any hope of a bowl game (if it wasn’t already), and a loss for Tennessee puts them at 0-2 in conference play, taking them out of the race for the SEC East title. Unless you’re a fan who roots for either of these teams (and maybe not even then), I wouldn’t bother tuning into this game. It’ll just be a pair of teams wandering in the desert of wasted talent because of incompetent coaching.
#9 LSU vs. Eastern Michigan
Remember last year when Melvin Gordon broke the single game FBS rushing record, and then Samaje Perine broke Gordon’s record a week later? Well, we could be looking at that record being broken again, this time by Leonard Fournette. Fournette has two two hundred-yard rushing games this season, and he goes up against the worst rushing defense in the country on Saturday. So far this season, Eastern Michigan is giving up an astonishing 337 rushing yards per game. I mean this team gave up 58 points and 556 rushing yards to Army. Army is 1-3 this season, the lone win against Eastern Michigan. If I’m the Eagles defense, I’d be having night terrors about facing Fournette on Saturday evening.
Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee
Vanderbilt is actually the underdog in this game, but I believe they can win it. Their defense has been rock solid this season, keeping Ole Miss to 27 points and Georgia to 31. Their quarterback Johnny McCrary is currently third in the SEC in passing yards with 1,074, and they’ve got to be feeling about a start to the season that is better than people expected. Vanderbilt sits at 1-3 right now, partially because they’ve faced two top-ten teams in the nation. A lot of schools would either be 2-2 with their schedule so far. For the Commodores, this is a winnable game for them. Rely on the defense to make some stops, hope McCrary can make some plays, and Vandy could actually come out of Murfreesboro with a win.
#14 Texas A&M vs. #21 Mississippi State
Don’t let those rankings fool you. Sure it’s a Top 25 matchup, but Mississippi State could be 0-2 in conference play right now. They just got by Auburn 17-9, and lost to LSU 21-19. Texas A&M did struggle against Arkansas last week, needing overtime to win, but their defense doesn’t matchup well against run-oriented teams. Thankfully for the Aggies, that will not be the case in this game. So far this season, Dak Prescott has attempted 38, 52, 11, and 41 passes in his the first four games. Even in the NFL, 38+ pass attempts in a game would considered a pass-happy offense. The Aggies also have an advantage in the offensive side of the passing game, as they have the best quarterback in the SEC in Kyle Allen and the best receiver in Christian Kirk. The Bulldogs have yet to face any quarterback-receiver duo of that caliber this season, which puts their defensive coordinator in an interesting spot after facing mostly run heavy teams this season. This is a game where the Aggies should win by at least a pair of touchdowns, and will knock Mississippi State out of the polls for good for the rest of the season.
Eastern Kentucky at Kentucky
Kentucky got a big win over the formerly ranked Missouri Tigers last week. Patrick Towles reverted to his former self, firing 22-of-27 passes for 249 yards and a pair of scores. The defense only allowed one touchdown to Missouri’s pitiful offense and forced six punts. Presuming the Wildcats win this week against Eastern Kentucky (which I think is a safe assumption), they play Auburn, Mississippi State, and Tennessee in the following weeks. While UK hasn’t been consistent from week-to-week, there’s a chance Kentucky goes 2-1, or even 3-0 over those three weeks. If the Wildcats can pull that off and Towles continues his level of play like he had against the Tigers, they’re looking at being a ranked team for the first time since 2007.
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