Georgia State at No. 1 Alabama
When: Saturday, 12:21 p.m., EST on SEC Network
Records: Georgia State (0-4), Alabama (4-0, 2-0)
Line: Alabama -55
Reasons to watch: Go ahead and come up with one. The SEC Network chose this game intentionally over at least Vanderbilt-Missouri and possibly over Auburn-Ole Miss, so there must be something to see here. So… Alabama doesn’t often cover huge spreads. Maybe watch to see if it does? How about seeing who starts at safety for HaHa Clinton-Dix? That only takes one play, though. Maybe just tune in to see if Saban secretly suspended anyone for the first quarter. Or don’t watch at all. The Maryland-Florida State game sure does seem like it would be a lot more fun.
Prediction: Alabama 44, Georgia State 0
No. 6 Georgia at Tennessee
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., EST on CBS
Records: Georgia (3-1, 2-0), Tennessee (3-2, 0-1)
Line: Georgia -10.5
What to watch – Georgia: Coach Mark Richt has said all the right things this week, namely that his team won’t overlook Tennessee on the way into Neyland Stadium. Georgia RB Todd Gurley’s ankle leaves him as doubtful to play this week but Keith Marshall leaves the Bulldogs with plenty of firepower in the ground game. QB Aaron Murray played an efficient but not spectacular game against the Volunteers last season when Tennessee fell a Tyler Bray fumble short of possibly tying the game. Murray is coming off a masterful performance in a crucial victory over LSU. Georgia’s defense has done just enough in two of its three big wins. Can it step up with pressure and better coverage against an inferior offense?
What to watch – Tennessee: First of all, how healthy will RB Marlin Lane be and will he be able to have an impact on the game? RB Rajion Neal is capable of carrying the load, but Tennessee works better with the 1-2 punch. QB Justin Worley resumed his starting role out of necessity last week with QB2 Nathan Peterman out with a broken hand. Worley threw for 204 yards and 2 TDs last week in a narrow win over South Alabama, but also got intercepted three times. Similar mistakes will mean more trips to the checkered end-zones for Georgia this week. This isn’t South Alabama for the Tennessee defense. The Volunteers had better come ready to slow the Georgia run and ready to hold the Bulldogs to field goals inside the red zone. If they can do both of those, the defense will give a lackluster offense a chance. If this game goes the other way and things get out of hand, will coach Butch Jones reverse his previous statements and turn to true freshmen QB options Riley Ferguson or Josh Dobbs?
Prediction: Georgia 30, Tennessee 19
No. 24 Ole Miss at Auburn
When: Saturday, 7 p.m., EST on ESPNU
Records: Ole Miss (3-1, 1-1), Auburn (3-1, 1-1)
Line: Ole Miss -3
What to watch – Ole Miss: After getting shutout in Tuscaloosa, how will the Rebels bounce back against a far less accomplished defense? Ole Miss has a far better run game than it showed last week at Alabama. RB Jeff Scott should find open spaces more easily against an Auburn defensive line that has been gashed throughout the season, including its last time out at LSU. For Ole Miss to bounce back, QB Bo Wallace needs to continue limiting turnovers. Hitting on more than 17 of 32 passes – as he did last week – would help as well. Defensively, Ole Miss should set out with the goal of stopping Auburn’s run game. The Rebels have a strong enough defensive line that it shouldn’t need to sacrifice secondary help to do so. A one-dimensional Gus Malzahn offense is far easier to defend than when the running game goes well. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze doesn’t like coaching against his friend, Malzahn, but if his team lives up to potential, Freeze should leave Jordan-Hare Stadium with a big divisional win.
What to watch – Auburn: For the Tigers to take a step back toward credibility in the SEC West, it needs to find ways to beat the non-elite teams at home. Auburn gets that chance Saturday night when first-year coach Gus Malzahn welcomes in his friend Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss. The last time Auburn took the field, its defense didn’t give it a chance to compete until late in the game. Defensive players got knocked off the ball by LSU’s offensive line and FB J.C. Copeland. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson made some adjustments during the bye week – namely moving Nosa Eguae to defensive tackle to try to gain experience at the position. Eguae isn’t known as someone to take up blocks, though, meaning Auburn is trying to mask something. Look for true freshman DT Montravius Adams to start playing a larger role in the defense. Perhaps more importantly, the Tigers must get better production out of their linebackers. Kris Frost and Casanova McKinzy show potential, but aren’t consistent enough. Jake Holland got exposed two weeks ago. The biggest offensive key for the Tigers is for QB Nick Marshall to keep the Rebels defense honest against the threat of the pass. Marshall took a step back from his steady improvement two weeks ago when he made his first road start at LSU. Will friendly confines bring him back into a comfort zone? Auburn needs to hit on some explosive plays early. Can RB Corey Grant break one around the edge to give the team momentum?
Prediction: Ole Miss 33, Auburn 24
Arkansas at No. 18 Florida
When: Saturday, 7 p.m., EST on ESPN2
Records: Arkansas (3-2, 0-1), Florida (3-1, 2-0)
Line: Florida -12
What to watch – Arkansas: The second-best rushing offense in the SEC takes on easily the best rushing defense in the league. Florida has not been an easy team to move the football against. Running on the Gators often proves fruitless. They enter Saturday’s game allowing just 53 yards per game on the ground. Arkansas, though, boasts a talented rushing attack behind true freshman RB Alex Collins and stable-mate Jonathan Williams. QB Brandon Allen’s passing success last week prevented Texas A&M from zoning in entirely on the run game. Allen must do that all season for Arkansas to contend for a bowl game. Defensively, the Razorbacks need to do a better job in the run game. Florida will want to run early and often with QB Tyler Murphy making just his second career start. Two running offenses should produce a throwback SEC contest.
What to watch – Florida: QB Tyler Murphy showed last week that he can be value added to the offense. Of course, he only gets half-credit for having done it against Kentucky. Murphy’s athleticism makes him a threat to run on any snap. He backed that up by completing his first 12 attempts last week. Still, coach Will Muschamp will prefer to line up and pound the ball when he can. The Gators found plenty of success behind RB Matt Jones, who ran for 176 yards. Florida’s defense has been stout all year – a recipe Muschamp knows he must duplicate repeatedly for the Gators to have success. Stopping Arkansas’ run game is key to limiting any play-action opportunities. The Florida offensive line has allowed the Gators to rack up yards and – more importantly – time of possession. That is helped by the defense forcing opponents off the field quickly. These are two teams that want to control the clock. Florida seemingly has more talent. This game might be that simple.
Prediction: Florida 23, Arkansas 13
No. 10 LSU at Mississippi State
When: Saturday, 7 p.m., EST on ESPN
Records: LSU (4-1, 1-1), Mississippi State (2-2, 0-1)
Line: LSU -9.5
What to watch – LSU: Tigers fans aren’t accustomed to seeing what happened last week – namely, their defense getting shredded. Coach Les Miles talked this week about knowing his team needs to improve. That is most true in the secondary, where LSU only occasionally looked like it had a clue in a 44-41 loss at Georgia last week. This week the Tigers face yet another road test, albeit against an offense that can’t mirror Georgia’s. LSU had to prepare for two quarterbacks this week with Mississippi State QB Tyler Russell cleared to return from a concussion suffered Week 1. QB2 Dak Prescott, who filled in nicely, adds a powerful run element. State won’t be able to pass with the mastery or precision of Georgia QB Aaron Murray, though. DTs Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson are supposed to be difference-making monsters in the middle but were non-factors a week ago. Offensively, LSU will look to get its run game going again after it failed to factor in the first half-plus against Georgia. There’s no excuse for RB Jeremy Hill to have a second consecutive disappointing outing. QB Zach Mettenberger, with the help of WRs Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, played masterfully in defeat. Mettenberger’s play has been outstanding all season.
What to watch – Mississippi State: First and foremost, who is coach Dan Mullen’s quarterback? Mullen refused to name a starter later in the week. QB Tyler Russell started the season opener, but suffered a concussion against Oklahoma State. QB2 Dak Prescott started the last three games to reasonably strong success. For Russell to fend off Prescott, he must become the polished passer he was expected to evolve into when the season began. Prescott is a competent passer and a bulldozing force as a runner. State would also like to get RB LaDarius Perkins more involved in the gameplan. Defensively, the Bulldogs held down a high-scoring Oklahoma State attack to open the season and kept Auburn to 24 points. State can play a mean run defense and its young secondary has navigated the first stretch of the season. The Bulldogs held down a high-scoring passing attack once this season when they limited Oklahoma State to 21 points. LSU QB Zach Mettenberger might give the secondary its biggest challenge of the season.
Prediction: LSU 34, Mississippi State 17
Missouri at Vanderbilt
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., EST on CSS
Records: Missouri (4-0, 0-0), Vanderbilt (3-2, 0-2)
Line: Missouri -1
What to watch – Missouri: The team from the Show-Me State gets a chance to show that its 4-0 start wasn’t simply a product of a weak schedule. Whether a result of competition or talent, Missouri enters the game at Vanderbilt with the best rushing offense in the conference (262 yards per game). The Tigers are also the second-highest scoring offense at 45.5 points per game. Vegas wanted to see a little bit more before believing in Missouri, but the voting public disagreed. The line started with Vanderbilt as a 2.5-point favorite, meaning either the public or the sharps are starting to believe in a Missouri team that faces its first true challenge this week. QB James Franklin, throughout the non-conference slate, looked like the standout Big 12 dual-threat player from two years ago instead of the incompetent passer he appeared to be last season. Defensively, Missouri’s 10 forced turnovers rank second in the conference. Its pass defense could be an issue, though. The Tigers have allowed a league-worst 282.2 passing yards per game through the first four contests.
What to watch – Vanderbilt: For Vanderbilt, it’s put-up or shut-up time. Coach James Franklin talked this summer about the Commodores still not getting the respect they deserved even after an eight-win campaign. They have hardly earned it this year. Vanderbilt lost to two of the better SEC teams – South Carolina and Ole Miss. Its three wins are a product of scheduling – Austin Peay, UMass and UAB. A front seven that struggled with the Rebels’ read-option in Week 1 needs to play with far more discipline to limit Missouri QB James Franklin. The secondary must contend with talented receivers, led by Dorial Green-Beckham. Vanderbilt might have found something in its run game with RB Jerron Seymour, who has outshined Wesley Tate in comparable play time. Tate still provides a powerful presence. QB Austyn Carta-Samuels has struggled with consistency and turnovers, but he has a huge weapon in WR Jordan Matthews. If WR Jonathan Krause can continue his steady improvement, it would help Carta-Samuels in more evenly distributing his passes.
Prediction: Missouri 36, Vanderbilt 31
Kentucky at No. 13 South Carolina
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., EST on ESPN3
Records: Kentucky (1-3, 0-1), South Carolina (3-1, 1-1)
Line: South Carolina -21
What to watch – Kentucky: How much did Mark Stoops’ message to his team set in? Stoops ripped Kentucky’s players this week while they prepared for South Carolina. His primary message was the Wildcats need to become mentally tougher. The offense, especially, has been a disaster this season. Neither of the QBs – Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow – has staked a reasonable claim on the position and the offensive line has sparsely been able to give them adequate protection. The run game has been disastrous as well despite big expectations from RB Raymond Sanders. The Wildcats don’t lack for individual talent on defense. DE Za’Darius ranks second in the SEC in sacks and LB Avery Williamson leads the league in tackles. While the defense has failed to live up to considerable talent, it has hardly been the primary culprit in 2013. Can the defense keep upset hopes alive for Kentucky late into the game? That might be the Wildcats’ only chance.
What to watch – South Carolina: Mere days after the announcement that QB1 Connor Shaw was expected to miss 2-3 weeks, coach Steve Spurrier said Shaw would start this week. The Gamecocks rushed Shaw back into action last year and got him reinjured. They also have a solid option as a backup in Dylan Thompson. Still, Shaw is expected to start without limitations. Shaw will enjoy the luxury of being able to hand the ball off to RB Mike Davis – arguably the conference’s greatest breakout star to this point. The South Carolina defense has been a disappointment to-date. Everyone knew about DE Jadeveon Clowney before the season started, though his play has not yet matched his overwhelming hype. At some point, inexperience at linebacker stops serving as an excuse for defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. That unit’s play has been unacceptable for a team with championship aspirations. This looks like a potential confidence booster for the Gamecocks defense.
Prediction: South Carolina 34, Kentucky 10
Bye: Texas A&M.
Topics: Alabama Crimson Tide, Arkansas Razorbacks, Auburn Tigers, Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisiana State Tigers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, Ole Miss Rebels, SEC, South Carolina Gamecocks, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas A&M Aggies, Vanderbilt Commodores