The two new SEC schools (Texas A&M and Missouri) get to play new conference opponents for the first time this week, as Missouri hosts Vanderbilt and Texas A&M goes to Oxford to take on the Ole Miss Rebels. The great match-ups this weekend are in Columbia and Gainesville, though. Let’s take a look at what you’ll need to watch across the SEC this weekend.
Top of the Ratings
#5 Georgia (5-0, 3-0) at #6 South Carolina (5-0, 3-0), 7:00 PM ET, ESPN
Last week’s episode: Georgia 51, Tennessee 44; South Carolina 38, Kentucky 17
Program guide: The SEC has cemented its reputation as an elite conference, and this game is no disappointment. Both teams have very difficult schedules remaining, but this game will go a long way toward determining the SEC East champion. The first of two games involving two top ten opponents features a number of intriguing story lines.
The Bulldogs’ 11th-ranked offense is loaded with weapons. The three-headed running back monster of Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall, and Ken Malcome have combined for over 1100 yards and 15 touchdowns in Georgia’s five contests. This production will be imperative for Georgia this weekend, as wide receiver Michael Bennett (24 receptions, 345 yards, 4 TD) will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury. Tavarres King and Marlon Brown will need to help Aaron Murray build on his 68.5% completion percentage against a stingy South Carolina defense.
That Gamecock defense is as effective as Georgia’s offense, ranking 12th among FBS defenses. South Carolina has seemingly not missed a beat after the graduation of Melvin Ingram. The team has recorded 22 sacks, led by Jadeveon Clowney’s 5 1/2. Getting pressure on Murray will be key, as the defensive unit has allowed over three times as many yards through the air as on the ground in three contests at Williams-Brice Stadium in 2012. Marcus Lattimore continues his recovery from a season-ending injury in 2011, averaging 4.8 yards a carry. Quarterback Connor Shaw has also battled injury this year, but has still managed to complete 50-of-64 passes for 571 yards and 5 scores.
Special teams could potentially play a large role in this contest. Three of South Carolina’s playmakers, Bruce Ellington, Damiere Byrd, and Ace Sanders, all contribute time on the return units, and any of the three could break a long run at any time. Georgia features Gurley on kick returns, and he has already returned a kick for a TD in 2012.
#4 LSU (5-0, 1-0) at #10 Florida (4-0, 3-0), 3:30 PM ET, CBS
Last week’s episode: LSU 38, Towson 22; Florida 38, Kentucky 0 (9/22)
Program guide: After a somewhat down 2011 season (by Florida standards, anyway), football with potential national championship implications returns to the Swamp in relatively short order with this game. Will Muschamp’s Gators look to get a signature win in the Swamp — and they better, with South Carolina and Georgia on the way in two of the next three weeks.
The Gators are 3-0 in the SEC, having beaten Texas A&M in the first SEC game at Kyle Field, then scoring a 17-point victory on Rocky Top and a whitewash of Kentucky at home two weeks ago. Florida has lost its last four at home to opponents in the Top 25, but Jeff Driskel and his 69.6% completion percentage will look to make that statistic a thing of the past. The run game is also strong in Gainesville, with lead back Mike Gillislee rushing for 5.8 a carry, while the team runs for just over five yards per attempt. The Gator defense allows 12.8 points per game, and they’ll need that to continue to emerge victorious over the Tigers on Saturday.
LSU, on the other hand, seems to have a legitimate passer for the first time in a while. After watching Jordan Jefferson’s struggles, the team has turned to Zach Mettenberger, who has a QB rating of over 150 while throwing for 1,016 yards and six TDs in LSU’s first five games. The Tigers defeated another set of Tigers, Auburn, on the plains in their only road game of the year, emerging from a 12-10 squeaker. LSU gained over 100 fewer total yards in that game than their home average. The Tigers’ fourth-ranked defense will look to hold the Gators at bay and give the deep LSU run game a chance to shorten the game on the ground.
Set Your DVR
Texas A&M (3-1, 1-1) at Ole Miss (3-2, 0-1), 7:00pm ET, ESPNU
Program guide: Man, that Florida win at Kyle Field looms pretty large now, doesn’t it? The Aggies held a 17-10 lead at the half in that contest, but never tallied in the second half to match Florida’s 10, resulting in a 20-17 defeat. Kevin Sumlin’s club has certainly rebounded after that loss, however, tallying 176 points in three straight victories over SMU, South Carolina State, and a weakened Arkansas club. Quarterback Johnny Manziel has found his stride, completing 87-of-124 passes for 1,094 yards and 10 TD against zero interceptions. Manziel is also the Aggies’ leading rusher, tallying 366 yards and six scores on 52 attempts. He will look to build on those numbers in this game, with a makeup game at Louisiana Tech, LSU, at Auburn, at Mississippi State and at Alabama on deck.
Ole Miss got off to a hot 2-0 start to the season before having 66 hung on them by the Texas Longhorns. The Rebels compiled just 218 total yards (80 rushing) in a 33-14 loss to Alabama last week, and if they run no better against Texas A&M, it could be a long day for Hugh Freeze’s team. Ole Miss has run for 290 yards per game in their three victories, while gathering only 125 per game in their two losses. Quarterback Bo Wallace has proven to be a respectable thrower, despite six interceptions to accompany his seven touchdowns. This one might get interesting if the run game can give Wallace some help.
Arkansas (1-4, 0-2) at Auburn (1-3, 0-2), noon ET, ESPN2
Program guide: This game certainly has nowhere near the juice it would have had weeks ago. The Razorbacks are struggling as badly as John L. Smith’s finances, being outscored 179-67 in their four losses to Louisiana-Monroe, Alabama, Rutgers and last week’s manhandling by Texas A&M. Quarterback Tyler Wilson has even questioned the intestinal fortitude of his team to the media, helping contribute to the problems with the Hogs. Wilson has experienced his own struggles, completing just 54.5% of his passes for nine touchdowns and five interceptions. Running back Knile Davis has been just as much of a mystery, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry on the season.
For all of Arkansas’ question marks on offense, Auburn’s offense has been worse. The Tigers rank 117th of 124 teams on offense, and Kiehl Frazier’s struggles have been front and center in those of the offensive unit. Frazier has thrown for just two touchdowns, while being intercepted seven times. Any momentum gathered by the rushing tandem of Tre Mason and Ontario McCalebb has often been squashed by Auburn turnovers. The Tigers are -2 in turnover margin through four games.
Defense should win this game, and this is a telling number. Arkansas has been outscored 110-10 in two SEC contests in 2012. Auburn is unlikely to put up those kinds of numbers, but limiting mistakes could prove very beneficial for the Tigers in this one.
#20 Mississippi State (4-0, 1-0) at Kentucky (1-4, 0-2), 12:21pm ET, SEC Network
Program guide: Joker Phillips appears firmly on the hot seat in the Commonwealth, as the Wildcats have been beaten by a combined 76-17 tally in two SEC games. Quarterback Maxwell Smith is now out for the year with an injury, though backup Jalen Whitlow may present an intriguing option for Kentucky in his absence. Whitlow completed 12-of-23 passes for 114 yards and two interceptions in last week’s 38-17 loss to South Carolina. Though the Wildcats led that game 17-7 at the half, they gave up 31 unanswered to the Gamecocks. Kentucky’s 99th-ranked offense is likely to continue to struggle without its leader.
Mississippi State features running back LaDarius Perkins, who is third in the SEC in rushing at just over 97 yards a game. Kentucky is ranked 99th of 124 FBS defenses in stopping the run, so there is every reason to believe Perkins is in for a big day on the bluegrass. Bulldog QB Tyler Russell has thrown for 822 yards with eight touchdowns and an interception, but his services may not be necessary for long against this defense.
Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-2) at Missouri (3-2, 0-2), 7pm ET, FSN (regional)
Program guide: It is certainly fair to say that James Franklin’s Commodores have underachieved thus far in 2012, and he will attempt to defeat his namesake, Missouri QB James Franklin, on Saturday night. The Commodores started the season with a tough defeat at the hands of South Carolina on a Thursday in Nashville, a game in which Vanderbilt fumbled the ball three times without losing one. Their second SEC affair ended considerably worse, with Georgia notching a 48-3 victory in Athens two weeks ago. Commodore QB Jordan Rodgers has been considerably less dynamic in 2012 than last season, throwing for only two touchdowns through four games, leading some to question whether Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels may get a longer look under center.
Missouri will look to capture their first SEC victory against this reeling Vanderbilt squad, having suffered defeats to two teams who were each ranked number seven at the time, Georgia and South Carolina. This seemingly predictable outcome becomes a bit less so, however, with the suspension of freshman phenom receiver Dorial Green-Beckham after a marijuana arrest on campus. Whether Franklin or Corbin Berkstesser calls the signals, they still have two viable down-field weapons in Marcus Lucas and T.J. Moe. With both teams relatively even in terms of defensive numbers, getting Lucas and Moe some separation in the pass game will be of utmost importance to the Tigers.
Brian Wilmer is a contributor to FBSchedules.com. Follow him @sportsmatters.