Todd Gurley and Georgia host Clemson Saturday evening. (John Kelley/UGA)
(Author’s note: If you’re looking for the other SEC games taking place this weekend, check part one of this feature.)
We’ve already talked about a number of key games in the SEC this weekend, and, as expected, there are still quite a few games with immense storylines yet to discuss. There are still six contests on the ledger, with trips to the Plains, Between the Hedges, The Swamp, Mississippi State, Death Valley and Rocky Top straight ahead. Get ready to stamp your football passport, and realize that almost every game we cover in this space could be worthy of the Top of the Ratings designation. Before the train leaves the station, grab this trivia question to take along!
SEC Trivia, Week 1, Part 2 (answer at the end of the column): Thanks to The Daily Beacon/Daily Times’ Patrick MacCoon for the inspiration on this one!
Tennessee is 15-1 against current Mountain West teams. Which MWC team dealt the Volunteers that lone loss?
Keyword Search (all records from 2013)
Arkansas (3-9, 0-8 SEC) at #6 Auburn (12-2, 7-1 SEC) 4:00pm ET, SEC Network
Pulling (close to) even: It seems somewhat odd to realize that Auburn and Arkansas have only played 23 times in their histories, but consider Arkansas’ extensive history in the Southwest Conference. Auburn leads the all-time series 12-10-1, but Arkansas can draw ever closer by accomplishing the daunting task of winning on the Plains. The teams have split 10 decisions (along with one tie) at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Continuity is key: The Auburn sports information department reports that the Tigers are one of 16 FBS teams whose coaching staffs have remained intact from last season. The school states that the other teams with coaching staffs who have fully returned are Arizona, Baylor, Boston College, BYU, Colorado, Colorado State, Kansas State, UL-Lafayette, Michigan State, Ole Miss, San Diego State, South Carolina, Tennessee, UTEP and Washington State.
The Marshall plan: Details around Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall’s suspension for this contest are still unclear. He is not slated to start for Gus Malzahn’s club, but is still listed as the starter on the Tigers’ two-deep. The suspension may or may not have any great impact, but will be a storyline. Irrespective of how much Marshall plays, the Razorbacks will be looking to improve on a 4-10 all-time record against sixth-ranked opponents. The last win against such an opponent came in a 31-23 decision over LSU in 2010. They then lost their next game — also against a sixth-ranked team — to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.
#16 Clemson (11-2) at #12 Georgia (8-5, 5-3 SEC) 5:30pm ET, ESPN
This isn’t Death Valley: Clemson fans remember the barnburner between their beloved Tigers and the Bulldogs at Memorial Stadium last season, with the 38-35 Clemson win their first in the last six outings against Georgia. Clemson last won at Sanford Stadium in 1986, claiming a 31-28 victory in that contest. The last time Clemson was blanked also came at the hands of the Bulldogs, as Georgia defeated the Tigers 30-0 on August 30, 2003. The only non-conference loss dealt to Georgia since 2001 came in the 2008 installment of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. Georgia Tech won that game 45-42.
Suffering without Sammy?: Along with quarterback Tajh Boyd having moved on (18-for-30, 270 yards, 3 TD; 13 carries, 42 yards, 2 TD against Georgia last season), star wideout Sammy Watkins now dons the colors of the Buffalo Bills. Watkins caught six balls for 127 yards and a 77-yard touchdown against the Bulldogs in 2013. Running back Rod McDowell (22 carries, 132 yards in last year’s game) and wide receiver Martavis Bryant have also moved on. Cole Stoudt will take the snaps for the Tigers, with D.J. Howard the new starting tailback and Mike Williams and Charone Peake the new outside receivers.
Preparing for the Palmetto State: Georgia starts off the season playing South Carolina’s two FBS programs. The Bulldogs host Clemson this weekend, then find a bye on their schedule before traveling to Columbia to face South Carolina. Georgia has faced back-to-back top-20 opponents to begin the year three times in the last four seasons, going a combined 1-3 in those contests.
Idaho (1-11) at Florida (4-8, 3-5 SEC) 7:00pm ET, ESPNU
An unexpected statistic: Idaho outgained Florida by greater than 50 yards per game in total offense in 2013. Sure, this is a highly deceptive statistic, considering the competition. However, it further serves to outline the Gators’ offensive struggles in 2013. The Vandals gained fewer than 300 total yards just three times last season (at Washington State, Fresno State and at Ole Miss).
Sun Belt success: Florida is 9-1 all-time against the teams that compose the Sun Belt Conference in 2014. The lone loss? Last year’s penultimate game against new league member Georgia Southern.
Going on the offensive: After a somewhat lost season last year, Florida looked to inject new life into their offense. Quarterback Jeff Driskel returns after a season-ending injury early last season, and he will run the plays called by new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. Roper came to the Gators from Duke, where his offenses ran greater than 70 plays per game each of the last three seasons.
Southern Miss (1-11) at Mississippi State (7-6, 3-5 SEC) 7:30pm ET, SEC Network
Slowly turning things around: Southern Miss struggled last year by anyone’s measurements, but the progress of sophomore quarterback Nick Mullens bears watching. Mullens started the final six games of the 2013 season, and though he went 1-5, he saved the best for last. In a 62-27 season-ending victory over UAB, he threw for 370 yards and five scores in a 24-for-39 performance. Mullens completed just 49.3 percent of his passes overall last season, but completed 57.4 percent and 61.5 percent in his final two games.
More cowbell: Renovations to Davis Wade Stadium will be completed for the 2014 season, with 61,337 fans now able to take in Bulldog football games. The previous record crowd in the facility came in a 31-3 loss to Alabama on November 14, 2009, as 58,103 fans came through the turnstiles. For more on this project, read here.
An historical perspective: Mississippi State’s sports information department points out that one Bulldog player (Rashun Dixon) had been born the last time the two schools played on September 22, 1990. Dixon was one month old at the time. The Bulldogs emerged victorious in that game, winning 13-10. The Golden Eagles’ quarterback that year was none other than Brett Favre.
#14 Wisconsin (9-4) vs. #13 LSU (10-3, 5-3 SEC)
2014 Advocare Texas Kickoff (Houston, TX)
9:00pm ET, ESPN
A history of success: Though other games have drawn more attention, this game features one of the more compelling matchups you’ll see all year. Two top-15 teams in winning percentage over the last five seasons will oppose each other. Wisconsin’s sports information department points out that, over the last four NFL Drafts, just two schools have had more players drafted in the first 75 picks than the Badgers. LSU is one of those two schools.
Home cookin’: After this game in Houston’s NRG Stadium, neither team will have to leave their respective states again until October. Wisconsin hosts FCS-level Western Illinois next week, then receives an early-season bye week. Bowling Green and USF will visit Camp Randall, before the Badgers start the Big Ten schedule in Evanston against Pat Fitzgerald’s Northwestern club. LSU welcomes FCS powerhouse Sam Houston State next week, then hosts 1-0 in-state rival ULM before starting their SEC slate against Mississippi State in Baton Rouge. A visit from New Mexico State follows, before the Tigers take their show on the road to battle Auburn at Jordan-Hare.
Flawless under Miles: LSU has faced four previous top-25 opponents to open a season during Les Miles’ tenure at the school. They have won all four of those contests. The most recent of these victories came last season, as the Tigers clipped TCU 37-27 at the Cowboys Classic in Arlington.
Utah State (9-5) at Tennessee (5-7, 2-6 SEC) 7:00pm ET (Sunday), SEC Network
Zip, zero, zilch, nada: This is a simultaneously frightening and exciting number for the Vols. There is not a single starter who returns for Tennessee on either the offensive or defensive lines. This is scary, of course, but Vols fans also have a positive aspect to this. No freshman has ever started at defensive end for Tennessee — until now. Freshman Derek Barnett will earn that honor when Utah State takes their first offensive snap on Sunday night.
Just once: The only victory the Utah State Aggies have ever claimed against an SEC team came 44 long years ago. Utah State beat Kentucky 35-6 in Lexington on October 10, 1970. Utah State owns season-opening losses at Auburn, Alabama and Georgia since 1999.
Veteran quarterback clash: Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton and Tennessee’s Justin Worley will step under center in a battle of senior passers. Keeton missed half the season last year after a knee injury derailed his fringe Heisman campaign. In the six games Keeton played, he completed 136-of-196 passes for 1388 yards, finding the end zone 18 times against just two picks. Keeton has completed greater than 60 percent of his passes in all three of his seasons in Logan. Worley completed 109-of-196 passes last year as part of a three-quarterback system, throwing for 1239 yards and 10 scores, while being intercepted eight times.
We’ve got a fun new feature coming to this space next week. Be on the lookout!
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: Tennessee is 15-1 against current Mountain West teams. Which MWC team dealt the Volunteers that lone loss?
Wyoming defeated Tennessee 13-7 on November 8, 2008. This was the Homecoming game for the 2008 season. Wyoming returned an intercepted Jonathan Crompton pass 24 yards for a score in the second quarter, giving them a margin Tennessee could not overcome.