The SEC slate is filled with season defining games this weekend, and the number one game on everyone’s list to watch is No.13 LSU at #1 Alabama. In addition to the Bama-LSU game, there are other intriguing matchups.
We’ll start our preview in the West.
#1 Alabama vs. #13 LSU:
The Game of the Century. Remember this being thrown around two years ago before the LSU Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide kicked off when both were the top two teams? Yeah, so does everyone else. Well, this year it’s not exactly “The Game of the Century” but it’s the top game in the SEC so far this year.
Alabama is still number one in the nation and undefeated, but LSU has dropped two games to Georgia and Ole Miss. When these two get together though, you can throw away the records. It’s going to be an absolute dog fight from start to finish.
Starting off on the offensive side of the ball, the Crimson Tide has had the prototypical Nick Saban offense. The running attack has been solid all season long, having nearly two running backs over 500 yards. Sophomore TJ Yeldon has had a great year on the ground gaining 729 yards with 10 touchdowns on 115 carries. When Yeldon leaves the field, defenses haven’t been catching a break. That’s because sophomore Kenyan Drake has kept pounding away at defenses gaining 491 yards on 63 carries and 7 touchdowns.
The biggest impact will come from senior quarterback AJ McCarron. He has been arguably the most consistent quarterback in the country during his tenure. It’s hard to argue that since he has won two national championships as a starter and is on pace for a third. He has picked apart defenses all year but he will face the best secondary in the SEC on Saturday.
LSU has been given a big lift on the offensive side of the ball this year as senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger has improved significantly from last year. He has had turnover issues the last two weeks against Ole Miss and Furman. He has thrown 5 interceptions his last two outings and if LSU wants to have a chance, he will have to play a perfect game.
On the ground the Tigers have possibly the best running back in the SEC in Jeremy Hill. He has a solid 922 yards rushing on 122 carries and 12 touchdowns.
Alabama is the most complete team in the SEC again this year. LSU has rained on the Crimson Tide’s parade before. But with the game being in Tuscaloosa and Mettenberger’s struggles the last few weeks, the Tigers won’t have enough to pull off the upset.
Prediction: Alabama-20 LSU-14
Ole Miss vs. Arkansas:
The Rebels are fresh off a much needed by week and are as healthy as they have since they played Texas. This week they play host to the struggling Arkansas Razorbacks. This will be the Rebels’ first SEC game since upsetting then no.6 LSU.
The defense will finally be healthy (sans CJ Johnson) for the first time since the Texas game. With the added experience of younger players, the depth on the defensive side of the ball is going to be a huge advantage for the Rebels against a struggling Arkansas offense.
Highly touted recruit Robert Nkemdiche returns to the Landshark D this week. This will be the first action that he has seen since suffering a hamstring injury against Texas A&M almost a month ago. His return couldn’t come at a better time because, even though Arkansas has struggled on offense, their rushing attack ranks 24th in the nation while averaging 211 yards per game on the ground.
The backfield for Arkansas is lead by young blood. The two top rushers are freshman Alex Collins and sophomore Jonathan Williams. Collins is first on the team in production with 889 rushing yards on 158 attempts and four touchdowns. Williams is second with 716 rushing yards on 115 carries and four touchdowns.
The starting quarterback for the Hogs is expected to be Brandon Allen even thought there was speculation earlier in the week whether he would play or not after he suffered a gash to his ankle last week against Auburn. Allen has struggled mightily this year but Bret Bielema is standing behind his decision to keep Allen as the starter. At times, Allen has shown some promise however so the Rebels need to respect his passing ability.
The offense for the Rebels is healthy outside of senior Jeff Scott. He has missed the last few games and is questionable for tomorrow’s game. But Scott being out has opened the door for sophomore Jaylen Walton to come in and make an impact. In Scott’s absence, Walton has carried the load in the backfield. He has 64 carries for 321 yards and five touchdowns on the season.
If the Rebels can get the offense going early, and limit Arkansas on the ground, then it should be a field day for Ole Miss. But games aren’t won on paper and the 17.5 spread in favor of the Rebels doesn’t matter when kickoff arrives. Coach Hugh Freeze has been great about getting his team to not overlook opponents while he has been at Ole Miss, and he has to keep that going this week. Because you cannot, no matter who the opponent is, take a week off in the SEC.
Prediction: Ole Miss-34 Arkansas-20
#15 Texas A&M vs. Mississippi State:
The Bulldogs are coming off an embarrassing loss in Columbia to South Carolina (34-16) and look to turn their season around Saturday in College Station with a win over no. 15 Texas A&M. That’s not going to be an easy feat to accomplish however. The Bulldogs defense, while improved, has struggled at times this season.
Last season when these two teams met in Starkville, in what was nicknamed “Snowbowl 2012,” the Aggies ran up and down the field on the Bulldogs effortlessly while shutting down the Bulldog offense at the same time. This year Johnny Manziel is back and his main wide receiver target, Mike Evans, looks to pick apart the Mississippi State secondary once again.
Manziel has once again put up Heisman numbers and has played well in every game he has seen action. He has completed 200 of 276 passes for 2867 yards and 26 touchdowns. In addition to his passing, Manziel leads the team in rushing with 564 yards on 96 carries for eight touchdowns. If Mississippi State wants to have a chance, they’ll have to accomplish what nobody else outside of LSU in 2012 has been able to do, and that is stop the seemingly unstoppable Johnny Football.
The offense for the Bulldogs will have to score no less than 40 points as well if they want to be in the game in the fourth quarter. Even though Texas A&M has arguably the worst defense in the league, there’s just not enough leadership on the offensive side of the ball. In addition to that, the play calling has been shaky at best. Turnovers have been a huge problem on the season as well for State. However, Dan Mullen is one of the best offensive minds in college football so he shouldn’t have too much trouble putting up some points against a poor Aggie defense.
Prediction: Texas A&M-48 Mississippi State- 24
#9 Auburn at Tennessee
Gus Malzahn has shocked the SEC with the job he has done turning around the Auburn program like he has in his first year. Last year the Tigers finished winless in the SEC with an 0-8 conference record and fired Gene Chizik. The team seemed to be coming apart only two years after winning a national title. But Gus Malzahn has patched everything up and more.
Tennessee still has some rebuilding to do but first year head coach Butch Jones has shown that he is up to the challenge. He picked up a signature win two weeks ago against, then, no. 12 South Carolina. There is a positive buzz around Knoxville for the first time in a long time.
But looking at the game, even though Tennessee has improved as the year has progressed, they have not fared well against spread offense teams. It was no more evident that they had trouble with the spread than when they traveled to Eugene, Oregon to face the Oregon Ducks and were obliterated 59-14. Then last week against the Missouri Tigers, they were stomped 31-3. With the way Auburn has played on offense, it could be more of the same for the Volunteer defense
The offense hasn’t been helpful for Tennessee either. In passing they rank 108 (177.7 ypg), 52 in rushing (181.4 ypg) and 90 in scoring (25.1 ppg). If the Vols want to have a prayer in this game, the offense has to come together and put up some points.
This is Auburn’s game to lose but with Nick Marshal at quarterback and Tre Mason bulldozing over everything in his path at running back (161 carries, 921 yards and 13 touchdowns) that’s not going to happen.
#8 Missouri at Kentucky
Gus Malzahn has done a great job turning around Auburn but Gary Pinkel has done an almost equally impressive job turning around his Missouri Tigers. Last year after every game, all Mizzou heard was mocking chants of “Grown man football.” Well those mocking statements have been silenced this season.
Many thought that Missouri would have a hangover from their heartbreaking overtime loss to South Carolina last week when they played Tennessee. They silenced the doubters with a 31-3 beat down of the Volunteers and they look to add to their new winning streak this week.
They shouldn’t have too much trouble accomplishing that as Kentucky’s defense, while it has shown some promise this season, just doesn’t have the athletes to keep up with the Mizzou offense.
James Franklin (yes, Missouri’s quarterback has the same name as Vanderbilt’s coach) went down with an injury earlier in the season and most thought that was the end of the Tigers’ season. But freshman Maty Mauck came in and has done a fantastic job being the field general in Franklin’s absence. Mauk has passed for 748 yards and completed 45-92 passes for five touchdowns and two interceptions.
Kentucky has had numerous offensive struggles this season. They’ve been plagued with injuries and poor play from the offensive line and quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow. Stoops has voiced his displeasure with the quarterbacks earlier this season but hopefully the Wildcats can get better play this week against a really good Missouri defense.
If the Wildcats want to have a chance in this game, it’s going to start up front at the offensive line. The Missouri defensive line is one of the best in the SEC and has been a nightmare for opponents all year. To be in the game, Kentucky has to stop the defensive line.
They will also need to try and slow down Maty Mauck and the Tiger offense. The Wildcats have been able to get in the backfield a decent amount this year but unless they force turnovers, it’s going to get ugly.
Missouri-45 Kentucky- 17
Vanderbilt at Florida
Both teams are coming off tough losses last week but Florida is probably feeling a little more pain since it came to bitter rival Georgia. That loss also gave the Gators their third straight loss and it doesn’t look like there’s any momentum in Gainesville right now.
Vanderbilt started off the year very sluggish and only recently won their first SEC game. But that win has revitalized the Commodores because it came against Georgia. James Franklin (the coach this time) has done a great job turning his team around and getting them to a .500 record at this point in the season, even though that may not be where he wants Vandy to be.
It’s been a long time since the Commodores last beat the Gators but looking at the momentum at both schools, it looks like Vandy has more “want to” and fight in them right now. This will be the knockout punch for the Gators this season. It’s also HottyToddy.com’s SEC upset of the week.
Georgia vs. Appalachian State
Georgia may have had its’ struggles this season but there’s no chance that Appalachian State keeps this close.
Dawgs win easily
Georgia-52 Appalachian State-10
–Justin Taylor, Associate Editor, HottyToddy.com
–You can email Justin at firstname.lastname@example.org