- Jeff Barlis, College Football
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Alabama-LSU was the centerpiece of last week's SEC slate, and while this week won't generate nearly the same national attention, the highlight game on the schedule is brimming with intrigue and significance.
No. 25 Georgia (6-3, 4-2 SEC) travels to No. 7 Auburn (9-1, 5-1). Under first-year coach Gus Malzahn, the Tigers have risen like a phoenix from the ashes of last year's winless SEC ordeal. Auburn QB Nick Marshall is at the center of it all.
Coming off an SEC player of the week performance with 214 yards rushing in a win at Tennessee, the junior will take aim at an improving but still suspect Georgia defense. Marshall, a juco transfer, originally enrolled at Georgia coming out of Wilcox County High School in Rochelle, Ga. He was a prolific quarterback and a terrific athlete in high school but was recruited to play cornerback. After one season and five tackles, Marshall was dismissed for violating team rules. He'll lead a pack of hungry Tigers, who can represent the SEC West in Atlanta if they win out.
Georgia is still clinging to some title-game hopes of its own, but far more pressing for the Bulldogs is getting back on track with healthy players. Running back Todd Gurley and wide receiver Michael Bennett will each play in a third straight game, allowing offensive coordinator Mike Bobo the luxury of a balanced offense. If record-breaking quarterback Aaron Murray can make today's game into a track meet, the last team with the ball could be the winner.
No. 10 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2) will look to wrap up its conference slate at home with a win against injury-plagued Florida (4-5, 3-4). The Gamecocks are just a half-game behind idle Missouri, which still must play at Ole Miss and at home against Texas A&M. The East race does not appear to be over, however, it is strange not to see the Gators involved in the chase for the division crown. Florida has played in a league-high 10 of the 21 SEC championship games. In the Gamecocks, the Gators today play their third straight opponent coming off a bye week. UF lost the previous two to Georgia and Vanderbilt, falling under .500 for the first time since 1992.
The other night game to watch (at least early on), features an hour-and-a-half bus trip for the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide. Alabama (9-0, 6-0) takes on Mississippi State (4-5, 1-4) in another game that could showcase senior quarterback AJ McCarron, who has the Tide offense absolutely humming since a 25-0 win vs. Ole Miss. Want a stat geek's sense of how well McCarron has been in his last five games (all wins by 21 points or more, by the way)? Since Oct. 1, he's completing 72.7 percent of his third-down passes, which is second in the nation behind Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. And his 96.3 third-down Total QBR in that span ranks fifth in the FBS. The Tide have been rolling, and the big prizes are starting to come into focus. Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs can expect more of the same.
Two early games today offer a chance to catch some rising stars. Ole Miss (6-3, 3-3) plays host to Troy (5-5). The Rebels are looking for a fourth straight win after quarterback Bo Wallace threw for 407 yards and three touchdowns last week in a 34-24 win against Arkansas. Head coach Hugh Freeze's uptempo offense is gathering steam in Oxford, Miss.
Another coach on the rise is James Franklin, who can what was once unthinkable with a win today -- get Vanderbilt into its third bowl game in a row. The Commodores won their last seven games last year (including a win in the Music City Bowl) and have picked up where they left of in terms of late-season success. Vandy won its sixth consecutive November game last Saturday, shocking Florida in the Swamp. Before Franklin took over, VU had lost nine November games in a row. The Commodores (5-4, 2-4) welcome Kentucky (2-7, 0-5), which has struggled mightily under first-year coach Mark Stoops. The Wildcats have beaten just one FBS team -- Miami (Ohio) in Week 2.
Here’s the rundown of today's games:
Troy at Ole Miss, noon ET, ESPNU
Kentucky at Vanderbilt, 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC TV
Georgia at Auburn, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Florida at South Carolina, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Alabama at Mississippi State, 7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN