- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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There won't be any BCS implications in today's marquee SEC games -- so long as the big favorites in a couple of traditionally important divisional matchups take care of business.
No. 6 LSU (3-0) and No. 19 Florida (1-1) are both double-digit favorites over Auburn (3-0) and Tennessee (2-1), respectively. And both have controlled the recent history of series that have been much more competitive in the past.
Formerly THE most important annual game in the SEC East, Florida-Tennessee has become less interesting in recent seasons now that the Gators have won the last eight meetings, with only two of those games being decided by fewer than 10 points. Likewise, LSU has won five of the last six against Auburn, although the games have typically been more competitive.
We'll learn a lot more tonight about whether a last-minute win against Mississippi State last Saturday was a sign that Auburn is on the way back. The last two times Auburn visited Baton Rouge, it lost by 21 points (2009) and 35 points (2011), which was the biggest win by either team in series history. Tiger Stadium is a notoriously difficult place for the road team to win, so Gus Malzahn's Tigers certainly face long odds if they are to remain undefeated by the end of the night.
Meanwhile, Florida has been sulking for two weeks after repeatedly choking in the red zone against Miami and Tennessee has had a week to stew over its blowout loss to Oregon last Saturday. Only three Eastern Division teams have played a conference game yet, so today's winner in Gainesville will take a big step toward contending in the division.
Butch Jones' Vols could prove a lot about themselves by stealing a win in The Swamp -- and they'll have a chance if Florida doesn't clean up its act on offense. This will be a big game for Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel to begin progressing toward the more consistent play that Will Muschamp and Florida's coaches expected from him this season.
Those are the only two league games this week, with the rest of the SEC schedule featuring nonconference matchups that carry varying levels of interest (Vanderbilt AT UMass? What went into that decision?). Here are a couple more that could carry some intrigue:
Arkansas (3-0) at Rutgers (2-1) is perhaps the most interesting measuring-stick game outside of league play this week. The Scarlet Knights' 35-26 win in Fayetteville came in the middle of the Razorbacks' 1-4 start of the season -- a stretch that also included a 52-0 loss to Alabama and 58-10 defeat against Texas A&M -- and helped lead to Bret Bielema's hiring as Arkansas' head coach. It has been so far, so good for Bielema at Arkansas, with the Razorbacks beating three overmatched nonconference foes behind the running back duo of Alex Collins (second in the SEC with 139.3 rushing yards per game) and Jonathan Williams (third with 131.0).
Today will provide their toughest test yet -- their first game outside of Arkansas and a matchup against a team that has reached a bowl in seven of the last eight seasons. If Arkansas wins again today, a bowl bid becomes a much more likely possibility despite a murderous conference schedule that starts with a visit from Texas A&M next week.
And if the scoreboard at Kyle Field is still functional after the 91 points from last week's game against Alabama, SMU (1-1) at No. 10 Texas A&M (2-1) might place a further strain on its electrical supply. Texas A&M possesses the nation's fourth-highest-scoring offense at 53 points per game and should have little difficulty moving the ball against Saturday's visitors. The problem, though, is that the Aggies haven't shown an ability to stop anyone on defense. SMU is averaging just 27 points per game, but A&M has given up an average of 36 ppg to Rice, Sam Houston State and Alabama, good for 107th nationally.
SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert is third nationally in total offense, averaging 393.5 yards per game -- 352.5 through the air, which ranks fourth nationally. Defending Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel (379 ypg) is fifth in total offense, with 328 of his yards coming via the pass.
We fully expect Texas A&M to keep lighting up the scoreboard, but the Aggies might have to earn a stop to win one of these shootouts. They haven't demonstrated much of an ability to do that yet.
Here's today's lineup:
Vanderbilt at UMass, Noon ET, ESPNews
North Texas at Georgia, 12:21 p.m., SEC TV
Arkansas at Rutgers, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Tennessee at Florida 3:30 p.m., CBS
SMU at Texas A&M, 7 p.m., ESPNU
Colorado State at Alabama, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Troy at Mississippi State, 7:30 p.m., FSN
Auburn at LSU, 7:45 p.m., ESPN
Missouri at Indiana, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network