SEC: South Carolina Gamecocks
Why Georgia wins big: Even without Todd Gurley lining up for Georgia, the Bulldogs still have an absolute stud in freshman Nick Chubb. In two games as a starter, Chubb has rushed for 345 yards and three touchdowns. The kid just tosses people around out there and certainly has a little Gurley in him. Florida is starting the Treon Harris era at quarterback, but the offense has been lousy for the better part of the season, while Georgia's defense is on a roll. It'll be tight early, but Georgia pounds away in the second half. Georgia 28, Florida 14 -- Edward Aschoff
How Florida keeps it close: This is Harris' game at quarterback, and he certainly provides more of a spark than Jeff Driskel. If Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor can run the football and negate some of the pressure from Georgia's talented pass-rushers, Florida could have some success moving the football. If they can even out the time of possession battle, you'll see a much more effective defense from the Gators. Georgia 21, Florida 13 -- Alex Scarborough
Why Kentucky wins: Missouri just can't seem to get it together. Just look at last weekend's game against Vanderbilt. Sure, the Tigers won, but not convincingly. And Kentucky is no Vanderbilt. The Wildcats gave Mississippi State a run for its money and beat South Carolina a few weeks ago. With a true playmaker at quarterback and a better-than-expected defense, Kentucky will give Missouri fits on both sides of the ball and win on the road. Kentucky 30, Missouri 20 -- Alex Scarborough
Why Missouri wins: Ever since a 34-0 beatdown at the hands of Georgia, the Tigers have looked shaky, especially on offense. But things are gradually getting better as quarterback Maty Mauk re-learns how to take care of the ball. This game offers the improving Wildcats a plum opportunity to show they can win conference games. But look for the home team to squeeze out a hard-fought victory. Missouri 26, Kentucky 23 -- Jeff Barlis
Why Ole Miss wins: The Rebels were injected with some playoff hope after the first batch of College Football Playoff rankings were announced. That should energize a team that lost an ugly one at LSU. Bo Wallace has to regroup, and he has to follow what his coaches tell him. The Rebels haven't had a consistent running game all season, but Auburn's pass defense ranks 75th nationally, and that should help Wallace regroup after a bad showing in Baton Rouge. Watching Ole Miss' defense try to tackle Auburn's running game might be the highlight of the day. A late turnover will seal it for the Rebels. Ole Miss 31, Auburn 28 -- Edward Aschoff
Why Auburn wins: Ole Miss' sideline was like a M*A*S*H unit last week against LSU, with multiple key players leaving with injuries. Even if most of those guys play Saturday -- and it looks like they will -- the Rebels aren't going to be at 100 percent against arguably the best offense they'll face all season. If Wallace doesn't play better than he did a week ago, Auburn might win easily. Ole Miss' quarterback is the X factor here, and I suspect he'll fare well against Auburn's mediocre defense at home, but the Tigers have way more firepower at their disposal right now. Auburn 31, Ole Miss 24 -- David Ching
Why Mississippi State wins big: Playing its first game with the No. 1 ranking, Mississippi State came out tight against Kentucky. Dan Mullen even admitted that. Look for the Bulldogs to play more relaxed at home Saturday in front of the familiar sound of cowbells clanging. They’re the No. 1 team in the country, and Dak Prescott, Josh Robinson and the defense will prove it against the Razorbacks. Mississippi State 35, Arkansas 14 -- Greg Ostendorf
How Arkansas keeps it close: It should be a triumphant return to Davis Wade Stadium for the nation's No. 1 team, but things aren't perfect for the Bulldogs. Kentucky's offense exposed some issues with the MSU secondary. While Arkansas doesn't have the same caliber of passing attack, the Hogs do have a stable of talented runners, a veteran quarterback and two good tight ends. Mississippi State 37, Arkansas 26 -- Jeff Barlis
More unanimous picks:
Texas A&M over UL Monroe: The big storyline will be who starts at quarterback for Texas A&M, Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen? Either way, the Aggies should roll against a lesser opponent. Texas A&M 52, UL Monroe 14
South Carolina over Tennessee: Steve Spurrier won’t have to go for it on every fourth down against the Vols, but don’t be surprised if he still has a few tricks left up his sleeve. The Gamecocks have won three of the past four games in this series. South Carolina 35, Tennessee 24
Vanderbilt over Old Dominion: Vandy is looking for its third win of the season, but it won’t come easy against Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke and his 54 career touchdown passes. Vanderbilt 31, Old Dominion 28
Edward Aschoff: 64-11
Greg Ostendorf: 64-11
Jeff Barlis: 63-12
Chris Low: 63-12
David Ching: 62-13
Alex Scarborough: 61-14
Sam Khan Jr.: 57-18
2. Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian echoed Volunteers coach Butch Jones' prediction that senior quarterback Justin Worley will not be available Saturday against South Carolina. Maybe that won't be such a bad outcome. Sophomore Josh Dobbs offered reason to believe he might be the Vols' quarterback of the future with a strong performance off the bench last Saturday against Alabama. But the Crimson Tide had not prepared for the youngster. South Carolina will have the entire week. He might be the X-factor in Saturday's game at Columbia. Or for the superstitious Gamecocks among us, maybe it will be South Carolina's uniforms. South Carolina will wear black jerseys and black pants on Saturday for the first time since losing 24-14 to Florida in 2009.
3. Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC) is clearly the favorite to win the SEC East, but Missouri (6-2, 3-1) can still make some noise if the Bulldogs fall into any sort of slump. The Tigers haven't played particularly well lately, but they have only one conference loss as Kentucky (5-3, 2-3) prepares to visit on Saturday. Both teams will be looking to get back on track for the stretch run. Perhaps Mizzou quarterback Maty Mauk found his stride last week against Vanderbilt after several rocky games in a row. Meanwhile, Kentucky needs just one more win to achieve bowl eligibility, but it hasn't won a true road game since the 2010 opener. Not the greatest sign, particularly since its previously productive running game has underperformed lately and coaches are questioning whether they should use fewer backs in the regular rotation.
Around the SEC
" The State asks how South Carolina's disappointing season might impact its 2015 recruiting class.
" Formerly suspended safety Jermaine Whitehead does not appear close to returning to Auburn's starting lineup.
" Derrick Henry is leading an unusually thin group of Alabama running backs this week in practice with an open date ahead.
" LSU is focused on cleaning up its mistakes from last Saturday's Ole Miss game with Alabama ahead next weekend.
" John Kadlec, better known as “Mr. Mizzou” after serving the school as an athlete, coach, administrator and broadcaster, died Wednesday at age 86.
Tweets of the day
Here is a recap of how Fournette and some of the SEC's other true freshmen standouts performed last weekend:
S Jamal Adams, LSU
What he did: Although he made five tackles and broke up three passes in a 10-7 win against Ole Miss, Adams once again went viral on the Web for something else entirely. As he had done against Florida's Andre Debose, Adams dramatically flopped to the ground after Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace made contact with him after a play. Once again, Adams' flop drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
What it means: Adams' flops are amusing and all, but the kid has serious game. He is one of LSU's best special teams players and is becoming a playmaker in the Tigers' nickel and dime defensive packages. He is tied for fifth on the team with 42 tackles.
DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
What he did: Barnett was one of Tennessee's top defensive performers against Alabama, recording six tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in the Volunteers' 34-20 loss.
What it means: Now a fixture in Tennessee's starting lineup, Barnett has become one of the SEC's top young defensive ends. After adding another 1.5 TFLs against the Crimson Tide, Barnett ranks second in the conference with 11. He's also tied for sixth in the league with four sacks.
RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
What he did: Fournette was unquestionably the SEC's top freshman this week, helping LSU gain an upset win over then-No. 3 Ole Miss by rushing 23 times for 113 yards (he did lose a fumble in the end zone, however), catching two passes for 41 yards and returning two kickoffs for 57 yards. He finished with 211 all-purpose yards.
What it means: This was Fournette's third game with at least 100 rushing yards and his second where he cracked the 200-yard mark in all-purpose yards. His high was 225 against Florida. The Ole Miss game pushed him past the 1,000-yard plateau in all-purpose yards this season (1,209).
RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
What he did: Hurd propelled Tennessee's running game against a stingy Alabama defense, rushing 16 times for 59 yards in a loss to the Crimson Tide. He also caught a team-high six passes for 27 yards.
What it means: He has dealt with injuries recently, but Hurd returned last week to rush for 40 yards against Ole Miss. He seemed to be back to normal against Alabama, registering 86 yards of total offense. The Vols will surely lean heavily on the freshman when they face South Carolina's underwhelming run defense on Saturday.
CB Chris Lammons, South Carolina
What he did: Lammons started at cornerback and finished second on the team with six tackles along with 0.5 tackles for loss in a 42-35 loss against Auburn.
What it means: Lammons started for the second consecutive game and has set a new career high for tackles in both of them. With six against Auburn, he bested the five he posted against Furman the previous week. South Carolina's defense has had major issues this season, and it looks like the Gamecocks are giving Lammons the chance to lock down a job with an eye on the future.
K Aaron Medley, Tennessee: Kicked field goals of 24 and 27 yards and hit both of his PATs in a loss to Alabama.
WR Josh Malone, Tennessee: Caught a 9-yard touchdown pass in a loss to Alabama.
WR Trey Quinn, LSU: Caught two passes for 42 yards in a win against Ole Miss.
CB Tre Tarpley, Vanderbilt: Made two tackles, a tackle for loss and forced a fumble in a loss to Missouri.
RB Roc Thomas, Auburn: Ran eight times for 34 yards in a win against South Carolina.
Why would Alabama not be "thrilled?" They play No. 1 and No. 3 at home..— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) October 28, 2014
2. As the AJC's Chip Towers said, "Gurley Watch" reached Day 19 on Tuesday and still no update on the Georgia running back's status for Saturday's big game against Florida. The Bulldogs are cautiously optimistic, as Todd Gurley continues to practice. Meanwhile, the Gators' defensive players say they are expecting, preparing and actually hoping to face the Heisman candidate on Saturday. Despite Florida's downward spiral in the past two seasons, the Gators say they're confident. The history of this bitter rivalry suggests the game is usually closely contested. At least one thing that's guaranteed is a good time at the ol' Cocktail Party. It's always cool to see the intermingling of red, black, orange and blue inside and outside the stadium. On Saturday, we'll see it on the field as well. Georgia is the home team, but both teams agreed to wear home jerseys in what should make for a neat visual.
3. Determined to snap its three-game losing streak, Texas A&M underwent a sweeping round of soul-searching during its bye week with a willingness to re-evaluate every position on the team. That includes the quarterback position, where sophomore starter Kenny Hill is now battling with freshman Kyle Allen with a decision to come on Thursday. It's a stunning turn of events for Hill, who started the season with a school-record 511 yards passing in the opener and has thrown for 2,649 yards in eight games. Allen actually went to offensive coordinator Jake Spavital's office to ask if the starting job was really up for grabs. Yes, he was told, this is really happening. The same could be said for the Aggies' tailspin, but at least the bye week came at a perfect time. A&M is still reeling from its last game, a 59-0 loss at Alabama. Saturday's home game against Louisiana-Monroe ought to do wonders in boosting some confidence in Aggieland. Especially for the QB, whoever he is.
Around the SEC
" Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott ditched his walking boot and practiced on Tuesday. He's not sure what all the fuss was about, saying: "I'm sure there's some boots Beyonce or somebody's worn before that people have made a big deal about."
" Ole Miss changed its play-calling terminology after a former intern left in the offseason to join the Auburn staff.
" Michigan native and current Tennessee coach Butch Jones swatted aside speculation that he could be a candidate to be the Wolverines' next coach.
" Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary will be the "lead dog" against Old Dominion, but coach Derek Mason also hopes Patton Robinette will play after being medically cleared last week from a concussion suffered on Sept. 20.
Tweet of the day
It should be an eight-team playoff. Bama, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee should be in there— Mark Schlabach (@Mark_Schlabach) October 28, 2014
Three SEC teams in the top four of the playoff committee's rankings? I actually didn't see that coming. While I do agree that those are three of the four best teams in the country, I figured the committee would lean toward not having three teams from the same conference -- let alone the SEC -- take three slots up top in the first set of rankings.
But that's what happens when you deal with the human element, and that's what is going to make the next few weeks in college football delightful.
So how does that affect our bowl projections for this week? Well, for starters, we can go on ahead and put two SEC teams in the two semifinal games. I think folks below the Mason-Dixon Line were kind of expecting that anyway.
I'm not ready to put three SEC teams in, though. It's just not going to happen. These rankings are fun to look at and make projections with, but let's face it, no conference -- not even the big, bad SEC -- is going to get three teams into the playoff.
So for now, the SEC is left with two teams in the final four. The good news for the conference is that those two teams won't play each other in our fictional first round, making for a possible fictional all-SEC national championship.
Oh, the country would just LOVE that!
I have 10 SEC teams making bowl games this year:
College Football Playoff semifinal (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Mississippi State
College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual): Auburn
Capital One Orange Bowl: Ole Miss
Cotton Bowl: Alabama
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Georgia
Citrus Bowl: LSU
TaxSlayer Bowl: Kentucky
Outback Bowl: Missouri
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Texas A&M
Belk Bowl: South Carolina
There was no way four teams could run the table in the West. Someone -- in fact, many someones -- would have to take a loss.
First it was Alabama. Then it was Texas A&M and Auburn's turn. Finally, Ole Miss finally fell in Death Valley.
The only one standing -- as one of two unbeaten teams left in college football's Power 5 conferences -- is Mississippi State.
But for how long will the Bulldogs' perfect record remain intact?
That question is no small part of today's Take Two debate: Can anyone in the SEC run the table from here on out?
In fact, I can easily see no one in the SEC finishing with fewer than two losses. That includes you, Mississippi State.
As I wrote in my Monday column, it's about time everyone accept that there is no dominant team in the league this season. We're not looking at Florida in 2008 or Alabama in 2009. Instead, we're talking about five playoff contenders that all possess significant flaws: Mississippi State's special teams are an Achilles' heel, Ole Miss is guided by an inconsistent quarterback, Auburn can't play defense, Alabama struggles on the road and Georgia is one-dimensional offensively.
I could go on, but those are the lowlights.
I like to rely on statistics whenever possible, and I trust the good folks at ESPN who put together the Football Power Index. According to their calculations, no one has a particularly strong shot at running the table with Alabama (17 percent) and Georgia (14.5 percent) leading the pack. I don't know about you, but while I think Auburn and Mississippi State are strong football teams, I don't like their 5.2 and 4.5 percent likelihood of going undefeated from here on out.
Sam Khan Jr.: Stats are nice and can often be useful. I'm not going to go as far as "stats are for losers," but remember when TCU had a 98 percent win probability in the fourth quarter against Baylor earlier this month? How did that work out for the Horned Frogs?
Here's what I know: Mississippi State is the best team in the conference at this moment. They also have the best player in the conference, quarterback Dak Prescott and the best one-two punch in Prescott and running back Josh Robinson. I haven't even touched on their talented receivers or strong offensive line. On defense, Preston Smith says hi. So does Benardrick McKinney.
Mississippi State's schedule has some peaks and valleys moving forward. After having to play four winning SEC teams in a row in the last five weeks (LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn and Kentucky) the Bulldogs remain unscathed. Arkansas comes to StarkVegas this week. Then the Bulldogs get some relief with UT-Martin. That's perfect the week before Alabama, where the Bulldogs can take a commanding lead, get their guys out early and rest up for the showdown in Tuscaloosa.
A similar thing happens before the Egg Bowl: the Bulldogs get Vanderbilt at home, which hasn't won an SEC game yet. Are the road games at Alabama and Ole Miss tough? No question. But when you have the best player on the field on your side, that can make up for a lot of deficiencies.
I think you're right Alex: there are many flawed teams in the league and no real dominant ones. That means they can all be beat and Mississippi State might have enough magic to beat them all on the strength of 'Dak Attack' and the 'Bowling Ball.'
Scarborough: Let's see if we can make this simple.
Just take a look at what's ahead for the SEC's playoff hopefuls:
- Alabama: Good luck going to Death Valley in two weeks. Survive that and you get Mississippi State and Auburn.
- Auburn: You think Ole Miss is just going to roll over this weekend? Beat them and you get Georgia and Alabama on the road.
- Ole Miss: There's no time to look your wounds with Auburn coming to town. Then to end the season you get Mississippi State.
- Mississippi State: Enjoy Arkansas and UT Martin because in a few weeks you have to go to Alabama. If you beat the Tide, you still have to face Ole Miss in Oxford.
- Georgia: OK, so the East is a bit of a joke. But best of luck to you in the SEC Championship Game when you go up against a battle-tested team from the West.
Do you see an undefeated team in there anywhere? Me neither.
Khan: I'm glad you brought up Georgia. I was just about to mention the Bulldogs. Their upcoming schedule? Florida, at Kentucky, Auburn, Charleston Southern and Georgia Tech. The Kentucky game could be sticky if the Wildcats keep this up, but Auburn is the main threat here and Georgia gets to host the Tigers. The schedule sets up great and if Georgia gets Todd Gurley back, watch out.
If Ole Miss bounces back to beat Auburn on Saturday, the Rebels have a great chance to do it. Presbyterian, Arkansas and the Egg Bowl follow. And the Egg Bowl is in Oxford. Anything can happen.
I don't think Auburn will do it. That schedule is too daunting. If Alabama does beat LSU, the Tide get to host their final three games. That's a plus for them.
I'll cheat a little and throw another team at you: South Carolina. It won't matter, because the Gamecocks are pretty much out of the SEC East title race, but their schedule finishes as such: Tennessee, at Florida, South Alabama and at Clemson. We all know Spurrier's history against Clemson and if you don't, he'll tell you about it. You said anyone in the SEC, right?
“We had a chance,” Spurrier said afterwards. “We knew we had to play close to perfect on offense, but we didn't do it. We didn't play perfect on offense, so we got beat. But it was almost a fun one. It was almost a fun one.”
“I told one of those guys in there if Jerell Adams catches that Hail Mary and we make a two-point conversion, that might have been the greatest win I've ever had in my life.”
Can you imagine? And the crazy part is nobody would have been surprised if Adams did haul in that Hail Mary pass. Love him or hate him, Spurrier keeps it entertaining.
Here's a look back at just how ridiculous those fourth-down calls were.
1. 4th-and-2, own 33, 15:00/2Q: The game was tied at this point. No reason to really go for it except that it's Spurrier -- so why not? Credit the call, though. South Carolina ran what looked like an option, but Thompson flipped it forward to Mike Davis, who ran for 18 yards and the first down. The Gamecocks later scored a touchdown on the drive.
Ridiculous meter (out of 10): 7
2. 4th-and-6, own 40, 4:34/3Q: This one would have made a little more sense when it was 4th-and-1, but a false start penalty moved it back five yards, making it 4th-and-6. Even down a touchdown, it's way too early to go for that, right? Wrong. The play was nearly blown up in the backfield, but Thompson somehow got it to Pharoh Cooper for the first down.
Ridiculous meter: 8
3. 4th-and-1, AU 23, 14:38/4Q: Again, the game was tied. South Carolina had all the momentum after recovering the onside kick, so it made sense to go for it in this spot. Some coaches might have tried the field goal and gone for the lead, but Spurrier was on a roll. To nobody's surprise, Davis went straight up the middle and got the first down.
Ridiculous meter: 3
4. 4th-and-1, own 34, 10:18/4Q: At this point, Auburn had taken a 42-35 lead and Spurrier knew if he gave the ball back, the game was over. After Davis was stopped just short on third down, the Gamecocks hurried to the line of scrimmage where Thompson called his own number on a quarterback sneak and picked up the first down.
Ridiculous meter: 2
5. 4th-and-8, own 38, 8:42/4Q: This was another one where if you look at the down and distance, the score (42-35) and the time left, it would have made more sense to punt. But Spurrier wasn't giving the ball back to Auburn. Not when he'd already converted all four fourth-down attempts. Thompson hit Adams over the middle, and the streak continued.
Ridiculous meter: 6
6. 4th-and-14, AU 19, 5:34/4Q: Trailing 42-35, South Carolina was going to need to score a touchdown regardless, but a field goal could've made things interesting had the Gamecocks gotten the ball back. Instead, they went for it, and Thompson's pass to Shaq Roland sailed over his head. The luck had run out. Still, 5 of 6 on fourth down ain't bad.
Ridiculous meter: 1
2. Playing quarterback takes guts and conviction. It's what Good Bo/Bad Bo is all about. Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace had his reputation on the line in the waning seconds of Saturday's Ole Miss-LSU game, and he went for it. It's too bad for the Rebels that Wallace didn't do anything close to what he was told to do. Coach Hugh Freeze said he told Wallace to throw to the flats or out of bounds. Wallace went for it in the end zone, and LSU intercepted the ball to seal its upset. So it's all on Bad Bo, right? Not so fast. Wallace struggled throughout the decisive fourth quarter, completing 6 of 13 passes before the final play. Shouldn't Freeze have known better than to take that risk with Bad Bo at the controls? "I thought we were pretty clear," Freeze said afterward. Wallace's ill-advised pass was his first interception in SEC play. Entering the week, he led the SEC in fourth-quarter Total QBR (90.7) and had zero fourth-quarter turnovers. Saturday was just a very clear, very painful case of Good Bo/Bad Bo.
3. It needs to be said: Amari Cooper is the best wide receiver on Earth who's not in the NFL. Scouts and wonks are lining up to agree. ("He's like a smaller version of A.J. Green!") Cooper had his second SEC game of the season with 200-plus yards receiving and now has 13 career games of at least 100 receiving yards, which is tied with D.J. Hall for most in school history. In other words, it's safe to say Cooper will hold every meaningful Alabama record for a wide receiver when he's through. What is certain is Nick Saban intends to continue feeding the beast. And at the very least it should ensure Cooper gets a shot at some major hardware in December. "He should be up there for the Heisman trophy," said Tennessee coach Butch Jones without the slightest bit of hyperbole. His Vols had the skid marks to prove it.
Around the SEC
- Georgia and suspended running back Todd Gurley are waiting for a response from the NCAA. "We just don’t know really know what to expect," said coach Mark Richt, who also said freshman RB Sony Michel could play against the Gators on Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla.
- With more than 1,000 yards of offense and a complete disregard for defense, Saturday's Auburn-South Carolina tilt was more like a video game. "It was almost a fun game," Steve Spurrier said.
- In two seasons under Bret Bielema, Arkansas is 0-12 against the SEC. But in that time the Hogs are now 7-1 in nonconference games after kicking some UAB tail on Saturday.
- Vanderbilt tried its fourth starting QB of the season and might have found a keeper in Johnny McCrary.
#MississippiState RB Josh Robinson...on his prodigious butt: "I think that's why the women come to the game, to be honest."— Brian Hamilton (@BrianHamiltonSI) October 26, 2014
With three primetime games going bonkers, to the delight of three terrific crowds, you could have made a serious case for an SEC RedZone channel. Picture-in-picture just wasn't enough.
Hugh Freeze is kicking himself: No. 3 Ole Miss fell to No. 24 LSU 10-7 when the Tigers intercepted a Bo Wallace pass with two seconds left. Freeze has to live with a couple bad decisions that cost the Rebels a shot at overtime. First, a mind-numbing delay of game pushed their freshman kicker back from a 42- to a 47-yard field-goal attempt. Then Freeze chose to have Wallace sneak in a pass with nine seconds left in figuring they'd either get something underneath and out of bounds to set up an easier field goal or Wallace would take a shot at the end zone, where only his receiver could catch the ball. Technically, there was enough time to go for the win and, if it fell incomplete, kick the game-tying field goal. Neither scenario happened, and now Ole Miss has to live with a haunting first loss of the season. With more SEC West bloodletting to come, the possibility of getting two teams into the playoff took a serious hit.
Mississippi State looks vulnerable: It would be so easy to devote this space to some well-deserved gushing over MSU's unstoppable dynamic duo -- running back Josh Robinson (198 yards, two touchdowns) and quarterback Dak Prescott (216 yards passing with one touchdown and 88 yards rushing with two scores). It's only fair to give Mark Stoops and his Wildcats all the credit in the world for Kentucky's improvement. But the story of this game with lasting implications concerned the Bulldogs' leaky defense. Mississippi State came into Saturday's game ranked 121st in passing yards allowed and gave up 401 yards to UK. Having your defense exposed in your first game as the No. 1 team in the land is not the best look for the playoff committee.
A desperate Spurrier is a dangerous Spurrier is an entertaining Spurrier: Steve Spurrier definitely put the fun back in the Fun n' Gun offense Saturday night on the Plains in a 42-35 loss to Auburn. The Gamecocks came in with a 2-3 record in the SEC, and Spurrier called plays like he had nothing to lose. And you know what? It worked. South Carolina's defense is still a disaster in cleats, but Riverboat Steve dialed up an epic shootout. Reverses, double reverses, quarterback throwbacks, wildcat bombs, onside kicks, fourth-down insanity ... it was all on glorious display. This was vintage Spurrier. The Gamecocks went for it on fourth down six times and converted five. For their part, the Tigers looked comfortable all night. They know a thing or two about winning with offense, so this one felt a lot like 2013. Auburn isn't in control in the West Division but has to like its chances to still get to Atlanta or slip into the playoff as a worthy one-loss team.
Lane Kiffin makes for great theater: Neyland Stadium was packed with Big Orange fans thirsting for some revenge against their former coach in his return. But on Alabama's first play, Kiffin dialed up a bootleg perfectly executed by Blake Sims and Amari Cooper, who ran 80 yards for a touchdown. Kiffin ran with Cooper down the Bama sideline for a bit before flashing a sly grin under his visor. On the Tide's next drive, Cooper continued to dominate and caught three more passes for 75 yards. After Cooper's second score, he shoulder-bumped Kiffin, who was smiling broadly this time. Vols fans probably doubled over with nausea. The Crimson Tide never lost the lead in the 34-20 win over Tennessee. What we really learned in this one was just how good Cooper is. His 185 yards in the first quarter were the most for any SEC receiver in a quarter in the past 10 seasons. When it was over, Cooper had 224 yards to break Julio Jones' single-game school record of 221 yards receiving (also against the Vols, in 2010).
In a game that featured 1,086 yards and 55 first downs between the teams, Auburn escaped with a 42-35 victory over the Gamecocks on Saturday.
How the game was won: There was no stopping Auburn. Nick Marshall was great. He had three touchdown runs and a clutch throw to D'haquille Williams on third down to seal the game. Cameron Artis-Payne ran with an extra chip on his shoulder. But it was the offensive line that dominated. The Tigers had only eight drives in the game; they scored touchdowns on six of them.
Gameball goes to: Nobody was better than Marshall. The Auburn quarterback went 12-of-14 for 139 yards and a touchdown through the air. He rushed for 89 yards and three touchdowns. He was simply tremendous. Marshall might have seen his Heisman hopes disappear against Mississippi State, but he played like a Heisman Trophy candidate on Saturday.
What it means: Auburn will need to ride its quarterback as far as he'll take them. With not much of a defense to lean on, it's going to be up to Marshall and Co. to outscore opponents each week from here on out. If Marshall plays like he did Saturday against South Carolina, Auburn will be fine. If he turns the ball over like he did against Mississippi State, it's going to get dicey.
Playoff implication: It wasn't a pretty win, but Auburn remains alive and well in the race to the College Football Playoff. And on a night when Ole Miss fell on the road at LSU, you take what you can get. With games against Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama remaining, Auburn has its fate in its own hands. Win out and the Tigers are all but guaranteed a spot in the playoff -- even if Mississippi State makes the SEC championship game.
Best play: Who would’ve guessed a surprise breakout performance from Ricardo Louis on Saturday? The Auburn wide receiver, who had seven rushing yards coming in, rushed for 102 yards and this 75-yard touchdown that put the Tigers back in front early in the second half. Bottom line – Louis is fast.
What's next: It doesn’t get any easier for the Tigers. Auburn travels to No. 3 Ole Miss next Saturday in a critical SEC West showdown. Meanwhile, South Carolina will return home to face Tennessee.
UAB at Arkansas, SEC Network: Bret Bielema will have to wait at least one more week before notching that first SEC victory, but after three straight losses, this Arkansas team needs a win in the worst way. It’s not like the Razorbacks are playing poorly. Even Saturday, after falling apart in the first half, they didn’t give up. They responded in the second half and outplayed Georgia the final 30 minutes. That first conference win is coming. In the meantime, Arkansas can’t afford to overlook UAB. The Blazers put up 34 points on No. 1 Mississippi State earlier in the season, so they’re at least capable of getting in the end zone.
No. 1 Mississippi State at Kentucky, CBS: What happened to Kentucky? This game was shaping up to be one of the biggest games in program history – a top-25 matchup, a chance to take down the No. 1 team in the country – and then it all fell apart at LSU on Saturday. Losing close is one thing, but the Wildcats were dominated in Death Valley. The good news is that they can still take down No. 1 this weekend as this will be Mississippi State’s first game since taking over the top spot. For the Bulldogs, it’s a chance to prove they’re worthy of No. 1 and it’s another opportunity for Dak Prescott to shine in front of a national audience.
Vanderbilt at Missouri, SEC Network: A week after everybody left Missouri for dead, the Tigers are back in the SEC East race and rolling after a 42-13 win at Florida. The defense feasted on the Gators’ offense, forcing six turnovers and taking two back for touchdowns. That’s bad news for Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary, who will be making his first start for the Commodores. In his first action since the season opener, McCrary went 10-of-16 for 169 yards with one touchdown and one interception Saturday against Charleston Southern. But that was Charleston Southern. This is Missouri. Good luck Mr. McCrary.
No. 3 Ole Miss at No. 24 LSU, ESPN: Don’t assume that Ole Miss is going to just go to Baton Rouge and handle its business. Yes, the Rebels have arguably the top defense in the SEC. And yes, they’re ranked No. 3 for a reason. But winning on the road at LSU is no easy task. Just ask Les Miles, who is 45-4 as LSU coach in night games at Tiger Stadium. There’s something special about when the sun sets over Death Valley. So don’t be surprised if this game is close in the fourth quarter, and it’s up to Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace to make a play. Wallace did account for more than 350 yards and four touchdowns at LSU two years ago.
No. 4 Alabama at Tennessee, ESPN2: Thank you, Lane Kiffin, for infusing a little life back into this rivalry. He made it interesting back in 2009 when his Tennessee team nearly knocked off the eventual national champs, and he’s doing it again this year with his return to Knoxville as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. You can bet the fans will be a little more rowdy in welcoming Kiffin back to Neyland Stadium on Saturday. But despite all the hoopla surrounding Kiffin, there’s still a game to be played. Alabama comes in as a heavy favorite, and the Vols could be in trouble if quarterback Justin Worley isn’t able to play.
South Carolina at No. 5 Auburn, SEC Network: Gus Malzahn admitted this week that he wears a visor every game because of Steve Spurrier. That’s how much respect and admiration he has for the Head Ball Coach. On Saturday, Malzahn will face Spurrier for the first time as a head coach in a game that Auburn has to win for its playoff hopes. The Tigers are coming off a loss to Mississippi State, and this is their first of four SEC games in four weeks. Meanwhile, South Carolina has not delivered on the preseason hype. A top-10 team before the season, the Gamecocks are barely above water at 4-3.
3. Have you heard? Lane Kiffin is returning to Tennessee on Saturday. OK, you're probably tired of hearing about it, but if you haven't read it yet, do yourself a favor and go read Jon Solomon's piece on the Alabama offensive coordinator. In it, Kiffin's mother Robin says she's "scared to death" for her son's safety and wishes he would coach from the press box against the Volunteers. Even athletic director Mike Hamilton says he wishes Kiffin's first game against Tennessee would have been in Tuscaloosa, not Knoxville. It's certainly an intriguing storyline and one to keep an eye on this weekend, but don't expect more than the normal heckling from Vols fans. I'm more interested to see how Kiffin's offense fares on the road.
Around the SEC
- The Alabama players don't mind the hecklers. They've heard it all before.
- Gus Malzahn, Steve Spurrier meet in a matchup of offensive innovators.
- Vandy quarterback Johnny McCrary to make first career start at Missouri.
#UGA coach Mark Richt told me he's optimistic on Todd Gurley's reinstatement and "hopefully we'll know sooner rather than later"— Mark Schlabach (@Mark_Schlabach) October 22, 2014
The SEC has an impressive 89 committed prospects in the updated ESPN 300 rankings. While the SEC West has been dominant on the field, 13 of the 14 SEC schools are ranked in the top 40 of the RecruitingNation class rankings. Here’s a closer look at five things to know in the SEC from the new recruiting rankings.
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The Auburn Tigers, who are still licking their wounds from their 38-23 loss to Mississippi State, couldn't have picked a better opponent coming out of their bye week.
Ranked fifth in the nation and sporting a 5-1 record (2-1 SEC) that still has a playoff feel to it, the Tigers come off their week of rest to face an underachieving South Carolina team that has to be extremely disappointed with how 2014 has gone.
Yes, the Gamecocks (4-3, 2-3) are coming off of a much-needed 41-10 win over Furman, but they have found themselves in the back of the SEC East race and with no playoff hopes. They will be looking to salvage part of their season, while they ruin Auburn's.
Auburn got time to rest before its showdown with South Carolina, which just so happens to precede next week's trip to Oxford, Mississippi, to face the third-ranked Ole Miss Rebels. There will be no looking ahead for the Tigers, which is great, because it would be easy to do that with the Rebels looming.
The Tigers know how important Saturday is, and they know that their opponent is desperate. The Gamecocks want some dignity back, and the easiest way to do that is to upset Auburn and torch its playoff hopes. That alone will keep the Tigers on their toes when the Gamecocks visit the Plains Saturday.
Talent-wise and statistically, this game points right at the Tigers with neon arrows. Auburn ranks in the top four of the SEC in scoring (38.8 points per game), rushing (262 yards per game) and total offense (487.8). On the flip side, South Carolina sports one of the SEC's worst defenses, ranking 12th or worse in all four major defensive categories.
The Gamecocks have actually given up a league-worst 6.21 yards per play this season and have allowed opponents to average more than 6.7 yards in five of seven games this season.
Auburn should be fine with that, as the Tigers are cranking out 6.64 yards per play.
What the Tigers need to do is keep that running game churning in the second half of the season. That's when the offense is at its best because it opens up things for quarterback Nick Marshall. What made this offense so special last season was its ability to wear down defenses with its explosive, yet powerful running game. While there is no Tre Mason to carry the load, Auburn has rushed for more than 230 yards in every game but the Kansas State game this season.
Cameron Artis-Payne has taken the title of lead back and has 664 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Marshall is next with 492 and four touchdowns. The next running back on the list is Corey Grant, who has 254 yards and two scores. But the longest run of the season for the Tigers is just 49 yards by Marshall.
This is a chance to really get some of that explosion back in the running game, with the Gamecocks giving up a 181.7 rush yards per game and an SEC-high 15 rushing touchdowns.
You wanna energize that running game even more and break off some bigger plays? Run early and often against the Gamecocks. Artis-Payne has been solid this year (110.7 yards per game), so create some space for him. The Gamecocks have had holes on defense all year, so the Tigers should be able to exploit that.
12:00 PM ET Louisiana-Monroe Texas A&M 3:30 PM ET Florida 11 Georgia 4:00 PM ET Kentucky Missouri 7:00 PM ET 3 Auburn 4 Ole Miss 7:00 PM ET Old Dominion Vanderbilt 7:15 PM ET Arkansas 1 Mississippi State 7:30 PM ET Tennessee South Carolina