SEC: Vanderbilt Commodores
2. Tired of the “kick-six” yet? I promise this will be the last link. But if you haven’t already, I suggest you go and read Jon Solomon’s piece on how the effects of one of the wildest finishes in college football history are still being felt. It will be worth your time. The Iron Bowl rivalry itself is known for the passion and animosity felt between the two fan bases, but it’s not always that way. Earlier this season, I wrote a story on Alabama quarterback Blake Sims and how he wore a bracelet in support of Kayla Perry, an Auburn student with a rare form of pediatric cancer. Well now, Perry and an Alabama student who has a similar condition will attend Saturday’s game thanks to Kristi Malzahn, wife of Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. Kristi surprised the two girls by inviting them to attend the game with her. Watch their story here.
3. Arkansas and Missouri might be cross-division foes that will meet every season unless the SEC changes its schedule. They might have a huge game this Friday with SEC title hopes on the line. But they’re not rivals, not yet at least. The two sides haven’t played in the regular season since 1963, and they have only met five times ever. Give it time, though. It’s already catching on with some of the players. “Arkansas, they have the word Kansas in it, so it’s got to be a rival,” said Missouri center Evan Boehm. One team who will be directed by Friday’s game is Georgia. If Missouri loses, the Bulldogs are headed to Atlanta for the SEC championship. However, Mark Richt is not planning any Arkansas-Missouri viewing parties for his team.
Around the SEC
- Corey Grant gets his last crack at the Tide three years after leaving Alabama for Auburn.
- Gators’ Jeff Driskel returns to Florida State as the last quarterback to beat the Seminoles.
- Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason has a new name for rival Tennessee: “the team out east.”
Congrats to @15_DakP on being named a finalist for the Maxwell and Davey O'Brien awards. Couldn't have happened to a better young man!— Brian Johnson (@BDJohnson3) November 26, 2014
We saw the state of Mississippi take over the state of Alabama in one weekend. We saw the rise of Bulldogs and the fall of Gators. The West was wild and the East was,well, there.
There's SEC bias everywhere and still a chance for two SEC teams to make it into the inaugural College Football Playoff.
The SEC had two legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates in Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, who both still have at least another weekend to impress everyone.
The league started the season with seven teams ranked in the AP Poll. Six are ranked in the AP Poll now, and Alabama and Mississippi State are ranked in the top four of the College Football Playoff Rankings. Both are also still in the running for the SEC West title.
From top to bottom, this league has been way more competitive than usual. Just think about this for a second: The West will be decided by the Iron Bowl and the Egg Bowl. The Iron Bowl made plenty of sense at the beginning of the year because you had the defending SEC champs in Auburn returning just about everyone, while Alabama was Alabama.
But the Egg Bowl? Mississippi State and Ole Miss? Sure, these two teams had the personnel to compete in the West, but to have the Egg Bowl actually mean something when you think of Atlanta is great for the league. Both serious playoff aspirations, and now Ole Miss is set up to play major spoiler for the Bulldogs.
Arkansas is relevant again. Bret Bielema's Hogs are rejuvenated and dangerous. After losing 17 straight SEC games, Arkansas has now won two straight by a combined 47-0. Those wins came against LSU and Ole Miss, both ranked. And Ole Miss was still in line for a spot in Atlanta and maybe a trip to the playoff, but the Hogs saw to it that Ole Miss' special run ended in a 30-0 romp.
Texas A&M fooled us with that commanding opening victory, but then it suffered three straight SEC losses before beating Auburn, who at the time was playing like one of the nation's best teams. LSU has a slew of young talent and beat Ole Miss before taking Alabama to overtime. Just wait until next year ...
The East hasn't exactly wowed anyone all year, but with things so even, the race to Atlanta has been a fun one to follow. Georgia -- clearly the most talented team on that side of the division -- might not even make it to the title game because of losses to South Carolina and Florida, who have combined to lose nine SEC games. Those pesky Missouri Tigers are now a win away from back-to-back Atlanta trips. The team that barely had an offensive pulse for most of the SEC season just doesn't know how to lose anymore. Remember when it was embarrassed by a bad Indiana team at home and then got trounced 34-0 at home to Georgia? Well, Missouri is 5-0 since.
Mizzou isn't as good as it was last year, but that doesn't matter one bit. The defense has been outstanding in SEC play, allowing just 302.6 yards and 19.9 points per game in seven league games. With the defense being so good, Maty Mauk's inconsistent play at quarterback gets considerably overshadowed. The defense turned it up 10 notches, thanks in large part by ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden, who have combined for 22 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss.
Mizzou ain't pretty, but it's winning. Deal with it.
South Carolina was supposed to win the East, but owns the division's worst defense and loved blowing fourth-quarter leads. Then, the Gamecocks somehow beat a slightly surging Florida team in comeback fashion that cost Will Muschamp his job.
Kentucky's offense had bite during a 5-1 start, but after five straight losses, it's pumpkin time for the Wildcats. Tennessee has been so up-and-down, but the emergence of quarterback Joshua Dobbs at least makes the offense watchable. Florida had a rain out, a couple of bad blowouts, two quarterbacks, nearly three overtime games, plenty of heartache and blew out Georgia.
The SEC has been a blast. It hasn't always been great, and there's no dominant team, but there's been plenty of fun drama along the way ... and two weekends still remain.
Noon Eastern Kentucky at Florida, SEC Network: It might be a bit strange to see Will Muschamp on the sideline Saturday considering he won’t be back at Florida next season, but he’s staying on to coach the team’s last two regular-season games. How will the players respond to a coach who’s on his way out? Based on Dante Fowler Jr.'s tweet this week, I'd expect them to come out and play hard for their coach. Also, the Gators become bowl eligible with a win.
South Alabama at South Carolina, ESPN3: Raise your hand if you had South Alabama becoming bowl eligible before South Carolina this season. If your hand is raised, you’re lying. Credit the job Joey Jones has done in his sixth season with the Jaguars, but don’t expect an upset on Saturday. The Gamecocks bounced back from that excruciating overtime loss to Tennessee with a solid, come-from-behind win in the Swamp last weekend.
Charleston Southern at No. 10 Georgia, SEC Network: If there was ever a week to give Nick Chubb a break, this would be it. With Todd Gurley out for the season, Chubb is once again the man in Georgia’s backfield, but fellow freshman Sony Michel is expected to return Saturday, and both he and Brendan Douglas should see plenty of carries. All three backs could be in for a big day against the Buccaneers.
4 p.m. Western Carolina at No. 1 Alabama, SEC Network: The Alabama basketball team had trouble with the Catamounts earlier this week, but I don’t expect much of a struggle for the football team on Saturday. Western Carolina might be a “good little team,” as Nick Saban put it, but the Crimson Tide have dominated all three previous meetings and should do the same this season. If anything, it will give us another look at backup quarterback Jake Coker.
7 p.m. Samford at No. 14 Auburn, ESPNU: There are a lot of connections between these two in-state schools. Samford coach Pat Sullivan won a Heisman Trophy at Auburn back in 1971. Samford assistant coach Kodi Burns played and coached at Auburn. And Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee spent a year at Samford before joining Gus Malzahn at Arkansas State. The game itself won’t be very entertaining, but it should get the Tigers back on track.
7:30 p.m. No. 20 Missouri at Tennessee, ESPN: Missouri has to lose, right? There’s no way the Tigers can get back to Atlanta for the second straight season. Consider this -- Gary Pinkel’s team has won 12 of its past 14 conference games and has won nine straight road games, including seven straight in the SEC. Maybe it’s time we start taking this team seriously. The Tigers are going to have their hands full Saturday against a Tennessee team on the rise. The Volunteers have won back-to-back games with Joshua Dobbs under center, and a win over Missouri would make them bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.
Vanderbilt at No. 4 Mississippi State, SEC Network: Dan Mullen was a happy man Tuesday when the latest College Football Playoff rankings came out, as his Bulldogs were still among the four playoff teams despite losing to Alabama the week before. Now the question is: Can they stay in the top four and hold off teams such as TCU, Ohio State and Baylor? Mississippi State has two chances left to impress the committee, beginning with Saturday’s tilt against the Commodores. It’s important the Bulldogs not only win, but win big.
The SEC already has five commitments from players ranked in the top 25 of the ESPN Junior 300. That list includes Greg Little, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2016 and a Texas A&M commit. As a whole, the SEC has 27 commitments in the updated ESPN Junior 300. Here’s a closer look at the updated rankings.
Dandy catch for Dupre
Malachi Dupre is an SEC star in the making. The heavily-recruited true freshman displayed his skills with a nifty one-handed catch near the sideline for a 14-yard touchdown catch with a Alabama defensive back, Cyrus Jones, following step-for-step with him. The call was initially ruled an incompletion but upon an official review, it was shown that Dupre got a foot in bounds with control of the ball for the Tigers' touchdown.
Is that a catch? Yes it is
Vanderbilt was fighting to try to make it a game with Florida late and Davis Dudchock showed some impressive effort. When quarterback Johnny McCrary rolled left and fired a deep pass to Dudchock, the well-covered tight end fended off a defensive back and hauled in the pass with one hand, diving to the turf. It was perhaps the best catch seen in the SEC on Saturday.
Twice is nice for McKenzie
Georgia was dominant vs. Kentucky and that included on special teams where Isaiah McKenzie had himself a day. He returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, then in the third quarter had this nifty 59-yard punt return for his second touchdown of the day. McKenzie made two nice moves to make the Wildcats miss early, split a couple defenders, got a huge block from a teammate, then hit the gas to sprint to the end zone.
Tabor's one-handed interception
Florida rolled to a 34-10 win against Vanderbilt and it included big plays on both sides of the ball. Though the game was mostly out of reach for the Commodores late, that didn't keep Florida from making plays like this one-handed interception by Jalen Tabor in the end zone.
Special teams score for Texas A&M
In what turned out to be a huge play, the Aggies showed off their special teams skills in their upset win at Auburn. With the Tigers lining up for a field goal to end the half, true freshman defensive end Myles Garrett got his hand on the football to block it and cornerback Deshazor Everett, who was playing with a torn elbow tendon, picked it up and sprinted 65 yards to the end zone for a score. It was a 10-point swing right before the half.
From Alabama’s big 20-13 come-from-behind win over LSU Saturday night to Texas A&M’s big win over Auburn Saturday afternoon, there were some incredible games for recruits to watch this weekend. Some prospects attended the games while others watched on television and used social media as a platform to share their experiences. Here's a look at some of the top social media posts from the weekend:
ESPN 300 guard Matt Burrell Jr. tweeted out a few photos of him during his time in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for his official visit to LSU.
Former Florida linebacker commit Adonis Thomas backed off his pledge to the Gators after Florida lost to Missouri earlier in the year. The ESPN 300 took a visit to LSU this weekend and likes the Tigers along with Alabama and Florida. He tweeted out his thoughts on how a few of the games played out on Saturday.
Flip John Burt!— D'anfernee Mcgriff (@Dmcgriff1) November 9, 2014
Five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson took an official visit to LSU this weekend. He shared a photo of LSU's white uniform.
Great wins for Bama?? and UF??— Adonis Thomas (@_SimplyThatGuy5) November 9, 2014
ESPN Junior 300 linebacker Michael Divinity shared a photo of himself on the field before the LSU-Alabama game on Saturday night.
Oh yeah! pic.twitter.com/uj0kb7o58n— Beowulf (@cecejeferson7) November 9, 2014
After reaching a bowl game the past three years (a school record) and having back-to-back nine-win season for the first time ever, the Commodores plodded out to an excruciating 1-5 start that included an embarrassing 37-7 home loss to Temple and getting outscored 150-61 in four SEC games.
The transition from the wildly successful James Franklin was going to be tough for anyone, but after unprecedented wins under Franklin, Mason’s start was as major letdown.
“It takes a little time to catch rhythm, especially in a conference like the SEC,” Mason said, “but we feel good about the way this program is headed and the strides we’re making week in and week out. We have to continue to be about the work that looks like progress.”
Stuck at the bottom of the SEC East, the Commodores (3-6, 0-5 SEC) aren’t the edgy group they were under Franklin, but they’ve shown improvement in the past couple of weeks, doubling their September win total.
Back then, things were a disaster. There was no cohesion, as the offense sputtered behind an awkward quarterback rotation and the defections of talent such as running back Brian Kimbrow and receiver Jordan Cunningham.
Original starter Patton Robinette couldn’t stay health,y and backups Stephen Rivers and Wade Freebeck struggled with consistency. Unfortunately for Mason, finding the right guy meant taking a journeyman approach to the quarterback position.
Mason had a young team across the board and complicated matters by some young coaching of his own.
There are always growing pains under a new regime. Parts don’t always fit and philosophies clash. Players left because of that, and Mason’s coaching fluctuated at times. It seemed as though Vanderbilt had destroyed everything built in the previous three years.
But in the last few weeks, Mason says his team has found some continuity and a quarterback. Redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary has started the last two games after coming off the bench to lead Vandy to a close win over Charleston Southern. In two starts, McCrary has averaged 238.5 passing yards with seven touchdowns. He took Missouri down to the wire (on the road) and engineered a 42-28 win over Old Dominion.
Mason has learned to adapt to and utilize his team’s strengths more. That’s why the Commodores are running more, giving freshman Ralph Webb a bigger role, and working their tight ends more to help inexperienced receivers.
The defense is making strides, and while the Commodores are out of the SEC East race, Mason feels his team is finding a blue-collar mentality and becoming a tighter unit.
“These guys have gotten in the boat, grabbed an oar and rowed,” Mason said. “We really don’t care who’s in front of us or really what the mission is. We just know we have a mission and we’re all trying to get to the same destination together.”
There’s never a road map for these situations. It isn’t easy to win at Vandy, and Mason coached from behind after graduation poached a handful of leaders and the core of Vandy’s recruiting class fell apart after Franklin left.
Staying relevant is now the most important goal for a team that could slip instantly in recruiting. Even with a challenging debut, Mason said his message to recruits hasn’t changed. He still believes he’s selling excellence at Vandy and can find premier athletes to help this program “rise above the rest and really be a powerhouse program.”
And what better way to generate some momentum than winning Saturday?
“I think that makes for a pretty good cocktail when you talk about parents and student-athletes looking for the best bang for their buck, in terms of the opportunity to compete and get a world-class education,” Mason said.
“We look forward to what the future holds, and the future starts Saturday.”
Here's an advance look at Saturday's slate. All times Eastern.
No. 20 Georgia at Kentucky, ESPN: Georgia had a clear path to the SEC East title before its face-plant last week against Florida. Not only did the Bulldogs lose to a program that was flatlining, but they were beaten handily. Kentucky has lost three straight and seems to be in the middle of a late-season fade after getting off to a 5-1 start, but Georgia frequently struggles in Lexington. It wouldn't be a huge surprise if this game remains close in the second half.
Texas A&M at No. 3 Auburn, CBS: In the last month, some of the shine has come off of Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin's diamond. The Aggies started October ranked sixth in the Associated Press Top 25 before a three-game losing streak dropped them all the way out of the poll. Thanks to their recent offensive struggles and underwhelming defense, they're a three-touchdown underdog as they travel to Auburn. Sumlin could prove a lot about his leadership skills by pulling the upset -- or even keeping this one competitive. They have the offensive firepower to give Auburn's defense problems, but freshman quarterback Kyle Allen still has a long way to go.
Tennessee-Martin at No. 1 Mississippi State, SEC Network: This is another well-timed FCS game. The Bulldogs limped past Arkansas 17-10 last weekend when Will Redmond picked off a pass at the goal line in the closing seconds. This will be a good opportunity to rest up in advance of a closing stretch that features road games at Alabama (where Mississippi State almost never wins) and Ole Miss (home-field advantage is typically a big deal in the Egg Bowl). The Bulldogs need to be as close to 100 percent as possible to retain that No. 1 ranking.
Florida at Vanderbilt, SEC Network: Florida and Vandy both cruised to wins last week. The Gators' win came against then-No. 11 Georgia and the Commodores' victory was over Old Dominion, which is in its first true season as an FBS program. Florida ran straight over Mark Richt's Bulldogs, providing a rare happy moment for embattled coach Will Muschamp. Surely the Gators will try to turn this trip into the second installment of the Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor Show. Vandy has played better since redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary took over at quarterback -- he tossed five touchdowns last week against ODU -- but the Commodores are still underdogs to notch their first SEC victory.
No. 5 Alabama at No. 16 LSU, CBS: The conference's marquee game comes Saturday night at Tiger Stadium, where meetings between Nick Saban's Crimson Tide and Les Miles' Tigers have all become instant classics. Alabama has won two of those three meetings in Baton Rouge -- and three straight in the series -- so it enters as the favorite. However, LSU's young roster has finally seemed to settle into place as the Tigers ride a three-game winning streak. If they can move the ball effectively on the ground against Alabama's SEC-best run defense, this could be another memorable installment in the series.
Saturday's Alabama-at-LSU game, as always, is loaded with big-time prospects making recruiting visits. Auburn is expected to have at least two key visitors in for its game against Texas A&M and Vanderbilt is hoping to build some momentum by bringing in some visitors for the Florida game. Here’s a closer look at some of the top recruits making visits to SEC schools this weekend.
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Here is a recap of what the top five true freshmen accomplished, plus five more notables:
DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
What he did: The defenses didn’t exactly dominate the South Carolina-Tennessee game, but Barnett made some huge plays in the Volunteers’ comeback win, including a sack of South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson in overtime. Barnett finished with five tackles, three sacks and two quarterback hurries.
What it means: Barnett is already one of the SEC’s top pass-rushers. He is second in the league with 14 tackles for loss and is tied for fifth with six sacks. That’s impressive production for any player, but it’s incredible for a true freshman.
RB Nick Chubb, Georgia
What he did: Chubb got off to a hot start against Florida with 100 rushing yards -- and a beautiful touchdown run -- in the first quarter. He and the Bulldogs bogged down on offense a bit afterward, with Florida running away with an upset win. Chubb still finished with impressive totals, however: 21 carries for 156 yards and a touchdown, plus five catches for 59 yards and another score.
What it means: Chubb also lost his first fumble of the season at the end of a 35-yard run in the third quarter, ending a drive when the Bulldogs were trying to scratch their way back into the game. Nonetheless, nobody will pin this loss -- their first since Todd Gurley was suspended -- on Chubb. The freshman has one more game until Gurley returns to the lineup, and Chubb has been outstanding thus far.
DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
What he did: Sure it was against Louisiana-Monroe, but Garrett still was a force as the Aggies snapped a three-game losing streak. He finished with six tackles, 3.5 sacks and one hurry in the 21-16 win against the Warhawks.
What it means: As with Barnett, Garrett already ranks among the top players at his position. He now has 11 sacks, which is a record for an SEC freshman, and sits just behind Barnett in TFLs with 12.5. What’s scary is he’s only going to keep getting better.
RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
What he did: Hurd had his best game as a Vol against South Carolina, rushing 21 times for 125 yards and catching seven passes for 58 yards and a score. His biggest play of the game came midway through the fourth quarter, when he caught a fourth-down pass from Josh Dobbs and not only spun past the first-down marker, but bolted 21 yards for a touchdown to keep the Vols’ comeback bid alive.
What it means: Hurd has made this list before and he will almost certainly make it again. He’s that good. The touchdown catch might have been his biggest play of the season, as it trimmed South Carolina’s lead to 35-28 with 6:34 to play. If he gets stopped short of the marker for a turnover on downs, it’s difficult to imagine that Tennessee completes its comeback.
WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M
What he did: Noil’s numbers from the Louisiana-Monroe game -- five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown, plus 51 yards on four punt returns -- are nice, but what we’ll remember is his spectacular 39-yard touchdown catch after it was deflected by a defender.
What it means: It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time since Noil’s second-quarter catch gave the Aggies a 21-7 lead against an underwhelming opponent, but it wound up making a big difference. Texas A&M’s offense bogged down in the second half and the Aggies barely held on for a 21-16 win. If they don’t get six points from the freshman’s acrobatic catch, who knows what might have happened.
QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M: Endured a rocky starting debut against ULM, hitting 13 of 28 passes for 106 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
K Aaron Medley, Tennessee: Missed his first two field goals (from 43 and 45 yards), but hit the game-winning kick from 32 yards in overtime against South Carolina. Medley also went 6-for-6 on PATs.
RB Dallas Rivers, Vanderbilt: Ran 17 times for 73 yards and returned three kickoffs for 44 yards in a win against Old Dominion.
S Armani Watts, Texas A&M: Registered five tackles against ULM and also intercepted one pass and broke up another.
RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky: Ran 12 times for 39 yards against Missouri and caught five passes for 58 yards.
We should also mention the impacts that Mississippi State defensive back Will Redmond (intercepted a pass at the goal line in the closing seconds to preserve a 17-10 win over Arkansas), Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett (notched 3.5 sacks to bring his season total to 11, a new record for SEC freshmen) and Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary (matched a school record with five touchdown passes) made on their teams' respective wins, but we can only make five sticker picks.
Here are our choices from another memorable Saturday in college football's toughest conference:
QB Nick Marshall, Auburn: We easily could have gone with running back Cameron Artis-Payne (27 carries, 143 yards, TD) or receiver Sammie Coates (five catches, 122 yards, TD), but we'll take Marshall. The senior coolly led the Tigers back from a 10-point deficit in the second half by repeatedly converting on third down (the Tigers were 5-for-7 in the second half) against No. 4 Ole Miss. Marshall led the No. 3 Tigers to a huge SEC win by completing 15 of 22 passes for 254 yards, two touchdowns and one interception and rushing for 50 yards and two scores.
QB Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee: Making his first start of the season, the sophomore helped Tennessee rally from a two-touchdown deficit in the last five minutes of regulation and then beat South Carolina 45-42 in overtime. Dobbs set a new single-game school record for rushing yards by a quarterback (166 yards, including touchdowns of 7, 36 and 3 yards) and passed for 301 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He hit Jason Croom with a 9-yard touchdown pass with 11 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.
WR Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina: Normally we wouldn't hand a helmet sticker to a guy on a losing team, but Cooper can't play defense, too. He caught 11 passes for a school-record 233 yards and touchdowns of 12 and 85 yards. He ran for an 11-yard score. He tossed a 30-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Wilds. And he even recovered a late onside kick. South Carolina surrendered 645 yards to Tennessee, which obviously put a damper on the evening for the Gamecocks, but Cooper was simply phenomenal.
Florida's running game: We're not just giving stickers to running backs Kelvin Taylor (25 carries for 197 yards and touchdowns of 2 and 65 yards) and Matt Jones (25 carries for 192 yards and touchdowns of 44 and 1 yards) in Saturday's 38-20 rout of No. 11 Georgia. Florida's offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, helping their tailback tandem roll up most of the Gators' 60 rushing attempts for 418 yards. Only one opponent (Auburn with 430 yards in 1978) has ever run for more yards against a Georgia defense. Everyone involved with Florida's running game deserves recognition after Saturday's upset win.
DE Shane Ray, Missouri: The Tigers' offense was slightly improved in Saturday's 20-10 win against Kentucky, but the day belonged to Ray and the defense. Ray notched a pair of sacks -- including a fourth-down sack of Patrick Towles on Kentucky's final play -- to raise his season total to 12. In the process, he broke Missouri's single-season record of 11.5 sacks previously held by Aldon Smith and Michael Sam.
All the playoff love could all come crashing down in the next few weeks, as the SEC feeds on itself. By the 30th of next month, the league could look like a horde of pesky zombies from "The Walking Dead."
It's a scary good time in the SEC, but if you can't stand the sight of carnage, maybe you should cover your eyes and turn on the lights before your dreams are haunted with carcasses of elephants, tigers and bears.
In honor of teeth gnashing into flesh, here's how you celebrate Halloween -- and NICK SABAN'S BIRTHDAY!! -- in the SEC:
"Jaws": Aptly named the "Landsharks," Ole Miss' defense has been terrifyingly good this season. It's barely allowing 300 yards of offense a game and gives up an SEC-low 4.35 yards per play. This group also tops the SEC and ranks second nationally with 24 takeaways.
"A Nightmare on Elm Street": Will the Gators ever wake up from this grisly nightmare? Things were supposed to be better with a fresh start after last year's injury-plagued season, but Florida is 3-3, has an offense in reverse and is in danger of missing out on a second straight bowl appearance. Will Muschamp is also coaching for his job, and faces Georgia next ...
"Children of the Corn": Like the twisted youngsters that resided in Gatlin, Nebraska, the LSU Tigers should be feared. One of the youngest teams around, its's scary how freakishly good these guys look when they put everything together. They aren't perfect, but they beat No. 3 Ole Miss and are getting better and maturing. A night in Baton Rouge truly is terrifying for intruders.
Cujo: These Georgia Bulldogs really do have bite. You might even say they're possessed, they're playing so well. Since that ugly loss to South Carolina, the Dawgs have reeled off five straight wins, most of them in convincing fashion. The defense is playing out of its mind, and the offense is clicking even without Todd Gurley.
Pinhead: Don't let the name full you; he's one of the most sinister horror movie villains around. The bone-chilling star of the "Hellraiser" movies is kinda like Les Miles in the way he tortures his victims. Woeful opponents venture into a stadium looking to challenge Miles, only to be be sucked into a wicked realm of pain and confusion. He's diabolical, yet very intriguing and extremely dangerous.
"Night of the Living Dead:" What happened to Vanderbilt? The Commodores used to be so vibrant and exciting. Now, they're lifeless and stumbling around the bottom of the SEC under new coach Derek Mason, with no bowl hopes in sight. After back-to-back nine-win seasons under James Franklin, Vandy is 2-6 and owns the SEC's worst offense. George A. Romero would be proud.
"Jeepers Creepers": It's becoming harder and harder to watch Missouri's offense and the downward spiral of Maty Mauk's play, but the Tigers keep winning. Like the Creeper lurking rural back roads, the Tigers are dangerous but rough on the eyes. Even at 6-2 and a game out of first place in the SEC East, the Tigers are last in the league in total offense in conference games (232.8) and 11th in scoring (21.8). Mauk is averaging 97 passing yards and has five interceptions to two touchdowns in league play.
Michael Myers: No one terrorizes opposing backfields -- as Myers did the hapless folks of Haddonfield, Illinois -- better than Missouri defensive end Shane Ray. While he doesn't stalk his prey with slow, stealthy movements, Ray is even more dangerous because of how fast he gets to quarterbacks. He leads the SEC with 8.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss.
Jason Voorhees: Alabama just won't go away. This team certainly isn't the same as past championship contenders, but it's threatening and is still on the playoff/SEC path. Jason had sloppy moments, too, but you could never count him out for a valiant return.
Trick: Remember when we thought South Carolina would win the SEC East? Well, the Gamecocks are all but out of race with four losses, and the defense's numbers have been gruesome in conference play. South Carolina allows 457.5 yards per game and nearly 40 points a contest.
Treat: The state of Mississippi has lost just once, has two teams ranked in the top four and could find its way into the first College Football Playoff. Kentucky has five wins and is on the verge of making a bowl game for the first time since 2010.
Louisiana-Monroe at Texas A&M, SEC Network: This is what the doctor ordered for the Aggies, who are coming off a three-game losing streak, including their second-worst loss in school history (a 59-0 embarrassment in Alabama). Louisiana-Monroe won't be intimidated, because it has played two other SEC teams on the road this year (LSU and Kentucky). It will likely matter little. The thing to watch in this game is who starts at quarterback for the Aggies: Kyle Allen or Kenny Hill (it's sounding as though Allen will get the nod, his first after Hill started the previous eight, though A&M won't make the decision publicly known until its first offensive possession Saturday).
Kentucky at Missouri, SEC Network: This should be one of the most compelling games of the day. Kentucky is still seeking that sixth win to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2010. The Wildcats lost last week but competed admirably against No. 1 Mississippi State. Missouri is looking to stay within reach of Georgia in the SEC East Division race but the Tigers have been up and down this season. They've won their past two thanks to their defense and special teams but the offense has left much to be desired of late.
No. 3 Auburn at No. 4 Ole Miss, ESPN: Make no bones about it, this is the game of the day (or night, rather). It's basically a College Football Playoff elimination game, as the loser would have a rough time trying to sneak back into the top four. Ole Miss is coming off its first loss, a 10-7 heartbreaker to LSU in Death Valley; Auburn had to shoot it out with South Carolina to escape with a 42-35 home win last week. You have Auburn, one of the league's premier offenses, going against Ole Miss' Landshark D. And two innovative coaches (Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn) who started from the bottom -- now they're here. Should be a blast.
Old Dominion at Vanderbilt, ESPNU: With no SEC wins and a rough first season for its new coach, Vanderbilt needs all the positives it can get. That means a win here would be nice, regardless of the fact that it's a nonconference game against a Conference USA team. The quarterback carousel continues for the Commodores as redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary became the team's fourth starting quarterback this year. Fortunately, he showed some signs of promise in the loss to Missouri, throwing two touchdowns, and will get the nod again, though Derek Mason noted Patton Robinette could see some time as he recovers from an injury. Old Dominion comes into this game having lost four straight.
Arkansas at No. 1 Mississippi State, ESPN2: Mississippi State has been No. 1 for a few weeks in the polls, but it is in the driver's seat officially now, holding the No. 1 ranking in the first set of College Football Playoff rankings. The pressure will undoubtedly increase each week as the Bulldogs get closer; it will be compelling to see how the Bulldogs handle it. This week's challenge is Arkansas, a team still seeking its first SEC win of the Bret Bielema era but a squad that has given other SEC West foes headaches, taking Alabama and Texas A&M down to the wire. Mississippi State has won 10 straight; Arkansas' SEC skid is now at 16.
Tennessee at South Carolina, SEC Network: Both teams are having a rough go at it this year but when these two met at Neyland Stadium last year, it was quite memorable. South Carolina came in ranked as the No. 11 team nationally but Tennessee pulled off a 23-21 win with a 19-yard field goal from Michael Palardy as time expired. Butch Jones did not publicly announce who is starting at quarterback for this game (Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman and Josh Dobbs are the options) and the Vols are still seeking their first SEC win of the season. South Carolina is looking to snap a three-game SEC skid and it's a wonder if we'll see some more fourth-down magic from Steve Spurrier, whose Gamecocks went 5-for-6 on fourth down last week.
Auburn at Ole Miss
Former 2016 Arizona quarterback commit Shea Patterson will be making his third unofficial visit to Ole Miss. Patterson is the 35th-ranked player in the ESPN Junior 300. Patterson will be joined by an ESPN Junior 300 wide receiver Mykel Jones. Junior offensive tackle Javious Bardney, who already has offers from Ole Miss and Mississippi State and safety Donte Vaughn are also expected to attend the game.
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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
12:00 PM ET South Carolina 21 Clemson 12:00 PM ET 16 Georgia Tech 9 Georgia 12:00 PM ET Kentucky 22 Louisville 3:30 PM ET Florida 3 Florida State 3:30 PM ET 4 Mississippi State 19 Ole Miss 4:00 PM ET Tennessee Vanderbilt 7:45 PM ET 15 Auburn 1 Alabama