SEC: Kentucky Wildcats
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
It's not easy for college quarterbacks to have these days, as the trend of winner-starts-loser-transfers seems to grow across the country. Since only one can play the position at a time, waiting your turn can be difficult, especially if you were a highly-regarded recruit out of high school.
"My entire life I wanted to play quarterback here," Towles said. "I've worked my entire life to get to this point where I am now. I've had a lot of breaks, a lot of balls fall my way, I guess you could say. It's great to just finally start to see the fruits of your labor."
Much labor led to Towles' 2014 success, where he is directing one of the most improved teams in the conference this season and recently went toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team in the nation, as he did Saturday in the Wildcats' loss to Mississippi State.
A class of 2012 recruit, Towles had the type of credentials coaches look for in their quarterback of the future. A four-star prospect, Towles was the No. 1-ranked player in the state of Kentucky, a high school All-American, Gatorade Player of the Year and the state's "Mr. Football" who led Highlands High School to three consecutive state championships while compiling a 44-1 record as a starter.
Upon signing with the Wildcats under then-head coach Joker Phillips, Towles played in five games as a true freshman but was behind Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow on the depth chart.
When Mark Stoops and his new coaching staff arrived in 2013, Towles was again buried on the depth chart and ended up redshirting the season. He could have transferred but decided to stay the course and work on improving enough to win the starting quarterback job.
"I did not [think about transferring]," Towles said. "If I would have felt like I was getting a raw deal or maybe I deserved the job and didn't get it, then maybe I would have started to think about that. But I was treated fairly from the jump, since I've gotten here. A lot of quarterbacks they don't win the job or they're told they're not going to play, they get up and leave and go somewhere else. I want to be here, I wanted to be here and I plan on being here for a little bit.”
So Towles continued to work with Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown and when away from school, Towles hired a private quarterback coach to continue development. By the time spring football arrived this year, Towles' progress was evident. Meanwhile, Whitlow transferred out of the program in April and Smith missed spring practice because of shoulder surgery.
Plenty of competition still awaited Towles, though. The arrival of true freshman Drew Barker, an ESPN 300 prospect and the No. 1 player in the state of Kentucky in the 2014 class, was much anticipated. Reese Phillips, who redshirted in 2013 like Towles, was in the mix, too. And by preseason training camp this August, Smith returned to practice. Still, Towles did enough to win the starting job.
Brown said Towles' fundamentals, among other things, greatly improved.
"He changed his release, he made it much shorter," Brown said. "His preparation is at a much higher level. He did all those things and really competed hard and won the job and once we got into the game action he's really stepped up and done a nice job, not only with his arm but with his legs."
His hard work shows on Saturdays. Against the No. 1 Bulldogs he threw for a career-high 390 yards and ran for a career-high 76 yards with two rushing touchdowns and two passing touchdowns. He kept the Wildcats in the game until the final minutes when Mississippi State returned an onside kick attempt for a touchdown.
He is third in the SEC in passing yards (2,077) and has a solid 12-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He is fifth among SEC quarterbacks in rushing yards (204) and has four rushing scores also.
Most importantly, having good quarterback play has gone a long way in the Wildcats being 5-3 after winning only two total in 2013.
"I think it's very big," Stoops said. "I think you have very little chance with the teams we're competing against without a player there, without a quarterback."
Teammates cite Towles as a leader.
"A lot of guys can learn from him," running back Jojo Kemp said. "He doesn't hang his head. He's very positive all the time on and off the field. He's going to do whatever it takes to win."
He isn't alone -- Kentucky's increased talent level thanks to some veterans, as well as recruiting success under Stoops, has given him quality weapons to work with. A backfield of Kemp, Braylon Heard and Stanley "Boom" Williams complemented by receivers such as Ryan Timmons, Demarco Robinson, Javess Blue, Garrett Johnson and Blake Bone have made Towles' job easier. Working with a creative coach like Brown, who has Air Raid roots but has no problems trying different things like the Wildcat formation which has had success for Kentucky this season, has also been huge for Towles.
There's still much left to do, but Towles & Co. have things looking up in Lexington.
"We're not done yet," Towles said. "We just got started."
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
As we move into what should be an incredible November in the SEC, let’s take a quick glance at some of this week’s top storylines:
Game of the week: No. 4 Auburn at No. 7 Ole Miss
LSU’s 10-7 comeback win over Ole Miss last weekend knocked the Rebels from the ranks of the unbeaten, but this game still carries enormous SEC West implications for both one-loss clubs. The loser might not be mathematically eliminated, but it will certainly face an uphill climb -- particularly if Auburn loses since it still must go on the road to face No. 3 Alabama and No. 9 Georgia. The fascinating matchup here will be Nick Marshall, Cameron Artis-Payne and Auburn’s spread running game against a vaunted Ole Miss defense that just surrendered 264 rushing yards to LSU. The Rebels also took some physical lumps against LSU, with key players such as Robert and Denzel Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil and All-America safety Cody Prewitt all missing time against LSU with injuries. If they don’t regroup quickly, the Rebels’ division hopes might be on life support by Sunday.
Player under pressure: Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill
He hasn’t been nearly "trill" enough lately. Nobody has at Texas A&M during an ugly three-game losing streak where the Aggies have lost to Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama by a combined 142-51 margin. Hill’s numbers weren’t awful in that stretch -- he was 96-of-141 for 904 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions -- but the Aggies simply were not competitive in any of those games. Hill was a Heisman Trophy contender a month ago, but Kevin Sumlin and Jake Spavital might turn to freshman Kyle Allen if things don’t start turning around quickly. Hill desperately needs to get back on track Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe before the Aggies close the season against a gantlet of Auburn, Missouri and LSU.
Coach under the microscope: Florida’s Will Muschamp
Every indication seems to be that the end is near for Muschamp at Florida. But what happens if his Gators pull a huge upset against hated rival Georgia on Saturday? Is there a scenario where the Gators miraculously look like a different team coming out of their open date and show some progress to end the season? It might require a miracle for Muschamp to return as Florida’s head coach next season -- and that’s pretty much what it would be if the Gators snap their three-game losing streak against Georgia.
Storyline to watch: Todd Gurley and the NCAA
Georgia expects to hear back soon from the NCAA regarding Todd Gurley’s reinstatement request. The Bulldogs’ star sat out during wins against Missouri and Arkansas after accusations that he accepted money for autographing memorabilia jeopardized his eligibility. Gurley remains one of the SEC’s leading rushers with 773 yards in just five games, and Nick Chubb has been an outstanding replacement during Gurley’s absence, but the Bulldogs have to love their chances against Florida if the one-time Heisman Trophy front runner returns to the lineup on Saturday.
Intriguing matchup: Maty Mauk against Kentucky’s secondary
Missouri quarterback Mauk has been awful in SEC play -- he has completed 40 percent of his passes, averaged 98 passing yards per game and tossed two touchdowns against five interceptions in four conference games == which could make things interesting on Saturday. Kentucky doesn’t have the most imposing defense, but it boasts arguably the most improved secondary in the nation this season. The Wildcats have intercepted 13 passes in eight games after picking off just three throws in the entire 2013 season. If Mauk fails to raise his game on Saturday, the Wildcats might give the defending SEC East champs all they can handle.
It’s really not.
The conference, no matter what some pundits argue and statistics might say, can be observed by following one simple rule: survive and advance.
Style points are erroneous. Average margin of victory is useless. Strength of schedule really isn’t that important.
Ignore all of it.
You think Mississippi State didn’t look like the No. 1 team in the country against Kentucky? Get a grip.
I know that Dak Prescott wasn’t sharp throwing the football. I know that the secondary looked susceptible. I know that turnovers could eventually doom the Bulldogs.
“This league is brutal,” said Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze. “It’s difficult each Saturday to win football games, particularly when you may not play your best and you suffer some injuries you’re not used to having.”
You think Freeze cares about style points today? He would have gone dancing with Mike the Tiger to go back and play LSU differently.
People get too caught up in the minutia. We all do. The fact that so many are now burying Freeze and Ole Miss after their loss at LSU is a testament to that.
If you think the Rebs are out of it, you’re fooling yourself.
Remember when Alabama was buried and the dynasty was over? What about Auburn's ominous fall? Did we forget our recent rush to pronounce Georgia dead?
Last time I checked this is still the SEC. Anything can happen. A few cuts and bruises doesn't mean anyone’s season is over.
Ole Miss could beat Auburn this weekend and jump right back into the top four of the polls. A win in the Egg Bowl could mean the division crown and a berth in the SEC title game.
Good luck keeping Ole Miss out of the playoff then.
What happened this past Saturday was all about the continued jockeying for position. The lead in the West could change hands every week from now until the end of November. And sitting off to the side could be Georgia, just hoping no one pays attention to its steady rise up the rankings.
There is no dominant team in the SEC this season, and it’s about time everyone accepts that.
“Hopefully, we can get all of this ranking stuff behind us,” said Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen. “I don’t know where we’ll rank. You can drop us if you want or you can raise us, I don’t really care on any of that now.”
It may be wishful thinking, but what Mullen was speaking to is perspective. It’s a rare commodity these days.
But Mullen seems to understand a simple truth about the SEC: win and you’re in. You don’t even need to win all of your games so long as you’re among the top two teams when the music stops. How well you dance doesn’t matter.
Unlike the other Power 5 conferences, there’s no need for overanalyzing schedules and determining supposed “quality wins." You don’t see Mike Slive politicking for the playoff because he doesn’t have to.
The SEC champion won’t be denied a spot in the final four. And the way things are going, the No. 2 team in the league could be in as well. If you go by the AP and coaches’ polls, three SEC teams are among the top four in the country.
We can debate about who’s the best of the bunch all we want, but what really matters is who survives.
The rest will get sorted out in the end.
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
From LSU's close win over Ole Miss and Auburn’s victory over South Carolina, to Kentucky and Tennessee’s hard-fought losses to Mississippi State and Alabama, respectively, there were some great games around the SEC on Saturday. There were several recruits on hand to witness these games and share their experiences on social media. Here's a look at some of the top social media posts from the weekend:
Despite losing to Mississippi State on Saturday, Kentucky did receive some good news as 2016 inside linebacker Roland Walder verbally committed to the Wildcats. He announced his decision via Twitter. Walder also held offers from Pittsburgh and Toledo.
Damien Harris, once again visited the Wildcats for a home game. He has been a regular at a majority of Kentucky's home games this year. Kyle Phillips and 2016 Florida commit Tre Jackson posted tweets about their thoughts on the game in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
LSU might have the best game atmosphere in college football #GoTigers ??????— kyle phillips#72 (@K72_Phillips) October 26, 2014
Former LSU wide receiver Terrence Toliver posed for a photo with current LSU commit Kevin Toliver (yes, the two are related.) Chandler Cox took an official visit to Auburn over the weekend and posted a photo of himself on the field before Auburn's exciting 42-35 win over South Carolina on Saturday.
Death Valley was unreal— Tre Jackson (@CB_EJ3) October 26, 2014
ESPN Junior 300 offensvie tackle Valentine Chidi-Okeke also visited Auburn over the weekend and posed for a picture with Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall after the game.
War Eagle!! ???? pic.twitter.com/4LKg1Z4FmS— Chandler Cox (@chandlercox10) October 25, 2014
Four-star wide receiver Ryan Newsome took an official visit to Tennessee this weekend. The ESPN 300 pass-catcher posted a photo of himself along with Tennessee wide receiver's coach Zach Azzanni. Shy Tuttle, the 41st-ranked player in the ESPN 300, stopped and posed with a fan before Tennessee's loss to Alabama on Saturday night. Emmitt Gooden posted a photo of himself along with former Tennessee offensive linemen Antonio Richardson before the game on Saturday.
With nick Marshall pic.twitter.com/FGd1lK9VgB— Valentine Okeke (@OkekeChidi96) October 26, 2014
Amari Cooper, Alabama: There is no better receiver in the SEC, and perhaps college football, than Mr. Cooper. On Saturday vs. Tennessee, Cooper turned in his sixth game of 100 or more yards and his second of 200 or more by catching nine passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns. The Crimson Tide’s first offensive play from scrimmage went to Cooper, and he turned it into this 80-yard touchdown.
LSU defense: Give it up for the Tigers. They held Ole Miss to 313 offensive yards, harassed Rebels’ quarterback Bo Wallace (who was 14-of-33 passing) and got a pair of critical stops late: one on fourth-and-1 with 1:44 remaining in the game and another on an interception of Wallace by Ronald Martin near the goal line with two seconds to go. Too many to name with great games. A few include Kendell Beckwith (10 tackles, one for loss, one pass breakup), Jamal Adams (three pass breakups), Danielle Hunter (nine tackles, two for loss, a half-sack) and Jermauria Rasco (nine tackles, one for loss, half-sack).
Nick Marshall, Auburn: Four touchdowns and 245 all-purpose yards for the senior quarterback in Auburn’s 42-35 win over South Carolina. Marshall was 12-of-14 passing for 139 yards and a touchdown (no interceptions), ran for 89 yards and three scores, caught a 17-yard pass and a partridge in a pear tree.
Josh Robinson, Mississippi State: They don’t call Robinson the “Bowling ball” for nothing. He showed why with one particularly memorable 22-yard run in which he broke about seven Kentucky tackles. He finished with 23 carries for 198 yards and two touchdowns plus 11 receiving yards.
Patrick Towles, Kentucky: The Wildcats didn't win, but Towles turned in quite the effort against No. 1 Mississippi State. The sophomore quarterback threw for 390 yards and two touchdowns and led the team in rushing with 76 yards and two more scores in the 45-31 defeat. For a guy who redshirted last season and had to win a preseason competition for the starting quarterback job, Towles has come a long way.
Jonathan Williams, Arkansas: The junior running back had a career-high 153 rushing yards on 18 carries (a nice 8.5 yards per carry average) and a touchdown run in the Razorbacks' 45-17 win over UAB. Williams also hauled in a 17-yard TD pass from Brandon Allen.
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.
1a. On the same scale, Notre Dame's recent loss to Florida State was among the best losses, but it still might have cost the Fighting Irish a shot at the playoff according to Gregg Doyel. The new Indianapolis Star columnist writes that while it was a good loss, the Irish are lacking any good wins. I tend to agree. I figured SEC fans would, too. Read the full piece here.
2. So I was going to call out Texas A&M for backing out of its home-and-home series with Oregon in 2018 and 2019, but then the Aggies went and scheduled a home-and-home with Clemson those same years. Now personally, I would have loved to have seen the Aggies and the Ducks and all the points that would have ensued. But who knows where those two programs will be in four years? All I know is that there are some enticing non-conference matchups on the slate for 2019. Check these games out:
- Texas A&M at Clemson
- Notre Dame at Georgia
- LSU at Texas
- Kansas State at Mississippi State
- Michigan at Arkansas
Even that last game could be intriguing assuming Michigan has hired a new coach and that Bret Bielema has the Razorbacks among the SEC contenders by then. And they haven't yet, but you can go ahead and count on both Alabama and Auburn scheduling a quality non-conference that year.
3. I've done a couple stories this season on SEC players showing support for cancer patients, so naturally it caught my attention when I saw a similar piece on Patrick Towles. The Kentucky quarterback has lent support to high school freshman Brady Walz, the nephew of Louisville women's basketball coach Jeff Walz, and even invited him to attend the Wildcats' win over Vanderbilt last month. No, it's not the Iron Bowl, but the Kentucky-Louisville can get pretty heated in the Bluegrass State. This seems to be a growing trend in college football, and there are probably more stories like this that never get told. Kudos to you Mr. Towles. Kentucky hosts No. 1 Mississippi State on Saturday.
Tweet of the day
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
We'll just have to look forward to Week 9 for some better SEC entertainment.
Game of the week: No. 3 Ole Miss at No. 24 LSU
Now this should be fun. Night games at Tiger Stadium usually are. Two straight wins have LSU feeling good and back in the rankings. The Tigers are also back on the fringes of the SEC West race and could throw a giant wrench into the Magnolia State love-fest by upsetting the Rebels. The jury is still out on LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings, who didn't have to do much to beat Florida (110 yards passing) or Kentucky (120 yards passing). The Ole Miss defense, however, promises to give the Tigers their toughest test of the season. This unit is operating at peak performance at just the right time for a visit to Baton Rouge. The Rebs allowed zero rushing yards -- ZERO! -- to Tennessee last Saturday and have given up just six touchdowns in seven games this season. It should be a brawl in the Bayou.
Player under pressure: Maty Mauk, Missouri
The Tigers' gunslinging quarterback has been humbled and harnessed in his last two games -- a disastrous 34-0 home loss to Georgia in which he had five turnovers, and a goofy 42-13 win at Florida in which he was 6-of-18 passing for 20 yards and an interception. Mauk's and Missouri's seasons are nearing a crossroads. After playing what he called the worst game of his life against UGA, Mauk overcame a shaky start at Florida and played in control while the Gators self-destructed. The good news for the Tigers offense is that Mauk & Co. will have a solid chance to work out their issues against Vanderbilt, which will bring one of the worst defenses in the SEC (allowing 415.9 yards a game) to Columbia, Mo.
Coach under the microscope: Lane Kiffin, Alabama
The Tide's offensive coordinator might not have circled the third Saturday in October on his calendar, but you can bet 100,000 ticket-holding Volunteers fans sure did. In 2009 Kiffin coached his one and only season at Tennessee. He was full of promises, bravado and hot air. Other than some solid recruiting, the highlights of his 7-6 season were wins over Georgia and South Carolina and a near-miss at Alabama. Who can forget Bama's Terrance "Mount" Cody swatting away two Tennessee field goals in a 12-10 victory? Well, other than Kiffin? Now that he's back in the SEC, patrolling the Alabama sideline and steering its inconsistent offense, the vitriol is sure to reach a fever pitch on Saturday. Hundreds of students rioted when news broke of Kiffin's sudden departure in 2009. How are they going to treat his return?
Storyline to watch: Division dominance
The SEC West is a powerhouse. The East is a house of cards. So the story goes, and it doesn't seem likely to deviate with No. 1 Mississippi State visiting Kentucky and South Carolina traveling to No. 5 Auburn. The East has lost six of seven cross-division games so far this season, most of them with lopsided results. The much-improved Wildcats were riding high at 5-1 before being thrashed by LSU. Now they'll have to contend with Dak Prescott and his steamrolling MSU offense. South Carolina has the worst defense in the SEC and might need a miracle on the Plains to keep up with Auburn's offense. Don't look for the division script to flip this week.
Intriguing matchup: LSU offense vs. Ole Miss defense
As previously described in our game of the week entry, LSU can't expect much from its quarterback in Saturday's matchup against the fearsome Rebels defense. It gives Ole Miss a tremendous advantage to be able to stack the box against the run, but LSU has the horses to give the Rebel defense its toughest test of the season. Tigers senior RB Terrance Magee is coming off a career game with 220 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. He makes a fine pairing with freshman stud Leonard Fournette, LSU's leading rusher with 544 yards (5.0 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns. If the Tigers can establish the run against Ole Miss it could open up some play-action passing or at least give Jennings a chance to take some shots with the very capable Travin Dural, a sophomore wide receiver with 26 catches, 665 yards and seven touchdowns. It all starts in the trenches.
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