Saturday, October 12, 2013
SEC Week 7 primer
By David Ching
At first glance, this doesn't appear to be a day where there might be much upheaval within the SEC. But there are some ranked SEC teams who might sweat a bit before the day is over -- and not just the ones in today's marquee game between No. 10 LSU (5-1, 2-1 SEC) and No. 17 Florida (4-1, 3-0).
The matchup in Baton Rouge between one of the SEC's most improved offenses, LSU, and the league's most impressive defense, Florida, is probably the one that will draw the most attention. But injury-riddled No. 7 Georgia (4-1, 3-0) certainly could have its hands full with No. 25 Missouri (5-0, 1-0), fresh off a 51-28 drubbing of Vanderbilt last weekend in Nashville. And No. 14 South Carolina (4-1, 2-1), which has struggled to close out several recent wins, doesn't have a gimme victory when it visits Arkansas (3-3, 0-2).
An upset here or there and the league's divisional races could be thrown quickly off kilter.
Regardless of who wins between LSU and Florida, it won't be much of an upset. That annual cross-divisional rivalry has been the definition of even over the last decade, with both teams winning five times. The Gators have used an improving offense with Tyler Murphy under center and the conference's most imposing defense to gain confidence lately. And they'll need it at LSU, where a young defense took a big step forward in the second half against Mississippi State last week, while Zach Mettenberger and the offense continued to look like a developing juggernaut.
Speaking of juggernauts, Georgia's offensive machine lost a wheel last week at Tennessee when Keith Marshall and Justin Scott-Wesley joined Malcolm Mitchell among key offensive players who are out for the rest of the season. All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley is doubtful, and receiver Michael Bennett is out for today's game, as well, so quarterback Aaron Murray has his work cut out if he is to help the Bulldogs keep pace today with Missouri and one of the league's most prolific offenses. The Tigers are the league's top rushing team and is one of only five teams in the nation to average at least 255 yards on the ground and 285 through the air. Georgia might need its best defensive effort of the season in order to remain unbeaten in SEC play.
South Carolina-Arkansas and No. 9 Texas A&M's (4-1, 1-1) visit to slumping Ole Miss (3-2, 1-2) might also elevate some fan bases' collective blood pressures. The Gamecocks have won three straight since their 41-30 loss at Georgia but have had enormous difficulty closing out those victories against Vandy, Central Florida and Kentucky. The Razorbacks certainly won't be pushovers.
Nor will Hugh Freeze's Rebels tonight in Oxford. Having played four of their first five games away from home, the Rebels hope to improve upon last season's near-miss against Texas A&M by bottling up Johnny Manziel and the Aggies tonight. Improving their tackling will be one key factor against the slippery Manziel. Ole Miss missed a total of 31 tackles in the last two games, against Alabama and Auburn, and it's no coincidence that the Rebels lost both.
A sneaky good game could be Mississippi State's homecoming date with Bowling Green tonight. The Bulldogs have destroyed their two non-BCS opponents (Alcorn State and Troy) and lost to all three BCS-conference foes (Oklahoma State, Auburn and LSU). That doesn't bode well for MAC member Bowling Green, but the Falcons are 5-1 and boast the nation's No. 15 scoring defense at 16.5 points allowed per game. The Bulldogs will have to do a solid job against Bowling Green's strong running game or they might be in for a battle in cowbell country.
Teams from the Yellowhammer State, No. 1 Alabama (5-0, 2-0) and Auburn (4-1, 2-1), should make it through the day without too much drama. The Crimson Tide visits Kentucky (1-4, 0-2) and Auburn is an enormous favorite against Western Carolina (1-5), but the Alabama teams might find themselves in the minority.
Victory is far from a certainty for most of the SEC teams that will take the field today.
Missouri at Georgia, Noon ET, ESPN
South Carolina at Arkansas, 12:21 p.m., SEC TV
Western Carolina at Auburn, 2 p.m., PPV
Florida at LSU, 3:30 p.m., CBS
Alabama at Kentucky, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Bowling Green at Mississippi State, 7:30 p.m., FSN
Texas A&M at Ole Miss, 8:30 p.m., ESPN