If you like meaningful football, this is the weekend for you.
LSU and Alabama face off in a game with College Football Playoff implications, while Florida tries to keep its stranglehold on the SEC East in a cross-divisional game with Arkansas.
Elsewhere, Kentucky and South Carolina will try to keep momentum building after program-changing wins last weekend, while Georgia and Mississippi State will try to turn their respective seasons around.
Here are the top five SEC games you should be watching this Saturday.
(All times ET)
No. 1 Alabama at No. 13 LSU
8 p.m. in Baton Rouge, La. (CBS)
Was there any doubt which game is the best of the week? This pits the team hungry for a shot to repeat as national champions against one of the most motivated teams in the country trying to help interim coach Ed Orgeron get the full-time job.
In three games since Coach O took over, the Tigers have won by a combined 125-38. Quarterback Danny Etling has quietly thrown for 696 yards and 4 touchdowns in the last three games, while star RB Leonard Fournette posted an absurd 284 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns on just 16 carries in his first game back from injury against Ole Miss.
However, nothing can prepare them to deal with perhaps the most physically demanding defense in the nation. Alabama has allowed more than 14 points only twice this season, and both were to prolific passing offenses. The last time Fournette faced off against this D, he ran for just 1.6 yards per carry (19 rushes, 31 yards). It’ll be fascinating to see if the Tigers can do any better this time around.
No. 11 Florida at Arkansas
3:30 p.m. in Fayetteville, Ark. (CBS)
With Tennessee’s loss to South Carolina last weekend, Florida is in full control of its fate. If the Gators can burn through the rest of their schedule undefeated, Florida will earn itself a date in the SEC championship game, likely against No. 1 Alabama. Furthermore, a win over the Crimson Tide almost certainly would be enough to get Florida into the College Football Playoff.
However, Florida has to get through the Arkansas Razorbacks first. The SEC East is only 1-8 against the SEC West this season, but the Gators still have shots left at Arkansas and LSU to try and salvage the division’s pathetic record. Arkansas’ offensive line has been suspect, and Florida proved what it can do against a one-dimensional offense last weekend against Georgia.
Florida needs this game more than Arkansas, but the Razorbacks are starting to border on desperation mode for bowl positioning. It’ll be interesting to watch how Austin Allen functions against a relentless Florida defense, both in the front seven and downfield.
Georgia at Kentucky
7:30 p.m. in Lexington, Ky. (SEC Network)
Don’t look now, but Kentucky actually might be good. Since two horrendous losses early, the Wildcats have won five of six games, with the only loss coming to No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Even that loss wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
Georgia, of course, is heading in the other direction. The Bulldogs lost an ugly game against Vanderbilt and promptly got crushed by Florida. Georgia has nothing on the offensive line, paving the way for just 1.1 yards per rush attempt against the Gators, despite having standout running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
Kentucky is all but a lock for a bowl game, so the Wildcats are playing with house money. Georgia is in full-on desperation mode, as it could be in danger of missing a bowl for the first time since 1996. For perspective, that’s a full year before starting quarterback Jacob Eason was born. It was Jim Donnan’s first season. Yikes.
Missouri at South Carolina
4 p.m. in Columbia, S.C. (SEC Network)
The Gamecocks are in a great spot after beating No. 18 Tennessee last weekend. With a win over Missouri, the Gamecocks could shock the world and set themselves up for a bowl appearance.
Little was expected of South Carolina, which was close to devoid of experienced talent after Steve Spurrier resigned last season. However, coach Will Muschamp has made do and true freshman QB Jake Bentley has been the offensive spark the Gamecocks have needed.
Missouri has been pitiful this season on both sides, but has especially taken a step back on defense under Barry Odom. In fact, the Tigers are still without a Power 5 win this season in five chances. Traveling to Williams-Brice Stadium won’t be the easiest place to get one.
No. 4 Texas A&M at Mississippi State
Noon in Starkville, Miss. (SEC Network)
For the first time in the Kevin Sumlin era, the Aggies can’t pretend to be underdogs. Texas A&M is ranked No. 4 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings and is a Washington loss away from a spot in its first final grouping.
However, the Aggies haven’t ever dealt with these expectations in the SEC era. Luckily, they get a layup against Mississippi State in their first game post-rankings, but Texas A&M still has to take this game seriously to avoid a look-ahead spot with Ole Miss and LSU still left.
Mississippi State’s offense has improved dramatically the past few weeks, including a 7-touchdown game from QB Nick Fitzgerald last week vs. Samford. The Bulldogs have back-to-back games against No. 4 Texas A&M and No. 1 Alabama, so they need to try and come out strong, or risk falling apart. Per ESPN, Texas A&M is 1-8 against the spread with three losses in SEC games in which it is favored by 7 or more points.