Last week was one of the most eventful in recent memory.
LSU will play its first game without Les Miles leading the team since a 30-25 loss to Iowa in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1, 2005. Tennessee and Texas A&M will also try to capitalize on national statements last weekend in a couple of big Saturday matchups.
Here are the top five SEC games you should be watching this weekend.
No. 25 Georgia vs. No. 11 Tennessee
3:30 p.m. Saturday in Athens, Ga. (CBS)
Last weekend, Tennessee sent a message to the SEC that it was prepared to contend for the conference crown. The Volunteers exploded in the second half for 35 points against what was previously the No. 1 defense in the nation as they beat Florida for the first time since 2004.
Georgia is sliding in the other direction. The Bulldogs started 3-0, but were destroyed by Ole Miss 45-14 last week. True freshman quarterback Jacob Eason completed 44 percent of his passes and threw a pick, while star running back Nick Chubb sprained his ankle and will be out on Saturday.
If Butch Jones’ team can capture a win this weekend, it would have a stranglehold on the SEC East. Looking forward, the Vols only have two losable games left on the schedule: Alabama and Texas A&M. Even if they lost both, that would be enough to be ahead of Georgia with the tiebreaker. All it would take would be Florida losing one more SEC game, with several quality teams left on the schedule.
LSU vs. Missouri
7:30 p.m. Saturday in Baton Rouge, La.
LSU is just six days from firing head coach Les Miles after 11 seasons at the helm. Interim head coach Ed Orgeron has experience in the job after coaching at Ole Miss and being an interim at Southern California in 2013. However, it’s unclear whether the Tigers will be able to come together.
Missouri has quickly become one of the more underrated teams in the SEC. After failing to make a bowl last season, Mizzou nearly beat Georgia in the third game of the year and have showed impressive improvement under offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. The Tigers will need quarterback Drew Lock to have one of his better performances against LSU’s impressive secondary.
Mizzou doesn’t get many chances to compete at LSU’s level, but this might be an emotional enough week to make something happen. Although the LSU defense is stout, Missouri has proven it can score at an elite level. Missouri ranks No. 13 in scoring offense, while LSU ranks No. 21 in scoring defense – something’s got to give.
No. 16 Ole Miss vs. Memphis
7 p.m. Saturday in Oxford, Miss. (ESPN2)
At face value, this shouldn’t be much of a game. Memphis is historically not a great football team and ranks as an average team in the American Athletic Conference. However, if last year is any indicator, this is a test that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Memphis shocked Ole Miss 37-24 last season behind a dominant effort from star quarterback Paxton Lynch. He threw for 384 yards and 3 touchdowns less than a month after the Rebels beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Ole Miss got beat in almost every statistical category as head coach Justin Fuente launched Memphis to unparalleled heights.
Fuente and Lynch are both gone, but Memphis remains a darn good football team. The Tigers are 3-0 and have beaten an admittedly poor schedule by a combined 155-27. ESPN’s FPI rates the Tigers as the No. 49 team in college football, ahead of 21 Power Five teams and three SEC teams. Ole Miss will need to be on high alert and take advantage of a revenge spot.
No. 1 Alabama vs. Kentucky
7 p.m. Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (ESPN)
It’s almost inconceivable to think of all the ways this could go wrong for Kentucky. The Wildcats are one of the most dysfunctional teams in college football right now and playing without their opening day starting quarterback. Traveling to face the defending national champs and No. 1 team in the land is less than ideal.
Alabama has been very good, but still shows massive potential for growth. Jalen Hurts is as dynamic a quarterback as has ever played in Tuscaloosa, while the defense has proven to be its usual dominant self. This could be a showcase for the reserve running backs Joshua Jacobs, B.J. Emmons and Bo Scarborough, as starter Damien Harris rehabs with an injury.
Kentucky obviously has no shot of winning this game on the road, but it has to avoid getting embarrassed by the best team in the nation. Losing a game is one thing, but being mentally crushed is another. A total letdown could have long-range effects for Mark Stoops’ chances of keeping his job.
South Carolina vs. No. 9 Texas A&M
4 p.m. Saturday in Columbia, S.C. (SEC Network)
The Gamecocks host their first SEC game of the year at Williams-Brice Stadium, and the first of Will Muschamp’s tenure. South Carolina has been understandably inconsistent, but shown clear signs of progress.
On the other side, Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies have been a pleasant surprise through four games, but need to keep the momentum going into October. Quarterback Trevor Knight has re-established himself as a legitimate starter through the first few weeks of the year, which included wins over UCLA, Arkansas and Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
South Carolina fans know this is a rebuilding year, but a strong performance at home against a good Aggies team would be a nice touch for Muschamp. Regardless, quarterback Brandon McIlwain will learn plenty from playing against this elite defensive line at home.