Saturday is an opportunity for statements, with a pair of top 10 teams facing off and the No. 1 team in the nation heading on the road to a hostile environment.
Texas A&M and Tennessee have emerged as Alabama’s toughest competition in the SEC. Both will have a chance to prove that status is deserved as they meet in College Station this weekend. The Crimson Tide also have to go on the road and try to avoid a letdown against a hungry Razorbacks squad ready to make a statement after a tough loss to Texas A&M.
Here are the top five SEC games you should be watching this weekend.
No. 8 Texas A&M vs. No. 9 Tennessee
3:30 p.m. Saturday in College Station, Texas (CBS)
Both these teams have been impressive early in the season with a combined 10-0 record and four SEC conference wins. Tennessee even has a pair of wins over ranked SEC East teams, while Texas A&M added wins over ranked UCLA and Arkansas in the early schedule.
Now each will face its toughest test. Texas A&M has reached top 10 status in the past, including No. 9 overall rankings the past two seasons. Tennessee also received national attention last season before eventually dropping several close games and finishing No. 22 in the Associated Press poll at the end of 2015.
Now, both teams will try to prove that they can capitalize on early success and catapult into national relevance. This would be the first win for Texas A&M over a top 10 team since late 2014, but it could be the first such Tennessee win since Oct. 7, 2006. Lots of emotions will be on the line as College GameDay heads to College Station.
No. 16 Arkansas vs. No. 1 Alabama
7 p.m. Saturday in Fayetteville, Ark. (ESPN)
Alabama has been the same machine we have come to expect, but Arkansas has risen out of nowhere to quickly become a nationally relevant program. The Razorbacks lost star quarterback Brandon Allen during the offseason and had to replace dynamic running backs Johnathan Williams and Alex Collins, but the team has kept rolling.
The Razorbacks are 4-1 with an impressive double-overtime win over TCU in Fort Worth. However, they struggled to contain Texas A&M’s run game at AT&T Stadium and lost 45-24 in a one-sided performance. Arkansas will get another shot at a top-ranked team with a dual-threat quarterback, but the test will be significantly more difficult.
Alabama is 5-0 and has outscored its opponents by a combined 220-65, with 43 of those points coming from No. 19 Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss. True freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has reinvigorated the offense with a new dimension, rushing for 276 yards and 3 touchdowns in his first five career games.
Mississippi State vs. Auburn
12 p.m. Saturday in Starkville, Miss. (SEC Network)
Mississippi State had a bye week to try and fix a broken team. The Bulldogs lost to South Alabama in the opener, were outscored 14-3 in the second half against South Carolina and needed 28 third-quarter points to slide past Massachusetts two weeks ago.
The offensive issues will be tested right away by going against an Auburn defense that Football Outsiders ranks as the No. 15 most efficient defense in the nation. Despite playing a tremendously difficult schedule, including two top 10 teams, the Tigers are holding opponents to just 16.4 points per game.
Auburn has offensive problems of its own, but Mississippi State’s pass defense could be the perfect remedy. The Bulldogs’ secondary allowed UMass quarterback Andrew Ford to throw 4 touchdowns at Gillette Stadium. This game will be vital for either team to maintain its chances of qualifying for a bowl game.
South Carolina vs. Georgia
2:30 p.m. Sunday in Columbia, S.C. (SEC Network)
Georgia had perhaps its best performance of the season, but a crazy Hail Mary by Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs sent the Bulldogs to their second straight loss and a 3-2 record overall.
Now, Georgia has an opportunity against South Carolina to get things back on track. The issues have come on both sides of the ball. The defense has allowed 30.8 points per game, good enough for No. 89 in the nation and ahead of only lowly Kentucky in the SEC. Quarterback Jacob Eason has shown tremendous flashes of talent, but still is completing just 53.6 percent of his passes through his first five career games.
South Carolina has shown flashes in Will Muschamp’s first season, but the roster has been predictability substandard. The Gamecocks are averaging just 14.0 points per game and are still trying to find their defensive identity on a consistent basis.
Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt
4 p.m. Saturday in Lexington, Ky. (SEC Network)
Consider this to be the hot seat bowl. Both Vanderbilt and Kentucky were expected to compete for bowl games this season, but each has taken a detour. Vanderbilt gave up 13 unanswered points to South Carolina in the opener and were flattened 38-7 by Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Kentucky blew a big lead against Southern Miss, gave up 42 points against New Mexico State and was declawed 45-7 against Florida. In fact, a 34-6 loss to Alabama might still be the most impressive performance of the season.
Both teams only have one surefire win left on the schedule – Austin Peay for Kentucky and Tennessee Tech for Vanderbilt. That makes this game that much more important, as each tries to turn their respective seasons around.
Kentucky has played relatively well on offense, while the Commodores have continued to produce one of the more underrated defenses in football. Something has to give on Saturday in Lexington, but the loser might be out of time.