Four years ago, a Texas A&M freshman named Johnny Manziel led the Aggies to perhaps the biggest win in program history over No. 1 Alabama. Flash forward this weekend and another unlikely Aggie will get a shot.
Graduate transfer Trevor Knight leads the No. 6 Aggies into Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday afternoon. There are two other ranked matchups in the SEC West. Interim coach Ed Orgeron will try to lead LSU to a win over No. 23 Ole Miss and put his name into consideration for the full-time gig. Auburn and Arkansas will also try to separate themselves in the SEC standings to qualify for better bowl games.
Here are the top 5 SEC games you should be watching this weekend:
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 6 Texas A&M
3:30 p.m. Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (CBS)
This is the best game of the college football weekend. Texas A&M has posted perhaps its most impressive season so far under Kevin Sumlin, but the Aggies have never faced a team like Alabama. There’s a reason that the Crimson Tide are the (almost) unanimous No. 1 team in the country.
There’s a real argument that this is Nick Saban’s most effective team ever. Only one of his five national championship squads have gone undefeated, but Alabama is blowing through the SEC. The Crimson Tide are outscoring opponents by more than 30 points per game, which would be Saban’s most dominant team yet.
The current best point-differential team under Saban? The 2012 Crimson Tide, who coincidentally lost to a Manziel-led Texas A&M. Knight will have his shot to try and accomplish the same feat and become an Aggies legend.
No. 25 LSU vs. No. 23 Ole Miss
9 p.m. Saturday in Baton Rouge, La. (ESPN)
Ed Orgeron just fits at LSU. A Louisiana-born Cajun, Orgeron has the booming voice, down-home charm and slight twinge of insanity to be a fan favorite in Baton Rouge. Through two games as the interim coach, it appears he has the coaching chops, too.
LSU has won its past two games against Southern Miss and Missouri by a combined score of 87-17 without injured All-American RB Leonard Fournette. The defense has been playing at an incredible level, while QB Danny Etling has embraced new concepts in the offense. Running back Derrius Guice has rushed for 325 yards and 5 TDs over two games in Fournette’s absence.
While Ole Miss has been inconsistent this season, the Rebels are still the first real test for Orgeron and his staff. The Rebels have lost three games this season, but all were against ranked opponents and were by a combined 20 points. This is a huge opportunity for Orgeron to prove that the offensive fireworks can continue against a legitimate SEC defense (sorry, Mizzou).
No. 21 Auburn vs. No. 17 Arkansas
6 p.m. Saturday in Auburn, Ala. (ESPN)
Auburn is back! Or at least it might be after demolishing Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss. The Tigers have just two losses, and both Texas A&M and Clemson rank in the top 6 of the AP Top 25 Poll heading into Week 8. The statement was an 18-13 win over LSU in Auburn that eventually launched them into the rankings.
The Razorbacks have continued to improve this season behind QB Austin Allen, who leads the SEC in passing yards.
Arkansas’ defense is inconsistent, but has playmakers in the front seven that can affect Auburn’s offense. The Tigers will need to score points to keep up with Arkansas — Allen is too good to get completely shut down, even by an excellent Auburn defense.
Kentucky vs. Mississippi State
7:30 p.m. Saturday in Lexington, Ky. (SEC Network)
Kentucky has quietly gone from the doormat of the conference to competing for fourth place in the SEC East. The Wildcats have won three of four, including games against division rivals South Carolina and Vanderbilt. It seemed impossible that Mark Stoops would keep his job after the season, but the Wildcats aren’t out of a bowl game yet.
But to get there, the Wildcats need to beat Mississippi State at home. The Bulldogs are fresh off a rough overtime loss to BYU in Provo, Utah, and still have yet to find any semblance of an offense. QB Nick Fitzgerald is responsible for nearly 60 percent of the offense by himself, as he leads the team in both passing and rushing yards. That says much more about the team than it does about his ability.
Kentucky has winnable games against Missouri and Austin Peay left on the schedule, but are underdogs against Georgia, Tennessee and Louisville. That makes Saturday’s matchup with the Bulldogs a must-win to keep bowl eligibility alive. On the other sideline, Dan Mullen won’t be fired after the recent success, but a loss to Kentucky sure won’t help his case.
South Carolina vs. UMass
noon Saturday in Columbia, S.C. (SEC Network)
The Will Muschamp era isn’t off to an ideal start in Columbia. After a season-opening win against Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks have lost four of five, all against conference opponents. Only one of those has a winning conference record.
The Gamecocks are severely undermanned after subpar recruiting in the waning years of Steve Spurrier, but the offensive woes aren’t a great sign. After playing both true freshman QB Brandon McIlwain and senior Perry Orth, the Gamecocks are considering burning true freshman Jake Bentley’s redshirt. Obviously, offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is running out of answers.
UMass is just 1-6 this season, but the Minutemen have played two solid games against SEC competition. Florida led just 10-7 entering the fourth quarter in Gainesville, while Mississippi State needed a late offensive surge to win 47-35 at Gillette Stadium. If South Carolina were to lose, Muschamp would be in for several uncomfortable conversations.