There aren’t any marquee games at face value, but the SEC has a couple of underrated story lines at play heading into Week 11.
A controversial coach returns to face his old program, a team still in the conversation for a division title. Meanwhile, Bret Bielema and Ed Orgeron face off in one of the most intriguing coaching battles of the weekend.
Here are the top five SEC games you should be watching this Saturday.
(All times ET)
No. 24 LSU at No. 25 Arkansas
7 p.m. in Fayetteville, Ark. (ESPN)
The last time these two teams got together, Arkansas put one of the last nails in Les Miles’ coffin. Now, interim coach Ed Orgeron leads an LSU team desperate to make a closing statement after losing to No. 1 Alabama last week. Unfortunately, he has to do it on the road.
LSU has won three of four since “Coach O” took over, including a 17-point win over No. 23 Ole Miss a few weeks ago. Running back Leonard Fournette might not get a shot at the Heisman, but he exploded for 284 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Rebels. Arkansas provides a different test.
Even though the Razorbacks struggle to defend the run consistently, Austin Allen is the kind of playmaker that can be a nightmare for opposing defenses. He managed to put up 30 points against Alabama and now has a run game from Rawleigh Williams to balance things out. It should be a hard-fought game.
South Carolina at Florida
Noon in Gainesville, Fla. (CBS)
At first glance, this game doesn’t look special. Florida is at the top of the SEC East and South Carolina is still finding its place in the conference. However, this is the triumphant return of Will Muschamp to Gainesville.
Muschamp, of course, had a disastrous tenure at Florida after taking over the program from Urban Meyer, including a four-win season in 2013. However, Muschamp has seemed to find himself at South Carolina in his second head coaching job, especially after starting true freshman QB Jake Bentley for the last three games — all wins.
While the game should be interesting, we’ll be tuned in to the crowd’s reaction to Muschamp. Regardless of how disappointing his tenure was, especially on offense, he still brought significant talent to the university, which Jim McElwain has turned into the current SEC East favorite.
Kentucky at Tennessee
Noon in Knoxville, Tenn. (SEC Network)
A few weeks ago, this matchup would have been laughable. Tennessee was firmly entrenched in the College Football Playoff race, while Kentucky was still trying to find its way on offense. Now, Kentucky can take firm control of second place in the SEC East with a win on Saturday.
Tennessee’s slide started after losing linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cameron Sutton to injury. The latter could be back on Saturday, but he and running back Alvin Kamara are both game-time decisions. For a Vols team with a dwindling amount of stars, the health concerns are worrisome.
The Vols lost a few weeks ago to South Carolina, which is much less organized and talented than this Kentucky team. Winning in Neyland Stadium is always a tough ask, but a win would clinch the Wildcats’ first bowl game under Mark Stoops and put them in the conversation for a quality bowl bid.
Ole Miss at No. 8 Texas A&M
7:30 p.m. in College Station, Texas (SEC Network)
Consider this to be the backup quarterback bowl. Both Trevor Knight and Chad Kelly went out for the regular season in Week 10, which leaves Jake Hubenak and an unknown quarterback to make their first start of the season.
More likely than not, backup quarterback Jason Pellerin will start for the Rebels. The freshman has thrown only 13 career pass attempts — and three were picked off. Ole Miss also could opt to burn the redshirt of blue-chip freshman Shea Patterson, the top quarterback recruit in the country last year.
Regardless, this game will feature both teams trying to work through tough situations to find a critical win. Ole Miss needs to win two of its final three games to make a bowl, while Texas A&M is still fighting for a Sugar Bowl berth. Any slipups, and the middle of the SEC bowl picture drastically changes.
Mississippi State at No. 1 Alabama
Noon in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (ESPN)
Even though Alabama should take care of business against Mississippi State, the Bulldogs’ recent performance makes this a surprisingly intriguing matchup. Dan Mullen’s team pulled off a shocking upset of No. 4 Texas A&M last week — can it keep building momentum?
Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald has improved tremendously the past few weeks as both a passer and rusher, including an outstanding performance of 391 total yards and 4 touchdowns against the Aggies as the Bulldogs took a 28-7 lead and never looked back. Wide receiver Fred Ross is also inserting himself back into the All-SEC conversation.
However, Alabama is a test unlike any other. Mullen has never beaten Saban as a head coach, despite having more talented teams in the past. But of course, this is college football, and anything can happen once the ball is snapped.