Many eyes will be on Baton Rouge for the annual clash between Alabama and LSU, but there there will be plenty of other drama unfolding around the SEC this weekend.
Let’s see how things line up in the Week 10 storylines for each school:
Vanderbilt and Auburn
Warm vs. hot: Vanderbilt is riding a two-game winning streak in advance of its trip to face an even hotter Auburn squad (noon ET, ESPN).
The Tigers have notched five wins in a row behind a rushing attack that is now tops in the SEC with more than 303 yards per game. Auburn isn’t one dimensional, either. Quarterback Sean White quietly leads the league in passer rating.
The defense has been stout as well, holding its last four opponents to less than 115 rushing yards.
The challenge for Vanderbilt this weekend will be moving the ball consistently. The Commodores are 13th in scoring offense and last in yardage, two stats that put a ton of pressure on their defense.
It seems unlikely that Vanderbilt will hold Auburn’s offense down for four quarters, so big days from running back Ralph Webb and quarterback Kyle Shurmur are a must.
Course correction needed: Ole Miss has gone from a sleeper pick to win the West, to the best 2-2 team in America before finally turning into a a 3-5 team heading into a home date with Georgia Southern (noon ET, ESPNU).
Inconsistency has haunted the Rebels, who have been undone by poor halves against Florida State and Alabama and, more recently, a flat fourth quarter against Auburn.
The Eagles have dropped four of their last five games, so the conditions seem favorable for Ole Miss to snap out of its funk. The timing would be ideal if the Rebels harbor hopes of playing in a bowl game.
Texas A&M and Mississippi State
Opposites attract: What happens when one of the league’s better offenses collides with one of its worst defenses? We’ll find out Saturday when high-powered Texas A&M invades Starkville to face the Bulldogs (noon ET, SECN).
The Aggies, who were fourth in the first College Football Playoff rankings, have marched up and down the field on every team not named Alabama this season. They’re balanced, too, sitting in the top four in the SEC in both rushing and passing.
Mississippi State stopped a three-game slide with a win over Samford last time out, thanks in large part to Nick Fitzgerald’s seven total touchdowns.
The Bulldogs have struggled at times on defense this season, but Fitzgerald’s play has also been a key factor in their success — or lack of it.
When he accounts for at least 350 yards of total offense, Mississippi State is 3-0. When he doesn’t, that mark is 0-5.
Florida and Arkansas
Back on the radar: In the preseason, the East race was Tennessee’s to lose. When Florida lost to the Volunteers, it looked like the defending division champion would have to cede the crown to the folks from Knoxville.
Since then, Florida has been stacking up wins while Tennessee has been imploding. The result? The Gators control their own destiny as they visit Arkansas this weekend (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS).
The Gators have used the same recipe in their three-game win streak — stingy defense and just enough offense. Last week, Florida ground out a win over Georgia in a game in which neither school could manage more than 231 yards of total offense.
Winning is winning, right?
Arkansas, on the other hand, had a bye week to recover from a 56-3 pasting at the hands of Auburn. A lack of push from its offensive line and a shocking amount of generosity from a sudden porous defense were the areas of emphasis for the coaching staff this week.
We’ll see what sort of progress was made.
Missouri and South Carolina
Passing on the escalator: Missouri hasn’t won since Sept. 24, and it’s not tough to figure out why. The defense, the strength of last year’s squad, has fallen apart. In the four-game skid, opponents are averaging 583.5 yards of total offense — a figure that would rank third nationally.
Part of the decline can be traced to injuries to its front seven, but part of it falls on the coaching staff. Barry Odom, last year’s defensive coordinator, has taken the play calling duties away from DeMontie Cross in an effort to right the ship.
He’s a good defensive mind, but he has his work cut out for him.
Meanwhile, South Carolina will be looking to heap more misery on the visiting Tigers this weekend (4 p.m. ET, SECN).
Freshmen led the way in last week’s upset of Tennessee as quarterback Jake Bentley and running back Rico Dowdle played well beyond their years.
The Gamecock defense is rounding into form as well, and suddenly, bowl talk is all the rage in Columbia East.
Downward spiral: A three-game tailspin has not only knocked Tennessee (practically) out of the SEC East race, but has sent the program into a state of disarray.
Jalen Hurd, the sixth-leading rusher in program history, transferred this week. That’s the sort of thing that inspires columns about the coach and the direction of his team.
Tennessee Tech visits Neyland Stadium this week (4 p.m. ET, SECN) for what should be a welcome distraction from a depressing last few weeks on Rocky Top.
Georgia and Kentucky
Trading spaces: Georgia’s visit to Kentucky (7:30 p.m. ET, SECN) always had the chance to feature a team fighting for an East title facing a school struggling to become bowl eligible.
Not many pundits had the Wildcats as the team breathing down Florida’s neck in the division race, though.
Freshman Benny Snell has been a revelation at running back (661 yards, 8 TD) as the “thunder” to Boom Williams’ lightning, and quarterback Stephen Johnson II has been solid in relief of the injured Drew Barker.
The defense is still a work in progress, but the Wildcats are a win away from becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.
Defense hasn’t really been the issue of late for the Bulldogs. It’s the offense that sputtered to a paltry 164 yards in last week’s loss to Florida.
It’s an unhappy mix that’s equal parts play calling, personnel and simple bad luck. Whatever the reason, the Georgia offense bears much of the blame for its 4-4 record.
Alabama and LSU
Pretenders vs. contenders?: Alabama is the unquestioned king of the SEC, and indeed all of college football, at the moment.
The offense, behind freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, is balanced and, at times, explosive. The defense is so good it often scores enough points on its own to win games.
There’s no doubting the Tide’s credentials as a national championship contender.
LSU, while in the midst of a winning streak, hasn’t proven itself quite yet.
Interim coach Ed Orgeron and his Tigers welcome Alabama to Tiger Stadium on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, CBS) with the chance to impress a national TV audience.
Running back Leonard Fournette rushed for a dazzling 284 yards and three touchdowns two weeks ago against Ole Miss, and has had another week to rest his once-injured ankle.
The offense has been clicking under coordinator Steve Ensminger, but Ole Miss, Southern Miss and Missouri don’t have the same talent level as the Crimson Tide.
The Tiger defense, which ranks near the top of the conference in scoring, rushing and total defense, should be able to keep them in the game. It will be up to the offense, and probably quarterback Danny Etling, to give them a chance to dethrone the Tide.