Alabama and Texas A&M are headed for a clash between the league’s last two unbeaten teams this weekend, but that’s hardly the only compelling thing happening in the SEC this week.
Let’s see how things line up in the Week 8 storylines for each school:
Looking for answers: The Gamecocks spent their off week trying to figure out how to jump start one of the nation’s worst offenses. There’s even talk of snatching the redshirt off quarterback Jake Bentley in an effort to shake things up.
Maybe a softer opponent in the form of UMass (noon ET Saturday, SECN) will be a tonic for the quarterbacks and a rushing offense that ranks 125th in the nation?
Texas A&M and Alabama
Battle of the unbeatens: No. 1 Alabama plays host to the sixth-ranked Aggies (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, CBS).
For the Tide, this game is one of the last major hurdles between them and the SEC Championship Game (apologies to LSU and Auburn backers).
The burning questions are these: Can the defense or special teams score a touchdown for the 10th straight game, and will freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts keeping playing well enough to warrant Heisman Trophy consideration?
For Texas A&M, it’s more basic than that. Are the Aggies good enough to stand toe-to-toe with a team that’s outscored them 100-23 in the last two seasons? Can quarterback Trevor Knight, who’s quietly had a stellar season, keep things rolling against the best defense he’s seen this season?
Freshman running back Trayveon Williams, who’s third in the league with 704 yards, will also be facing his toughest test of the year.
Get back on track: The Tigers averaged almost 570 yards and about 45 points per game in a 2-2 start, but have since bottomed out to 314 yards and just over 10 points per contest in back-to-back losses to LSU and Florida.
That represented a sharp uptick in competition for Missouri, and this weekend’s homecoming clash with Middle Tennessee (4 p.m. ET Saturday, SECN) could provide a chance for Drew Lock and company to find their form again.
The Blue Raiders fell to Vanderbilt, 47-24, earlier this season, but are more than capable of springing an upset if the Tigers aren’t ready to play.
Arkansas and Auburn
Making a move: Alabama and Texas A&M have separated themselves from the rest of the SEC West, but both Arkansas and Auburn have a chance to move up in the standings in the league’s other game between ranked teams (6 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN).
Arkansas, fresh off a hard-fought win over Ole Miss, is facing its first true road test of the season. Quarterback Austin Allen has been a revelation so far, but now he’ll have to perform in front of a hostile crowd at Jordan-Hare.
The defense, which ranks in the bottom half of the league against the run, will also be tested against the Tigers ground game.
That attack could be boosted by the return of Kerryon Johnson, who’s been dealing with a sore ankle. Kamryn Pettway went for 169 yards and three scores last time out, so that would make for quite a combo.
Meanwhile, Sean White leads the conference with a 69.7-percent completion percentage. That has silenced many of his critics and brought a bit of balance to the Auburn offense.
Riding high: After back-to-back seven-point losses to Florida and Kentucky, the Commodores were sitting at 2-4 and facing a trip between the hedges to face Georgia.
Vanderbilt pulled the upset, however, and finds its bowl hopes very much alive as Tennessee State comes to Nashville (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPU).
The Commodores need three wins in their last five games to qualify for their first bowl since the 2013 season, and one against an FCS opponent this week would count.
Mississippi State and Kentucky
Bowl watch: It seems a little early to be worrying about bowl bids, but it’s not a stretch to suggest that the loser of this game might be on the outside looking in come the postseason.
Mississippi State needs five wins in its last six games to reach automatic bowl eligibility, and with the last four coming against ranked foes, it’s hard to imagine the Bulldogs can do without this one (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday, SECN).
Kentucky picked up a huge win for its bowl hopes last week, and now needs three more to reach the six-win mark. The road for the Wildcats is a little easier, but with trips to Tennessee and Lousiville looming in the last three weeks, they shouldn’t leave it too late.
Ole Miss and LSU
All about the O: LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron’s first head coaching job was in Oxford, where he posted a 10-25 record in three seasons before being fired in 2007.
He’s shied away from it much this week, but it’s surely a talking point inside the program.
In brighter news, running back Leonard Fournette is practicing again, which means he’ll get his first action under the new regime this week (9 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN).
As for the Rebels, last week’s narrow loss to Arkansas left them at 3-3. One of the nation’s tougher schedules and plenty of inconsistency on defense have been too much for Ole Miss to overcome at times this season.
Still, after facing Alabama and Florida State already, the Rebels are battle tested and as ready as a team can be for a trip to Death Valley.