We’ve got another happenin’ weekend on tap in SEC land.
Four unbeatens face off in Week 4. Win-by-a-hair Georgia travels to battle unlucky Ole Miss, and LSU plays Auburn in the Coaching Hot Seat Bowl. So in that regard, Saturday should prove especially helpful in separating the Tennessees from the Floridas, etc.
This also should be one of the last weekends of cupcake nonconference games we see until late November. Not that Missouri-Delaware State and Mississippi State-UMass aren’t thrilling displays of college football. But more SEC action should be more interesting for everyone … unless you’re a Vanderbilt fan, in which case, pray for one conference win.
Let’s do some predicting:
(All kickoff times ET)
Kent State at No. 1 Alabama: Crimson Tide record at least five sacks
Nick Saban’s alma mater has seen better days. Since Darrell Hazell left Kent State to coach Purdue in 2012, the Golden Flashes have gone 10-28. Two weeks ago, they lost a quadruple overtime heartbreaker to North Carolina A&T. Their offense has been quite poor by most measures — tied for 119th in total offense, 6 turnovers in three games — but the biggest problem area might be the offensive line. Only three FBS teams have given up more sacks than Kent State, which allowed 7 in its season opener against Penn State. The Nittany Lions have a strong defensive front, but Alabama’s is still better. That poor KSU quarterback will need some painkillers after this one.
Kickoff: Noon, SEC Network
Line: Alabama -44
Prediction: Alabama 43, Kent State 3
No. 12 Georgia at No. 23 Ole Miss: Nick Chubb’s 30 carries keep this one close
The Bulldogs barely have managed to keep themselves undefeated, and it hasn’t been pretty at times. But Georgia will benefit from two big advantages this week. Among SEC teams, Ole Miss has the worst time of possession average (22:11) and the worst turnover margin (-5). Georgia has the league’s third-best TOP (34:40 per game) and its best turnover margin (+3). The struggling UGA offensive line did Chubb no favors against Missouri, which held the star junior to just 63 yards rushing, but 3 Drew Lock interceptions and the Bulldogs holding the ball for over 37 minutes changed the game. Expect a similar formula for Georgia. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will feed Chubb, who gets a Rebels defense allowing 242.7 rushing yards per game, and Sony Michel. The UGA secondary falls several pegs below Alabama, though, so I don’t foresee an upset.
Kickoff: Noon, ESPN
Line: Ole Miss -7
Prediction: Ole Miss 34, Georgia 28
No. 19 Florida at No. 14 Tennessee: Gators make it 12 straight
The reasons for this are outlined here. To summarize: I’m a big-time buyer of Florida’s defense and its running game. Both sides are beat up, but losing Cam Sutton, Darrin Kirkland and even Quart’e Sapp is a bigger blow to the Vols than Austin Appleby being forced to play fill-in for UF. This Tennessee defense saved an overhyped offense in the Appalachian State and Ohio scares, and played a big part in the 5 Virginia Tech fumble recoveries. Can the Vols offense step up against a defense of this caliber? No way. This one will be low-scoring and ugly, but uglier for the home crowd.
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., CBS
Line: Tennessee -5.5
Prediction: Florida 23, Tennessee 17
P.S. Not sure the lights will “come on” since it’s, you know, a day game.
Mississippi State at UMass: Dan Mullen shakes hands with every MSU fan in attendance
In this case, that might be all of 15 people. Those are your true fans, Dan. But why are the Bulldogs traveling all the way to Gillette Stadium to play a game only shown on ESPN3? Are they recruiting Tom Brady? Is Mullen trying to run the Boston Marathon course again? Maybe the players really like lobster rolls. Whatever the thinking was, you probably won’t be watching this game. But before we dismiss it, remember that until the fourth quarter, UMass kept its game with Florida surprisingly close. Mississippi State dropped one to South Alabama already. How utterly disastrous would it look if the Bulldogs were 1-3 before playing a single SEC West team? I ask this because I live in a world of hypotheticals. Realistically, Mullen and crew will take care of business.
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., ESPN3
Line: Mississippi State -22.5
Prediction: Mississippi State 34, UMass 13
Delaware State at Missouri: Drew Lock sets more records
Through three games, Lock has 1,106 passing yards and 9 touchdowns. He dropped nearly half that production against Eastern Michigan in a 61-21 blowout, and Delaware State should be an even easier foe. The Hornets have won one game since Oct. 11, 2014, an overtime win vs. Norfolk State. Fellow FCS schools blow them out on a regular basis, and they’ve given up nearly 1,000 total yards in two games. Talent-wise, this is almost as lopsided as it gets. Imagine if Delaware State played Alabama.
Kickoff: 4 p.m., SEC Network
Line: Missouri -51
Prediction: Missouri 59, Delaware State 10
Vanderbilt at Western Kentucky: Nothing left to see here
The Commodores aren’t as bad as as they might’ve looked in the Georgia Tech blowout, and Western Kentucky probably won’t win 12 games again. But Vandy’s offense has shown almost no improvement — 10 points against South Carolina, 7 against Tech — and the Hilltoppers held Alabama to 124 yards rushing. Ralph Webb will remain stuck in neutral. Talented linebacker Zach Cunningham won’t be making many plays against this spread offense. And then you can pretty much put a wrap on this lousy team. If the 2016 Commodores were a tragic novel, “To Live and Die in Bowling Green” would be the fittingly sad title.
Kickoff: 4:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Line: Western Kentucky -8
Prediction: Western Kentucky 33, Vanderbilt 20
No. 18 LSU at Auburn: Closest game of the week
Danny Etling is an upgrade at quarterback, but this LSU offense still isn’t totally clicking. Auburn, which has allowed the most tackles for loss in the country (32), looks even more dysfunctional on that side of the ball. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has familiarity with his old LSU players, sure, but are we really questioning whether Dave Aranda can outsmart Gus Malzahn? Sean White trying to pass with the likes of Tre’Davious White and Jamal Adams patrolling the secondary will be funny, for sure.
Kickoff: 6 p.m., ESPN
Line: LSU -3.5
Prediction: LSU 22, Auburn 20
South Carolina at Kentucky: Serious questions about the Gamecocks’ offense surface
This game features a Battle of the Bad, pitting South Carolina’s stagnant offense against Kentucky’s disastrous defense. The Gamecocks rank 123rd and 122nd nationally in total and rushing offense, respectively. They scored 13 points on a Vandy team that just gave up 38 to Georgia Tech. The Wildcats, for their part, are 122nd nationally in scoring and total defense. Something has to give, and believe it or not, I give UK the advantage here. Quarterback Stephen Johnson can march the offense toward the end zone enough to put pressure on a young South Carolina offense. Forcing freshman Brandon McIlwain to throw and keep up will expose this team’s flaws.
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
Line: Kentucky -2.5
Prediction: Kentucky 27, South Carolina 14
No. 17 Arkansas at No. 10 Texas A&M: Myles Garrett establishes himself as a Heisman contender
The Aggies’ monster pass rusher has been a fringe candidate this season, racking up pressures and causing disruption without blowing up the stat sheet or making that ‘wow’ play Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh did during his “Heisman” year. But in what should be a huge, wildly entertaining game, Garrett will be able to make his mark. Arkansas has shuffled a bit at the right tackle position, and the O-line is responsible for 6 sacks through three games. Texas A&M and John Chavis need only to exploit that matchup and put Garrett in the right position. If that happens, the big plays will follow.
Kickoff: 9 p.m., ESPN
Line: Texas A&M -6
Prediction: Texas A&M 31, Arkansas 28