For the SEC, Week 1 and Week 2 were a study in contrasts — the former a sensational slate that backfired for several squads, the latter a recovery Saturday that allowed teams to catch their breath.
There is no hiding in Week 3. Alabama plays Ole Miss; Texas A&M plays Auburn; LSU plays Mississippi State; Georgia plays Missouri. Four of those teams will prove their worth, and the rest will fall back into the pack.
Who survives the first big round of SEC play? We delve into that and much more in these last-minute predictions:
(All kickoff times ET)
Ohio at No. 15 Tennessee: Vols allow 200 yards rushing
Want a fun stat? In its 122-year program history, Ohio has never beaten a ranked team. The Bobcats are fresh off a 37-21 win over Kansas in which they ran for 329 yards, and held the ball for more than 44 minutes. Senior quarterback Greg Windham is averaging 7.6 yards per carry, and his tailbacks have combined for 84 rushes in two games. Butch Jones’ squad just faced a pair of teams that run it often, and the result has been 370 yards rushing allowed this season. Frank Solich, whose Ohio team is usually a reliable MAC contender, knows how he’ll attack Tennessee.
Kickoff: Noon, SEC Network
Line: UT -27.5
Prediction: Tennessee 38, Ohio 22
Vanderbilt at Georgia Tech: Take the under (42.5)
These two teams combined for seven wins last season. Both play a tough-on-the-eyes brand of football, too. Tech’s got the triple-option offense, while Vanderbilt’s got the “hand it off to Ralph Webb” offense; neither has been especially effective lately. Vanderbilt did find some room to run against Middle Tennessee last week — 47 points, 231 rushing yards — but Georgia Tech’s defense should provide a stiffer challenge. Know this: Excluding last week against Mercer, the Yellow Jackets haven’t scored more than 22 points since Oct. 17, 2015. Vanderbilt has only topped the 22-point mark three times since Nov. 1, 2014. The Commodores can grind their way to a win in this snoozer, though.
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m., ACC Network Extra
Line: GT -6.5
Prediction: Vanderbilt 17, Georgia Tech 13
No. 1 Alabama at No. 19 Ole Miss: Crimson Tide win by 25
This will be a blowout. So much has gone right for the Rebels the last two times they played Nick Saban, and this is a matchup that you can bet they’ve had highlighted since Jan. 13. Ole Miss still needed five Alabama turnovers and a ridiculous 66-yard tip-drill touchdown to pull off the upset last year. Chad Kelly is back, but the Florida State game raises concerns about whether the senior slinger will make more of those unforced errors against a more talented defense. The secondary is without its best cover corner in Kendarius Webster, and Jalen Hurts has looked dangerous in his first two games. Alabama will enter this one overprepared and dish out a merciless beatdown in Oxford.
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., CBS
Line: ALA -10.5
Prediction: Alabama 44, Ole Miss 19
Ole Miss going for 3 vs Alabama
Saban hasn't lost 3 in a row to a team since Michigan (1996-98), Purdue (1997-99) pic.twitter.com/7hnOvomHnK
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 14, 2016
East Carolina at South Carolina: Brandon McIlwain breaks out
“Breaks out” is a relative term here, because the South Carolina offense clearly has issues that extend beyond the freshman quarterback, but East Carolina will be an easier battle for the offense than Vanderbilt or Mississippi State — both teams with solid defenses. In their win over N.C. State last week, the Pirates allowed a fairly inexperienced quarterback, sophomore Ryan Finley, to throw for 254 yards and a touchdown. The Wolfpack, as a whole, averaged 6.9 yards per carry. McIlwain went 11 of 22 for 126 yards and 2 touchdowns against Mississippi State, and that was on the road. One would think playing in Williams-Brice Stadium makes scoring a little easier, too. The game should still be close, though.
Kickoff: 4 p.m., SEC Network
Line: SC -3
Prediction: South Carolina 28, East Carolina 24
New Mexico State at Kentucky: Wildcats get the ground game going (finally)
Once again, the question must be posed: Why does Stanley Williams not carry the ball more often? He’s averaging 6.4 yards per carry, while backup JoJo Kemp has just 20 yards off 13 rushes. The Wildcats desperately need a win here — which they should get — and turning Williams loose against a New Mexico State team that’s allowed 510 rushing yards in two games would be a pretty safe way to do so. Kentucky passed all over Southern Miss but couldn’t run the ball well enough to milk the clock and put it away. Kentucky tried to pass it all over Florida and failed miserably. Please, Mark Stoops, just hand it off to Boom and spare us these atrocities.
Kickoff: 4 p.m., SEC Network
Line: UK -19.5
Prediction: Kentucky 41, New Mexico State 17
No. 17 Texas A&M at Auburn: Closest game of the week
This game should be a good barometer for both teams. Texas A&M ran the ball well against UCLA. Auburn contained an offensive juggernaut in Clemson. Both beat up on inferior opponents last weekend, although Auburn burying Arkansas State was the more impressive feat. If the Aggies can run the ball effectively against this defensive front, they are legit. If the Tigers can replicate their offensive success against a much-improved John Chavis, they might be much better than we thought. Either way, a couple of points should be the difference in this one. Buckle up.
Kickoff: 7 p.m., ESPN
Line: AUB -3.5
Prediction: Texas A&M 27, Auburn 26
Mississippi State at No. 20 LSU: Bulldogs cover the spread, Tiger fans cover Death Valley in boos
Danny Etling or Brandon Harris? LSU should play both, but it doesn’t really matter. This offense has grown predictable and stale, and a quarterback change might not change much. With a solid game plan, Mississippi State’s defense should be able to keep the Tigers somewhat in check — even if Leonard Fournette is close to 100 percent, which might not actually be the case. The fleet feet of Nick Fitzgerald will throw a new factor at Dave Aranda’s LSU defense, as well. The line seems fairly generous toward LSU, all things considered — expect it to be much closer.
Kickoff: 7 p.m., ESPN2
Line: LSU -14
Prediction: LSU 20, Mississippi State 17
North Texas at No. 23 Florida: Gators pick off another three passes
In unfortunate former SEC quarterback news, Alabama transfer Alec Morris was bumped from his starting spot by 2-star true freshman Mason Fine last week. However, both played in the Mean Green’s win over Bethune-Cookman. So far, Morris has thrown 4 interceptions on a 56 percent completion rate. Fine went 11 of 22 for 108 yards last week. Drew Barker, a pretty good quarterback, was shut down in brutal fashion by the Florida secondary on Saturday. Florida should produce a similar result against a decidedly less-intimidating couple of quarterbacks.
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., ESPNU
Line: FLA -36.5
Prediction: Florida 41, North Texas 6
No. 16 Georgia at Missouri: Tigers pull the upset
Check out this week’s Upset Alert column for a closer look at this matchup. In short, the Bulldogs looked horrible against Nicholls State, and unless they buckle down and their freshman quarterback can find a rhythm, Barry Odom’s Tigers are poised to surprise at Faurot Field.
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
Line: UGA -6.5
Prediction: Missouri 35, Georgia 27
Texas State at No. 24 Arkansas: Bielema brings sexy back
Texas State has only played one game in 2016, a 56-54 win over Ohio. The Bobcats defense allowed 630 total yards in that contest. Arkansas just dropped 41 points and 403 total yards on the road against TCU, so you can imagine how this one will turn out. Hogs coach Bret Bielema and coordinator Dan Enos will let their guys have fun in this one, and they’ll look dang good doing it. We all need a little more Allen-to-Morgan action in our lives.
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
Line: ARK -31
Prediction: Arkansas 52, Texas State 20