They’re outscoring opponents by 33.2 points per game, outgaining opponents by 263 yards per game, and have the top-scoring defense in America. But it’s been awhile since we’ve seen No. 1 Alabama (Associated Press poll) use any of those weapons against another ranked opponent.
It’s been since opening weekend, to be specific, when the Crimson Tide secured a 24-7 victory over then-No. 3 Florida State in what was supposed to be one of the greatest openers ever. Judging from the Seminoles’ results since, that proved to be hyperbole (or Boston College is flat-out awesome). Since then Alabama has been laying waste to teams outside the AP Top 25 — a streak that ends this weekend.
Given how Florida State has bottomed out, you could argue that No. 19 LSU is the best team Alabama has faced so far this season. Or maybe that comes next week, when the Tide travel to Starkville to play a 21st-ranked Mississippi State team that’s certain to rise after facing Massachusetts this Saturday.
Maybe neither team will present a challenge. But Alabama’s schedule so far is the reason Georgia is No. 1 in the first College Football Playoff poll. During the next two weekends that slate gets a little tougher, and the Crimson Tide have an opportunity to stake their claim to the top spot.
On to the predictions, with all kickoffs in Eastern time and all rankings from the AP poll:
No. 19 LSU at No. 1 Alabama: Too many Tide weapons for Tigers
Derrius Guice looks healthy, the LSU running game rediscovered itself at Ole Miss and the Tigers appear ready to challenge the top rushing defense in college football. These two teams have played plenty of grinders with lots on the line, and last year’s slugfest in Baton Rouge (won 10-0 by Alabama) was no exception. But this time, there’s reason to wonder whether that middle-of-the-pack LSU defense can contain all those Tide weapons, even with Arden Key playing like his old self. It’s easy to foresee another grinder, with Jalen Hurts and Co. breaking it open late.
Kickoff: Saturday, 8 p.m., CBS
Line: Alabama by 21½
Prediction: Alabama 38, LSU 21
No. 16 Auburn at Texas A&M: Tension rising again in College Station
Texas A&M almost had left the UCLA collapse in the distance after winning five of its next six games, the lone loss coming against No. 1 Alabama. Then came last week, and a drilling at home by Mississippi State. Now here comes Auburn, and the real prospect of a third loss in four games. Hard to say this is must-win for Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin, but should Texas A&M drop this one to fall to 5-4, things could become mighty tense in College Station once again. Even without injured tailback Kamryn Pettway, the Tigers are good enough to win at Kyle Field — assuming they play both halves this time.
Kickoff: Saturday, noon, ESPN
Line: Auburn by 15
Prediction: Auburn 34, Texas A&M 27
Massachusetts at No. 21 Mississippi State: Bulldogs set up clash with Alabama
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen grew up in New England, and Massachusetts presents one of the nation’s more underrated tight ends in — yeah, nobody cares. Let’s be honest, this one only sets up the game in Starkville next week against big, bad Alabama. Will we get the Bulldogs who rolled LSU, or were hammered by Georgia and Auburn? More on that next week. For the time being, Mississippi State tunes up for the Tide, and Mullen gets an easy victory that will look good on the resume he sends to Florida.
Kickoff: Saturday, noon, SEC Network
Line: Mississippi State by 32
Prediction: Mississippi State 42, Massachusetts 17
Florida at Missouri: Gators still good enough to get past Mizzou
Suspensions, injuries, and now midseason drama that’s led to the coach’s ouster. No question, Florida has been a mess this season, now more so than ever on the heels of Jim McElwain’s firing last weekend. But unless the Gators flat-out quit, it’s hard to imagine they’re worse than the Tigers, who have been blown out in three of four SEC losses, and aren’t as competitive as back-to-back routs of lower-tier nonconference foes make them seem. Interim coach Randy Shannon will have his hands full keeping Florida together, but he has the kind of track record to suggest he’ll be able to do that. And even in the face of such tremendous adversity, the Gators remain talented enough to get by the worst team in the league.
Kickoff: Saturday, noon, ESPN2
Line: Missouri by 3
Prediction: Florida 27, Missouri 24
Western Kentucky at Vanderbilt: Commodores snap five-game losing skid
These are tough times in the West End, where the Commodores have lost five in a row to erase any memories of their hopeful 3-0 start. But coach Derek Mason’s program has progressed to the point where it shouldn’t drop a home game to Western Kentucky, which pulled off the feat in 2015. The Hilltoppers, who have a big-play offense behind 2,000-yard passer Mike White, are no slouch. But Vandy regained some offensive punch against a good defense last week at South Carolina, and should have enough to get back on track.
READ MORE: Derek Mason’s SEC Coach of the Year ballot
Kickoff: Saturday, noon, ESPNU
Line: Vanderbilt by 9½
Prediction: Vanderbilt 31, Western Kentucky 21
South Carolina at No. 2 Georgia: You’re looking live at another rout on CBS
It’s been one rout after another in the CBS mid-afternoon time slot, and this weekend figures to follow suit. South Carolina is a much-improved team from the unit Will Muschamp coached in his debut season, but the Gamecocks are up against a buzzsaw ranked No. 1 in the first College Football Playoff poll. South Carolina needs to stop the big play, take time off the clock and give quarterback Jake Bentley room to work his magic. Even then, it likely won’t be enough against an opponent that’s won its past six by an average margin of 31 points.
Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS
Line: Georgia by 23½
Prediction: Georgia 38, South Carolina 14
Ole Miss at Kentucky: Once again, Wildcats get just enough to win
Call it “Kentuckying” — the Wildcats’ practice of making home games against lesser opponents much more of a close call than they should be. We saw it against Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Missouri, and then against last week against Tennessee. Expect more of the same against Ole Miss, which enters having lost five of six, the most recent a gut-punch collapse against Arkansas. Kentucky is trying to win a seventh game for just the seventh time in 40 years. Against the shorthanded Rebels, they’ll get it. But as usual, it will hardly be impressive.
Kickoff: Saturday, 4 p.m., SEC Network
Line: Kentucky by 3½
Prediction: Kentucky 41, Ole Miss 38
Coastal Carolina at Arkansas: Razorbacks rekindle bowl hopes with rout
Some fun facts about the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers: 1. They play on a home field featuring teal artificial turf. 2. Their nickname is pronounced shant-i-cleers. 3. This might be the easiest victory Arkansas has all season. In their first season in FBS, the Chants (sorry, Shants) are 1-7, losers of seven in a row, and being overseen by their offensive coordinator because their coach went on medical leave before the season. Make it two in a row for the Hogs, who maintain slight hopes of bowl eligibility.
Kickoff: Saturday, 4 p.m., SEC Network Alternate
Line: Arkansas by 23½
Prediction: Arkansas 56, Coastal Carolina 17
Southern Mississippi at Tennessee: Volunteers avoid the upset this time
Time to pile on, right? Time for unheralded Southern Mississippi to come into Neyland Stadium and deliver the final, crushing blow to the Butch Jones era at Tennessee? Well, maybe not. Although the Eagles played Kentucky within a touchdown on opening weekend in Hattiesburg, their schedule since hasn’t exactly been the most challenging. Last week they lost by three scores to UAB. The Vols avoid the upset to snap their four-game skid, but the Jones Watch continues nonetheless.
Kickoff: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
Line: Tennessee by 6½
Prediction: Tennessee 24, Southern Mississippi 21