Last year, Arkansas and Texas A&M played one of the craziest games of the year under the bright lights of AT&T Stadium. With both teams ranked in this game for the first time in the SEC era, the hype is quickly building.
However, the matchup in Arlington, Texas, is far from the only big opportunity this weekend. Florida and Tennessee face off this weekend in one of the most lopsided rivalries in the conference. A couple of other coaches with ranked teams will also try to keep the critics at bay for another week.
Here are the SEC coaches with the most to gain and lose in Week 4:
Gain: Kevin Sumlin
No. 10 Texas A&M vs. No. 17 Arkansas – 9 p.m. Saturday in Arlington, Texas (ESPN)
If someone had told Sumlin before the season that his team would be the second highest ranked team in the SEC after three weeks, he likely would not have believed it. But three games into the year, the Aggies are 3-0 with impressive wins over UCLA and Auburn on the road.
Now, the Aggies got into perhaps their biggest test with an opportunity to cement their place as the second-best team in the SEC (behind Alabama). This will be a vital test for Texas A&M’s run defense, which ranks No. 7 in the SEC despite playing an FCS team and UCLA’s No. 102 rush offense.
Lose: Hugh Freeze
No. 23 Ole Miss vs. No. 12 Georgia – 12 p.m. Saturday in Oxford, Miss. (ESPN)
It may seem early to consider this a must-win for Freeze, especially considering he has little chance of losing his job this season. However, the Rebels desperately needs a win to validate their national ranking.
Ole Miss is one of two teams in the top 25 despite a losing record, along with the Oklahoma Sooners. The Rebels’ only two losses are against Florida State and Alabama – both ranked top five at the time. If Freeze’s team can’t beat a Georgia squad that needed a last-minute drive to top Missouri, Ole Miss could fall out of the receiving votes section of the AP poll.
Gain: Bret Bielema
No. 17 Arkansas vs. No. 10 Texas A&M – 9 p.m. Saturday in Arlington, Texas (ESPN)
Arkansas has built a simple formula under Bielema: Start slow, finish strong, win a bowl game, rinse and repeat. Perhaps that’s what made the Razorbacks’ 41-38 double overtime win over TCU in Fort Worth so impressive, and launched Arkansas up into the middle of the AP poll.
TCU marked the first win over a ranked opponent by Arkansas before November since Bielema took over the program in 2013. Now, the Razorbacks can beat Texas A&M for the first time since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012. Arkansas came within minutes of beating the Aggies last season, but Christian Kirk brought down a 20-yard touchdown pass in overtime to eke out the victory.
Bielea told Sumlin after the loss last year that he could punch him – there’s no telling what could happen this year.
Lose: Derek Mason
Vanderbilt at Western Kentucky – 4:30 p.m. Saturday in Bowling Green, Ohio (CSN)
The Vanderbilt contingent is in desperate need of a win. The Commodores were stung by Georgia Tech in its first road game of the season, losing 38-6 to the Yellow Jackets. A promising season quickly turned to 1-2, with the lone win coming against Middle Tennessee.
After the Commodores lost to South Carolina in Week 1, finding wins on the schedule quickly became more difficult. Is it likely to think Vanderbilt can handle Kentucky on the road? Will the Commodores be able to pull one out against a much-improved Missouri? The only sure thing seems to be Tennessee State on Oct. 22. Going on the road to play an excellent Group of Five team this week isn’t ideal, as a matchup with the Hilltoppers has quickly become a must-win just to repeat last season’s 4-8 record.
Gain: Butch Jones
No. 14 Tennessee vs. No. 19 Florida – 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn. (CBS)
Tennessee has been wholly unimpressive in the first three games of the season. It barely beat Appalachian State in overtime to start the year, needed a strong second half to speed ahead from Virginia Tech and struggled to move the ball against Ohio. However, Jones can shift the narrative this Saturday.
The Volunteers have dropped 11 consecutive games to Florida dating back to the 2005 season, Urban Meyer’s first year in Gainesville. This is easily the best opportunity to buck the trend. The Gators will be without starting QB Luke Del Rio and have struggled to establish a consistent running game.
“I think down deep, you just don’t lose to Tennessee,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said after an improbable 28-27 win last year.
Hopefully for Tennessee fans, that comment stuck.
Lose: Les Miles
No. 18 LSU at Auburn – 6 p.m. Saturday in Auburn, Ala. (ESPN)
Les Miles could lead this list every week, but his seat gets continually warmer. The Mad Hatter played his final card by switching to QB Danny Etling for the third game of the year. Early returns are good, as the Purdue transfer led the Tigers to a 23-20 win that wasn’t as close as the final score.
But now, Etling will travel to Auburn, Ala., for his first road start since Sept. 13, 2014, when he threw two picks in a loss to Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. Should Etling fail to tame the Tigers’ defense, Miles might finally be out of answers.