The heart of the SEC schedule is upon us and coaches across the conference are starting to feel the pressure to perform.
A group of SEC West teams could quickly increase their profile with wins this weekend, which could help several coaches earn cache with their programs. However, the SEC East is also filled with coaches who could be fighting for their jobs — two such coaches face off on Saturday.
Here are the SEC coaches with the most to gain and lose in Week 5:
Gain: Ed Orgeron
LSU at No. 18 Florida – noon Saturday in Gainesville, Fla. (ESPN)
Last weekend was a huge week for Orgeron, as the Tigers lit up Missouri to the tune of 634 yards, the most against an SEC team in program history. Running back Derrius Guice ran for 163 yards and 3 scores in Leonard Fournette’s absence, while Darrel Williams added 130 yards and 3 scores of his own.
Now, LSU faces a real test on the road against a stacked Florida defense. Tennessee managed to tear it apart for 38 points in Knoxville, but the Gators have still only allowed seven touchdowns in seven games. If the Tigers can continue the offensive explosion, Orgeron could suddenly become a legitimate candidate for the full-time job.
Lose: Gus Malzahn
Auburn at Mississippi State – noon Saturday in Starkville, Miss. (SEC Network)
Every week is a do-or-die for Malzahn this season, considering how few winnable games are left on the schedule. A midday matchup with a struggling Mississippi State team is a game the Tigers have to win for Malzahn to stay off the hot seat in 2016.
Outside of losses to Clemson and Texas A&M, a pair of top 10 programs, Auburn has played reasonably well this season, and the defense has been borderline dominant at times. In fact, the Tigers are giving up just 16.4 points per game despite playing a tremendously difficult schedule to this point. However, the offense has continued to be putrid and has yet to score 20 points against a Power 5 defense. There needs to be some level of improvement on that side of the ball, considering Malzahn is considered an offensive coach.
Gain: Bret Bielema
No. 16 Arkansas vs. No. 1 Alabama – 7 p.m. Saturday in Fayetteville, Ark. (ESPN)
Arkansas was knocked off its pedestal after losing to Texas A&M, but the Razorbacks have a shot at the SEC’s best on Saturday. Alabama has been impressive this season but has certainly looked susceptible at times, which gives top teams hope they can catch the Crimson Tide on an off day.
The last time these teams played in Fayetteville, the Crimson Tide needed a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Blake Sims to eke past Arkansas, 14-13. This Razorbacks squad is much better than the one that finished the 2014 season 6-6. As we have seen throughout the years, beating Alabama can be a program-changing event.
Lose: Mark Stoops/Derek Mason
Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt – 4 p.m. Saturday in Lexington, Ky. (SEC Network)
There was some level of optimism for both of these teams heading into the season, but both Mark Stoops and Derek Mason have landed in hot water after poor starts to their respective seasons. Kentucky gave up a big lead in the opener against Southern Miss and has only beaten one Power 5 team this season. Vanderbilt choked away a 10-0 lead against the Gamecocks and was blown out against Georgia Tech.
Each of these teams has a guaranteed win left on its schedule, Tennessee State and Austin Peay, but the rest of the schedule is somewhat in doubt. Both teams could conceivably finish 3-9 if they fail to win this game on Saturday. That would likely get either coach fired.
Gain: Kevin Sumlin
No. 8 Texas A&M vs. No. 9 Tennessee – 3:30 p.m. Saturday in College Station, Texas (CBS)
Easily the game of the SEC weekend takes place in Texas. The Aggies are fresh off an unimpressive performance against South Carolina, but they have a big opportunity against a Tennessee team ranked in the top 10.
Texas A&M has seen this kind of success before, getting up to No. 9 in the AP poll each of the past two seasons. Of course, the Aggies finished unranked both years. This is a vital opportunity for Kevin Sumlin to prove he can break through the glass ceiling and take another step forward in the SEC. Knocking off Tennessee would also give the Aggies a clear shot to the Sugar Bowl.