There might be fewer games as teams go on bye weeks, but the SEC schedule is heating up.
Texas A&M made the first national statement of conference play last Saturday, but Tennessee and Alabama will have the opportunity to follow up this weekend. A pair of SEC West coaches also have their work cut out trying to prove they can recover from adversity.
Here are the SEC coaches with the most to gain and lose in Week 7:
Gain: Jim McElwain
No. 18 Florida vs. Missouri – 4 p.m. Saturday
Florida must have a whole bunch of pent-up aggression. The Gators lost against No. 14 Tennessee a few weeks ago and then struggled to score against lowly Vanderbilt. To top things off, LSU fans are spreading rumors that Florida administrators canceled the game in Gainesville last Saturday to dodge LSU, not because of the impending hurricane.
The Gators match up tremendously well with Mizzou, which relies heavily on its wide receivers in its new air-raid offense. Florida boasts perhaps the finest pass defense in football, featuring elite cornerbacks Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor, and standout safety Marcus Maye. The Gators will also welcome back QB Luke Del Rio, who should be able to feast against an inconsistent Missouri defense.
Lose: Bret Bielema
No. 22 Arkansas vs. No. 12 Ole Miss – 7 p.m. Saturday in Fayetteville, Ark. (ESPN)
Arkansas had a brutal loss to No. 1 Alabama last week for its second loss in three games. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, the schedule won’t be getting easier anytime soon. They have No. 12 Ole Miss, No. 23 Auburn, No. 18 Auburn and LSU in the next few weeks.
This week could be especially bad as the Razorbacks’ suspect secondary hosts Ole Miss. The Rebels have perhaps the most talented quarterback in the SEC, Chad Kelly, who threw for 368 yards and three touchdowns against a better pass defense last season. Arkansas will need to try and establish the run better from the start to hold on to the ball or this game could get out of hand – scoring 53 points again isn’t likely.
Gain: Ed Orgeron
LSU vs. Southern Mississippi – 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Baton Rouge, La.
An unexpected bye week might end up being the perfect thing for LSU. Orgeron took over the program on Sept. 25, but had just six days to try and institute several new concepts to the offense. However, with two additional weeks before the next game, he had even more chance to put his mark on the program.
LSU responded to Orgeron’s hiring with a dominant performance against Missouri. The Tigers responded with 634 yards, the most they have ever accumulated against an SEC opponent. Southern Miss provides an opportunity for LSU to try and insert even more into the offense and experiment to see what works against a team it should beat handily.
Lose: Dan Mullen
Mississippi State at BYU – 10:15 p.m. Friday in Provo, Utah (ESPN)
Mississippi State has been disappointing in the first year without Dak Prescott. The Bulldogs sit at 2-3, with the only wins coming against South Carolina and UMass. Worst of all, the Bulldogs lost to South Alabama in the first week of the season.
The trouble might not be over yet. Mississippi State still has four tough games left on the schedule: No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 1 Alabama, No. 22 Arkansas and No. 12 Ole Miss. Just losing those games would leave Mississippi State at 5-7; falling against a good BYU team in Provo would push it to 4-8. Mullen almost certainly won’t be fired this season, but that’s the threshold where the conversation starts to come up.
Gain: Butch Jones
No. 9 Tennessee vs. No. 1 Alabama – 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn.
Jones came into the season with expectations bordering on unfair. The Volunteers finished 9-4 last season and returned the bulk of their roster. The losses on the schedule were against either a team that played in the College Football Playoff or by four points or less. An SEC East title was expected despite the fact that the Vols hadn’t done it since 2007.
Despite dealing with an injury-plagued roster, the Volunteers have come close to wrapping up the division after wins over Florida and Georgia early in the schedule. The Vols’ biggest opportunity comes on Saturday afternoon, when Tennessee hosts No. 1 Alabama in Knoxville for the biggest game of the Jones era. Win and Jones will instantly entrench himself at Tennessee. This could also be a preview of the SEC championship game.