There are three college football games between ranked opponents on Saturday. All three happen in the SEC West.
With this awesome schedule comes several key matchups that will decide where teams finish in the conference. Alabama and Texas A&M play in the most high-profile game of the weekend, but teams closer to the middle of the SEC will also try to separate themselves and jockey for bowl positioning. Others just want to try and keep their jobs.
Here are the SEC coaches with the most to gain and lose in Week 8:
Lose: Dan Mullen
Mississippi State at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Lexington, Ky. (SEC Network)
Mullen shouldn’t have anything to worry about after the success he’s brought Mississippi State during his time in Starkville, but the precipitous fall has to be discouraging. With every passing game, it seems Mullen’s success might have had more to do with Dak Prescott than his own merit. The Bulldogs sit last in the SEC West with nonconference losses to South Alabama and BYU.
The Bulldogs head to Lexington this week to take on an inconsistent Kentucky squad on its home field. Mississippi State is fresh off a loss to BYU in Provo and desperately needs a win, with only one more guaranteed victory left on the schedule before a murderer’s row of four ranked opponents. Finishing 3-9 a year after 9-4 would be hard to stomach.
Gain: Kevin Sumlin
No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama, 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (CBS)
No team has been more surprising in the SEC this year than Texas A&M, which all of a sudden sits in prime position to earn a College Football Playoff bid. However, the Aggies will need to produce a strong performance against the vaunted Alabama Crimson Tide to do it.
Sumlin came into the season with worries about whether he would keep his job, but has quickly established himself as one of the conference’s best in a matter of weeks. QB Trevor Knight has been an unexpected blessing, while the defense is playing at the highest level in recent memory. If Sumlin can pull off the win, he all of a sudden is untouchable in College Station.
Lose: Gus Malzahn
No. 21 Auburn vs. No. 17 Arkansas, 6 p.m. Saturday in Auburn, Ala. (ESPN)
Malzahn has gained plenty of credit back the past few weeks with strong performances against LSU and Mississippi State. However, hosting No. 17 Arkansas will be the toughest test since losing to Texas A&M earlier this year.
The offense has improved tremendously from last season to this point, but it remains to be seen whether the changes can survive playing against a more disruptive defense. Arkansas’ secondary isn’t good, but Razorbacks QB Austin Allen has proven he can overcome that and keep his team in games.
Gain: Ed Orgeron
No. 25 LSU vs. No. 23 Ole Miss, 9 p.m. Saturday in Baton Rouge, La. (ESPN)
Perhaps no coach is playing with more house money than Orgeron. He was hired as the defensive line coach last season but escalated to head coach after Les Miles’ firing a few weeks back. Now, he has a chance to potentially earn the job full time if he’s able to continue his early levels of success.
Orgeron has coached two games, which the Tigers have won by a combined 87-17. However, Saturday marks his first matchup against a quality ranked opponent as Ole Miss comes to town. The Tigers match up relatively well, thanks to a dominant secondary and should get Leonard Fournette back. If Orgeron can continue to diversify the passing game, he can move one step closer to acquiring the job full time.
Lose: Will Muschamp
South Carolina vs. UMass, noon Saturday in Columbia, S.C. (SEC Network)
Obviously, the stakes aren’t all that high for Muschamp in his first season at South Carolina, but UMass coming to town feels like a tremendous trap game. The Minutemen are just 1-6 with the lone win coming against FIU, but there are troubling signs that this game could get close.
UMass has faced a pair of SEC teams this season and both games were more competitive than they should have been. Mississippi State needed a late scoring surge to move past the Minutemen 47-35, and Florida was up only 10-7 in the fourth quarter. If the Gamecocks lose to UMass and finish 3-9, especially if a stalled offense is the issue, the Muschamp hiring will start getting questioned quickly.