The most fun I ever had with my dad was building and racing pinewood derby cars as a Cub Scout. Each kid got the same wooden block, four plastic wheels and four nails, and the rest was up to the imagination.
(Stick with me here. I promise this is about SEC football.)
We’d whittle and sand and polish and paint until ours looked like a sleek sports car or real race car or, in my favorite design, the Batmobile. And those babies would fly down the steep wooden track in my church’s gymnasium.
But not everybody had as much help as I did, and some of the entries were pitiful – not much more than the wooden block they started with. When they lined up next to the Batmobile, everyone knew what was about to happen.
And that, folks, is the SEC East versus the SEC West. After Tennessee was trounced by Alabama and Georgia lost at home to Vanderbilt last weekend, the East looks like a wobbly wooden block trying to keep pace with a bunch of speed racers and muscle cars.
While the West has six ranked teams this week – all meeting in ranked vs. ranked showdowns – the East has four teams with losing league records. Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Missouri are a combined 4-13 in SEC play.
The Volunteers, who to be fair have been decimated by injury, went from College Football Playoff hopefuls to tied with Kentucky for second place in that awful division. And praying that first-place Florida loses its makeup game against LSU on Nov. 19.
The West, meanwhile, still has two undefeated, top-six teams – and they square off Saturday. So we’ll start there as we run down the weekend’s four conference games in order of must-see-ness.
(In keeping with their bring-nothing-to-the-table theme, six of the East’s seven teams are essentially taking the day off: Florida, Georgia and Tennessee on actual byes, South Carolina hosting Massachusetts, Missouri hosting Middle Tennessee and Vanderbilt hosting Tennessee State. Gross.)
No. 6 Texas A&M (6-0, 4-0) at No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0): The league’s two best dual-threat quarterbacks, Aggies senior Trevor Knight and Crimson Tide freshman Jalen Hurts, collide in what could be both a CFP and Heisman elimination game. Knight faces the stiffer challenge against an Alabama defense that is allowing just 274 yards and 15 points per game and has scored on eight of the 14 turnovers it has forced. The last dual-threat quarterback Texas A&M faced was Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs, and he produced 455 yards of total offense, so this might be a big day for Hurts. Prediction: Alabama 35, Texas A&M 27
No. 17 Arkansas (5-2, 1-2) at No. 21 Auburn (4-2, 2-1): Which of these teams has really righted the ship? The Tigers got Gus Malzahn off the hot seat – for now – after following a 1-2 start with three straight wins, including the nail in Les Miles’ coffin. Auburn seems to have found its running game – Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson have 1,000 yards between them – and is getting competent QB play from Sean White. But the Razorbacks are coming off a huge win over then-No. 12 Ole Miss that saved them from starting 0-3 in the SEC. Austin Allen and Rawleigh Williams are arguably the best quarterback/running back tandem in the league. Prediction: Arkansas 31, Auburn 24
No. 23 Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2) at No. 25 LSU (4-2, 2-1): Predictably, the Tigers have gotten a spark from interim head coach Ed Orgeron. They’ve outscored Missouri and Southern Miss by a combined 87-17 with a more wide-open offense and swarming defense since Orgeron took over for Miles. And all without injured star Leonard Fournette, who is expected to return this week. The Rebels will be looking to regroup after coughing up another lead to fall to .500. Chad Kelly and Co. couldn’t hold onto a 22-point lead over Florida State, 21-point lead over Alabama or a narrow, fourth-quarter lead over Arkansas on Saturday. Prediction: LSU 27, Ole Miss 24
Mississippi State (2-4, 1-2) at Kentucky (3-3, 2-2): The Bulldogs have little but pride to play for. With Texas A&M, at Alabama, Arkansas and at Ole Miss to close their SEC schedule, a seventh consecutive bowl berth seems almost impossible. The Wildcats, though, have everything to play for. They’ve stabilized after an ugly 0-2 start – they have three wins since and held Alabama to its season low in points – and could all but guarantee their first bowl bid since 2010 by beating MSU and Missouri (combined 1-5 in the league) the next two weeks. The temperatures of Dan Mullen’s and Mark Stoops’ seats could be drastically different after this one. Prediction: Kentucky 24, Mississippi State 20