If one Tennessee fan gets his wish, new Florida starting quarterback Austin Appleby will be dead and buried by the end of the weekend.
Yes, some members of the Volunteers faithful are donating money to Appleby’s “funeral” in advance of a heavily hyped Tennessee-Florida matchup in Knoxville this Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS).
The Gators’ usual starter, Luke Del Rio, is out with a knee injury, which means Appleby — a Purdue transfer — will be taking his first meaningful SEC snaps in what might be the world’s loudest outdoor football stadium.
Rest in peace? It’s a blue joke from the big orange, but Appleby does have quite a challenge ahead.
Here’s what we know about the 23-year-old: He’s a former 3-star recruit from North Canton, Ohio (fellow native: Todd Blackledge) who spent four seasons at Purdue before earning his management degree and using the NCAA’s graduate-transfer waiver to become immediately eligible upon his arrival in Gainesville.
Through 16 career games, he’s completed 55.3 percent of his passes for 2,777 yards while tossing 19 touchdowns against 19 interceptions.
His biggest win: An efficient 2014 performance (15 of 20 for 202 yards, 1 touchdown and no interceptions) vs. Illinois for coach Darrell Hazell’s first career Big Ten victory.
Later that year, he threw 3 picks against Indiana, and opened the following season with a 1-touchdown, 4-interception performance at Marshall. These games (along with a 9-for-28 performance vs. Virginia Tech last fall) went a long way toward Hazell’s decision to put Appleby on the bench.
Now, the senior is up against an injured — but stout — Tennessee “D.” His performance Saturday afternoon will have Florida fans either exhaling in relief or preparing a eulogy for the Gators’ season.
2. Is Missouri a dark horse in the East?
Drew Lock and the Tigers offense fizzled in the second half of a 28-27 loss to Georgia, but did you catch the first 30 minutes? Last year’s offensive drought was a long lost memory as Lock piled up 322 yards and 2 touchdowns through the first couple quarters.
That output was a signal to Missouri’s remaining conference foes: We are a threat. If the East’s top three — Tennessee, Florida and Georgia — all pick up two losses this regular season, Missouri might have a chance at making its third trip to Atlanta in four years.
Drew Lock cookin' in the first half for Mizzou. Still impressed he was able to split defenders here (two angles)… pic.twitter.com/vFdoWUo3SN
— Alex Martin Smith (@asmiff) September 18, 2016
3. Does Ole Miss have any fight left in it?
In case you missed it: The Rebels became the first Power 5 team in a decade to blow a pair of 21-point leads in the same season (per ESPN Stats & Info).
With Alabama holding an effective two-game lead in the West, do the Rebels have much left in the tank this season? We’re going to find out Saturday, when Georgia — still pumped from a 1-point win at Missouri — visits the Grove for a heavyweight showdown.
4. Who’s your guy, Gus?
We thought the Auburn quarterback competition might be settled, but Sean White proved he is not the answer under center… at least for now. Freshman John “First Downs are Overrated” Franklin III showed a spark in the second half of Saturday’s loss to Texas A&M while simultaneously putting an ugly bow on the game.
The Tigers might be back to square one, and there’s not much time to sort it out: LSU’s talented defense is paying a visit this weekend.
5. Can Stephen Johnson save Kentucky?
Wildcats football was bout to hit peak bleakness if New Mexico State held on for an upset in Lexington on Saturday. Kentucky needed a hero, and it got one in Johnson, the junior from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., who is a bit lithe (183 pounds) but brought life to an offense that was pronounced all but dead alongside Drew Barker’s career.
Johnson contributed 361 total yards and 3 touchdown passes to the cause after taking over on the second drive of the game. He developed an instant connection with receiver C.J. Conrad (5 receptions, 133 yards, 3 touchdowns) and provided breathing room for a running game that racked up 381 total yards.
But that was against perhaps the worst program in FBS history. Up next: South Carolina’s stout defense, which should provide a stronger test before a “baptism by fire” situation at Alabama on Oct. 1.
6. Is Texas A&M worthy of College Football Playoff talk?
The short answer: Yes. The Aggies have passed every test thus far, beating a ranked team at home, smoking an FCS squad in the afterglow, and convincingly topping a tough Auburn team on the road.
Through it all, A&M has established itself as a strong passing team with a wicked pass rush, a combination that most contenders need (and many programs would kill for). This week brings a neutral-site matchup with Arkansas; either team could be the surprise group that upends Alabama and shakes up the West this season.
Remind you of anybody? pic.twitter.com/PmqFE72bYC
— Alex Martin Smith (@asmiff) September 18, 2016
7. Can LSU keep it together until Nov. 5?
All preseason, we pointed to the Alabama-LSU game as the deciding factor in the SEC race. But it would be somewhat of a shock if the Tigers can make it that far without picking up another loss.
That tough road begins this week at Auburn, which matches up well with LSU’s unimaginative offensive attack. Pass that test, and three more tough conference games — vs. Missouri, at Florida, vs. Ole Miss — stand between Les Miles’ team and a chance at true redemption.
8. What does Derek Mason need to do to keep his job?
Many in Nashville remain steadfast that the Vanderbilt coach will be back in 2017, but Saturday’s 38-7 loss at Georgia Tech was the latest blow to the downtrodden program.
Back in June, we predicted that a 4-win season or worse would be enough to sink Mason, and it’s looking like a tough road to five victories after that Tech debacle. Vandy needs to win next week at Western Kentucky and Oct. 22 vs. Tennessee State, then steal at least one SEC game. Its best shot might be Oct. 8 at Kentucky.
9. Can Tennessee slay the dragon?
Florida has won 11 straight against its tortured rival. Is this the weekend the streak finally ends? That might depend on how much you believe in Austin Appleby.