Earlier today, I broke down the weekend of games in the Big East, where there really is a bit of a dearth of quality games since many teams in the conference are winding down out of conference play against cupcakes. Now we turn our attention to the SEC, where we have four in-conference games and three matchups of top 25 teams.
The games really speak for themselves, so I’ll spare you an extended preamble and get down to business.
Game of the Week – #1 Alabama (3-0) @ #10 Arkansas (3-0) – Saturday 3:30 PM, CBS
Alabama’s national title defense really gets in gear this weekend, as the Tide face the start of an absolute gauntlet in SEC play against Ryan Mallett and the Arkansas Razorbacks. Mallett has had a stirring start to the year and this game affords him the opportunity to place himself firmly in the Heisman (and #1 pick in the 2011 Draft) discussion.
Last season, Mallett struggled badly, going 12-35 for 160 yards, 1 TD and 1 pick. Alabama returns much of its title winning talent, but has lost a bit in the secondary. Mallett, in front of what is sure to be a raucous home crowd, figures to perform much better on a big stage.
The question for me though is whether or not Arkansas can do anything with Mark Ingram and company. Last season, Greg McElroy played one of his best games, throwing for nearly 300 yards on just 24 attempts. Now, McElroy is much more confident, much more experienced, and Alabama is that much more balanced.
Arkansas, on adrenaline alone, will stay in it for a while, but Alabama is just too good.
Can’t Miss Games
#12 South Carolina (3-0) @ #17 Auburn (3-0) – 7:45 PM Saturday, ESPN
This is one of those somewhat surprising inter-divisional treats the SEC always gives us. South Carolina and Auburn are two teams that fancy themselves contenders in their divisions and this game will go a long way to determining who’s right about themselves and who’s wrong.
Steve Spurrier’s time at USC has been full of disappointments, but those crazy techno listening Gamecock fans are thinking this is their shot to make a run at the SEC title game. Steven Garcia has been much improved at QB tossing it a supersized receiving corps (I guarantee you ESPN will mention the heights of Tori Gurley and Alshon Jeffery at least 15 times Saturday evening). The difference, though, has been the bruising running of freshman Marcus Lattimore, who has miraculously caused Spurrier to go two yards and a cloud of dust in his play calling.
Gene Chizik and Auburn have a bruising runner of their own, but he plays QB, not running back. Florida transfer Cameron Newton is probably making Urban Meyer wonder what if with the way he is running Gus Malzahn’s offense. He is still getting his feet under him in the passing game, but has rushed for over 300 yards. Onterrio McCalleb is a good runner in his own right and is a major big play threat.
Arkansas-Alabama is a bit more significant, but if I had to pick one game this weekend to go down to the wire, I think tis would be it. South Carolina’s rush defense has been superb thus far, but Auburn is going to give them looks they have not seen. In the end, I say the home crowd in Jordan-Hare makes the difference for Auburn.
#22 West Virginia (3-0) @ #15 LSU (3-0) – 9 PM Saturday, ESPN2
The Tigers have scheduled a couple out of conference land mines for themselves this year, the first of which they survived against North Carolina. Now, they host the always difficult to match up against Mountaineers. LSU may be unbeaten at this point, but they have looked far from overwhelming. However, with in conference tests upcoming, LSU cannot afford a loss here, especially with the pressure on Les Miles, a guy who I think of as a good coach, but he always manages to do something incomprehensibly dumb in a big game every year.
This could very well be that game, because West Virginia is going to move the ball. I think Jordan Jefferson is going to have to make plays to get the W, something he has struggled with at times. Since this one is in Death Valley, it would be a pretty significant upset, but I don’t think it’s out of reach for WVU.
Kentucky (3-0) @ #8 Florida (3-0) – Saturday 7 PM, ESPNU
We’ll have a full preview of this game later today.
Games to Keep an Eye on
Georgia (1-2) @ Mississippi State (1-2) – Saturday 7 PM, ESPN3.com
This is a game between two teams who entered the season looking to surprise people in conference who have sputtered to 0-2 starts in the SEC. In fact, Mississippi State was a pick of mine to make noise in the West. Needless to say, both teams need this game to jumpstart their seasons.
Georgia will be playing its final game without receiver AJ Green and UGA has struggled without his offensive presence. They can take heart in the fact that they played good teams like South Carolina and Arkansas so close without him, but a loss here would put them in a major hole. Freshman QB Aaron Murray has played beyond his years this season and he will face a new challenge in Starkville against those infernal cowbells.
Dan Mullen’s Mississippi State’s identity last season was Anthony Dixon. Many, myself included, thought they would be improved again this year, but Dixon’s absence has been big early. They have five players who have at least 20 carries, none of which are averaging more than 4.4 yards a carry.
I really don’t know what to expect here, so I’m going to abstain from any prediction, other than saying that no outcome would surprise me. How’s that for hard hitting analysis.
Fresno State (2-0) @ Ole Miss (1-2) – 7 PM Saturday, ESPN3.com
This is not a game I really have much interest in watching, but I will be very curious about the result. Fresno is a dangerous team and a 1-3 start would be a full-fledged disaster for Ole Miss. It seems like a long time ago when Ole Miss opened last year as a top ten team with a Heisman candidate in Jevan Sneed.
Now, the Rebels are fresh off of a bad home loss against Vandy and an even worse home loss against Jacksonville State. Jeremiah Masoli has looked pretty good at QB, but a couple key mistakes undid them last week. I still think Ole Miss can regroup behind Masoli and Houston Nutt, but a loss here may take that out of the question.
Only If You Have a Family Member Playing
UAB (1-2) @ Tennessee (1-2) – Saturday 12:21 PM, ESPN3.com
Yuck. If that awful, awful orange color isn’t enough to make you stay away, maybe UAB’s losses to SMU and Florida Atlantic will be. Tennessee should win comfortably and there is nothing about this game that’s interesting to me.