The Southeastern Conference has become a quarterback driven league thanks to the depth at the position in 2013. Improved play by James Franklin at Missouri and Zach Mettenberger at LSU has given the league six of the top 20 quarterbacks in the country according to the passing efficiency ratings.
This week’s top 20 features Johnny Manziel (fourth), Zach Mettenberger (sixth), AJ McCarron (ninth), Connor Shaw (14th), James Franklin (18th) and Aaron Murray (19th). That is significant because that makes up 30 percent of all the passers in the top 20 coming from one conference. Combine all of that with the improved play for the quarterbacks at Auburn, Mississippi St. and Ole Miss and you can see why this league is so deep at quarterback.
It’s my opinion that an elite quarterback is the quickest way to turn a team around. You can build a great defense or great lines of scrimmage, but the league and the game today requires a great quarterback, and you cannot miss on that in recruiting.
Florida and Georgia will meet for the second time since 1980 as unranked opponents. One team has been ranked and usually both, but this year each team is 4-3 looking to extend its season with a win over its arch rival.
Georgia has won two straight by winning the turnover margin against Will Muschamp and the Gators. The Dogs are plus-4 combined in their last two wins and both teams come into this game off a bye week. Florida is 15-5 against Georgia when having a bye week, while the Bulldogs are 4-3 against Florida when having a week off prior to the game.
While Georgia has won the turnover margin the last two seasons they come into the game negative-5 in the turnover margin which is 13th in the SEC. They have not been able to generate turnovers on defense forcing just three interceptions all season. The Gators are coming off a game where they turned the ball over three times in a loss to Missouri.
Todd Gurley coming back could be huge for Georgia if he is completely healthy. He had 18 carries for 122 yards (the most UF gave up to one back) last season in the 17-9 win over Florida. The strength versus strength matchup will be Georgia’s offense against the Florida defense.
The Gators lead the SEC in total defense and rushing defense. Georgia is averaging 475 yards per game and is second in the league in passing offense. The key to this matchup will be Florida’s ability to take away the run and pressure Murray or vice versa. Georgia will win the game if it can find balance much like LSU did three weeks ago against the Gator defense.
Aaron Murray is 2-1 against Florida but his numbers are 45-for-95 (47 percent) for 632 yards with six touchdowns and seven interceptions.
The Gator offense has spent two weeks in simplification mode trying to find some explosive plays. True freshman Kelvin Taylor will get the start at running back, while several changes will be made on the offensive line. Florida needs a downfield passing game and it sits 12th in the league in passes of 10 yards or more.
Conversely the young Bulldog secondary has allowed 73 pass plays of 10 or more yards which ranks 10th in the league. The Gators need to start fast and get the lead if they want to knock off the Bulldogs. Under Will Muschamp the last five losses for Florida have occurred while never leading the game. Florida is 15-5 in its last 20 games but could not even forge a tie in any of those losses. The Gator offense committed 17 turnovers in those five losses.
Auburn heads to take on Arkansas and keep alive hopes of chasing down Alabama in the SEC West. The Tigers should have Nick Marshall back at quarterback but Jeremy Johnson has shown he can throw the ball well against lesser competition. The Tiger defense has 14 sacks in its last four games. Auburn is third in the league behind Florida and Alabama in opponents’ third-down conversions. The Tigers are allowing just 31 percent conversions on third down. The rushing attack, which leads the SEC, has gone over 200 yards in six of the seven games and over 300 yards four times.
South Carolina returns home for the first time in a month to take on Mississippi State. The Gamecocks need to win their final two SEC games (Florida Nov 15) and have Missouri lose one more game and they most likely represent the East in Atlanta. The Gamecocks have won six in a row over the Bulldogs and have a 14-game winning streak at home. Bruce Ellington and Mike Davis were the first double digit receivers in a game for South Carolina since 1995.
Missouri still controls its own destiny as it welcomes Tennessee to Columbia. There is talk James Franklin could be back, but the Tigers could not forge any explosive runs versus South Carolina. The offense averaged just 3.78 yards per carry, its second lowest total of the season. The Tiger attack also finished just 4-of-14 on third-down conversions. L’Damian Washington is second in the league with eight touchdown receptions.
Arkansas is playing its fifth straight ranked opponent in the midst of a five-game losing streak. The one bright spot has been the ability to get to the quarterback as the Hogs have 20 sacks—tied with Auburn for the second most in the league. Auburn has the top rushing team in the league and Arkansas has allowed 692 yards on the ground in its last two games.
Tennessee travels to Missouri looking for its fifth win of the season and getting one step closer to bowl eligibility. The Volunteers have lost 18 in a row on the road against ranked opponents. Josh Dobbs made his debut last week against Alabama and showed nice composure. In high school he threw for 3,600-plus yards and 29 touchdowns in his senior season. Dobbs will get the start this week with Worley out four weeks with an injured thumb. The Vols are second in the SEC in turnovers forced with 18.
Kentucky should get a much needed win against Alabama State after coming very close to knocking off Mississippi State in Starkville. The Wildcats will start Jaylen Whitlow at quarterback; he is completing 66 percent of his passes and has only thrown one interception in 77 passing attempts. Kentucky is 13th in the league in both total offense and total defense.
Mississippi State begins a two-game road trip to South Carolina then on to College Station to face Johnny Football. The last win in this series for the Bulldogs was in 1999; however the Bulldogs have won four in a row against Eastern division opponents. Dak Prescott has rushed for 100 yards three times this season and has scored 10 touchdowns which is third best in the SEC. Jameon Lewis became the first player this year to catch, rush and throw a touchdown in a game twice.