This week in the Southeastern Conference there are six conference games highlighted by two ranked matchups. Auburn and Texas A&M clash in College Station while Florida travels to surprisingly-unbeaten Missouri. Much has been made about how wide open the East is now that Georgia lost, but don’t forget about the West with Alabama still having to play one-loss LSU and Auburn. The Auburn Tigers could thrust themselves into the picture with a road win over the Aggies, much like Missouri did last week at Georgia. The weekend slate also features LSU back on the road at a beat up Ole Miss and South Carolina on the road at a rested Tennessee.
Auburn brings the seventh-best rushing attack in the nation on the road to College Station. The Aggies are 13th in the league against the run, giving up 201 yards per game. Nick Marshall will return at quarterback for the Tigers and I would expect them to move the ball successfully against the A&M defense.
Johnny Manziel has been terrific this season and he has to be because the defense can’t seem to stop anyone consistently. The one thing the defense does do well is force turnovers as it is fourth in the league with 11. Auburn has already had six fumbles this season, so expect that to be a key statistic in the game. Also keep an eye on Auburn’s defensive front, it has 49 tackles for loss to lead the SEC. That will be important as they try to make the Aggies one dimensional.
Texas A&M is living on the edge in my opinion by forcing its offense to put up 40 points every week. However they have shown the ability to run the ball with people other than Manziel and that could bode well for them in a tight game. Ben Molena, Tra Carson and now Trey Williams gives the Aggies a lethal group of running backs. The three have combined for 15 rushing touchdowns this season already. The Aggies are 2nd in the SEC on 3rd down conversions at 57% and they lead the league in yards per play at 7.58.
Florida still controls its destiny in the SEC East race but will move forward without starting running back Matt Jones who is out for the season. He is the fifth starter the Gators have lost to a season-ending injury since the opening of fall camp in August. This may open the door for true freshman Kelvin Taylor who has had five explosive runs in just 16 carries this season. The Gator offense is struggling to score points while ranking 13th in the league in scoring and total offense and 11th in passing offense. The Gator defense has held 13 straight conference opponents to 20 points or less. The Gators are third in the nation in total defense and pass defense and fourth in the nation in scoring defense.
Missouri is unbeaten but will go forward without starting quarterback James Franklin. Maty Mauk is a redshirt freshman who has played very little. However the Tigers can run the ball as well as anyone in the country behind a stable of running backs averaging 239 yards per game. I have been very impressed with Russell Hansbrough’s 7.52 yards per carry and Henry Josey’s 5.51 yards per carry. They have combined for 10 rushing touchdowns as well. The Gator defense has not been as good versus the run the last two weeks.
Georgia looks to bounce back against Vanderbilt in Nashville this weekend. The Bulldogs have won six straight in the series. Ray Drew has been a bright spot on defense with five sacks putting him third in the SEC. While Georgia has played 10 true freshmen on the defensive side of the ball they need more productivity from the secondary. They have just one interception on the season which is third worst in the country. Offensively they should be fine with Aaron Murray looking to carve up the eighth-best pass defense. The Commodores have relinquished 10 touchdown passes already on the season.
LSU is on the road for the third time in four weeks at Oxford to play Ole Miss. In the last six quarters of play the Tiger defense has allowed just three field goals. The defense is now fourth in the league in scoring defense and fourth in total defense. Zach Mettenberger only attempted 17 passes against Florida but is still the top-rated passer in the league. I would expect him to throw it at least 30 times against the Ole Miss secondary that continues to struggle.
Alabama is at home to face off against the struggling Arkansas Razorbacks. The Crimson Tide defense leads the SEC in first downs allowed with just 84 and that ranks them fourth in the nation. AJ McCarron has 31 wins as the starting quarterback and needs just five more to pass all-time leader Jay Barker. Alabama already has five non-offensive touchdowns on the season. The Crimson Tide is 19-1 in their last 20 October games.
Arkansas has lost all its momentum from a 3-0 start and it won’t get any easier this week against Alabama. The Hogs are playing for the eighth straight week and is one of only two teams in the SEC to do that this season (LSU). Arkansas has allowed just eight rushing touchdowns this season which is the third lowest total in the nation among teams that have played seven games.
South Carolina is on a roll after playing its most complete game of the season against Arkansas on the road. They are still fifth in the league in sacks without much production from Jadevon Clowney. The offense is rolling with Connor Shaw who has 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He is the only quarterback in the SEC who has not thrown an interception. The Gamecocks are just 22-19 on the road under Steve Spurrier.
Tennessee is coming off a bye week to face South Carolina and coach Butch Jones is 6-1 as a head coach after a bye week. This series has traditionally been close and I expect this game to follow that script. The Vols have not beaten a ranked team since 2009 when they beat South Carolina. Rajon Neal has been a force in the running game, averaging over 158 yards the last two games and should find running room this week against the Gamecocks. The Vols are ranked 12th nationally in forcing 15 turnovers on the season.
Ole Miss faces its third top 10 opponent of the season in LSU. Robert Nkemdiche is out for the game and the Rebels have struggled the last three weeks against the run, giving up at least 240 yards in each game. Laquon Treadwell leads the team in receiving as a freshman with 32 receptions. Bo Wallace is now fifth in the SEC in total offense after back-to-back 300-yard passing games. This is the second of six straight home games for the Rebels, and to pull the upset I think they need to force turnovers by blitzing on first down.
Vanderbilt welcomes in Georgia and is looking to bounce back after a bye week. The Commodores need a marquee win over one of the “Big 3” in the East and this may be their best chance against a beat up Georgia team. The Dores have had more explosive plays in their offense ranking third with nine plays of 40 yards or more in the league. Georgia’s defense is the worst in the league, especially in the secondary when it comes to allowing big plays. Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause have emerged as the second most lethal wide receiver combo behind Landry and Beckham at LSU.