Around the SEC: The meat of the conference schedule

Adam Luckett, Rivals.com
Cats Illustrated

After a month full of non-conference contests, we get our first week of nothing but league games on the first Saturday in October. We have 10 teams in action this weekend and we should start to see some conference standings separation.

After one month of play, Alabama, Auburn, and Georgia have emerged as legit Playoff contenders and we’ll soon find out if anyone else in the pack can challenge them for a divisional title.

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Game of the Week: LSU at #21 Florida

One of the perennial cross-division match-ups will be occurring in The Swamp for the CBS game of the week. However, this one is just a bit different as LSU has hit rock bottom.

After getting stomped by Mississippi State, the Tigers played very poorly against Syracuse. Then the wheels fell off this past weekend as Troy went into Death Valley and handed Ed Orgeron his first home loss as the official head coach at LSU. It’s been leaked out this week that Orgeron, offensive coordinator Matt Canada, and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda all met as a group with athletics director Joe Alleva. Things are a mess right now and it’s now or never for the Tigers.

The offense is in a rough spot at the moment as Orgeron has been trying to tinker with Matt Canada’s system. After the pow wow, you have to think Canada will throw everything in the playbook at the Gators. Derrius Guice has not been healthy all season and he could be in for a breakout game after sitting out last week. The Gators have been bad against the run and LSU will have a chance to have a big day on the ground.

Meanwhile, the defense is very young but they are doing some good things under Aranda. The Tigers still have not gotten much from outside linebacker Arden Key and the run defense is really lacking. This will be a gut check moment for this unit.

Down in Gainesville, Jim McElwain’s squad is off to another fast start in the SEC as they knocked off Tennessee, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt all in close games. After a brief stint by Luke Del Rio, the Gators have turned to redshirt freshman quarterback Feliepe Franks again and he made some great throws down the field against a strong Vanderbilt secondary. True freshman running back Malik Davis has been a pleasant surprise as he has 319 yards on 43 carries to start the season.

The run defense has had its moments, but they are giving up way too many big plays on the ground. The Gators just do not have the talented personnel they’ve had in recent years and are playing some very young players all over the defense. True freshman corners CJ Henderson and Marco Wilson appear to be great building blocks.

Everything tells you that Florida is going to blow the doors off LSU in this contest. However, it’s a circle the wagons moment for the Tigers and I believe you’ll see a spirited effort from Orgeron’s club. Derrius Guice will look like his old self and LSU will produce multiple big plays. The loss of Florida’s leading wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland stings and this smells like an upset to me.

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You Also Need to Watch: Arkansas at South Carolina

Two teams expected to finish at the bottom of their respective divisions will go at in Columbia on Saturday afternoon. It’s a match-up of two good quarterbacks and a game each program really needs to win in if they hope to get to an attractive bowl game.

Arkansas will head into Columbia with a 2-2 record overall including a winless record in SEC play. With Alabama and Auburn immediately on deck after Saturday, the Hogs desperately need a conference victory. The offense in Bret Bielema’s fifth season has been very solid as the Hogs have nice balance. Senior Austin Allen is very dependable at quarterback and the Hogs have had three running backs post over 200 yards already this season. Defense is where the issues are as Arkansas is having a difficult time getting stops consistently. Dre Greenlaw is a stud at linebacker but defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads is still searching for answers.

After the hot 2-0 start, the Gamecocks have struggled without wide receiver Deebo Samuel in the lineup. After the win at Mizzou, South Carolina is only averaging 15.7 points per game. Kurt Roper’s offense cannot run the ball and their offensive line is extremely banged up. Jake Bentley has played very well as a sophomore quarterback but Roper is currently asking him to do a little too much. Without Samuel, a deep threat is nowhere to be found and the offense is getting bogged down more times than not. The defense has shown some big signs of improvement in year two under Will Muschamp as the Gamecocks are much better against the run and are keeping everything in front when the opponent passes.

This is a total toss up and is a game both programs need. Neither coach is on the hot seat, but a victory here will give either team a very good shot to have a nice second half of the season. Both quarterbacks are really good, but neither has much help around them. This one should be good.

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Sleeper Game: #5 Georgia at Vanderbilt

Georgia is the talk of the college football world as they’re coming off of back-to-back dominant SEC wins over Mississippi State and Tennessee where they outscored their competition 72-3. They’ve been praised all week while Vanderbilt is coming off two tough losses to Alabama and Florida. This smells like a trap game.

The defense has been the story in Kirby Smart’s second season as the Dawgs have not allowed more than 19 in a game this year and they appear to possibly have the best unit in the country. UGA’s linebackers are absolutely filthy and no one has been able to block the front seven yet this season. The offense has not been flashy, but true freshman Jake Fromm is getting the job done. Georgia’s offense is physical, has a nice play-action passing game, and is taking care of the football.

Surprisingly, Vanderbilt is really struggling to run the football to start the season as they are near the bottom of the FBS in every advanced stat rushing metric. Ralph Webb has been unbelievable in his career but he has 198 yards on 75 carries this season. That’s ugly. The senior has not posted more than 54 yards rushing in a single game this year. Kyle Shurmur has taken a big step forward and the junior quarterback is playing very well. The passing game is so much better and Shurmur has tossed for 11 touchdowns on the season. The defense is strong as always under Mason but the ‘Dores have gotten a little exposed against Alabama and Florida.

It’s an early kickoff in Nashville and there is really no one reason for Georgia to be up for this game. Vandy went into Athens and knocked of UGA last year so they should feel pretty confident. Have a strong feeling this will be a one possession game at some point in the fourth quarter.

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The Rest of the League

There are other league games happening on Saturday and they are each division battles. Each home team is a double-digit favorite and I’m not sure we’ll be getting an upset anywhere.

Ole Miss has played two Power Five programs and is being outscored 93-19 the last two weeks. After playing very well to start the season, sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson has struggled and is throwing a lot of interceptions. They’ll be taking on an Auburn defense that is very good and quarterback Jarrett Stidham is starting to heat up. It’s an early kickoff on The Plains but this one should be ugly.

For the first time since A&M joined the SEC, the match-up with Alabama will be played at night and it should be a loud one in Aggieland. The Aggies have won four in a row since that brutal loss to UCLA but they haven’t looked great in any of the victories. The Tide roll into town after beating the crap out of Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. Bama is due for a letdown, but I’m not sure Kevin Sumlin has the team to really challenge Nick Saban.

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