Picks, Predictions and Prognosis for Every Week 4 SEC Football Game
As we head into Week No. 4 of the season, we're already seeing the division races take shape.
Alabama and Georgia each have intra-division wins over title contenders, which gives each program a leg up on the competition. But don't make hotel reservations in Atlanta just yet. LSU has proven through three weeks that it's going to have a say in this SEC race, and despite the loss to Georgia on its resume, South Carolina is still a player in the East.
Week 4 sees Tennessee travel to Florida in a critical SEC East tilt, with Auburn taking on LSU in a battle of undefeated teams on Saturday night in Baton Rouge.
Who'll win, who'll lose and who will make a statement this week? Picks for Week 4 are in this slideshow.
2013 Record: 29-3 (21-10 ATS)
All lines courtesy: VegasInsider.com
Vanderbilt (-32) at UMass
Saturday, Sept. 21 at noon ET
Vanderbilt will travel to Foxborough, Mass., on Saturday afternoon for a tilt with the 0-3 UMass Minutemen. Expect head coach James Franklin to use this opportunity to build some much-needed confidence in his team after the Commodores dropped to 1-2 last weekend with a 35-25 loss to South Carolina.
Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels will continue his magic with star wide receiver Jordan Matthews, finding him early to keep him fresh, but spread the ball around to fellow receivers Jonathan Krause and Jordan Cunningham to build some familiarity and develop options in the passing game.
UMass ranks 119th in total defense, so expect a big number from the 'Dores.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 51 - UMass 17
North Texas at Georgia (-32.5)
Saturday, Sept. 21 at 12:21 p.m. ET
Georgia had the luxury of a bye week last week to recover from a tough 1-1 start against two very good teams in Clemson and South Carolina, and now get a tune-up against North Texas in preparation for its Week 5 showdown with LSU.
Georgia was bitten hard by the injury bug this summer, and this game provides a nice tune-up for some key defensive pieces that are still working to play together. Safety Tray Matthews was out virtually all of fall camp, fellow safety Corey Moore is still rounding into form. Corner Sheldon Dawson has been banged up and safety Josh Harvey-Clemons missed the first game serving a suspension.
Now the defense is healthy and needs to have a big day against the Mean Green to get some much-needed confidence going into the big game with a suddenly potent LSU offense at the end of the month.
Offensively, Georgia just needs to stay healthy. You won't see much of running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall in this one, because head coach Mark Richt won't need them.
Prediction: Georgia 42 - North Texas 13
Arkansas at Rutgers (PK)
Saturday, Sept. 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET
It's a non-conference game, but Saturday's matchup is the most important game of the season for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
If they lose, first-year head coach Bret Bielema can kiss a bowl game goodbye in Year 1.
The Hogs sit at 3-0 but embark on a brutal stretch starting with the Rutgers game that sees the Hogs play vs. Texas A&M, at Florida, vs. South Carolina and at Alabama in five consecutive weeks. If Arkansas can't get by the Scarlet Knights, it will likely lose five straight and still have LSU, Auburn and Ole Miss remaining on the schedule.
Quarterback Brandon Allen's status is up in the air after suffering a shoulder injury versus Southern Miss last week. Luckily for the Hogs, "Bielema-ball" is alive and well with running backs Alex Collins (139.33 YPG) and Jonathan Williams (131 YPG)—who rank second and third in yards per game in the SEC, respectively.
It'll be ugly, but Collins and Williams both go north of 100 rushing yards and pace the Razorbacks to an old-school win over Rutgers.
Prediction: Arkansas 24 - Rutgers 21
Tennessee at Florida (-17)
Saturday, Sept. 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET
No, that line above isn't a typo. Florida is a 17-point favorite over Tennessee on Saturday. The Gators—a team who's one-dimensional by necessity and may have a hard time getting to 17 points against air—are 17-point favorites against a team that's presumably going to trot out 11 defenders every down.
That tells you just where Vegas feels this Tennessee defense is at this point in the season.
The Vols were torched for 687 yards by Oregon last week, 456 of which came through the air from Duck quarterback Marcus Mariota. Florida isn't Oregon by any stretch. In fact, the Gators and Ducks are near-polar opposites. But that's a good thing because Florida needs to find a way to develop a downfield passing game this week behind quarterback Jeff Driskel.
This Florida offense will get the ground game going behind running back Matt Jones, but expect Driskel to have a relatively big day throwing, as well, with more than 250 yards as the Gators cruise past the Volunteers.
Prediction: Florida 31 - Tennessee 13
SMU at Texas A&M (-28.5)
Saturday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. ET
Get ready, because considering the two defenses that SMU and Texas A&M have, this is going to be point-a-minute football.
Thanks to some early-season suspensions, the first time head coach Kevin Sumlin really saw his real defense in game action was last week against Alabama, and he probably wishes he could wipe it away from his memory. The Aggies couldn't stop Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron and couldn't man up in the front seven when Alabama successfully made it a slugfest in the second half.
If quarterback Johnny Manziel can put up video game numbers against Alabama's defense, imagine what he's going to do to SMU. Manziel will make the highlights, but the Aggies desperately need to see some improvement from their defense otherwise they're not getting back into the division title race.
Manziel goes north of 500 total yards, but the Aggie defense will remain a concern after this shootout.
Texas A&M 51 - SMU 37
Colorado State at Alabama (-39.5)
Saturday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. ET
Alabama gets to play within the friendly confines of Bryant-Denny Stadium for the first time this season on Saturday, as the Colorado State Rams—led by former Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Jim McElwain—roll into Tuscaloosa.
Expect this to be a game that's more indicative of true Alabama football.
The Rams are 84th in the nation in rush defense (175.67 yards per game) and Alabama's offensive line looked solid against Texas A&M last week, which means big days from not only Crimson Tide running back T.J. Yeldon, but also several backups including Jalston Fowler and Kenyan Drake.
Defensively, Alabama needs to solve its question at cornerback. John Fulton was picked on by Texas A&M last week, and now No. 1 corner Deion Belue is banged up a bit. Expect a little trial and error at corner with Fulton, Geno Smith, Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones.
Prediction: Alabama 42 - Colorado State 14
Troy at Mississippi State (-14)
Saturday, Sept. 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Quarterback Tyler Russell missed his second straight game last week recovering from a concussion, but in his stead, backup Dak Prescott was fantastic in a 24-20 loss to Auburn.
Prescott threw for 213 yards and rushed for 133 and two touchdowns, proving that he can be a reliable weapon in SEC play. Whenever Russell gets back, expect Prescott to be featured in the Bulldog offense more prominently moving forward. His dual-threat ability allows head coach Dan Mullen to run an offense that's similar to the one he ran when he was Florida's offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer.
Russell's status is still up in the air, so Prescott may get a chance to go the full 60 minutes again this weekend.
Troy is putting up 547.3 yards per game (14th nationally), so expect a shootout in Starkville and another impressive performance from Prescott.
Prediction: Mississippi State 42 - Troy 31
Auburn at LSU (-17.5)
Saturday, Sept. 21 at 7:45 p.m ET
Just how "back" is LSU?
The Tigers are 3-0 and have looked solid on offense under first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, but wins over cupcakes Kent State and UAB coupled with TCU's sluggish start to the season haven't silenced the doubters.
A win over Auburn probably won't change perception one way or the other, but expect another big offensive day from quarterback Zach Mettenberger and the Tigers. Auburn's No. 1 cornerback, Chris Davis, is questionable with a foot injury and first-year coach Gus Malzahn's crew currently ranks last in the SEC in pass defense after giving up 276.3 yards per game through the air so far this season.
This will be the first road test for Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, who led a sizzling game-winning drive last weekend versus Mississippi State. But this is a road game in the SEC, so expect Auburn to rely heavily on the ground game and only put the game in Marshall's hands when it's needed.
It'll be needed early on Saturday night, but LSU's defense will be too tough and Marshall will make a few key turnovers that allow this one to get out of hand late.
Prediction: LSU 31 - Auburn 13
Missouri (-3) at Indiana
Saturday, Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. ET
Missouri hits the road for the first time in 2013, as the Tigers head to Indiana to take on the Hoosiers in a Saturday night tilt.
With two weeks to prepare, expect the Tigers to come out hot with quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey being focal points of the offense. Indiana is giving up 410 yards per game, so new offensive coordinator Josh Henson will use this opportunity to fine-tune his offense in preparation for SEC play.
This game is going to be won or lost based on Missouri's ability to slow down the potent Hoosiers offense. Kevin Wilson's crew is rolling up 571.3 yards per game this season, so that's going to put a ton of pressure on defensive end Kony Ealy, cornerback E.J. Gaines and the rest of the Tiger defense to force some mistakes to pull ahead in what's almost certainly going to be a track meet.
Franklin will have a big day, the defense will do enough and Missouri gets out of Bloomington with a tight win.
Prediction: Missouri 41 - Indiana 30