LSU QB Zach Mettenberger
The last weekend in September brings us some wildly intriguing SEC matchups that could have a major impact on the SEC division races.
No. 6 LSU will travel to No. 9 Georgia in a battle of national title contenders. The Tigers will look to stay undefeated and notch a resume win for the first time all year, while the Bulldogs—who have an out-of-conference loss to No. 3 Clemson—will hope to avoid a conference loss.
Simply put, this game will have major ramifications in both divisions. If LSU wins, it will announce itself as not only a contender, but arguably the best team in the country. For Georgia, it's a chance to clear a major SEC hurdle and stay one game ahead of No. 12 South Carolina in the SEC East.
But that's not the only Top 25 matchup in the SEC this weekend. No. 21 Ole Miss will visit No. 1 Alabama Saturday night. Can Ole Miss spring the upset?
Our picks for those games and the rest of the SEC slate are in this slideshow.
2013 Record: 37-4 (24-16 ATS); Last Week: 8-1 (3-6 ATS)
All lines courtesy: VegasInsider.com
South Carolina QB Connor Shaw
Saturday, Sept. 28 at noon ET
Can you say "upset alert?"
South Carolina will travel to Orlando for a high-noon tilt with a very dangerous UCF Knights team led by head coach George O'Leary and quarterback Blake Bortles. The 3-0 Knights have had two weeks to prepare for the Gamecocks after going on the road and topping Penn State 34-31 on Sept. 14.
The question here for South Carolina is whether or not they can contain Bortles. The Oviedo, Fla. native has passed for 272 yards per game, tossed seven touchdowns and has a passer rating of 199.49. He's going to present quite a challenge for the Gamecocks secondary, which was lit up by Georgia's Aaron Murray earlier in the month and has been inconsistent throughout the year.
Cornerback Victor Hampton should be back to 100 percent, and the bye week last week allowed defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton to rest their foot injures. If Clowney and Sutton can generate pressure up front, it will filter through the defense, and Hampton could be the beneficiary.
This is going to be a four-quarter battle, but UCF hasn't seen anything like South Carolina's rushing attack that features running backs Mike Davis, Brandon Wilds and quarterback Connor Shaw. The Gamecocks cruise past 250 rushing yards as a team and pull away in the second half.
Prediction: South Carolina 31 - UCF 20
Tennessee QB Justin Worley
Saturday, Sept. 28 at 12:21 p.m. ET
Another week, another spin of the Tennessee quarterback wheel.
Nathan Peterman—last week's starter at Florida—underwent surgery on his hand this week, which solidifies Justin Worley—the starter for Tennessee's first three games of the season—back in the top spot on the depth chart.
Well, at least for now.
If there's a game to play musical quarterbacks, this is the game...not on the road against the best defense in the SEC in a hostile environment, as was the case last week.
Worley wasn't bad in relief last week, throwing for 149 yards and a touchdown against a Gators team that was focused on stopping the pass. Sure, he threw two picks. But everybody turned the ball over in that game, and he was thrust into a no-win situation in the second half against a talented defense that knew what was coming.
South Alabama is giving up 264 passing yards per game, so expect Worley to have a solid rebound performance. If he doesn't, either true freshman Riley Ferguson and Josh Dobbs will prepare to take over the starting role next week versus Georgia.
Worley will stretch the field and earn back some of the confidence of the coaching staff, cementing his spot atop the depth chart—a spot he shouldn't have lost last week.
Prediction: Tennessee 35 - South Alabama 17
Saturday, Sept. 28 at 3:30 p.m. ET
No. 6 LSU and No. 9 Georgia will meet between the hedges in Athens on Saturday afternoon in the biggest game of the college football weekend.
"The Mettenbowl" will feature LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger—a native of nearby Watkinsville and former Georgia quarterback—returning to his old stomping ground to take on the Bulldogs, who are led by quarterback Aaron Murray.
While the quarterbacks will draw the attention in this one, the difference-maker in this game will be Georgia's defense. Can the new-look Bulldogs, who are inexperienced and have been battling through injuries since the start of fall camp, slow down this versatile LSU offense?
Nope. Not enough to win, anyway.
Mettenberger and new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have clicked, wide receivers Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry have emerged as one of the top wide receiver duos in the SEC, and running back Jeremy Hill is back and better than ever.
Hill will cruise past the century mark, establish the ground game early and allow Mettenberger to take the top off of the Bulldog defense with deep play-action passes to Landry and Beckham.
On the flip side, Georgia's offense will try to do the same, but the talented LSU front seven will contain Gurley as much as possible, and the secondary will come up with a key pick late to tie a bow on a big road win for the Tigers.
Prediction: LSU 31 - Georgia 24
Saturday, Sept. 28 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Is this the game where Alabama stumbles? Considering the matchup nightmares Ole Miss presents, it's certainly possible.
Alabama has some major issues in the secondary, and that plays into one of the Rebels' strengths—a talented, physical and tall receiving corps.
Donte Moncrief and Laquon Treadwell are both 6'3" with big frames and hands like glue, which, as evidenced by the Texas A&M game, presents problems to Alabama's relatively inexperienced cornerbacks.
Deion Belue has been banged up, John Fulton was torched by the Aggies' Mike Evans and the rest of Alabama's DBs have struggled a bit in pass coverage. So how are they going to slow down this talented tandem? If head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart roll over safety help, that only opens up more holes for running back Jeff Scott and Bo Wallace.
Ole Miss will score, but can it score enough?
Close, but no cigar.
Ole Miss is better on defense than it gets credit for, but Alabama can win and has won in a variety of ways. If the defense lets the Tide down, that means it's quarterback AJ McCarron's show. If the defense shuts the Rebels down, here comes T.J. Yeldon and the rest of the Crimson Tide running backs.
This will be more of a shootout than Saban would like, and don't be surprised if Ole Miss has the ball late with a chance to win or tie. In the end, I trust McCarron more than Wallace, and that will make the difference in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Alabama 31 - Ole Miss 27
Florida head coach Will Muschamp (left) with QB Tyler Murphy
Saturday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. ET
Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy was impressive in a pinch last week after starter Jeff Driskel was lost for the season with a broken leg. But can he repeat the feat in his first road start?
Without a doubt.
Kentucky has been solid against the pass (181.3 YPG), but its rush defense is 13th in the SEC (185.67). That bodes well for the Gators, because Murphy showed last week that he's a bit more elusive than Driskel, which will force Kentucky's defense to play more disciplined.
That won't happen.
Murphy and running back Matt Jones will present more of a spread dynamic to the Gators, which have been seemingly forcing a pro-style with spread personnel, including the dual-threat Driskel. Murphy's performance against Tennessee—when he ran for 84 yards and a touchdown in addition to passing for 134 yards—will signal a slight change in philosophy for the immediate future and provide a spark for the normally anemic Gators offense.
Kentucky can't decide on a quarterback between Max Smith and Jalen Whitlow or a running back with Jojo Kemp and Raymond Sanders. Against this Gators defense, uncertainty will get you beat...badly.
Murphy will throw for more than 200 yards and rush for 75 more, and the Gators defense will make this a snooze-fest.
Prediction: Florida 30 - Kentucky 6
Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
Saturday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. ET
As my colleague Adam Kramer pointed out in his Top 25 picks against the spread piece, A&M is listed as a three-point game, but that's not really the spread.
With that said, though, this is a game that Texas A&M should be wary of. The Aggies defense is a total joke, and the one thing we know about Arkansas is that it can successfully control the tempo behind the talented running back duo of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams.
It will for the majority of the game, but that won't be enough for the Hogs to spring the upset.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin can't be comfortable winning shootouts all the time, but that's the norm around College Station. That's what this game will turn into late.
Manziel's first road test of the season will end in essentially the same manner as his first four games—with video-game numbers. After all, this is an Arkansas defense that's reeling after letting a big lead slip away last week at Rutgers.
Texas A&M will run away late when constant offensive pressure forces Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to change philosophy. Whether it's Brandon Allen or AJ Derby taking the snaps for Bret Bielema's crew, A&M's offense will force the Hogs to pass to keep up, and they won't be able to.
Prediction: Texas A&M 38 - Arkansas 20
Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews
Saturday, Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. ET
After a sluggish performance on the road last weekend at UMass, Vanderbilt returns home to take on the UAB Blazers on Saturday night.
Expect head coach James Franklin to get his offense on track.
The Commodores only managed 406 yards against a UMass team that is giving up 493.5 on the year. Consider that a wake-up call.
Austyn Carta-Samuels needs to become more consistent at quarterback, and Jonathan Krause (3.8 receptions per game) needs to get the ball more to take some heat off of fellow wide receiver Jordan Matthews (eight receptions per game)—who's arguably the best receiver in the SEC.
The 'Dores will make a concerted effort to spread the ball around more to get this team prepared for what they'll see when they step back into conference play next week versus Missouri.
Defensively, Vandy will hold the Blazers in check, and this one will get ugly in the second half.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 38 - UAB 16
Missouri QB James Franklin
Saturday, Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Don't look now, but Missouri is the only undefeated team in the SEC East. Granted, its wins are over Murray State, Toledo and Indiana, but the Tigers suddenly look like a competitive football team again.
Will that continue against Arkansas State this weekend? On offense, it will.
Arkansas State is giving up 440 yards per game, and Missouri's offense has found its stride with quarterback James Franklin, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and running backs Henry Josey and Russell Hansbrough.
The defense, however, is a question mark. Missouri has been a bit inconsistent against lesser competition. It will have its hands full against a Red Wolves team that features a talented running back in David Oku.
This isn't the Arkansas State team of old, though. The Red Wolves got blown out by a bad Memphis team 31-7 last week and didn't find the end zone against an average Auburn defense earlier in the month.
Missouri will roll and bring some much-needed momentum into SEC play.
Prediction: Missouri 45 - Arkansas State 17