LSU QB Zach Mettenberger
We've made the turn, and have begun the second half of the college football season. In the SEC, that means the fun is just getting started.
No. 10 LSU will host Florida No. 17 Florida on Saturday afternoon in Baton Rouge, in a game that LSU desperately needs to stay within striking distance in the SEC West race. Meanwhile, there's blood in the water in the East, and Florida would make a major statement by going on the road and beating a cross-division foe in a hostile environment.
After narrowly escaping Knoxville in overtime, No. 7 Georgia will return home and host No. 25 and undefeated Missouri in one of the more intriguing matchups of the day. The Bulldogs are beat up and the Tigers are on a roll. Could this be the biggest upset of the season?
Picks for these top 25 matchups and the rest of the SEC's games are in this slideshow.
2013 Record: 51-5 (7-0 last week); 34-20-1 ATS (5-2 last week)
All lines courtesy: VegasInsider.com
Missouri QB James Franklin
Saturday, Oct. 12 at noon ET
As if the overtime win over lowly Tennessee wasn't concerning enough, Georgia enters this week's game with Missouri with an injury list the size of a novel.
Running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley were lost for the year with ACL injuries last week, wide receiver Michael Bennett is out this week recovering from knee surgery of his own, running back Todd Gurley is doubtful with an ankle injury and safety Tray Matthews is doubtful as well with a hamstring injury.
This is the wrong time for all of those injuries, because while Missouri is still relatively unknown in the SEC thanks to an easy early-season schedule, the Tigers have the firepower to exploit those injuries.
Defensive end Michael Sam leads the SEC with six sacks on the season. He is one of three Tiger defensive lineman—along with Kony Ealy and Markus Golden—to win the SEC's defensive lineman of the week award this season.
The Tigers will generate pressure with four, which will allow cornerback E.J. Gaines—who is tied for the SEC lead with three picks—to take advantage of the relative lack of familiarity Murray has with some of his offensive pieces.
Tiger quarterback James Franklin has returned to his 2011 form, leading the Tigers to 543.8 yards per game. He has three stud running backs at his disposal, and tall wide receivers Dorial Green-Beckham and L'Damian Washington present matchups for any team, particularly one like Georgia which has issues in the secondary.
Head coach Gary Pinkel's crew will dictate tempo and force this into a shootout, Franklin will north of 325 total yards and Missouri will spring the upset.
Prediction: Missouri 35 - Georgia 31
Saturday, Oct. 12 at 12:21 p.m. ET
Instead of focusing on the questionable status of defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, let's focus on somebody we know will play—Gamecock running back Mike Davis.
Davis leads the SEC in rushing with 122.8 yards per game, and has been the stabilizing force in the Gamecock offense, making the impact of the loss of former star Marcus Lattimore minimal. At 5'9", 215-pounds, Davis hits the hole like a bowling ball, but has the breakaway speed to be dangerous if he gets in space.
But whatever South Carolina can do on the ground, Arkansas can do better—just barely though.
While the Gamecocks rush for an average of 215.4 yards per game, the Hogs are averaging 216 thanks to the fine work of freshman Alex Collins and sophomore Jonathan Williams. That tandem allows Arkansas to play Bielema-ball, which is what they'll try to do this weekend against a Gamecock defense that—even without Clowney in the lineup—is pretty stout giving up 127.8 yards per game.
Davis will break the 125-yard mark, Connor Shaw will be efficient in the passing game and South Carolina will escape Fayetteville with a tough, ugly road win that will be decided by a late field goal.
Prediction: South Carolina 24 - Arkansas 21
Auburn QB Nick Marshall
Saturday, Oct. 12 at 2 p.m. ET
Auburn is getting this tune up at the right time. After getting a bye week to prepare for last week's game against Ole Miss, the Tigers get to recover following the upset win and build some depth heading into next week's showdown at Texas A&M.
Quarterback Nick Marshall was tremendous last week on the ground rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns, but tweaked his knee late in the game. He'll give it a go this week against the Catamounts, but don't expect him to stick around too long in this one. The Tigers need backup Jonathan Wallace to stay fresh in case Marshall gets dinged up down the road, so once Auburn builds a lead, expect Wallace to be the guy.
Defensively, the Tigers need to keep the momentum going.
The defensive line was awesome last week with six sacks—two each from Dee Ford, Carl Lawson and Gabe Wright. That pressure needs to continue this week early, and then those guys can take a back seat to the reserves once things get out of hand.
The Tigers will clear the bench and cruise.
Prediction: Auburn 49 - Western Carolina 10
Saturday, Oct. 12 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Now this one is going to be a lot of fun.
LSU's offense has been a machine this year thanks to the work of running back Jeremy Hill and quarterback Zach Mettenberger, but they haven't seen anything like what they're going to see on Saturday afternoon.
The Florida Gators enter the game ranked second nationally in total defense (217 YPG), second in rush defense (65 YPG) and sixth in pass defense (152 YPG). Talk about strength versus strength.
Hill will have a hard time get going, which means it's going to be up to Mettenberger to slice and dice the talented and deep Gator secondary. With Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and Vernon Hargreaves III back there, that's going to be a tall order.
But we've seen what Mettenberger is capable of. In the loss to Georgia, it doesn't matter who was playing defense, there was no stopping him. Double coverage? Triple coverage? It didn't matter. Mettenberger has the arm strength and accuracy to find Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham no matter who's back there in coverage.
Mettenberger is going to repeat the feat, which will put the onus on Gator quarterback Tyler Murphy to keep up. Making just his third start and playing in the most hostile environment of his career, that won't happen.
This one will be close, but that Tiger offense will be too much and get a late score to put it away.
Prediction: LSU 24 - Florida 14
Alabama LB C.J. Mosley (32) and DL Brandon Ivory (99)
Saturday, Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. ET
Should Alabama be on upset alert at Kentucky? After all, it's a road game in the SEC.
In a word, no.
Old-school Alabama football is back, after the Crimson Tide have used a punishing running game and a stingy defense to cruise past Colorado State, Ole Miss and Georgia State in three consecutive weeks. Saturday will see more of the same.
Kentucky finally settled on a quarterback this week after Jalen Whitlow emerged in the South Carolina game as a potential weapon, but it will be two steps forward, one step back this week when linebacker C.J. Mosley and the talented Tide defense come to town.
Head coach Nick Saban's crew rushed 30 times last week, with nobody having more than six carries. T.J. Yeldon will probably have to shoulder a bit more of the load this week, but the second half of this game will provide Saban a chance to get some of his younger guys game experience on the road in the SEC.
Tide in a cake walk.
Prediction: Alabama 35 - Kentucky 7
Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott
Saturday, Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Mississippi State gave LSU all it could handle for three quarters last week, and then the wheels went flying off in the fourth quarter in a 59-26 loss. There is a silver-lining though. The offense looked solid running the two quarterback system featuring Dak Prescott and Tyler Russell.
It appears that system will be in Starkville for the rest of the year, and Saturday's game against Bowling Green is a good chance to refine it before heading back into conference play against Kentucky later in the month.
Bowling Green is no slouch on defense though, which is why you see the rather small spread coming from the boys out in Las Vegas. The Falcons lead the MAC giving up just 344 yards per game, and are second in the conference in pass defense giving up just 193.7 yards per game.
If you're expecting the Bulldogs to cruise, think again.
This one will be tight heading into the fourth quarter, but Prescott will assert himself as the guy who deserves more first-team snaps and lead the Bulldogs to two fourth quarter touchdowns to put it away late.
Prediction: Mississippi State 34 - Bowling Green 20
Saturday, Oct. 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET
The SEC's slate will come to a close Saturday night, with a late kickoff between high-octane offenses Texas A&M and Ole Miss.
Well, high-octane in theory.
The Rebels have sputtered of late, dropping two straight in the state of Alabama to the Crimson Tide and Auburn, in games in which the offense looked as finely-tuned as a 1976 Pinto. The offensive line struggled to protect quarterback Bo Wallace last week, and Wallace couldn't get on the same page with wide receivers Donte Moncrief and Laquon Treadwell late in the loss to Auburn.
That's a problem, because the offense will have to be on top of its game this week to keep pace with the Aggies.
Johnny Manziel and Co. have had two weeks to prepare for the Rebels after running over Arkansas 45-33 on Sept. 28. The Aggies almost got caught off-guard by the Rebels last season, but that won't happen. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall ran for 140 against this Rebel team last year, which means Manziel will have a field day.
He'll top the 400 total yard mark, score three times and lead the Aggies to a rout of the home-standing Rebels.
Prediction: Texas A&M 45 - Ole Miss 28