Upset Saturday shook up the SEC division races last week, as contenders went down and new contenders emerged. But as the faces changed in the division races, one constant remains—the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.
Head coach Nick Saban's crew hosts Tennessee on Saturday afternoon in one of the SEC's top rivalry games. While "The Third Saturday in October" is dripping with history (despite not being played on the third weekend), it carries a lot of weight in the SEC race this season. Tennessee still has an outside shot at the SEC East title and has Uncle Mo on its side after upsetting South Carolina last week.
Those Gamecocks visit undefeated and No. 5 Missouri on Saturday night in what essentially serves as an elimination game for head coach Steve Spurrier's crew. South Carolina can't drop three games behind Missouri without the head-to-head tiebreaker and have a reasonable shot at Atlanta, so winning in the new Columbia is imperative.
Who wins those two showdowns and the rest of the SEC games in Week 9? Our picks are in this slide show.
2013 Record: 59-9 (1-5 last week), 40-27-1 ATS (3-3 last week)
All lines courtesy: VegasInsider.com
Mississippi State's Dak Prescott
Thursday, Oct. 24 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Mississippi State hosts Kentucky in a Thursday night showdown on national television in a game in which both coaches need a win. The Bulldogs' Dan Mullen has had a week and a half off after narrowly escaping the game against Bowling Green and needs to get some momentum before a tough month of November that sends the Bulldogs to South Carolina and Texas A&M in back-to-back weekends before they host Alabama.
Mississippi State will use its two-quarterback system that features dual-threat sophomore Dak Prescott and senior Tyler Russell depending on who has the hot hand. It worked against Bowling Green and LSU, but at some point a true No. 1 needs to emerge.
Mark Stoops' Wildcats also had a bye week leading up to this one, and he would love to put at least one conference win on his resume before hitting the home stretch on the recruiting trail. Maxwell Smith will get the start at quarterback after Jalen Whitlow—who will be available—went down two weeks ago with an ankle injury, according to Kyle Tucker of the Lexington (Ky.) Courier-Journal.
"I think Max got most of the reps last week and this week, but Jalen will be ready to go," Stoops said. "We’ll use him if we need to.”
The Wildcats rank 13th in the SEC in total offense (352.3 YPG), and Mississippi State's defense has very quietly turned into one of the SEC's better units (364.5 YPG). Prescott will emerge as the more effective of the two quarterbacks, LaDarius Perkins will break the century mark for the first time all season, and the Bulldogs will roll to a big win
Prediction: Mississippi State 31 - Kentucky 17
Saturday, Oct. 26 at 12:21 p.m. ET
Texas A&M fell victim to "upset Saturday" last week, suffering a 45-41 loss to Auburn at home. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt was busy mixing things up with Georgia, scoring 17 fourth-quarter points to topple the Bulldogs 31-27 in Nashville.
Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel is "hopeful" to start this week after temporarily leaving last week's game in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury, according to AggieSports.com. It's a good thing the reigning Heisman Trophy winner will be available because head coach Kevin Sumlin needs him to overcome the shortcomings of his defense.
A&M ranks last in the SEC in scoring defense (33.9 PPG), total defense (494.4 YPG) and rush defense (226.57 YPG), and the team relies on Manziel and the offense to put up video game numbers simply to keep the team competitive.
Vanderbilt has quarterback issues of its own.
Austyn Carta-Samuels left Saturday's game late in the first half with a leg injury and was replaced by Patton Robinette.
"We’ll just see how it works out," head coach James Franklin told The Tennessean on Monday. "Depending on practice, we’ll either name a starter or wait till after the game and let you guys figure it out yourselves who’s out there.”
But we do know that running backs Jerron Seymour and Wesley Tate will be out there, along with star wide receiver Jordan Matthews. If Robinette starts, he will have plenty of weapons around him to keep this one close.
The Aggies will be forced into a shootout—which is a necessity at this point thanks to that porous defense—but find enough offense with Manziel to get the win.
Prediction: Texas A&M 49 - Vanderbilt 38
Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon
Saturday, Oct. 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Judging from the way Tennessee has played in back-to-back games, taking Georgia to the brink and then upsetting South Carolina despite a strong performance from Gamecock defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, you'd think the Vols have some momentum and could continue the upset trend this weekend against the top-ranked Crimson Tide.
Alabama is back to playing old-school Alabama football, relying on a stingy defense and pounding the rock to punish opponents and run away. The Crimson Tide only allowed two touchdowns to teams quarterbacked by people other than "Johnny Football" and have found a nice compliment to starting running back T.J. Yeldon with sophomore speedster Kenyan Drake.
Tennessee gave up 137 rushing yards to South Carolina's Mike Davis last week, and Yeldon will have a similar day.
The real question is whether or not Tennessee can hang. While wide receiver Marquez North has been solid, quarterback Justin Worley hasn't seen anything like the pressure Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart are going to dial up on Saturday.
Alabama will cruise as Alabama typically does.
Prediction: Alabama 45 - Tennessee 13
LSU DT Ego Ferguson (9)
Saturday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. ET
Furman comes to LSU at the right time because the Tigers have been remarkably inconsistent this season and need to find some stability heading into the bye week next week and the Nov. 9 showdown with Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Just when you thought that LSU's defense was back to form when it throttled Florida a couple of weeks ago, Ole Miss rolled up 525 yards on the Tigers. Instead of the defense rising up, it was the offense regressing to the mean, as quarterback Zach Mettenberger tossed three first-half interceptions and dug the offense in a hole.
Expect the Tigers to get back to "LSU football" this week, as defensive coordinator John Chavis will mix and match pieces in preparation for Bama, Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue will both get going on the ground, and Mettenberger will have an efficient day to get a little confidence back heading into the bye week.
LSU will play dial-a-score with the Paladins.
Prediction: LSU 55 - Furman 6
Saturday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. ET
Last week it was Missouri heading into a tough SEC East showdown with a backup quarterback, as Maty Mauk made his first career start against the Florida Gators. This week, the Tigers are on the other end of the spectrum.
South Carolina will trot Dylan Thompson out against Missouri, after starting quarterback Connor Shaw left last weekend's loss to Tennessee with a sprained knee, according to Matt Connolly of the Spartanburg Herald Journal. Unlike Mauk, Thompson has plenty of experience under his belt.
Thompson isn't as much of a running threat as Shaw, so expect a heavy dose of running back Mike Davis and for Thompson to stretch the field with that big arm. If that Missouri defensive line led by reigning SEC defensive player of the week Michael Sam can get consistent pressure, Missouri can force some mistakes.
That's where Missouri gets the job done this week.
Tennessee had four sacks last week against South Carolina, and Missouri's front four have been making a living getting after the quarterback this season. They'll get to Thompson four times and force him to make quick decisions, and Missouri's magical season will continue with a big home win over a division foe.
Prediction: Missouri 31 - South Carolina 23
Auburn RB Cameron Artis-Payne
Saturday, Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET
All of a sudden, Auburn controls its own destiny in the SEC West after last weekend's thrilling 45-41 win over Texas A&M in College Station. Perfect timing for the Tigers, as Florida Atlantic rolls to town to provide a perfect opportunity for head coach Gus Malzahn to build some depth and rest some starters heading into the stretch run.
Tre Mason has been an absolute stud for the Tigers, rushing for 693 yards and eight touchdowns this season. But in this game, Auburn would be better served getting edge-rusher Corey Grant and between-the-tackles bruiser Cameron Artis-Payne some carries in unfamiliar situations in case that's called for later in the season.
Defensively, Auburn has been able to generate pressure lately with its front seven but needs to play better pass defense. The Tigers rank last in the SEC in pass D (282 YPG), and if they can pressure dual-threat quarterback Jaquez Johnson into some mistakes when he drops back, that will help the Tigers' confidence.
Grant and Artis-Payne will go north of 100 yards, quarterback Nick Marshall will work on his passing game, and Auburn's defense will come to play as the Tigers roll to a big win.
Prediction: Auburn 49 - Florida Atlantic 17
Saturday, Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Will the real Ole Miss please stand up?
After looking average at best against Alabama and Auburn earlier in the season, Ole Miss has looked like the team we expected to see over the last two weeks, taking Texas A&M to the wire and then upsetting LSU 27-24 last weekend in Oxford.
While quarterback Bo Wallace led the Rebels to 525 total yards of offense without starting running back Jeff Scott in the lineup against the Tigers, it was the play of LSU's defense that really turned heads. The Rebels picked off Zach Mettenberger three times in the first half and built a 17-point lead early in the third quarter before withstanding a late Tiger charge to win it with a field goal as time expired.
With Idaho rolling into town, now's the time to build some depth. Jaylen Walton looked great in Scott's absence last week, and getting he and I'Tavius Mathers some more reps will be beneficial for this team as it looks to finish the season strong.
Idaho is bringing the nation's second-worst defense into down, so expect the Rebels to turn this into a track meet and lap the field.
Prediction: Ole Miss 62 - Idaho 10