Ranking the Best SEC Football Matchups of Week 7
This week's slate of college football games around the nation is far from the best, and that's the case in the SEC, too.
Still, that doesn't mean there's a shortage of intrigue.
After LSU went on the road and beat Florida last week to help ease some of the pressure on first-year head coach Ed Orgeron, the Tigers host one of the toughest teams in the SEC West when Auburn comes to Baton Rouge. A win could change the landscape of the division.
In Gainesville, the Gators host Texas A&M in a game that could see the loser begin to start asking difficult questions about its head coach. The winner, meanwhile, can get their season heading back on the right track.
Speaking of hot seats, perhaps none is steamier than Butch Jones', and the Vols are coming off a bye week and hosting South Carolina in a must-win game for the fifth-year coach's tenure. Will Muschamp has never lost to UT as a head coach.
There are plenty of reasons to watch your favorite team this week, even if most of them are out of the championship race. As for some of those who are still in the chase, Alabama and Georgia are more than 30-point favorites against their opponents.
But crazier upsets have happened, so let's take a look at the league's top games of the week.
7. Missouri at Georgia
There is a lot of talk swirling around the conference about the coaches, and it isn't just hot air filling the air waves, either.
Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, Tennessee's Butch Jones, Arkansas' Bret Bielema, Ole Miss' Matt Luke, and, to an extent, even LSU's Ed Orgeron and Florida's Jim McElwain, have question marks regarding their tenures.
It's much the same in Columbia, Missouri, as Barry Odom's team hasn't shown many signs of life this year.
At 1-4, the Tigers are struggling. Now, they must go on the road and face No. 4 Georgia, one of the hottest teams in the entire country. The Bulldogs are clicking on all offensive cylinders, including freshman signal-caller Jake Fromm, who has been a revelation in relief of injured Jacob Eason.
Defensively, UGA is swarming all over the field and playing with a chip on its shoulder that looks like some of those units Kirby Smart and Mel Tucker had at Alabama.
This has all the trappings for a trouncing in Athens. The only real concern here for UGA is losing its focus and looking beyond this game to their Oct. 28 tilt against Florida. But there's a bye week in between, so Mizzou can't count on that.
As poor as the Tigers defense has been this season, this looks like a major mismatch. It would be a surprise if it winds up less than three touchdowns. Expect the whispers about Odom's future to get even louder after this weekend.
6. Arkansas at Alabama
Bret Bielema is struggling for answers following last week's lopsided loss to a South Carolina team that hadn't looked like its early-season form since losing receiver Deebo Samuel for the season.
Now, the Razorbacks could be staring a 0-4 start to conference play in the face. They have to travel to Tuscaloosa this week where the top-ranked Crimson Tide await, and Nick Saban hasn't been friendly to SEC bottom-dwellers so far this season.
After dispatching Vanderbilt 59-0, UA beat Ole Miss 66-3 before coming a bit closer to earth in last week's road win over Texas A&M. Now, the Tide play Bielema's team, which ended last year with a puzzling loss to Missouri and a crippling collapse in a Belk Bowl loss to Virginia Tech.
This year has started where last season ended.
"We were going to be at the highest win total [since I've been here] a year ago and lost two games at the end of the year that were very frustrating and haven't been able to get on track yet," Bielema told SEC Country's Trent Shadid.
It's beginning to look like a change could be afoot in Fayetteville.
Meanwhile, in Tuscaloosa, nothing is different. Though the Tide lost a ton of players to the NFL, they look like the nation's top team again. That won't change this week with a style-points victory that will resemble a laugher in the second half.
5. BYU at Mississippi State
Three weeks ago, everybody in the nation was talking about Mississippi State following a resounding 30-point upset over LSU in Starkville.
The cowbell clangs from that night echoed most of the week in the headlines as quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was a media dark horse for early-season Heisman Trophy contention. Some even thought the Bulldogs may be quiet contenders with Alabama and Auburn for the SEC West.
Then, reality saw Dan Mullen's team crash to the ground.
Georgia swarmed them for a 31-3 loss in Athens, before MSU followed that up by showing little signs of life in a 49-10 loss at Auburn. After a bye week, the Bulldogs are back home for a little easier test, even if it is a bit of an unknown.
BYU makes a cross-country trip to Starkville with plenty of problems of its own. After losing to Boise State a week ago, the Cougars are 1-5 and haven't found a way to break through. They haven't even been competitive yet in a difficult schedule that included losses to LSU, Wisconsin, Utah, Utah State and Boise.
The Bulldogs will try to return the favor for last year's 28-21 loss in Provo that continued MSU's early-season struggles. They improved as the year went on, but that was a tough loss for an SEC opponent to stomach. Now, MSU wants to get back on track this year.
This is an ideal game for that to start, but the Bulldogs shouldn't take the Cougars lightly.
4. Vanderbilt at Ole Miss
There won't be any "We want Bama" signs in the stands in this one.
Despite those early-season setbacks to the mighty Crimson Tide, these are two programs that desperately need a win to get back on track.
The Rebels are 2-3 and reeling defensively so far this season under interim coach Matt Luke, who doesn't look like he's going to have the opportunity to lead Ole Miss in any capacity beyond this bridge year from the forgettable Hugh Freeze regime.
If it wasn't for quarterback Shea Patterson and an able stable of receivers, there wouldn't be any excitement in Oxford this year. The team can't go to a bowl game even if it somehow gets eligible. To reach that six-win mark, a victory on Saturday against Vanderbilt is needed.
As for the Commodores, they looked like an early-season story starting 3-0. But they proved they aren't yet ready to compete with the big boys the past three weeks.
Alabama, Florida and Georgia all handled VU, and now the Commodores are showing the effects of being tired and going through a grueling stretch.
Coach Derek Mason is looking for answers after crowing about having something for 'Bama earlier this year.
"The reality is, I have to make sure too that I don't lose focus," Mason told The Tennessean's Joe Rexrode. "OK, I've got to fix it. So you get back to work and keep looking for those things you can point out."
3. South Carolina at Tennessee
Across the state from Vanderbilt, the bigger football school in the Volunteer State needs something positive to happen.
Head coach Butch Jones doesn't have any slogans to turn fans back in his corner after a Hail Mary loss to Florida and a 41-0 embarrassment in Neyland Stadium against Georgia. According to ESPN's Chris Low, the bye week saw infighting among teammates, while a former starting offensive lineman transferred and there was a quarterback change.
There is turmoil brewing in Knoxville, and the Vols have to find a way to get back to their winning ways, or the future won't include Jones. It's hard to believe this team is still 3-2 after all the negativity around the program.
In that state, UT will welcome South Carolina and coach Will Muschamp, who has never lost to the Vols as a head coach. He has a quarterback in sophomore Jake Bentley, who will be the best signal-caller UT has faced all season, and the Gamecocks are looking for their second straight win in the series.
This should be a close game against two teams that are trying to spin the seasons in the right direction and move into that second-place spot behind Georgia in the SEC East. The Gamecocks got back on track last week with a win over Arkansas, and they rekindled some of their early-season offensive success.
Tennessee will give redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano his first career start at quarterback to try to muster anything offensively. Maybe he's the answer. If he isn't, the Vols will be searching for a new one on the sideline sooner rather than later.
It may even happen Sunday if the Vols lose.
2. Texas A&M at Florida
Kyle Field was in a frenzy last weekend as Texas A&M hung with Alabama for much of the game. Even when it was a two-touchdown deficit, the crowd was behind that team like it was a two-point game.
That has to be encouraging for a young group of players that includes true freshman signal-caller Kellen Mond, who now must go on the road and face a team in Florida that lost to LSU in the Swamp last week.
This crowd won't be nearly as friendly as last week's. Thankfully for A&M, the Gators will probably treat the Aggies much better than Alabama. That doesn't mean A&M will definitely win the game, but the Gators aren't near the caliber of the Crimson Tide on the field.
The story of this game (well, besides the atrocious UF alternate uniforms) may end up being which freshman can grow up the fastest.
Mond showed some glimpses last week in that loss to Alabama. Feleipe Franks hasn't gotten there yet. Yes, he threw the missile of a post pattern to beat Tennessee on the final play, but he hasn't shown any consistency.
This game should be low-scoring, close and could go either way. The Aggies probably have the upper hand because they have more playmakers on offense, and they should find multiple ways to get the ball in the hands of receiver Christian Kirk and running back Trayveon Williams.
If they do that and end up breaking a couple of plays, the Gators haven't shown us any reason to believe they can match them on the scoreboard.
1. Auburn at LSU
Now, this is more like it.
After an early season that had people around the SEC wondering why Auburn was so highly thought of in the offseason and why there was so much buzz around quarterback Jarrett Stidham, they're now proving it.
Stidham is maturing in new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey's offense, and it hasn't hurt that no other team sacked the QB 11 times as Clemson did in Week 2. The offense has begun to find itself with Kerryon Johnson looking like a dynamic back the past couple of weeks.
He's scored 11 touchdowns in the past three games while Kamryn Pettway recovers from a heel injury.
It's uncertain if Pettway will return against LSU, but the Tigers from the Plains have plenty of weapons if he doesn't. Even in the games where the offense struggles, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele's unit has been consistent and dominant.
All that equals a difficult home test for coach Ed Orgeron and crew. Last week's 17-16 road win at Florida helped some of the anger that was left over from an inexplicable home loss to Troy. While all the issues are far from resolved, the Bayou Bengals are capable of being a good team.
They've certainly got the talent to be.
Auburn should go down to Baton Rouge and take care of business in Death Valley, but you never know what's going to happen in a rivalry game. This may end up being the marquee game in the league this week.
Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @Brad_Shepard.