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SEC Weekend Primer

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Ole Miss is attempting to pick up a third straight win over Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Conference play in the SEC hits full swing on Saturday with three SEC West contests and a potential trap game for an SEC East title contender. We think we know who the best team in the conference is (Alabama), but this weekend could give us some idea to the difficult question of who’s No. 2?

Unfortunately for fans, it’s a primetime-heavy schedule, with three of the four league games kicking off within 30 minutes of each other. Nevertheless, Saturday is sure to be a fun, jam-packed day that will help us start to separate the contenders and pretenders in the SEC.

The Vitals

Ohio at (15) Tennessee, Noon ET (SEC Network); Tom Hart and Andre Ware
Vanderbilt at Georgia Tech, 12:30 ET (ACC Network); Tom Werme and David Archer
(1) Alabama at (19) Ole Miss, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS); Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson
East Carolina at South Carolina, 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network); Dave Neal and Matt Stinchcomb
New Mexico State at Kentucky, 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network Alt.); Taylor Zarzour and Jordan Rodgers
(17) Texas A&M at Auburn, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN); Dave Flemming and Brian Griese
Mississippi State at (20) LSU, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2); Mike Patrick and Ed Cunningham
North Texas at (23) Florida, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU); Clay Matvick and Dusty Dvoracek
(16) Georgia at Missouri, 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network); Brent Musburger and Jesse Palmer
Texas State at (24) Arkansas, 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network Alt.); Roy Philpott and Clint Stoerner

Players in the Spotlight

1.     Ole Miss DT Breeland Speaks

Speaks may need to do what former teammate Robert Nkemdiche did a year ago against Alabama and dominate the line of scrimmage. While he won’t light up the stat sheet like end Marquis Haynes, Speaks needs to be a disruptive presence both against the run and in pressuring Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts in his first career road start.

2.     Alabama WR ArDarius Stewart

Calvin Ridley received most of the summer hype, but it’s been Stewart who has dazzled in the Crimson Tide passing game with 203 yards and three touchdowns through two weeks. With a struggling running game and a banged-up Ole Miss secondary, Alabama’s best bet for points on Saturday will likely be through the air.

3.     LSU QB Danny Etling

Les Miles didn’t officially name Etling the starter for Saturday night’s SEC opener against Mississippi State, but said he expects that Etling will take the first snap in place of Brandon Harris. The Purdue transfer was underwhelming last week in relief, completing just six of 14 passes, but simply a new presence in the huddle might be the tweak the Tigers offense needs to get its performance to be representative of its talent.

4.     Missouri DE Charles Harris

The traditionally strong Missouri pass rush has been largely non-existent this season, with the Tigers registering just one sack through two games. Harris, who remains without a quarterback drop after having seven in 2015, faces a Georgia offensive line that was embarrassed last week in the Bulldogs’ narrow escape against Nicholls. Despite being down a notch from the past couple years, it seems only a matter of time before the Tigers defensive line starts resembling its predecessors.

5.     Tennessee LB Colton Jumper

A former walk-on, Jumper slides into the middle linebacker role for the injured Darren Kirkland Jr., who is out this week (and probably next week against Florida) with a high ankle sprain. Jumper is a limited athlete and was basically just a temporary stopgap last season until then-freshman Kirkland was up to speed. Ohio may not be able to expose him, but Jumper could be forced to go next week against a Florida team that successfully picked on him last season.

Trivia Time (answers below):

1.     Who is the last starting quarterback to win consecutive games against Nick Saban?

2.     In the 24 meetings since SEC divisional play began, how many times has Mississippi State defeated LSU?

3.     Which current Power 5 head coach attended both Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech?

Predictions

Last Week: 12-2 (4-7-1 ATS)
Season To Date: 21-6 (9-15-1 ATS)

New Mexico State at Kentucky (-21.5) (1 star): The Wildcats are still in search of their first win of the season, having now allowed 79 points in the last six quarters while managing just seven of their own. The Aggies come in on a high after an upset of rival New Mexico last week, but will again be without star running back Larry Rose III, who is recovering from a sports hernia. Kentucky gets off of the schneid, but not in pretty fashion. Kentucky 31, New Mexico State 17.

North Texas at Florida (-36) (1 star): The Mean Green had dropped 13 of their previous 14 games before defeating Bethune-Cookman last week. North Texas has never lost to Florida, but their only meeting came 69 years ago. The Gators will likely be without star wideout Antonio Callaway, but it won’t matter this week. Florida will notch a third straight decisive victory before hitting the road for the first time next week at Tennessee. Florida 42, North Texas 7.

Ohio at Tennessee (-27.5) (2 stars): Many signs point to a trap game for Tennessee with the Bobcats visit coming in for a Noon game in between the Battle at Bristol and the SEC opener against nemesis Florida. The Vols have started slow in each of their first two games, so that should be the top priority this week, even though they can easily overcome an early deficit against Frank Solich’s team. Tennessee 49, Ohio 14.

Texas State at Arkansas (-31) (2 stars): Like Tennessee, Arkansas could be dealing with complacency after a big non-conference win and before the SEC opener against a team that has had its number of late (Texas A&M). The Bobcats and first-year head coach Everett Withers upset Ohio in triple overtime in Week 1 and have had two weeks to prepare for their first ever trip to Fayetteville. Lay the points here, as Bret Bielema rarely has a problem running up the score.  Arkansas 52, Texas State 14.

Vanderbilt at Georgia Tech (-6.5) (3 stars): Two similar institutions collide in Atlanta in an intriguing early-afternoon affair. How will a nasty Commodores defense handle the triple option? Head coach Derek Mason last faced it while at Stanford when the Cardinal played Army in 2013. Expect a lot of rushing yards from both sides and a game that could be over in under three hours. Vanderbilt 17, Georgia Tech 13.

East Carolina at South Carolina (-3) (3 stars): Can the Pirates knock off a Power Five opponent for the second straight week after defeating N.C. State last Saturday? They come in ranked No. 8 in the nation in yards per play at 7.71. It’s the home opener for Will Muschamp and South Carolina after splitting a pair of SEC road games to open the season. East Carolina always plays well in these situations and won’t be intimidated by Williams-Brice Stadium. East Carolina 23, South Carolina 20.

Georgia (-6.5) at Missouri (3 stars): How will Georgia rebound from being oh-so-close to succumbing to the biggest upset in college football history a week ago? Missouri showed some life last week, but Eastern Michigan didn’t have Nick Chubb. The Bulldogs will continue their resemblance of 2015 Florida, doing just enough to get by against a Missouri team that will feel like it let a golden opportunity slip through its fingers. Georgia 23, Missouri 17.

Mississippi State at LSU (-14) (4 stars): If Les Miles hopes to survive to 2017, he must start 3-0 in the SEC before the trip to Florida. That stretch starts with a Bulldogs team who won in Baton Rouge two years ago and missed a game-winning field goal attempt in last year’s meeting. Mississippi State has seven sacks through two weeks and should challenge the LSU offensive line and new quarterback Danny Etling. It will be good enough to push Miles to the edge, but not quite over it. LSU 24, Mississippi State 23.

Texas A&M at Auburn (-3.5) (4 stars): The Tigers have dropped six straight home games to Power Five opponents, starting with the Aggies’ stunning victory as 24-point underdogs in 2014. Auburn amassed 700 yards of offense last week against Arkansas State and will provide a big test for what, through two weeks, seems to be a much improved Texas A&M run defense. Clemson barely survived Jordan-Hare Stadium at night. Texas A&M won’t be as fortunate against a stout Auburn defense. Auburn 31, Texas A&M 20.

Alabama (-11) at Ole Miss (5 stars): Can Ole Miss become the first team to defeat Nick Saban three years in a row since Purdue did it to his last three Michigan State teams from 1997-99? It will take another special effort from Chad Kelly, who is the mobile gunslinger that has given Saban’s defenses fits in the past. The biggest mismatch will be the Alabama defensive line against the Ole Miss offensive line, which could force Kelly into being even more daring than he normally is. This Rebels secondary also isn’t what is has been, and the Crimson Tide passing game could be in for a big day. Alabama 34, Ole Miss 27.

Trivia Answers

1.     Rex Grossman, Florida (2000 and 2001)

2.     Twice (1999 and 2014)

3.     Colorado’s Mike MacIntyre

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.