Here we are in Week 4 of the 2013 SEC schedule, and the latest Game of the Century is behind us. Alabama withstood Johnny Manziel and the 12th Man to escape College Station with a 49-42 victory and an inside track to yet another BCS National Championship game appearance. The Tide have also admirably dodged yet another rumored Nick Saban departure this week, one of several we will assuredly hear in the coming months.
The Aggies look to bounce back against an in-state opponent, which is one of the nine games on the conference slate. Get ready to go on a trip from Massachusetts to Texas and everywhere in between — but first, here’s our weekly trivia question!
SEC Trivia, Week 4 (answer at the end of the column): Alabama and/or Florida played in the first five SEC Championship Games. Which two teams played in the first SEC Championship Game that involved neither Alabama nor Florida, and which team won the championship?
Top of the Ratings
Auburn (3-0, 1-0 SEC) at #6 LSU (3-0), 7:45 pm ET, ESPN
Last week’s episode: Auburn 24, Mississippi State 20; LSU 45, Kent State 13
Program guide: The battle of the Tigers unfolds Saturday night in Death Valley, and what a difference three games makes. Gus Malzahn has returned to the plains, and the Auburn offense has returned with him. Malzahn’s team averages just over 440 yards per game through the first three contests of the season, and quarterback Nick Marshall (43-70, 585 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions; 27 carries, 102 yards) is the catalyst behind this offensive resurgence. Junior running backs Corey Grant, Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne have also put up huge numbers, combining for 602 yards and five touchdowns. Auburn is also the only team in the conference to convert 100 percent of its red zone opportunities, joining just nine others in the FBS to have done so.
Auburn’s defense is still experiencing its share of concerns (92nd in total defense, 105th in passing defense). Mississippi State exposed some of those concerns last week, mostly from the quarterback spot. Dak Prescott completed 15-of-28 passes for 213 yards, adding 22 carries for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Though LSU will not present the same running quarterback issues with Zach Mettenberger (6 carries, 6 yards), the Tigers are maturing as a passing offense (269.3 yards per game). If Auburn plans to play closer to the line to stop LSU’s rushing attack (5.51 yards per carry), a lot of pressure will be on the corners to control the passing game.
LSU drilled Kent State last weekend, with Mettenberger (13-for-18, 264 yards, three touchdowns) turning in another efficient performance. The Tiger rushing attack carried the day, though. Running backs Jeremy Hill, Terrence Magee and Alfred Blue combined for 30 carries, 281 yards and three touchdowns. They will look to carry an LSU team that has not lost an SEC opener at home since 2006.
The LSU defense will look to continue its stingy ways in this contest. The Tigers are tenth nationally in total defense (267.7 yards per game), ranking behind only Florida and Arkansas among SEC clubs. John Chavis’ defense also succeeds in pass defense (15th in the FBS) and run defense (24th). LSU and Auburn also share great numbers on special teams, with Auburn ranking third in the nation in kickoff returns, with LSU ranked thirteenth. One of those LSU kickoff returns came from Odell Beckham Jr. in LSU’s 37-27 win over TCU in the season-opener, a 75-yarder that helped to counter a late TCU score. Special teams could play a large role in this game, and with both teams having success in this area, keep an eye on kick returns throughout the game.
Set Your DVR
Missouri (2-0) at Indiana (2-1), 8 pm ET, Big Ten Network
Program guide: Missouri came through a tough 5-7 season last year to start this year 2-0, though there are still questions about where Missouri will go the rest of this season. Mizzou owns early-season victories over FCS-level Murray State and Toledo, and the Tigers get their first — and somewhat unexpected — test against the Hoosiers. Quarterback James Franklin is healthy again, and has gotten off to a tremendous start (42-for-63, 530 yards, four touchdowns, one interception; 23 carries, 121 yards). Containing Franklin, running backs Henry Josey and Russell Hansbrough and star receiver Dorial Green-Beckham will be a large task for Indiana’s 77th-ranked defense.
Indiana is 2-1 primarily because of their success on offense. The Hoosiers rank eighth nationally in total offense, running up 571.3 yards per game. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld is shredding opposing defenses to the tune of a 70.6 percent completion rate, completing 60-of-85 passes for 917 yards, throwing for ten scores against just two interceptions. Running back Tevin Coleman is having quite the start to his season, as well, rushing 41 times for 332 yards and five touchdowns. Indiana ranks tenth in the nation in passing yards per attempt (10.3). All roads appear to lead to a high-scoring affair in Bloomington, making this one of the more fun games of the weekend.
Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-2 SEC) at UMass (0-3), noon ET, ESPNews
- On the comeback trail: Vanderbilt has the lowest non-conference winning percentage (.592) of any SEC team since 2000. The Commodores have won five straight outside the SEC, however, including a 38-3 win over Austin Peay two weeks ago.
- Uncharted territory: UMass has never played an SEC opponent at home. Vanderbilt has another trip to Gillette Stadium planned as part of their series with the Minutemen. The Commodores defeated coach Charley Molnar’s squad 49-7 last year in Nashville.
- Time for some MACtion: Vanderbilt’s last loss against a Mid-American Conference opponent came against Miami (OH) in 2000. The Commodores’ only other loss to a MAC school came at the hands of Western Michigan in 1998.
North Texas (2-1) at #9 Georgia (1-1, 1-0 SEC), 12:21 pm ET, SEC Network
- Closing the non-conference slate: The Mean Green finish their non-Conference USA schedule with this trip between the hedges. Dan McCarney’s club holds victories over Idaho and Ball State, while suffering a narrow loss to Ohio on the road. Georgia, however, has remaining out of conference games against Appalachian State (November 9th) and at Georgia Tech (November 30th).
- Eat, drink and be Murray: Quarterback Aaron Murray leads the Bulldogs’ 20th-ranked passing offense, completing 71.2 percent of his passes through his first two games. Murray is also the active conference leader in passing yards and touchdowns, among other categories. North Texas, meanwhile, ranks 96th in pass defense. The Mean Green allows 267.3 yards per game through the air.
- Pulling rank: North Texas is trying to notch just its second win against a ranked opponent in school history (1-44). That victory came 39 seasons ago, with Hayden Fry’s Mean Green squad defeating then-number 20 San Diego State, 14-9.
Arkansas (3-0) at Rutgers (2-1), 3:30 pm ET, ESPN
- Dinged-up signal callers: Both teams may be without their quarterbacks for this game. Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova is questionable after a concussion, while Arkansas’ Brandon Allen is suffering from shoulder issues. Senior Chas Dodd (4-for-10, 45 yards) would fill in for the Scarlet Knights, while A.J. Derby (4-for-6, 36 yards) would be the Razorback starter in Allen’s stead.
- The irresistible force: Both teams have a rusher in the national top ten rankings. Rutgers’ Paul James (61 carries, 493 yards, six touchdowns) ranks second in yards per game, while Arkansas freshman Alex Collins (70 carries, 418 yards, two touchdowns) ranks eighth.
- The immovable object: While both teams have star rushers, they are also quite effective at stopping the run. Rutgers ranks fifth in the nation in yards per game allowed (59.33), while Arkansas is tied for 20th (105.33). With both quarterbacks ailing, the team that is more effective at stopping the run stands a great chance of winning this game.
Tennessee (2-1) at #19 Florida (1-1), 3:30 pm ET, CBS
- Duck and cover: The Volunteers took a 7-0 lead just six minutes into last week’s game at Oregon’s Autzen Stadium on a touchdown pass from Justin Worley to Jason Croom, leading to shocked looks from many in the stands. The Vols would not score again until 7:14 remained in the game. Oregon racked up 687 yards of offense against Tennessee.
- Swamp success: Florida has won the last four meetings between the two teams at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Tennessee’s last victory in Gainesville came September 20, 2003, as they defeated Florida 24-10. Tennessee’s last win in the series came in Knoxville in 2004, a 30-28 Volunteer victory.
- Who’s the boss?: Both teams have issues under center. Tennessee coach Butch Jones announced this week that he would be opening up the quarterback competition, and no starter had been named as of press time. Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel is under fire for his two key turnovers in Florida’s loss to Miami two weeks ago. Tennessee’s quarterback decision could alter the complexion of their offense, while Driskel continues to work on ball security.
Colorado State (1-2) at #1 Alabama (2-0, 1-0 SEC), 7 pm ET, ESPN2
- A familiar face: Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain is the former Alabama offensive coordinator. The Crimson Tide defeated LSU 21-0 in McElwain’s final game, the 2012 BCS National Championship Game.
- We’re better than you…barely: Colorado State ranks 73rd nationally in rushing, while Alabama ranks 74th. The Rams average 165.7 yards per game, as compared to Alabama’s 165. This is the only major category in which the Rams outperform the Tide.
- Unfamiliar faces: This will be Alabama’s first game at Bryant-Denny Stadium this year. This is also the first time Colorado State and Alabama have faced each other on the football field.
SMU (1-1) at #10 Texas A&M (2-1, 0-1 SEC), 7 pm ET, ESPNU
- Once in orange, once in red, white and blue: Mustang quarterback Garrett Gilbert faces Texas A&M as a starting quarterback for the third time in his career — once as the Texas quarterback and once for SMU. Gilbert completed 20-of-37 passes for 219 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in a 24-17 loss to the Aggies on November 25, 2010, then went 23-of-49 for 203 yards with an interception as SMU lost 48-3 in 2012.
- Recent success: The last time Texas A&M lost to SMU was during the Pony Express years, losing back-to-back games to the Mustangs in 1983 and 1984. The two teams played to a 21-21 tie in 1994, with the Aggies having won the four matchups that followed.
- Aerial assault: Aggie wide receiver Mike Evans caught his 100th career pass against Alabama last week, bringing his career total to 102. Evans and Manziel will be a tough duo to defend for the Mustangs. SMU ranks 119th in the FBS in pass defense, allowing a 69 percent opposing passing percentage and 315.5 yards per game.
Troy (2-1) at Mississippi State (1-2, 0-1 SEC), 7:30 pm ET, FSN
- What a win: Troy defeated Mississippi State 21-9 twelve years ago, which was also Troy’s first year of FBS competition. The Trojans scored all 21 points in the second quarter, with Demontray Carter scoring a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown.
- Perkin’ up: Mississippi State running back LaDarius Perkins continues his comeback from an injured ankle against Troy. Perkins’ return to the lineup against Auburn was somewhat limited, carrying just eight times for 36 yards. Troy has allowed two hundred-yard rushers this season, with Arkansas State’s Michael Gordon tallying 115 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries last week, while UAB’s Darrin Reaves ran for 104 yards in week one.
- Trojans have a horse: Troy’s Corey Robinson has keyed the Trojans’ seventh-ranked passing offense. The senior has completed 77-of-102 passes for 870 yards this season, throwing for seven touchdowns against just three interceptions. Troy averages 367.7 passing yards per game. The Bulldogs rate toward the middle of the FBS pack, allowing 206.7 passing yards per game.
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: Alabama and/or Florida played in the first five SEC Championship Games. Which two teams played in the first SEC Championship Game that involved neither Alabama nor Florida, and which team won the championship?
Tennessee defeated Auburn 30-29 in the 1997 SEC Championship Game. Peyton Manning was the game’s MVP. Manning completed 25-of-42 passes for 373 yards and two touchdowns. Jamal Lewis registered 31 carries for 127 yards.