The SEC East sure took some interesting turns in week seven, loyal readers. Missouri defeated an admittedly weakened Georgia club between the hedges, Florida fell in Baton Rouge while losing their star running back and South Carolina thumped Arkansas. The Tigers are now in first in the division, but also lost one of their stars, with James Franklin now out for an extended period.
South Carolina gets their shot at Missouri — and a division title nobody would have thought possible weeks earlier — next week, but there are some games with interesting consequences lined up for this weekend. We’ll take you to meaningful conference tilts in Columbia, College Station and more, but first, here’s a trivia question!
SEC Trivia, Week 8 (answer at the end of the column): Five SEC schools have average crowds at or greater than their stadium’s capacity this season. Who are those five schools?
Top of the Ratings
#22 Florida (4-2, 3-1 SEC) at #14 Missouri (6-0, 2-0 SEC), 12:21pm ET, SEC Network
Last week’s episode: LSU 17, Florida 6; Missouri 41, Georgia 26
Program guide: Despite the Franklin injury we’ve already referenced, Missouri finds themselves in a place few outside of Columbia could have expected at this point in the season: first place in the SEC East. The job of maintaining that spot now falls to Maty Mauk, who gets the unenviable task of facing the conference’s top defense in his first starting assignment. Luckily for Mauk, he has a number of offensive weapons at his disposal, including the league’s second-best rushing offense and three of the top 20 receivers (L’Damian Washington, Dorial Green-Beckham and Marcus Lucas) in the league.
The Tigers have experienced their own share of defensive concerns this year, allowing just over 419 yards per game. They have also allowed the most passing yards in the league (1759). Missouri has allowed greater than 400 yards of offense in each of their last four contests, including 454 to Georgia last week.
Gary Pinkel’s club gets a struggling Florida offense this week, further decimated by the loss of Jones to a season-ending injury. The Gators are next-to-last in the SEC in total offense, averaging just under 368 yards per game. Those struggles came to a head last week in the loss to LSU, with Florida gaining just 240 yards against LSU, while converting just 6-of-17 third down opportunities. Quarterback Tyler Murphy — himself under center because of a season-ending injury — completed 15-of-27 passes for 115 yards, being sacked four times. Senior Mack Brown looks to take over the lion’s share of the carries in Jones’ absence.
Florida’s defense will look to carry the team, as it has all year. The league’s number one defense also ranks third nationally in yards per game allowed (235.3), posing quite the challenge for Mizzou. This top-five unit has locked down opponents all season, and how they respond to a quarterback with very little film available will be an interesting component to watch in this game. The one place Florida’s defensive domination does not continue is in turnover margin. Mizzou ranks fourth in the nation in turnover margin (1.5), while Florida is 49th at just 0.3 per game. Florida needs to find ways to win the turnover and time of possession battles to keep their hopes of heading to Atlanta alive.
#15 Georgia (4-2, 3-1 SEC) at Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3 SEC), noon ET, CBS
- Turning point: Georgia hammered Vanderbilt 48-3 in an early-season contest last year. That game seemed to spark a change in the Commodores’ program, as they won eight of their next nine games. Though Vandy is 3-3 this season and winless in the SEC, they are still experiencing their best 13-game stretch (10-3) in almost 50 years.
- The Bulldogs’ second home: Georgia has clearly made the most of the reasonably short drive up Interstates 75 and 24 to Nashville. The Bulldogs have won every game played between the two in the Music City since 1993. Vanderbilt’s last win against the ‘Dogs came in Athens in 2006, a 24-22 decision.
- Looking for another record: Aaron Murray has already become the SEC’s all-time leading passer, blowing by fellow Bulldog David Greene earlier this season. If Murray throws three touchdown passes between now and the end of the season, he will pass career conference leader Danny Wuerffel to break his record of 114 scores.
South Carolina (5-1, 3-1 SEC) at Tennessee (3-3, 0-2 SEC), noon ET, ESPN
- Putting it all together: South Carolina has experienced its share of up-and-down performances this year, but last week made Arkansas pay. The Gamecocks compiled 537 yards against the Razorbacks, notching 32 first downs to Arkansas’ seven. Though Jadeveon Clowney returned, the focus was on Connor Shaw (19-for-28, 219 yards, three TD) and Mike Davis (19 carries, 128 yards).
- Going out in style: South Carolina’s seniors look to finish their tenure in Columbia with a 4-0 record over the Vols. Tennessee owns 22 of the 31 all-time victories between the two, but last defeated the Gamecocks 31-13 on Halloween night in 2009 at Neyland Stadium.
- A week to recover: Tennessee had an extra week to prepare for this game after a devastating overtime loss to Georgia on October 5th. The Vols matched Georgia punch for punch before a Pig Howard fumble at the goal line gave the Bulldogs the chance to kick the game-winning field goal. Raijon Neal starred for the Vols in the effort, carrying 28 times for 148 yards and scoring twice.
#24 Auburn (5-1, 2-1 SEC) at #7 Texas A&M (5-1 , 2-1 SEC), 3:30pm ET, CBS
- Back in the rankings: Auburn is ranked 24th this week. The Tigers have not been ranked in almost two years, and they will look to improve that ranking in College Station this weekend. The Tigers lost 45-7 to Georgia in Athens on November 12th, 2011, and have not been in the polls since that weekend.
- The 700 club (part 1): Auburn football owns 20 more victories than A&M in school history (717-697). The Aggies would be the 18th school to reach the 700-win plateau.
- The 700 club (part 2): Auburn set a school record for total offense in a 62-3 victory over Western Carolina on the plains last week. The Eagles registered 712 yards of offense against the FCS opponent, with four Tiger rushers carrying for 61 yards or greater. Backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson completed 17-of-21 passes for 201 yards and four scores. Starting quarterback Nick Marshall is expected to return for Auburn this week.
Arkansas (3-4, 0-3 SEC) at #1 Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC), 7:00pm ET, ESPN
- Righting the ship: The Razorbacks find themselves in the middle of a prolonged skid. Following Bret Bielema’s wife Jen’s ill-fated “karma” tweet after Wisconsin’s loss to Arizona State, the Razorbacks have lost four straight games. The streak began with a 28-24 loss to Rutgers. Bielema’s team has lost three straight games to ranked opponents.
- Awesome Alex: Arkansas freshman Alex Collins ranks 22nd in the FBS in rushing, averaging just under 103 yards per game. Collins leads all freshmen in rushing, having carried for 720 yards. Collins has found the end zone four times.
- Roll Tide: Alabama finds itself atop every poll this week, including the first Harris Poll of the season. The Crimson Tide will attempt next season to tie Miami (FL)’s all-time record of seven straight seasons with at least one week ranked atop the polls.
#6 LSU (6-1, 3-1 SEC) at Ole Miss (3-3, 1-3 SEC), 7:00pm ET, ESPN2
- The end zone is closed: LSU’s defense has not allowed a touchdown since the first half of the Mississippi State game two weeks ago. Ole Miss currently sports the fourth-lowest touchdown total (22) in the conference.
- Hold that Tiger: Ole Miss has suffered three straight losses to LSU, allowing 41 or greater points in each of those games. The Rebels have been involved in two shootouts with the Tigers (43-36 in 2010 and 41-35 in 2012), while losing 52-3 in Oxford in 2011.
- Repeat performance: While most of the attention on the Ole Miss passing offense has focused on wideout Laquon Treadwell (his 32 catches are a Rebel freshman record) and tight end Evan Engram, receiver Donte Moncrief’s 161 receiving yards against LSU in 2012 were the most a Rebel has ever recorded against the Tigers. Moncrief has 24 catches for 358 yards and four scores on the 2013 season.
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: Five SEC schools have average crowds at or greater than their stadium’s capacity this season. Who are those five schools?
Georgia (100 percent), Ole Miss (100.4 percent), Mississippi State (100.96 percent), South Carolina (101.87 percent) and Texas A&M (104.7 percent) are all averaging crowds at capacity or greater for their individual facilities in 2013.