By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Oct. 2, 2012
Last week’s record: 6-0 (100.0%)
Season record: 46-4 (92.0%)
Alabama is moving into its 2012 open date weekend, but that doesn’t mean fans should take the week off, too. Week 6 is one of the strongest yet for SEC matchups, and there are several key contests, headed by Florida-LSU. On the flip side, Auburn and Arkansas meet with the loser likely taking up residency in the SEC West cellar for the remainder of the year. No one wants to be the first team ever to finish 7th in a SEC football division.
LOUISIANA STATE at FLORIDA
Prior to the season, the question was how badly LSU would beat Florida. Now, the question is whether LSU will win at all. Florida looks much improved, especially on defense, and the Gators have played arguably the toughest schedule so far and are still unscathed in SEC play. LSU is coming off two disappointing performances in a row, starting with Auburn and then, inexplicably, against Towson. The Tigers are also dealing with injuries in the offensive backfield and haven’t looked the same, from a spirit standpoint, since losing starters Tahj Jones and Tyrann Mathieu to suspensions. Florida’s chances here depend solely on what kind of quarterback play the Gators get. Both defenses are stout, but when QB Jeff Driskel struggles, Florida doesn’t appear mentally equipped to handle the problem. If LSU can get in Driskel’s head early, the Tigers could roll to the kind of victory people predicted in early August.
GEORGIA at SOUTH CAROLINA
While Florida is trying to beat back LSU, the other two main contenders for the SEC East title square off against one another. The Gamecocks played half a game last week against Kentucky, but it was good enough to beat the Wildcats comfortably. Georgia was busy doing its best best Big 12 imitation in a 51-44 win over Tennessee that set SEC defensive football back 20 seasons or more. South Carolina’s primary concern in this game will be keeping QB Connor Shaw healthy, but South Carolina’s pass defense – which has been vulnerable at times in 2012 – will get a major test from Georgia QB Aaron Murray. Georgia’s running game will be crucial, because running with success will allow the Bulldogs to open up the play-action portions of its playbook, something South Carolina does not want to see. Both these teams have consistency issues, and while Georgia is the more talented team, the Bulldogs defense needs to begin living up to the hype.
South Carolina 27
MISSISSIPPI STATE at KENTUCKY
The Bulldogs’ biggest test so far has been from Troy, which should tell you something about the quality of the scheduling in Starkville. State is coming off an off-week, while Kentucky is just trying to find a soft place to land. This is the kind of game the Bulldogs often struggle with (see Troy, for example), when MSU is favored by a ton but ends up barely scratching out a win in the end. With Arkansas and Auburn struggling, and LSU looking somewhat beatable, Mississippi State could slip into the SEC West’s top tier this year – but not if the Bulldogs forget to take care of business in Lexington.
Mississippi St. 35
VANDERBILT at MISSOURI
Alabama fans looking for some early intel on Missouri may not get it this week, because Vanderbilt appears to have backslid a bit and there aren’t many similarities between the game Vandy plays and the game Alabama plays. Missouri defended the SEC’s honor successfully last week in beating UCF, but only just, and a similar effort against Vanderbilt this week might get the Tigers beaten. Vanderbilt is rotating quarterbacks and is having issues stopping the run at the moment, not good news when on the road in the SEC.
ARKANSAS at AUBURN
This might be the most intriguing SEC matchup of the week, and it has nothing to do with the postseason aspirations of either team. Just how bad is Arkansas? Bad enough to be torn asunder by Texas A&M last week, and in the process fall to dead last in the nation in turnover margin. The Arkansas defense is thoroughly putrid, but the real surprise has been the fact that Hogs can’t run the ball despite having a deep running back corps. The Razorbacks would still have had hope against Auburn, were it not for an impressive defensive showing the Tigers put up against LSU two weeks ago. So what we have is a matchup of a team with no offense and a mediocre defense (Auburn) going up against a team with no defense and a mediocre offense (Arkansas). Arkansas is the more potentially dangerous team, but the Hogs haven’t shown any evidence of actually being dangerous. And with this game in Jordan-Hare Stadium, give it to Auburn on general principle.
TEXAS A&M at MISSISSIPPI
It’s almost worth the trip to Oxford just to see the mash-up of cultures between the hardcore Aggie yellers and the Grove-inhabiting bluebloods of Ole Miss. It’s even more interesting given the offensive development of both teams. This could easily turn into another Georgia-Tennessee, especially if Ole Miss is able to get its corner running game going. Texas A&M will be favored, but it won’t be a surprise if the Rebels pull it out.
Texas A&M 38
Ole Miss 31
IDLE: Alabama, Tennessee