They're all big weeks in the SEC, now that we're heavily into conference play. While there are no real marquee matchups unless you count LSU vs. Kentucky, there are games that will factor heavily into division races, games that may factor into coach-firings, and maybe provide us with an upset or two.
Bama at Ole Miss, 11:30am Lincoln-Financial. Those of you who are keeping up certainly know that Bama is reeling. Last week's game against the Houston Cougars came down to a last-second jump ball in the end zone after Houston's comeback from down 23. Prior to that, Bama lost two consecutive games to decent, but not great, teams. Now they get a team that is arguably the least talented in the conference. Can you name the significant wins Ed Orgeron has had at Ole Miss head coach? While they've steadily marched to 4-win seasons in recent years, they don't have a single win against the more prestigious programs. Sly Croom at Mississippi State has had one per year since 2005 (Florida, Bama, and Auburn). Ole Miss's biggest wins in that time have come against Mississippi State. Ole Miss has been close. They lost to LSU in overtime last year, and lost to Florida by 2 points earlier this year. Ole Miss may be the least talented team in the league, but there isn't a very wide disparity here like in other conferences. Hell, everyone thought they'd struggle in their quarterbacking this year in starting a former walk-on, but he's been one of the more productive QBs in the conference. Their running game is just as good as last year (but that wasn't really all that great, despite BenJarvis Green-Ellis's gaudy cumulative stats). Their defense has been their problem this year.
For Bama, this year has gone the opposite of expectations. People believed Bama's offense would be explosive, but that the defense would be suspect, forcing Bama to win a lot of games with 70 or more accumulated points. Instead, the defense has been pretty good while the offense has struggled, particularly in the passing game.
Bama's the better team, but this isn't a bad place to look for an upset. Orgeron's due for one, and Bama has really been struggling lately. Some say Orgeron's already playing for his job, but I don't know if that's true. He'll be playing for his job next year.
Tennessee at Mississippi State, 2:30pm no television. With the volume of decent conference games this week, this rather intriguing matchup gets shuffled off the regular TV rotation. It's on GamePlan, but I don't get GamePlan. Mississippi State is not the bumbling team I expected them to be, but they're still a team that will have problem winning games. This one will be no exception. Tennessee played a game last week that I never expected them to be able to play. Can they sustain it? If they can sustain that level of play, MSU has no chance against them. The Tennessee that played last week is just too explosive and just too good on defense to be beaten by a plodding mule like MSU. However, if Tennessee reverts back to the slow, tentative, spiritless play they demonstrated against Florida and Cal, the plodding mule might just get them. A loss here for Tennessee probably knocks them out of contention for the SEC East. A win for MSU makes a bowl game a distinct possibility.
LSU at Kentucky, 2:30pm CBS. We've already talked about this game, but there's more to say. Yesterday, we learned that Early Doucet has returned to practice for the Tigers. This is astoundingly good news. He makes this offense so much more versatile. Our passing game has struggled for 3 straight weeks, and you have to think it's in part because our best wide receiver has been unavailable. The guy who can break away from single coverage and make the catch consistently has been out. The guy who draws the double teams has been out. The return of Early Doucet will open up the field for us, making Lafell, Byrd, Tolliver, and the Mitchells all better. Now, with Flynn healthier and Doucet at least healthy ENOUGH to play some, we're much better than we were against South Carolina, Tulane, and Florida.
South Carolina at North Carolina, 2:30pm ABC regional coverage. I don't know much about North Carolina, but I know this. They aren't in the SEC. As such, this game, as competitive as it may or may not be, is not particularly important. SC can reach all of its goals even if they lose this game. All it will count for us bowl position. The good news for South Carolina is that North Carolina is apparently not very good. They're 2-4 on the season, having lost to unranked East Carolina and Virginia, plus South Florida and Virginia Tech.
Georgia at Vandy, 5:00pm ESPN2. Vandy is probably the most disappointing team in the conference for me. They're at 3-2, but have lost to Auburn and Bama in games in which they were not competitive at all. Their offense ranks near the bottom of the conference in scoring, passing, and rushing. That's all the major categories there, people. And I expected them to be explosive. The problem has been in their QB, sophomore Chris Nickson, who some were saying was an All-Conference calibre player. He's completing just over 50% of his passes, and in their two losses has combined for 105 passing yards with 0 touchdowns, 1 interception, and -12 rushing yards. When the games get big, he's gotten terrible. Georgia's not that great either, but they're decent, and they're an opportunity for Vandy to get off the mat and show that they're a half-decent team like I expected.
Auburn at Arkansas, 7:00pm ESPN. Houston Nutt is fighting for his job. They're 3-2, but their wins have been against non-conference patsies. Their losses have been to an unspectacular Bama team and to Kentucky. Not terrible losses, mind you, but also games the good teams are expected to win one or two of. Now they get a resurgent Auburn team. Now there's a word we're using a lot this year. "Resurgent". Auburn's being resurgent. Tennessee is being resurgent. I guess Kentucky and South Carolina are just getting surgent. If Arkansas can win this one, then they'll be resurgent as well. Like last year, Arkansas can't throw. The problem is compounded because their best receivers are all on the sidelines with injuries. Marcus Monk was supposed to be back weeks ago, but still hasn't played. Auburn's suddenly started looking very good. Their offensive line has stabilized. Their best running back returned to the field. Their receivers have started catching the ball. We knew they'd get better as the season progressed, but right now they definitely look like the stiffest competition we have in the West.