Beaten up by Oregon and then unable to hang with Florida, Tennessee needed to see UAB coming. Getting out of the league, and out of the top 10, will be a welcome change. UAB is used to being a cash-for-sacrifice participant at Neyland Stadium. The Blazers will extend their palms, accept their whoopin’ and head on home.
The Volunteers will win, but future weeks are dicey, at best. Tennessee could start as many three freshmen on the offensive line, which is never, ever want you want. The Vols have walk-ons participating regularly at several positions, including the interior defensive line. UT is going to need some extreme patience with Derek Dooley, but it knew that coming into the fall.
Player to Watch: Vols WR Gerald Jones. Tennessee needs his broken hand to heal — faster.
This, as you know, is the game in the league — and country. There hasn’t been a bigger game in Fayetteville since the Southwest Conference days. Alabama absolutely blasted Duke on the road but, well, that was Duke and this is its SEC opener. And it’s on the road, no less. (One sidenote: Arkansas’ students are planning a “red out” for the game. Because, ya know, that makes sense against another team that wears a shade of red.)
Arkansas was impressive enough in its road win at Georgia last week, even though the Bulldogs defense hasn’t shown much interest in stopping anyone yet this season. Still, give Ryan Mallett credit for 380 yards against any SEC opponent, and particularly doing it on the road. Mallett’s receivers are still flying under the radar quite a bit — especially versatile Joe Adams, who leads the SEC with 344 receiving yards in three games.
Alabama will be up for the challenge. Arkansas’ defense still isn’t ready for Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Did Ingram really have surgery? Could’ve fooled most anyone based on how good he looked last week in his debut (nine carries, 151 yards). The Tide should win, but this game has serious, serious potential. Remember that Alabama’s defense, relatively inexperienced, hasn’t seen anything like Mallett, either.
Player to Watch: Tide RB Mark Ingram. Mallett might want a Heisman, but Ingram’s already got one.
Georgia (1–2, 0–2) at Mississippi State (1–2, 0–2)
6 p.m. CT
These are hurting pups. Georgia can’t seem to do anything right defensively. Mississippi State wasn’t much better last week at LSU.
The Fighting Cowbells will be tough to beat at home, and that’s probably why they’re a slight favorite. But Georgia is facing a virtual must-win, even if it hasn’t specifically been laid out that way. If Mark Richt’s Bulldogs slip to 0–3 in the league, well, it wouldn’t be pretty. Athens likes a winner. Georgia misses A.J. Green terribly, but there’s still a lot of talent on the field, offensively. Certainly enough to beat Mississippi State. (UGA does get Green back next week, at Colorado.)
Whether Georgia actually wins will depend on its defense, which compounded a dreadful week against the run (South Carolina) with a miserable one against the pass (Arkansas). What’s the poison this week? A little of both? Or will Todd Grantham settle his guys? Making matters worse, Georgia has some injury issues. (Branden Smith, Christian Robinson and DeMarcus Dobbs have all been banged up the past couple of weeks.) If either Chris Relf or Tyler Russell gets in any kind of rhythm for Mississippi State, the home Bulldogs could send Georgia deeper into the doghouse.
Player to Watch: Georgia LB Justin Houston. Someone needs to take charge of this defensive debacle.
Kentucky (3–0, 0–0) at No. 9 Florida (3–0, 1–0)
7 p.m. ET
Fiiiiiinalllly. Finally we see about Kentucky. And in a big way. The Wildcats have you thinking they’re sporting one of the league’s best offenses — but in wins against, ahem, Louisville, Western Kentucky and Akron. Drawing Florida, and in the Swamp, is one heck of a way to start the SEC season. Urban Meyer sure seems concerned about Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke. Should he be? Or is it all a smoke screen on the way to a six- or seven-win season for the Wildcats?
But, in fairness, let’s not make it seem as if Kentucky has to face the Gators from 1996, 2006 or 2008. Stop us if this sounds familiar: Florida didn’t look particularly good last week. The Gators keep winning, but keep raising concerns as they go. The playmakers — outside of the occasional Jeff Demps home run — are still non-existent. John Brantley is still playing as if he’s mopping up for Tim Tebow. When does Florida get untracked? Has to happen, right? How about against a Kentucky defense that is still seeking an identity?
Player to Watch: Gators QB John Brantley. He’s poised for a breakout game. Surely.
Fresno State (2–0) at Ole Miss (1–2)
6:30 p.m. CT
A great reason to tune in to this one, at least briefly: To see how many empty seats there are inside Vaught-Hemingway. Ole Miss fans have to be downright ashamed of their team after home losses to Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt. And doubly down because the Rebels weren’t even really in the game against Vandy. There’s simply no excuse to smooth that concept; it’s sharp, hurts. Why couldn’t Fresno continue to add to the Rebs’ pain? The Bulldogs had an impressive opening-week win against Cincinnati, and it beat up on a Utah State team that pushed Oklahoma. Fresno has scored six points (12 total) in its past two appearances at SEC stadiums, in 2003 and 2006. But it hasn’t seen Ty Nix’s rag-tag defense.
Forget Admiral Ackbar as a mascot; Ack might be ready for an audition as the head coach. Can’t be any worse. The admiral probably would’ve known better than to mess with mojo by opening arms for Jeremiah Masoli. Is he a scapegoat for everything going on? Probably. But was that a move destined to backfire? Probably.
Player to Watch: Fresno QB Ryan Colburn. Completing 70 percent of his passes. That number will not go down this week.
No. 12 South Carolina (3–0, 1–0) at No. 17 Auburn (3–0, 1–0)
6:45 p.m. CT
It’s the undercard to Alabama-Arkansas, even if it technically follows it. Besides Arkansas, these two teams probably present themselves as the prime challengers to the defending division champs, Alabama and Florida.
Auburn slugged its way to a good non-conference victory against Clemson, erasing a 17–0 first-half deficit. The Tigers run and run some more. Cam Newton, currently fifth in the league in rushing, attempted just 14 passes in an overtime ballgame last week. He’s a load for opposing defenders. Like Clemson, one of South Carolina’s strengths is its defensive front. The Gamecocks need to remain aware, though, of All-SEC receiver Darvin Adams. Furman burned the South Carolina secondary a couple of times last week, so you know Adams is fully capable of it — especially if Auburn’s run game rocks the Gamecocks to sleep.
You have to wonder, too, how South Carolina will respond to the death of all-time leading receiver Kenny McKinley. About half the team played with McKinley, a Gamecock from 2005-08. The team was hurting in the middle of the week, but can the leaders work to channel that into this game? Might work better at home, where South Carolina has won 11 of 12. The Gamecocks didn’t win an SEC road game a year ago.
Then again, they didn’t have Marcus Lattimore last year, either. The uber-freshman’s second choice? Auburn. Maybe he’s got something saved up for the Tigers.
Player to Watch: Gamecocks C T.J. Johnson. He cleared paths for Lattimore in his breakout against Georgia. Encore?
No. 22 West Virginia (3–0) at No. 15 Louisiana State (3–0)
8 p.m. CT
Highly intriguing non-conference game, pitted against that pair of great SEC games. Noel Devine is one of the more gifted runners in the country, but he doesn’t see the kind of speed on the edge that SEC teams have. Simply put, there aren’t Kelvin Sheppards and Patrick Petersons roaming around in the Big East.
LSU’s offense remains a mess. Les Miles acknowledged that Jarrett Lee might soon supplant Jordan Jefferson. Man, what happened to that kid? He looked like a can’t-miss guy after that Peach Bowl dismantling of Miami after the 2008 season. With a healthy diet of Stevan Ridley and enough touches for Russell Shepard, the Tigers should be able to squeak by with one at home.
Player to Watch: RB Noel Devine. It’ll be intriguing to see Devine’s all-world speed against SEC speed.