Athlon previews the Week 3 action in the SEC.
It's another big week in the SEC, as Arkansas hosts Alabama and Florida travels to Knoxville in a crucial East Division matchup. The Razorbacks could be without quarterback Tyler Wilson and are reeling after a disappointing loss to ULM. The Crimson Tide didn't have a flawless effort against Western Kentucky but should be ready for Arkansas' offense on Saturday. Two games to keep an eye on: Western Kentucky at Kentucky and ULM at Auburn. Both games are trendy upset picks this week, especially after ULM beat Arkansas in Little Rock last Saturday.
Other Week 3 Previews and Predictions
SEC's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 3
1. Can Tennessee run the ball against a quality opponent?
The Vols are averaging 187.5 yards rushing through two games — a major improvement from last season, when they ranked 12th in the league and 116th in the nation with 90.1 yards per game. But the sample size is still very small, and one of their opponents, Georgia State, is among the worst FCS programs in the nation. The first significant test will come this weekend when Florida visits Neyland Stadium. The Gators have some injury issues in the front seven, but this is still a formidable group. Last week, Florida held Christine Michael of Texas A&M to 33 yards on 13 carries and limited the Aggies as a team to a modest 3.5 yards on their 38 rushing attempts. Tennessee boasts one of the nation’s most explosive passing attacks, but the Vols must get something going on the ground this week to beat Florida.
2. Can Jeff Driskel continue to play mistake-free football?
There a lot of things that Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease had to like about Driskel’s performance in the Gators’ 20–17 win at Texas A&M. The sophomore quarterback improved his efficiency, completing 81.3 percent and averaging 10.1 yards per attempt in Week 2 after completing 62.5 percent and averaging 7.1 per attempt against Bowling Green. He also did some damage on the ground, running for 56 positive yards (though he lost 48 while taking eight sacks). But the biggest positive? He didn’t throw an interception — and hasn’t done so in 32 pass attempts this season. Pease would no doubt like to see his quarterback take fewer sacks and have more success throwing the ball down the field, but if Driskel can continue to protect the football and the Gators continue to get solid production from tailback Mike Gillislee, this team will win a lot of games in 2012.
3. Kiehl Frazier vs. Kolton Browning
The UL Monroe vs. Auburn game Saturday features one of the nation’s hottest quarterbacks (Browning) vs. one of the most maligned (Frazier). Browning, a former 3-star recruit (Scout) who had no BCS offers, threw for 412 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 69 more and one score in the Warhawks’ thrilling overtime win at Arkansas last weekend. Meanwhile, Frazier, a consensus top-100 national recruit two years ago, is struggling mightily in his first season as the starter. The Arkansas native has completed less than 50 percent of his passes and has one touchdown and four interceptions in the Tigers’ losses to Clemson and Mississippi State. To be fair, Frazier has faced arguably the most difficult schedule in the nation to date, but there is no denying that his performance has been a disappointment. Auburn has little depth at the quarterback position and pretty much has all of its eggs in the Frazier basket. The Tigers desperately need him to emerge as a competent quarterback — for this season and the future of the program.
4. Can Arkansas stop Alabama?
When you think Arkansas vs. Alabama, the first matchup that comes to mind is the Razorbacks’ potent offense (if Tyler Wilson is healthy) vs. the Tide’s stout defense. But the key to Arkansas being competitive with the No. 1 team in the nation will be the Hogs’ ability to slow down the Bama offensive attack. After two games, Arkansas ranks 86th in the nation in total defense and 85th in scoring defense — and that is after playing Jacksonville State from the FCS ranks and UL Monroe of the Sun Belt. The Hogs have been especially bad defending the pass, allowing their two opponents to throw for an average of 319.5 yards and a combined five touchdowns. Alabama, meanwhile, has been the most efficient passing team in the SEC to date. This doesn’t look like a good matchup for Arkansas — on many fronts.
5. Missouri’s banged-up offensive line
Missouri boasts one of the SEC’s most dynamic quarterbacks in junior James Franklin and a nice collection of skill players. But the Tigers will struggle to win games unless they can shore up their offensive line. The Tigers lost two projected starters in the preseason when left guard Travis Ruth suffered a torn triceps (out for the season) and right guard Jack Meiners injured his left knee (out indefinitely). Then, in the second quarter of Saturday’s loss to Georgia, sixth-year senior Elvis Fisher went down with an MCL injury in his right knee. This week against Arizona State, MU will start a true freshman at left guard (Evan Boehm), a redshirt freshman at center (Brad McNulty) and a former walk-on at right guard (Max Copelan).
7. Who will give up more points — if any — this week, Georgia (vs. Florida Atlantic) or LSU (vs. Idaho)?
The two participants of the 2011 SEC Championship Game take on two of the worst FBS teams in the nation this weekend. Florida Atlantic is 1–1 with a 7–3 win over Wagner and a 31–17 loss to Middle Tennessee (which lost to McNeese State the week before). Idaho is 0–2 with a 20–3 loss at home to Eastern Washington and a 21–13 loss at Bowling Green. The Vandals have scored one touchdown in eight quarters. Both Georgia and LSU could sit their starters for the entire game and still win with ease.
8. Can Bo keep it going?
Ole Miss sophomore Bo Wallace has been a pleasant surprise at quarterback for first-year coach Huge Freeze. The junior college transfer has completed 76.1 percent of his passes for 438 yards with five touchdowns and one interception and has also rushed for 135 yards and two scores. Those stats, however, were accumulated against Central Arkansas and UTEP. Now, the Tennessee native will test his mettle against a ferocious Texas defense that has allowed a total of 17 points in two games. Ole Miss, which hasn’t defeated a team from an AQ conference since October 2010 (Kentucky), is a 10.5-point underdog at home. Wallace will have to play extremely well to give the Rebels a chance to win.
9. Can Kentucky avoid the unthinkable — a loss to Western Kentucky?
After losing its first two games in the series by an average of 36.5 points (in ’08 and ’10), Western Kentucky made the boys from Big State U sweat in last season’s opener played in Nashville. The final score was 14–3, but Kentucky didn’t put the game away until the final minutes of the fourth quarter. WKU outgained the Cats 234 to 190 and controlled the time of possession, 34:00 to 26:00. Can the Hilltoppers break through and upset Kentucky — and deliver a crippling blow to Joker Phillips in the process? It could happen, especially if Kentucky continues to struggle on defense. The Cats beat Kent State 47–14 last weekend but gave up 409 yards to a team that only picked 267 the week before vs. Towson State. It was only the second time in the past 15 games that Kent State topped the 400-yard mark. Western Kentucky scored 49 points in a Week 1 win over FCS foe Austin Peay and then was shut out 35–0 at Alabama. The Toppers did, however, have modest success in the air vs. the Tide as Kawaun Jakes completed 20-of-31 for 178 yards. Jakes is good enough to do some damage against the suspect Kentucky defense.
10. Can Mississippi State handle prosperity?
The Bulldogs are fresh off one of their most impressive wins in years, a 28–10 beatdown of SEC West rival Auburn. The Bulldogs are only 2–0, but the majority of their fans are all but certain that MSU will be 5–0 when Tennessee visits on Oct. 13. That is why this week’s trip to Troy is a bit dangerous. The Bulldogs have struggled in recent years with some teams from so-called lesser conferences. They beat Louisiana Tech last season and UAB in 2010 by an average of 5.5 points and lost to Houston 31–24 in ’09 and Louisiana Tech 22–14 in ’08. Dan Mullen is well aware of what his team can accomplish this season and will do everything in his power to be sure the Bulldogs are mentally ready to take care of business at the venue formerly known as Movie Gallery Stadium.
SEC Week 3 Predictions
|SEC Games||David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|ULM (+16.5) at Auburn||Auburn 28-24||Auburn 38-31||Auburn 30-24||Auburn 30-17|
|Presbyterian at Vandy||Vandy 35-10||Vandy 27-7||Vandy 45-3||Vandy 41-0|
|Texas A&M at SMU (+12.5)||TAMU 38-14||TAMU 34-3||TAMU 41-20||TAMU 38-20|
|Alabama at Arkansas (+21)||Alabama 38-10||Alabama 38-14||Alabama 34-10||Alabama 31-17|
|Florida (+3) at Tennessee||Tennessee 21-17||Tennessee 27-21||Tennessee 24-20||Florida 24-21|
|Miss. State at Troy (+16)||Miss. State 35-14||Miss. State 31-13||Miss. State 38-14||Miss. State 33-14|
|Arizona State (+6.5) at Mizzou||Mizzou 31-17||Mizzou 34-24||Mizzou 34-27||Mizzou 32-24|
|WKU (+7) at Kentucky||WKU 14-10||WKU 21-17||WKU 24-20||Kentucky 20-10|
|UAB (+33) at S. Carolina||S. Carolina 42-7||S. Carolina 34-13||S. Carolina 41-13||S. Carolina 38-0|
|FAU (+42.5) at Georgia||Georgia 56-3||Georgia 41-10||Georgia 50-7||Georgia 38-3|
|Idaho (+43) at LSU||LSU 63-3||LSU 48-3||LSU 52-3||LSU 48-3|
|Texas at Ole Miss (+9.5)||Texas 31-7||Texas 38-17||Texas 38-10||Texas 20-10|
by Mitch Light
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