We dive into the heart of the SEC season with three games involving two league teams. Florida’s new-look offense, which showed some signs of life last week against Kentucky, will face a stiff test against Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium; Mississippi State heads to LSU seeking a program-changing win; and South Carolina visits Vanderbilt hoping to continue its momentum after beating Georgia last week.
Week 4 Previews and Predictions:
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SEC Week 4 Game Power Rankings
1. Florida (+14.5) at Alabama
3:30 ET, CBS
First the good: Florida beat Kentucky and in the process identified a playmaker at running back (Matt Jones, 156 yards) and wide receiver (Demarcus Robinson, 216 yards). Now the bad: The Gators only scored 20 points in regulation — and did so despite making seven trips inside the Kentucky 40-yard line — in the first test under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. This week, the task is far more difficult as Florida makes its first visit to Alabama since 2010. The Gators lost that game 31–6 and have not scored more than 17 points in Tuscaloosa in any of their last nine trips dating back to 1963. The Crimson Tide defense showed some signs of vulnerability in the opener against West Virginia — giving up 393 total yards (365 through the air) — before shutting down Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss in lopsided wins. Florida will need a productive (and efficient) game from quarterback Jeff Driskel to have a shot at knocking off the Tide.
2. Mississippi State (+9.5) at LSU
7 ET, ESPN
The strength of the SEC West is at an all-time high. Five of the seven teams are ranked in the top 10 in the latest AP poll, and the other two teams (Mississippi State and Arkansas) are both receiving votes. Mississippi State struggled a bit in a Week 2 win over UAB but rebounded with a dominating 35–3 victory at South Alabama — a solid Sun Belt team — on Saturday. This might be the best team of the Dan Mullen era, but it’s time for this program to make a statement with a big win over an SEC West power. And LSU could be ripe for an upset. The Tigers have talent — that’s never an issue in Baton Rouge — but they are still very young at the skill positions and have sputtered offensively in the first half of their two games against FBS opponents. The Bulldogs will need to be at their best, but they are good enough to win this game. Mississippi State by 1
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3. Auburn (-8.5) at Kansas State
Thursday, 7:30 ET, ESPN
Auburn, ranked No. 5 in several major polls, will be the highest-ranked non-conference opponent to play at Kansas State since No. 2 Penn State made the trip to Manhattan in 1969. The Tigers have cruised to easy wins over Arkansas and San Jose State and look to be even better on offense in Gus Malzahn’s second season as head coach. They are averaging 7.6 yards per play and have seven touchdown-scoring drives of 60 yards or more in only two games. Kansas State has been solid defensively — giving up an average of 306.5 yards — but the competition has been weak (Stephen F. Austin and Iowa State). The Wildcats have seen some up-tempo attacks in recent years, but none that operate with the type of speed and skill they will see from Auburn.
4. South Carolina (+22) at Vanderbilt
7:30 ET, SEC Network
There is obviously a long way to go, but the Gamecocks are back in SEC East race thanks to last week’s win over Georgia. Tailbacks Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis played key roles, but quarterback Dylan Thompson was the offensive star in the 38–35 season-saving victory. Now, the Gamecocks hit the road for the first time to play a Vanderbilt team that is off to a troubling 1–2 start. The Commodores finally showed some life on offense but still only had 310 total yards against a UMass team that gave up 511 to Boston College and 474 to Colorado. Patton Robinette will get the start at quarterback, but true freshman Wade Freebeck is also expected to play.
5. Northern Illinois (+14) at Arkansas
7 ET, ESPNU
Arkansas is fresh off one of the most impressive rushing performances — against a worthy opponent — we have seen in recent years. The Razorbacks bludgeoned Texas Tech with 438 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdown. That is a blueprint that Bret Bielema would love to follow as he rebuilds the Arkansas program. This week’s opponent, Northern Illinois, has been outstanding against the run en route to a 3–0 start. The competition hasn’t been great, but the Huskies do have road wins over Northwestern and UNLV on their resume. They have given up a total of 243 rushing yards and only 2.4 yards per attempt in three games.
6. Indiana at Missouri
4 ET, SEC Network
Missouri is a very quiet 3–0 with impressive wins at Toledo and vs. UCF. The Tigers are getting solid play from quarterback Maty Mauk — in his first full season as the starter — and are better than they get credit for on both lines of scrimmage. Indiana’s hopes of reaching a bowl game for the first time since 2007 took a hit with a 45–42 loss to Bowling Green — a team that lost to Western Kentucky by 28 points in Week 1. The Hoosiers, as usual, can score, but their defense has yet to prove it can slow down a decent offense.
7. Texas A&M (+33.5) at SMU
3:30 ET, ABC
Tom Mason’s first game as the interim head coach will not go well. The Mustangs have scored a total of six points in two games, losses to Baylor (45–0) and North Texas (43–6). They will be playing a team that specializes in scoring points. Texas A&M, off to a 3–0 start, is tied for first nationally with 22 touchdowns and is averaging 54.3 points per game. This is a colossal mismatch.
8. Troy (+41) at Georgia
12 ET, SEC Network
Larry Blakeney has won a bunch of games — 175 to be exact — and done great things at Troy, but the program has fallen on hard times in 2014. The Trojans are 0–3, including a 38-point loss to UAB and a three-point loss at home last week to Abilene Christian. Georgia must rebound from a painful loss at South Carolina, but the Bulldogs shouldn’t have to expend much energy to beat Troy.
Week 4 SEC Predictions
Auburn at K-State
Troy at Georgia
Texas A&M at SMU
Florida at Alabama
Indiana at Missouri
Miss. State at LSU
No. Illinois at Arkansas
Vanderbilt at S. Carolina