Week 4 action in the SEC is highlighted by the Battle of Columbia, Vanderbilt's trip to face Georgia and LSU's visit to Auburn.
Other Week 4 Previews and Predictions
SEC Top Storylines to Watch in Week 4:
1. Todd Grantham vs. the Vanderbilt coaching staff
This is not a creation of the media: There is legitimately bad blood between the Vanderbilt coaching staff and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Last year’s game, won by Georgia 33–28 in Nashville, ended with Grantham and Commodore head coach James Franklin jawing near midfield before being separated by a Vanderbilt police officer. The Vanderbilt staff thought that some Georgia players, specifically safety Shawn Williams, were a bit too chippy during and immediately following the game. Grantham didn’t appreciate Franklin talking to his players on the field. Fortunately, no punches were thrown, but there is no denying this was a heated exchange.
Both parties are saying all the right things — Franklin recently joked that his family vacationed with the Granthams during the offseason — but there is no doubt there is some lingering animosity.
2. Austyn Carta-Samuels vs. the Georgia defense
Grantham’s defense will be facing a quarterback, junior Austyn Carta-Samuels, making his first start against an SEC opponent. Carta-Samuels has played against quality competition — he faced Texas and BYU twice as well as Boise State, Colorado, Utah and TCU once during his two years at Wyoming — but this Georgia defense will present an enormous challenge. Last year, the Commodores threw for 149 yards vs. Georgia, but 78 of those yards (and the only passing TD) came via trick plays — a 43-yard throw by running back Zac Stacy and a 35-yard toss by punter Ryan Fowler on a fake. Vanderbilt’s two quarterbacks, Larry Smith and Jordan Rodgers, combined to complete only 9-of-29 passes for 71 yards with three interceptions. Carta-Samuels will have to play extremely well to give Vanderbilt a chance for the upset.
3. Can Arkansas beat an FBS opponent?
Arkansas was touted by some as a legitimate national championship contender during the offseason. Now, the Hogs are simply hoping to win a game. The Razorbacks are 0–2 vs. FBS competition, with a loss to UL Monroe in overtime and a 52–0 debacle against Alabama last Saturday. The good news is that Tyler Wilson likely will be back at quarterback after missing the Bama game with a concussion. The bad news is that Wilson can’t help a defense that is allowing 436.7 yards per game. The Hogs’ issues on defense will put pressure on the offense to score a bunch of points in virtually every game. And that could be a problem on Saturday. Rutgers isn’t Alabama, but the Scarlet Knights are pretty nasty on defense. They ranked eighth in the nation in scoring defense and 14th in total defense in 2011 and have continued their strong play early in the ’12 season. Kyle Flood’s team has also experienced success on the road with wins at Tulane (24–12) and South Florida (23–13). This will be a significant test for Arkansas.
4. The Battle of Columbia
South Carolina and Missouri meet for the first time ever as members of the SEC. All things equal, you probably have to give South Carolina the edge due to the location of the game (Columbia, S.C.) and the Gamecocks’ advantage on defense. But all things might not be equal. Both quarterbacks are nursing injuries. South Carolina’s Connor Shaw returned to the starting lineup after sitting out last week’s game vs. East Carolina, but he had to leave the game in the second quarter after taking a big hit to his shoulder. Shaw will get the start on Saturday, but he has yet to complete a game this season. Missouri’s James Franklin is also nursing an injured shoulder. He did not play in the Tigers’ win vs. Arizona State but is expected back on Saturday. South Carolina is better suited at this point to win with its No. 2 quarterback in the game. After struggling in a brief appearance in the opener against Vanderbilt, Dylan Thompson has been solid in relief of Shaw — albeit against inferior competition. Missouri’s backup, Corbin Berkstresser, played relatively well in the Tigers’ 24–20 win over Arizona State, but he is a redshirt freshman who has yet to take a snap on the road.
5. Can Auburn be competitive?
Even the most ardent Auburn fan realizes it will be a tall order for the Tigers to beat mighty LSU this Saturday — even at Jordan-Hare Stadium. But it’s not too much for the Auburn faithful to expect their team to be more competitive against the elite programs in the league. The Tigers are 2–5 in their last seven SEC games, and the five losses have come by an average of 28.6 points. That’s a startling regression for a program that won a national championship just two years ago. Through three games, Auburn ranks 102nd in the nation in total offense and 104th in scoring offense. In the two games vs. AQ conference opponents (Clemson and Mississippi State), the Tigers have scored a total of one touchdown.
6. How ugly will get it in Gainesville?
Kentucky has lost 25 straight overall to Florida and 16 straight in Gainesville. The Wildcats’ last four trips to the Swamp have been especially gruesome, with the Gators winning by an average score of 39–7. And barring a major reversal from both teams, Saturday’s game at Florida Field figures to be just as one-sided. Florida returns home with a ton of swagger after winning two tough SEC road games. The Gators played the finest game of the Will Muschamp era on Saturday night, surging past Tennessee 37–20 in Neyland Stadium. Kentucky, meanwhile, is fresh off a humbling overtime loss at home to Western Kentucky. UK has now lost to the other two FBS programs in the state of Kentucky. This is a tough spot for Joker Phillips and the wounded Wildcats.
7. Can Ole Miss get more touches for Jeff Scott?
Jeff Scott is averaging 10.3 yards per carry in the two games he has played this season. The problem? He has only had 20 rushing attempts. Hugh Freeze acknowledged on Monday that he would like to get Scott, one of the few proven playmakers on the Ole Miss offense, more touches. But Scott is only 5-7 and 170 pounds, which can cause some problems when he is asked to get involved in protecting the quarterback. “If he’s in there for a consistent amount of time, we’re going to have to ask him to (pass protect) also,” Freeze said. “I don’t question Jeff’s or (tailback) Jaylen (Walton)’s heart at all with that. (But) we had defensive ends the other night (vs. Texas) that are 6-5 and 280 pounds.”
8. Can the Alabama defense pitch another shutout?
Alabama’s defensive numbers are staggering, especially when you consider the Crimson Tide have faced two preseason top 25 teams away from home — Michigan in Texas and Arkansas in Fayetteville. Bama has recorded two straight shutouts and has only allowed points in two of 12 quarters this season. This Saturday, the Tide will seeking their third straight shutout — something that hasn’t happened since 1966 — against a Florida Atlantic team that ranks 116th in the nation in scoring (14.7 ppg).
9. Bowden returns to the SEC … sort of
Terry Bowden will make his first appearance as head coach in an SEC venue since Oct. 17, 1998, when his Auburn Tigers lost at Florida 24–3. Bowden, who went 47–17–1 in five-plus seasons at Auburn, is in his first season as the boss at Akron. The Zips, 1–2 in ’12, visit Neyland Stadium on Saturday to a face a Tennessee team eager to get back on track after losing to Florida. “I’ve had the fortune of coaching in all the SEC venues,” Bowden said earlier this week. “And this is one of the most electric.” Bowden only played Tennessee twice during his time at Auburn, losing 30–29 in the 1997 SEC Championship Game and 17–9 in Knoxville in 1998.
10. Will Johnny Manziel ever throw a pick?
We don’t expect Manziel to navigate Texas A&M’s brutal SEC slate without making his share of mistakes, but the Aggies’ redshirt freshman quarterback is off to a great start. Manziel is completing 65.2 percent of his passes and has yet to throw an interception in 66 attempts. He is also a threat on the ground, with 184 yards rushing on 30 carries. “He’s a very talented guy,” A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said earlier this week. “He has to continue to work on moving from an athlete that’s playing quarterback to a quarterback that’s an athlete. And there’s a big difference.”
By Mitch Light
WEEK 4 SEC PREDICTIONS
Ole Miss (-17.5) at Tulane
Ole Miss 21-7
Ole Miss 24-10
Ole Miss 40-14
Ole Miss 31-10
Kentucky (+24) at Florida
Missouri (+10) at South Carolina
South Carolina 28-14
South Carolina 35-24
South Carolina 31-20
South Carolina 21-17
Florida Atlantic (+49.5) at Alabama
Rutgers (+7) at Arkansas
LSU (-20.5) at Auburn
South Alabama (+34) at Mississippi State
Mississippi State 42-7
Mississippi State 35-7
Mississippi State 45-10
Mississippi State 42-10
S.C. State at Texas A&M
Texas A&M 45-10
Texas A&M 45-14
Texas A&M 58-0
Texas A&M 41-0
Akron (+35) at Tennessee
Vanderbilt (+16) at Georgia