Two heavyweight battles highlight the Week 5 slate in the SEC. LSU, off to a 4-0 start, travels to Georgia in a potential preview of the SEC Championship Game. Ole Miss, which already has won two road games, heads to Tuscaloosa to take on the mighty Crimson Tide.
SEC Week 5 Game Power Rankings
1. LSU (+3) at Georgia (3:30 ET, CBS)
LSU has emerged as a legitimate national title contender through the first quarter of the 2013 season. The offense has made significant improvements under new coordinator Cam Cameron, and the defense has been solid despite the loss of key personnel at every level. That defense, however, will face by far its toughest test this Saturday. Georgia puts tremendous pressure on a defense with its ability to move the ball through the air and on the ground. In two games vs. BCS conference opponents (Clemson and South Carolina), the Bulldogs are averaging 540.5 yards and 38.0 points per game. For LSU, Jeremy Hill has been spectacular running the ball — he’s averaging 8.36 yards per carry and has six TDs in three games — but the spotlight will be on quarterback Zach Mettenberger. The fifth-year senior is a Georgia native who spent the first two years of his career with the Bulldogs. How he handles the pressure of his homecoming to Athens could go a long way in determining the outcome of this game.
2. Ole Miss (+16) at Alabama (6:30 ET, ESPN)
Ole Miss has already proven itself on the road with wins at Vanderbilt and Texas. Winning at Alabama, however, is an entirely different animal. The Crimson Tide have only lost three times in Tuscaloosa in the past five seasons — once to a team that won the national title (Auburn, 2010), once to a team that lost in the national title game (LSU, 2011) and once to a team that won 11 games and featured the Heisman Trophy winner (Texas A&M, 2012). Still, don’t expect Ole Miss to be intimidated. Hugh Freeze’s young team is playing with a ton of confidence and truly believes it can contend for the SEC West title. The Rebels will score some points, but the key will be their ability to slow down Alabama’s balanced attack.
3. Texas A&M (-7) at Arkansas (7 ET, ESPN2)
At first glance, it’s a bit surprising that Texas A&M, a top-10 team, is only a touchdown favorite at Arkansas, a team that lost to Rutgers last week. But look at one key stat: Texas A&M ranks 105th nationally in rushing defense, giving up an average of 218.3 yards per game — and it’s even worse when you look at yards per carry allowed (5.94, 118th). And those numbers have come against one great team (Alabama), one decent team (Rice), one bad team (SMU) and one FCS team (Sam Houston State). Arkansas doesn’t do a ton of things well, but the Razorbacks have the ability to expose A&M’s rush defense. The Hogs feature the SEC’s No. 2 rusher (Alex Collins, 120.3 ypg) and No. 6 rusher (Jonathan Williams, 104.5 ypg). Stopping this duo will be the focus for the Aggies’ defense.
4. South Carolina (-7) at UCF (12 ET ABC)
This will not be easy for South Carolina. UCF is 3-0 with wins at home vs. Akron (38-7), at FIU (38-0) and at Penn State (34-31). The Knights feature an experienced quarterback in junior Blake Bortles, who is completing over 70 percent of his passes and averaging 11.7 yards per attempt (third best in the nation). The UCF ground game is led by Storm Johnson, a former 4-star recruit who began his career at Miami. Through three games, Johnson has rushed for 308 yards on a 5.6-yard average. South Carolina will obviously be the toughest defense UCF has faced to date, but keep in mind that the Knights rolled up over 500 yards of offense in their win at Penn State. This is a solid team.
5. Florida (-13) at Kentucky (7 ET, ESPNU)
Tyler Murphy exceeded expectations in his first appearance as the Gators’ quarterback. Now, however, the junior must prove he is not a one-hit wonder and that he can take his show on the road. Kentucky is far from an elite defensive team, but the Wildcats played well for a half against Louisville and are solid on the defensive line. Still, it will be a bad sign for Florida if Murphy does not play well in Lexington. The Gators’ defense is elite, but the offense will have to at least be mediocre for this team to be a factor in the SEC East race.
6. Arkansas State (+21) at Missouri (7:30 ET, CSS)
A few weeks ago, this looked like a decent matchup on paper. That was before Missouri went to Indiana and posted an impressive 45-28 win over the Hoosiers, and Arkansas State was gashed for 505 yards (329 on the ground) in a surprisingly lopsided 31-7 loss at Memphis. Arkansas State, which won 10 games in each of the past two seasons, is showing signs of slippage under first-year coach Bryan Harsin. This one could get out of hand unless the Red Wolves can find a way to stop the run.
7. UAB (+21) at Vanderbilt (7:30 ET, FSN)
Vanderbilt has allowed an average of 37.0 points in its two SEC games (Ole Miss and South Carolina) and 5.0 points in its two non-conference games (Austin Peay and UMass). So how many will UAB score this weekend? Well, it’s safe to say the Blazers aren’t nearly as potent as the Dores’ two SEC opponents, but they are also quite a bit better than both Austin Peay and UMass. Vanderbilt will have to put some points on the board to win this game, and the Commodores figure to have success attacking UAB through the air. The Blazers are allowing 268.7 passing yards per game and rank 117th in the nation in passing efficiency defense.
8. South Alabama (+20) at Tennessee (12:21 ET, SEC Network)
South Alabama opened the season with a 21-20 loss at home to Southern Utah, but the Jags have bounced back with two solid wins, 41-39 at Tulane and 31-24 vs. Western Kentucky. Joey Jones is doing a nice job in Mobile. Tennessee wraps ups its non-conference schedule before diving back into the SEC with a brutal three-game stretch that includes home games against Georgia and South Carolina followed by a visit to Alabama. Justin Worley will get the start at quarterback for the Vols, but don’t be surprised if one of the true freshmen — Joshua Dobbs or Riley Ferguson — sees significant action.
5 Pivotal Players for Week 5
Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Mettenberger’s ties to Georgia run deep. He grew up in nearby Watkinsville. His mother, Tammy, is an administrative assistant in the Georgia football offense. And he spent the first two years of his career as a Georgia Bulldog. This is not just another game for Mettenberger, who is in his second season as the starter at LSU. So far, he has thrived under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, but this will be his toughest test — in a very difficult environment — of his senior season. He needs to play well to give his team a chance to win the game.
Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU
Few teams in the country are as balanced offensively as Georgia, which has the personnel to throw for over 400 yards or run for 300 on any given Saturday. Barrow, one of the leaders of this new-look LSU defense, will have to be at his best from his weak-side linebacker position on Saturday. When Georgia gets its play-action attack going, the Bulldogs are very difficult to slow down.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
Murray delivered on the big stage in Week 2, throwing for 309 yards and four touchdowns in a pivotal 41-30 win over South Carolina. Now, he must do it again — or hear from his critics how he can’t win the big game. Murray doesn’t have to post gaudy numbers for Georgia to beat LSU, but he must avoid the big mistakes — something that has plagued him in previous seasons.
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
Treadwell was a difference-maker in the Rebels’ win over Vanderbilt in Week 1, catching nine passes for 82 yards in addition to a key 2-point conversion in the third quarter. He has teamed with Donte Moncrief to give Ole Miss two big-time targets in the passing game. Alabama’s secondary is talented, but it’s difficult for any team to take away two elite wide receivers. Treadwell, a 5-star recruit from Illinois, could have an opportunity to play a key role in the Rebel attack.
The Arkansas defense
Arkansas’ defensive numbers look good — 17th nationally in total defense and 25th in scoring defense — but the schedule has been relatively soft. The Hogs’ D will be stressed at every level on Saturday by a Texas A&M offense that is among the best in the nation. Last year, the Aggies torched Arkansas for an astounding 716 yards in a 58-10 win in College Station. The Hogs will need to lop about 250 yards off of that total to have a chance to beat A&M this time around.
South Carolina at UCF
S. Carolina 28-24
S. Carolina 35-21
S. Carolina 30-20
S. Carolina 31-17
S. Alabama at Tennessee
LSU at Georgia
Ole Miss at Alabama
Texas A&M at Arkansas
Texas A&M 42-21
Texas A&M 49-31
Texas A&M 45-24
Texas A&M 44-21
Florida at Kentucky
UAB at Vanderbilt
Arkansas St. at Missouri