The SEC takes center stage in college football this weekend with two huge matchups. Florida, experiences a resurgence under second-year coach Will Muschamp hosts LSU at the Swamp, and Georgia and South Carolina meet in Columbia in a game that could decide the SEC East champ.
Other Week 6 Previews and Predictions
1. Is the Florida offense ready for an elite defense?
Florida is 4–0 and showing signs of life on offense. The Gators are averaging 407.5 yards per game and 6.2 yards per play, up from 328.7 and 5.4 from a year ago. The competition has been relatively strong — they’ve already played three SEC games — but this new-look attack will face its stiffest challenge of the season (by far) on Saturday afternoon. For all its (relative) troubles, LSU is still a dominant defensive team that has been equally stingy against the run and the pass. The Tigers rank in the top 10 nationally in both passing yards (10th) and rushing yards (fourth) allowed. This could be the week we realize that the Gators’ attack hasn’t quite progressed as much as we thought.
2. Can LSU continue its offensive prowess vs. Florida?
Here’s a stat that might surprise you: LSU has scored a total of 74 points in its last two games against Florida, and the Gators ended both seasons ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense. In those two games, the Tigers averaged a healthy 6.2 yards per play thanks in large part to an efficient passing attack. LSU’s two quarterbacks, Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson, combined to complete 26-of-38 for 439 yards with four touchdowns and one interception in those two wins. Now, it’s Zach Mettenberger’s turn. The strong-armed junior has been decent, but far from a difference-maker, through his first five games as the starting quarterback. This Saturday, he will have an opportunity to shine on one of the biggest stages in college football.
3. Can Georgia run on South Carolina?
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is getting some Heisman Trophy buzz — and deservedly so — but the most important offensive development in 2012 has been the emergence of freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. This dynamic duo is averaging a combined 192.8 yards rushing per game and rank first (Marshall, 8.2) and second (Gurley, 7.9) in the SEC in yards per carry. The each have three rushing plays of 30 yards or more; no one else in the SEC has more than two. This week, however, Gurley and Marshall will run into (literally) a South Carolina defense that ranks second in the SEC in stopping the run, allowing an average of 77.6 yards per game and 2.2 yards per attempt. The Gamecocks have given up only two rushes of 20 yards or longer and none of 30 yards or longer.
4. Can South Carolina seize the moment?
Steve Spurrier summed it up perfectly on Sunday afternoon: “This is a huge game. We all know it.” The coach is right. They don’t get any bigger at South Carolina, a school that is ranked in the top six in the national polls for the third time ever. The Gamecocks have won big games under Spurrier — most notably the 35–21 win over then-No. 1 Alabama in 2010 — but there is seemingly more at stake this time around. South Carolina was not undefeated at the time of the Alabama win and climbed no higher than No. 10 at any point in the ’10 season. Now, however, the Gamecocks are 5–0 and ranked No. 6 in both the AP and coaches poll. A win over Georgia would vault them into the top five for the first time since 1984 and keep them in the hunt for the school’s first-ever national title.
5. Who wins on third down: the Ole Miss offense or the Texas A&M defense?
Ole Miss has made tremendous progress on offense under first-year coach Hugh Freeze. One reason: The Rebels are having success on third down, leading the SEC by converting 51.5 percent of their attempts. And Ole Miss isn’t just padding its stats against inferior competition. In their two games vs. AQ conference teams — Alabama and Texas — the Rebels have a 41.4 percent success rate. This week, Ole Miss faces a Texas A&M defense that has been the stingiest in the SEC on third down, allowing a 26.5 percent rate of success. If the Rebels, an 11-point underdog, hope to keep pace with the potent Texas A&M offense, they need to have success on third down.
6. What can we expect from Patrick Towles?
Barring a major surprise, quarterback Patrick Towles will make his collegiate debut for Kentucky when the Cats host Mississippi State on Saturday. Joker Phillips had planned on redshirting Towles — a 4-star recruit from Ft. Thomas, Ky. — but those plans changed when starter Maxwell Smith went down with an ankle injury early in last week’s loss to South Carolina. Jalen Whitlow, another true freshman, is expected to get the start, but Towles will see significant playing time. Towles, who had been working with the scout team, received extensive on-the-job training during practice this week. “He had not been working with the one or the twos, but he’s been in the meetings every day,” Phillips said. “He’s a guy that pays attention in the meetings, and we’ll have to see how much he knows. But again, it’s difficult when you haven’t gotten any reps.” If Towles plays well, Phillips, who is on the hottest of seats in the SEC, will have no choice but to start the Kentucky native for the last six games. Stay tuned.
7. Kiehl Frazier vs. the Arkansas defense: Who wins?
Arkansas’ pass defense has been horrendous in 2012 — and that is being kind. The Razorbacks, who are still searching for a win over an FBS opponent, have allowed 349.4 passing yards per game to rank 121st in the nation. They have given up 14 touchdowns through the air and have intercepted only one pass. In five games, they have given up 72 pass plays of 10 yards or more (most in the nation), 21 of 20 yards or more and nine of 30 yards or more. That brings us to Kiehl Frazier, the former prized recruit who is struggling in his first season as Auburn’s starting quarterback. The numbers aren’t pretty: Frazier ranks 14th in the SEC with a 96.03 passer rating (for a reference point, James Franklin is No. 13 with a 127.38 rating); he has completed only 52.8 percent of his attempts (last in the league); and his 6.1 yards-per-attempt average ranks last as well. This week, however, Frazier has the luxury of facing the SEC’s worst pass defense. If he struggles once again, will Auburn consider a change at the most important position on the field?
8. Can Vanderbilt score a red zone touchdown?
The first part of the season has been a struggle for the Vanderbilt offense. The Commodores averaged 30.6 points in their final eight games in ’11, but are scoring at a much lower clip this fall. They are averaging 21.8 points in four games, but that number dips down to 9.7 when you remove the 58–0 win over Presbyterian in Week 3. One issue has been production (or lack thereof) in the red zone. Vanderbilt has scored a touchdown on only 26.7 percent (4 of 15) of its trips inside the 20-yard line — and all four of those TDs occurred in the Presbyterian game. In fact, the Dores are the only team in the nation that has not scored a red zone touchdown vs. an FBS opponent.
9. Can Mississippi State take care of business?
The Bulldog faithful are anxiously awaiting the visit from Tennessee in two weeks, but Mississippi State must first handle the task at hand: Beat Kentucky in Lexington. And while the Bulldogs are a heavy favorite — the line has settled at 10 points after opening at 14 — this is not a program that can expect to win a road game by simply showing up. Two weeks ago, in their only road game of the season, Mississippi State gave up 572 total yards in a 30–24 win at Troy. Kentucky is struggling on both sides of the ball, but there is certain to be some extra energy at Commonwealth Stadium due to the debut of true freshman quarterback Patrick Towles. Mississippi State is the better team, but the Bulldogs will have to play well to win and preserve their undefeated record.
10. Is DGB ready to break out?
It took longer than most Missouri fans had hoped, but wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham — the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruit in the class of 2012 — finally impacted a game. In the first quarter of Mizzou’s 21–16 win at UCF, Green-Beckham turned a 25-yard toss from James Franklin into an 80-yard touchdown — the first of his career. Missouri fans are hoping that was the first of many big plays for the freshman, who had caught only six passes for a total of 48 yards in his first four games.
Florida (+2.5) at LSU
Georgia (+1) at South Carolina
South Carolina 28-21
Texas A&M (-12.5) at Ole Miss
Texas A&M 35-17
Texas A&M 40-20
Texas A&M 34-24
Texas A&M 38-28
Arkansas (+9.5) at Auburn
Mississippi State (-10) at Kentucky
Mississippi State 31-10
Mississippi State 27-14
Mississippi State 38-23
Mississippi State 30-20
Vanderbilt (+6.5) at Missouri