Ole Miss, humbled last week in its 25-0 loss at Alabama, hits the road again, travelling to Jordan-Hare Stadium to face an improved Auburn team that is coming off a bye. In Nashville, Missouri will finally play its first conference game, against a Vanderbilt team desperate for an SEC win after an 0-2 start. Elsewhere, Tennessee hosts surging Georgia; LSU visits Starkville; Florida returns home to face Arkansas; and South Carolina heads to Lexington to play Kentucky.
SEC Week 6 Game Power Rankings
1. Ole Miss (-2.5) at Auburn (7 ET, ESPNU)
We learned last Saturday night that Ole Miss isn’t quite ready to contend for the SEC West title. But one loss — especially when that loss is at Alabama — should not derail the momentum the Rebels grabbed with their 3-0 start. This is still a very good team. Auburn is another program headed in the right direction, but the Tigers are still in the first year of their new regime. The offense, to no one’s surprise, is much improved with Gus Malzahn back in town. Through four games, the Tigers are averaging 439.5 yards and 28.5 points per game — up from 297.8 and 17.5 at the same point last year. This should be highly entertaining.
2. Missouri (+2) at Vanderbilt (7:30 ET, CSS)
Missouri has cruised to a 4-0 start against a relatively soft non-conference schedule. Now the fun begins for the Tigers, who play eight SEC games over the next nine weeks. On Saturday, Mizzou makes its first trip to Vanderbilt since 1957. Last year, the Tigers outgained the Dores by 100 yards but dropped a 19-15 decision in Columbia. James Franklin — the quarterback, not the coach — enjoyed early success in that game, leading the Tigers down the field with relative ease on two long drives that ended with short field goals. Franklin, however, went down with a knee injury shortly thereafter, and the MU offense struggled the rest of the night. Franklin is now healthy and will be eager to attack a Vanderbilt defense that has had trouble against mobile quarterbacks in recent years. The Commodores have been inconsistent on the offensive end but rolled up over 600 yards last week in a 52-24 win over UAB.
3. Georgia (-10.5) at Tennessee (3:30 ET, CBS)
Georgia lost nine straight in this series from 1989-99 but has since won nine of the last 13, including three straight. And after looking at both teams’ performances through the first month of the season, there is no reason to believe that won’t be four straight after the Bulldogs’ trip to Neyland Stadium this weekend. Georgia has rebounded from its Week 1 loss at Clemson to post huge wins at home over South Carolina and LSU. The Dawgs haven’t looked great on defense — they are allowing 31.2 points per game — but few teams have played as difficult of an early season schedule. Plus, Tennessee, at this point of Butch Jones’ tenure, doesn’t possess the personnel on offense to put up a big number on most SEC defenses. Georgia must guard against a letdown, but the Bulldogs should win this game with relative ease.
4. Arkansas (+10.5) at Florida (7 ET, ESPN2)
So far so good for Tyler Murphy. One week after coming off the bench to lead Florida past Tennessee in Gainesville, Murphy completed 15-of-18 passes for 156 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the Gators’ 24-7 win at Kentucky. Those numbers won’t get you in the discussion for All-SEC honors, but it’s probably more than most Florida fans expected from the former 2-star recruit. As we learned last season, the Gators don’t need gaudy stats from their quarterback to win games. Florida’s lack of a downfield passing attack remains a concern, but this is still a team that can challenge Georgia in the SEC East. Arkansas is in the midst of a brutal four-game stretch that includes home games with Texas A&M and South Carolina and road trips to Florida and Alabama.
5. LSU (-9.5) at Mississippi State (7 ET, ESPN)
LSU proved once again last week that it might be the most improved offensive team in the nation. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they proved it in a loss — despite scoring 41 points on the road. One loss will not eliminate LSU from the national title hunt, but this team no longer has any margin for error. The Tigers shouldn’t have much trouble getting back on track this week, even though they hit the road again. Mississippi State has feasted on inferior opponents but lost to Oklahoma State and Auburn in its only games against BCS conference opponents. Tyler Russell, who has missed the last three games after suffering a concussion against Oklahoma State, is expected back at quarterback for Mississippi State. Still, don’t be surprised to see heavy doses of sophomore Dak Prescott, a dual-threat who played well in relief.
6. Kentucky (+21) at South Carolina (7:30 ET, FSN)
Steve Spurrier was not pleased with his team’s start or finish last week in Orlando. The Gamecocks got the win — 28-25 over UCF — but it was not the type of performance that gave Spurrier confidence his team can compete with the powers in the SEC. He can’t, however, have many complaints about Mike Davis, his sophomore tailback. Davis leads the SEC in rushing with 127.0 yards per game and has done so on a healthy 7.2-yard average. In a surprise, the Gamecocks could have quarterback Connor Shaw, who injured his shoulder in the UCF game, back for Saturday's matchup. If Shaw can't go, Dylan Thompson is an experienced backup, but he completed less than 50 percent of his passes against UCF. Kentucky is struggling to get much going on offense in the first year of the Mark Stoops era. This team has some decent pieces on defense, but it’s hard to envision the Cats scoring enough to make Carolina sweat.
7. Georgia State (+55.5) at Alabama (12:21 ET, SEC TV)
Alabama steps out of SEC play for what should be little more than a scrimmage. Georgia State is 0-4, with three of the four defeats coming against teams from the FCS ranks — and all three of those games were at home. Now, the Panthers head to Tuscaloosa to play the nation’s No. 1 team. Good luck.
SEC Week 6 Pivotal Players
Robert Nkemdiche/C.J. Johnson vs. Greg Robinson/Patrick Miller (Ole Miss at Auburn)
The super freshman Nkemdiche and veteran Johnson are a formidable duo on the edge of the Ole Miss defensive line. Charged with stopping them will be Auburn's sophomore tackle tandem of Robinson and Miller. The Tigers have been solid up front, allowing just 4.0 sacks in 2013, and the Rebels have struggled to get pressure (100th in sacks nationally). To hold serve on the road, the Rebs need to disrupt the quarterback and hold their ground against Tre Mason and the Tigers’ running game.
Alex Collins vs. Antonio Morrison (Arkansas at Florida)
Jonathan Williams will be a heavy factor in the backfield for the Hogs as well, but his carries have decreased in every game this season. Collins, a freshman from Florida, has quickly shown why he was so highly touted as his 119.4 rushing yards per game rank No. 2 in the SEC. He returns to his home state and gets to face one of the most vicious hitters in the nation in Antonio Morrison. The rest of the Gators’ front seven will be tough to move as well, but watching these two underclassmen battle all day will be fun for all parties involved.
Georgia St. at Alabama
Georgia at Tennessee
Arkansas at Florida
LSU at Mississippi St.
Ole Miss at Auburn
Ole Miss 31-27
Ole Miss 31-21
Missouri at Vanderbilt
Kentucky at S. Carolina
S. Carolina 35-7
S. Carolina 37-17
S. Carolina 38-13
S. Carolina 24-10