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SEC Primer: Week 4

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Matt Smith get's you ready for week 4 in the SEC

For the first time this season, the SEC’s spotlight games are actual conference games this Saturday, with more than half of the league taking on conference foes. Each division has one monster game, while there’s funeral potential on The Plains in a must-win game for Bryan Harsin.

With just one more game left before the in-state rivalry games in late November, the SEC sits at 7-3 against Power Five competition, easily the top mark among the major conferences, plus BYU and Notre Dame. It’s certainly a good league, but the depth may be less than what it seemed a few weeks ago.

Now, it’s time to find some separation within the league, particularly in a muddled SEC West. 10 games are on the docket this weekend. Let’s preview Week 4 in the SEC.

This is a Big Week for:

Coach: Eli Drinkwitz, Missouri

Missouri has generated little buzz through the season’s first quarter, but a win Saturday at Auburn could not only lead to imminent change for the orange and blue Tigers, but could give Drinkwitz and the black and gold Tigers a win to hang their hats on before a challenging October.

Player: Drew Sanders, DE, Arkansas

Texas A&M quarterback’s Max Johnson’s biggest flaw is that he holds on to the ball too long and doesn’t always sense pressure. That opens the door for Sanders, an Alabama transfer who has thrived so far in Fayetteville with a nation-leading 5.5 sacks.

Unit: Florida Linebackers

The Gators struggled without team leader Ventrell Miller last week against USF. The Bulls hammered Florida in the intermediate passing game. Tennessee loves to take deep shots, but they won’t be too stubborn to not pick on a weak spot if Florida doesn’t clean things up in the middle of its defense.

 

Trivia Time

1. Who is the only Tennessee quarterback to defeat Florida since 2005?

2. What is Nick Saban’s record against FBS teams from Tennessee as an SEC head coach?

3. What cornerback is Dallas Cowboys owner and Arkansas alumnus Jerry Jones’ only first-round selection of a player from Texas A&M?

 

Game Predictions

 

Missouri (2-1) at Auburn (2-1), Noon ET (ESPN)

Announcers: Mark Jones and Robert Griffin III

Last Meeting: 2017 – Auburn 51, Missouri 14

Current Streak: Auburn – 2

Current Streak in Auburn: First Meeting

Line: Auburn -7

Over/Under: 51

We’ve already seen coaching changes in the Pac-12 and Big Ten. Will the SEC be next? It could happen as soon as Sunday if Auburn drops a second straight game in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn’s quarterback situation is murky with all three players dealing with or recovering from injuries, but it was the Tigers defense that had the bigger letdown a week ago against Penn State. On the Missouri side, bad opponents and bad weather have prevented us from truly seeing what it has to offer. It’s a golden opportunity for Missouri, but it feels like next Saturday night against LSU will be D-Day for Bryan Harsin after Auburn does just enough to get to 3-1 this Saturday afternoon.

Prediction: Auburn 24, Missouri 22

 

Bowling Green (1-2) at Mississippi State (2-1, 0-1), Noon ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Matt Stinchcomb

Series History: Mississippi State leads 1-0

Last Meeting: 2013 – Mississippi State 21, Bowling Green 20

Line: Mississippi State -30

Over/Under: 52

The Falcons stumbled out of the gate with two losses but last week upset a Marshall team still on a high from its own upset of Notre Dame a week earlier. The Bulldogs melted down in the fourth quarter last week in Baton Rouge, being outscored by LSU 21-0. Great athletes will slow Will Rogers and this Mississippi State offense, but that shouldn’t be an issue this week. An early start for the first of three straight home games might lead to a sterile atmosphere and a slow start, but the Bulldogs will soon find their groove as they head into a brutal October.

Prediction: Mississippi State 44, Bowling Green 10

 

Kent State (1-2) at (1) Georgia (3-0, 1-0), Noon ET (ESPN+)

Announcers: Drew Carter and Aaron Murray

Series History: Georgia leads 1-0

Last Meeting: 1998 – Georgia 56, Kent State 3

Line: Georgia -44

Over/Under: 62

This is the last thing Kent State needs after already having to travel to Washington and Oklahoma to start this season. They’ll make around $5 million for three long days, at least. Georgia is about to head off of the radar for the month as they begin the easy portion of their schedule, if a non-easy portion even exists with this Bulldogs team. Kirby Smart teams aren’t a great play when giving a large number.

Prediction: Georgia 42, Kent State 6

 

(20) Florida (3-0, 0-1) at (11) Tennessee (3-0) 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)

Announcers: Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson

Last Meeting: 2021 – Florida 38, Tennessee 14

Current Streak: Florida – 5

Current Streak in Knoxville: Florida – 2 

Line: Tennessee -10.5

Over/Under: 62.5

No, it’s not the old Florida-Tennessee, as neither program is close to the behemoth in Athens, but this is still a juicy game with the Vols, losers of 16 of 17 in the series, a sizable home favorite. Injuries could play a role, as Tennessee might be without star receiver Cedric Tillman, and the Gators may not have linebacker Ventrell Miller available for a second straight game. Of course, nuclear codes are easier to obtain than college football injury statuses. I don’t think the Vols can just run away from Florida, and the weight on their shoulders will be heavy in a close game in the fourth quarter. This game will come down to which quarterback can elevate his team. Anthony Richardson did just that in the Gators’ thrilling home win over Utah earlier this month, but this is in Neyland Stadium, and Hendon Hooker is pretty darn good.

Prediction: Tennessee 31, Florida 27

 

Tulsa (2-1) at (16) Ole Miss (3-0), 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Dave Neal and Deuce McAllister

Series History: Tulsa leads 3-0

Last Meeting: 1964 – Tulsa 14, Ole Miss 7 (Bluebonnet Bowl)

Line: Ole Miss -20.5

Over/Under: 65.5

The Golden Hurricane should be the biggest test on Ole Miss’ pillow-soft September schedule, as their pass-heavy offense at least could pose some problems for the Rebels. If Ole Miss wants to slow the game down and run the ball 45 times, it can probably do that and get out with little trouble, but I think Lane Kiffin would like to see more from his passing game before SEC play starts next week against Kentucky. That could keep this game interesting longer than expected, but with the number on the low side of three touchdowns, I’ll lay the points.

Prediction: Ole Miss 41, Tulsa 20

 

(10) Arkansas (3-0, 1-0) vs. (23) Texas A&M (2-1) (Arlington), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Announcers: Joe Tessitore and Greg McElroy

Last Meeting: 2021 – Arkansas 20, Texas A&M 10

Current Streak: Arkansas - 1

Line: Texas A&M -2.5

Over/Under: 49

I guess I understand why Texas A&M is favored here, but I saw little against Miami (FL) last week to think the Aggies’ loss to Appalachian State was a mere blip. Arkansas gets after the quarterback as well as any team in the country, and Texas A&M hasn’t handled pressure well. The Razorbacks are vulnerable in the secondary, but the Aggies haven’t shown that they have the passing game to expose that weakness. Arkansas should be more confident in the weighty moments, has the better quarterback in K.J. Jefferson, and I consistently trust this Razorbacks staff to have a winning plan. I don’t like the Alabama matchup for Arkansas next week, but I like this matchup on Saturday night in Arlington.

Prediction: Arkansas 27, Texas A&M 20

 

Northern Illinois (1-2) at (8) Kentucky (3-0, 1-0), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Announcers: Anish Shroff and Brock Osweiler

Series History: First Meeting

Line: Kentucky -26

Over/Under: 53.5

The Huskies will see a second straight SEC opponent Saturday night in Lexington after blowing an early lead last week against Vanderbilt. The Wildcats haven’t really passed the eye test through three games, but they’re unblemished and winning in true Mark Stoops style. This will be the final game for Kentucky without star running back Chris Rodriguez, who returns from suspension next week against Ole Miss. The Northern Illinois defense doesn’t have much to offer, so Will Levis should have plenty of easy throws, and Kentucky will look pretty sharp heading into its trip to Oxford.

Prediction: Kentucky 42, Northern Illinois 13

 

Charlotte (1-2) at South Carolina (1-2, 0-2), 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Announcers: Jay Alter and Forest Conoly

Series History: First Meeting

Line: South Carolina -22

Over/Under: 68

The 49ers looked lifeless in losses to William & Mary and Maryland, but registered one of the season’s biggest upsets last week as three-touchdown underdogs at Georgia State with quarterback Chris Reynolds back in the lineup. South Carolina isn’t mailing it in after two humbling defeats, but this Gamecocks defense isn’t good, and Charlotte should be able to score. Spencer Rattler struggled against Arkansas and Georgia, but his talent alone will be enough to put up big numbers and stave off an upset bid to get South Carolina back to .500.

Prediction: South Carolina 48, Charlotte 35

 

Vanderbilt (3-1) at (2) Alabama (3-0), 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic

Last Meeting: 2017 – Alabama 59, Vanderbilt 0

Current Streak: Alabama – 22

Current Streak in Tuscaloosa: Alabama – 10

Line: Alabama -40.5

Over/Under: 58.5

Vanderbilt has been a nice story in getting to 3-1, but this game isn’t even a test to see how much further they have to go. I don’t know if the Commodores will just go through the motions, but with an off week ahead, a truthful Clark Lea would probably say he just wants to get through the week healthy and get ready for some more winnable games SEC ahead. Likewise, I don’t see Alabama having a major desire to hang a big number on Vanderbilt, unlike 2017 when the game drew some hype and the CBS time slot, and the Crimson Tide won 59-0 in Nashville. I’ll take the points here.

Prediction: Alabama 45, Vanderbilt 10

 

New Mexico (2-1) at LSU (2-1, 1-0), 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

Announcers: Mike Corey and Dave Steckel

Series History: First Meeting

Line: LSU -31.5

Over/Under: 45.5

LSU isn’t going to wow us this season, but they looked competent in taking down Mississippi State and dominated crunch time. Those are good signs for a team I expect to take a couple more lumps before closing strong. There won’t be lumps or crunch time against the Lobos, who have shown a bit of improvement in the first quarter of the season after dropping nine of their final 10 games in 2021. In between key SEC West games, this could be a sleepwalk for the Tigers.

Prediction: LSU 38, New Mexico 7

 

Best Bets

Last Week: 4-1

Season: 12-3

Boise State -15.5 at UTEP (Friday)

Kansas -7.5 vs. Duke

Purdue -19 vs. FAU

Miami (OH) +7 at Northwestern

Utah -14.5 at Arizona State   

 

The Best Game I’ve Ever Watched On September 24:

Sept. 24, 1994: (7) Colorado 27, (4) Michigan 26

Going into the 1994 season, Colorado had slipped just a bit under head coach Bill McCartney after its 1990 national championship. The Buffaloes had gone 8-3-1 twice and 9-2-1 once between 1991 and 1993. However, Colorado was poised for a return to glory in 1994 with a dangerous of offensive trio of quarterback Kordell Stewart, running back Rashaan Salaam, and wide receiver Michael Westbrook.

At that time, Michigan’s aspirations for a season were always determined by how it fared against rival Notre Dame in early September. Two weeks prior to the Buffs coming to Ann Arbor, the Wolverines won a wild game in South Bend on a last-second field goal. That set the stage for a late September showdown in the Big House with Keith Jackson and Bob Griese on hand to call the game for ABC.

The maize and blue crowd was largely silent in the opening quarter, as the Buffaloes surged to a 14-3 lead. Back came Michigan, as the Wolverines scored 23 unanswered points on rushing touchdowns from Tyrone Wheatley and Tim Biakabutuka, and a long passing touchdown from Todd Collins to Amani Toomer.

Colorado trailed 26-14 midway through the fourth quarter and desperately needed points. Stewart calmly marched the Buffaloes down the field to the brink of the end zone. As he scrambled for the goal line, Stewart committed the ultimate sin of reaching the ball out, and he lost control of the football. Michigan recovered, and it looked like the end for the visitors.

Michigan played it safe and ran three times before punting, as Colorado had just four minutes to reach the end zone twice. A mix of runs to Salaam and passes to tight end Christian Fauria had the Buffs on the doorstep again, and this time Salaam got the ball across the goal line to cut the lead to 26-21.

An onsides kick attempt failed, and Michigan could run out almost all of the final two minutes and 16 seconds. The Wolverines faced a fourth down neat the Colorado 40-yard line with 21 seconds left, and rather than risk going for it and putting the Buffs in range for a Hail Mary, head coach Gary Moeller chose to punt.

Colorado knew it had just two or three plays to march 85 yards. Stewart made up the yards from the punt on one play with a 21-yard completion to Westbrook, but just six seconds and one play remained. Stewart dropped back and bought some time for his receivers, and he then launched the ball from inside his own 30-yard line towards the Michigan end zone. It seemed nearly impossible for the throw to make it 70 yards.

It did just that, coming down into a sea of hands from both teams just shy of the Wolverines goal line. The ball deflected into the end zone, right in the direction of Westbrook, lingering just behind the mass of bodies. Westbrook caught the ball, setting off a massive celebration and leaving 100,000-plus in the Big House as stunned as they would be for another 21 years (you can figure it out). The play would be forever known as “The Miracle at Michigan”.

It was more good fortune for Colorado, which needed a fifth down against Missouri and a very mild clipping call in the Orange Bowl against Notre Dame back in 1990 just to earn a share of the national title. The Buffaloes would finish the 1994 season 11-1, losing in dominant fashion to Nebraska but finishing with Salaam winning the Heisman Trophy and the Buffaloes routing Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. McCartney retired after the season.

Michigan slumped to 8-4 in what would also be Moeller’s last season, as he was forced to resign the following offseason for off-field issues.

 

Trivia Answers

1. Joshua Dobbs (2016)

2. 23-1 (17-1 vs. Tennessee, 4-0 vs. Vanderbilt, 2-0 vs. Middle Tennessee)

3. Kevin Smith (1992)

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.