So this is the game that everyone has supposedly spent all year waiting for. After a pair of epic matchups in the past two Southeastern Conference Championship Games, Florida travels to Tuscaloosa to take on No. 1 Alabama in one of the most heralded regular season games in recent memory (even though ESPN is sending its GameDay crew out west to Eugene for Stanford’s trip to Oregon).
More on the Gators-Tide matchup in a bit. In other news, Tennessee will take a bunch of first-time flyers to Baton Rouge to take on 4-0 LSU, Georgia makes a rare trip west of the Mississippi River as it returns the favor in a home-and-home series with Colorado and Kentucky will invade Oxford for a pivotal contest with up-and-down Ole Miss.
Keep your remote handy early in the day as all but two SEC games will kickoff prior to noon local times thanks to CBS’ protected television rights with its double-header featuring LSU-Tennessee and Florida-Alabama.
Now, we’ll go back to the tussle in Tuscaloosa.
I have a theory, so flatter me by hearing it out before you comment below about how stupid I may be. Regardless of how each team has played thus far, there is little doubt to the notion that Florida and Alabama are once again the cream of the crop in the league. The way that these two have swapped spots at the No. 1 ranking both in recruiting and in the polls since 2008 offers little argument to this statement.
I don’t think it’s stepping too far out onto a ledge by stating it would be immensely difficult, if not impossible, for either of these two teams to beat the other one twice in one season. Should the remainder of the regular season play out as each wishes, the chance for revenge will materialize in just nine weeks.
That being said, which is more important: winning this weekend or winning in Atlanta under the roof of the Georgia Dome?
Since Alabama ascended to the top of the SEC with its win against Florida last December in the title game, all of UF’s players have been pointing to Oct. 2, 2010, as a day of reckoning. The one slipup in last year’s Gators’ mission to garner the school’s first undefeated campaign has fueled every offseason workout and every circle drill.
Mickey Marotti and his strength coaches have reminded every UF player that has unfortunately had to spend time in the area they lovingly refer to as “the Pit.”
To put it simply: the Gators have been waiting for this one and are extremely motivated, despite the growing pains suffered the first three and one half weeks.
Nick Saban knows how important this game could be to his team’s confidence, but he also knows how meaningful a loss could be to recapture focus and enhance desires to be much better than the Tide performed at the beginning of the game in Arkansas last weekend.
The game will come down to Florida’s ability to stop Alabama’s run game. I don’t think the Gators will muster much offense either by ground or by air, but their defense has remained opportunistic in the secondary and the UF defensive line is one of the nation’s best.
Robert Lester is fresh off a two-interception performance against Arkansas, earning SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors in the process. The sophomore’s progress has helped soften the blow of the top eight defensive backs departing from the 2009 UA national championship squad. If John Brantley tries to connect with his receivers, Lester could affect the targets Brantley chooses.
So, will the motivation suit the Gators much like it did the Tide last season in Atlanta? Or will home field win out for Saban and Co.? It’s going to be a fun one to watch, and I doubt it goes like Urban Meyer’s first trip to Tuscaloosa in 2005 (UA won 31-3).
Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. CT and the clash of the SEC’s top titans will be aired to a national audience via CBS Sports.
Call it now: Alabama 27, Florida 24
• Louisiana-Monroe at No. 10 Auburn (Auburn, Ala., 11 a.m. CT, ESPNU)
The Tigers and War Hawks share a couple of things in common. Louisiana-Monroe is the last school to defeat Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Auburn is the last school to knock off the Tide in the regular season.
Why mention these two things? They should be the only reason for intrigue in this contest. Auburn fans could get a glance into which of the heralded freshman class will be receiving a redshirt this fall as many backups could log significant minutes if things go right in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Call it now: Auburn 51, Louisiana-Monroe 20
• Alcorn State at Mississippi State (Starkville, Miss., 11 a.m. CT, Fox Sports Net-South)
Finally, a breather for Dan Mullen and Co. in Starkville.
After three-straight SEC games, the Bulldogs welcome in-state foe Alcorn State for its first-ever trip to Davis-Wade Stadium. Mullen and the new administration at MSU have made it a point to take on non-conference opponents from within the state lines, starting with last season’s opener against Jackson State.
Alcorn State is the alma mater of the late Steve McNair. McNair had quite the Heisman campaign going when he was a senior at ASU. I’m pretty sure the Braves could have beaten Ole Miss or Mississippi State with McNair leading the offense.
That isn’t the case for the present states of both programs. Lots of backups will see action for MSU.
Call it now: Mississippi State 45, Alcorn State 7
• Vanderbilt at Connecticut (East Hartford, Conn., 12 p.m. EST)
The Commodores have enjoyed a couple of weeks of joy following their win over Ole Miss. Robbie Caldwell allowed his troops plenty of rest and relaxation leading up to this week’s trip to UConn.
The Huskies haven’t gotten off to a great start, following up last year’s strong finish with a 2-2 showing out of the gate. The common theme here: both losses have come away from East Hartford. Which equates to ... UConn being undefeated at home.
I didn’t give Vandy much hope of winning more than one game heading into the season. Then, the Commodores took advantage of an Ole Miss team lacking an identity to earn an all-important road win within SEC play. It will be difficult to run its road-victory streak to two.
Call it now: Connecticut 24, Vanderbilt 13
• Kentucky at Ole Miss (Oxford, Miss., 11:21 a.m. CT, SEC-TV)
This is one of the tougher games on the slate the first five weeks to predict. There was little to be excited about following Kentucky’s 48-14 loss last week at Florida, but there’s a big difference in visiting the Gators and taking on the Rebels away from Lexington.
Regardless of the two losses so far, Ole Miss has continued to get better offensively as Jeremiah Masoli has gotten more comfortable behind center for Ole Miss. After jumping out to a 41-10 lead, the defense once again fell asleep as Fresno State went on a 28-14 run to close out the contest last weekend to give Rebels’ fans plenty more to feel uneasy about heading into the Kentucky game.
Any road win is difficult to earn, no matter who you are. Kentucky has played better overall than Ole Miss, and Tyrone Nix’s defense has been lackluster at best through the first four games. That doesn’t bode well when having to worry about bottling up both Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb.
I’ll go with the Rebels again, even though they’re responsible for half of my misses in my predictions thus far.
Call it now: Ole Miss 38, Kentucky 28
• Tennessee at No. 12 LSU (Baton Rouge, La., 2:30 p.m. CT, CBS)
The Vols are looking at possibly half of its traveling roster of about “66-68 players” per Derek Dooley making their first road trip at Tennessee.
Dooley even joked that it would be the first plane flight for about 50 of those players during his weekly press conference. Congrats to those guys: your first road game comes under the scrutiny of 92,000-plus inside Tiger Stadium.
Things haven’t exactly been good in Knoxville so far through four games of the Dooley Era. Many expected UT to be 2-2 at this point in the season, but few thought the Volunteers would need two overtimes to escape the UAB contest with a W to get to 2-2.
To make matters worse, Tennessee has converted just 11-of-58 third downs into first-and-10s this year. Only one of those 11 successful plays have come at a distance of greater than five yards. Oregon exposed just how weak the defense can play, while UAB exploited how easy it is to move the ball between the 20s on Justin Wilcox’s first defensive unit.
This should be music to Gary Crowton and the LSU’s offense’s ears. To say that the Tigers have struggled on that side of the ball would be an understatement. Neither Jordan Jefferson nor Jarrett Lee have been able to get any continuity going when LSU has possession of the football, but Stevan Ridley has quietly become a much better running back for the Bayou Bengals, who have missed a solid runner since the national championship season of 2007.
This game features the first meeting between LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis and the school he called his own for over a decade at Tennessee. Chavis and Co. will give Matt Simms fits, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Patrick Peterson pad his Heisman campaign even further Saturday afternoon.
Call it now: LSU 24, Tennessee 7
• Georgia at Colorado (Boulder, Colo., 7 p.m. EST, FoxSports)
Just call this one the Hot Seat Bowl. The meeting between the Buffaloes and Bulldogs, the second of a home-and-home series that began in 2006, could be an important victory for either Mark Richt or Dan Hawkins. However, it’s more likely that it will be a much more important loss for the coach that fails to garner more points than his opponent Saturday.
Georgia welcomes back AJ Green from suspension, and the junior’s impact needs to be felt from the first snap in the contest. There’s no doubt that Aaron Murray will dial No. 8 for plays early and often should Caleb King not be able to deliver a consistent ground attack for the Bulldogs.
Colorado nearly beat Georgia in Athens when these two schools last met. That Buffaloes team finished 2-10 and was in the first season under Hawkins’ guidance. The Bulldogs turned to Joe Cox in the fourth quarter and eeked out a 14-13 triumph in the waning moments of the contest. This year, CU is fresh off a bye week after starting 2-1 in this important season for Hawkins' future.
If the game is that close again, don’t expect UGA to return to Athens with a 2-3 record. The Bulldogs need to put this game away early and allow a comfortable victory to build confidence and continuity through a treacherous SEC slate that fills the remainder of October.
Call it now: Georgia 38, Colorado 21
Last week: 6-1