While the entire Southeastern Conference league was buzzing with Thursday’s release of the 2013 league schedule, Arkansas and Ole Miss continued to rest up for next weekend’s showdown in Little Rock that could catapult either school back into the bowl picture for 2012.
Meanwhile, Florida and South Carolina wrapped up preparations for the de facto SEC East championship game this weekend to be held inside the confines of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Leading up to Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. CT kickoff, is there a little bit of gamesmanship going on?
Wednesday, Steve Spurrier told media members that he felt like star running back Marcus Lattimore wouldn’t be ready to go for the contest against Spurrier’s alma mater and that Kenny Myles would earn the start at the tailback position. However, USC special teams standout Ace Sanders told reporters that he thought Lattimore “looked fine” following Wednesday’s practice session in Columbia, S.C. Is Spurrier trying to throw a wrinkle into Will Muschamp and Co.’s plans or is the future top-five National Football League draft pick really going to miss the biggest game of the year?
With or without Lattimore, this is a crazy tough stretch for Carolina after facing Georgia and LSU the past two weeks. The Gamecocks had a tremendous first five weeks and looked unbeatable leading up to last Saturday night’s 23-21 defeat in Baton Rouge, La. Spurrier’s crew has to show a short memory if it has any chance of surviving an amped up crowd in the Swamp.
Only Notre Dame can claim to have as impressive of a resume in the first two months of the season than Florida. The Gators have been tremendously opportunistic on offense – though not flashy – en route to debuting at No. 2 in 2012’s first Bowl Championship Series ratings. Florida’s SEC East hopes ride on this weekend and next against Georgia – a pair of games that can prove that Muschamp has truly arrived as a head coach in this league.
USC scored its first-ever win in Gainesville two years ago and clinched its first and only SEC East crown in the process. The Gamecocks can’t clinch again this weekend, but a victory over both Georgia and Florida will go a long way towards putting Spurrier and Co. back in the Georgia Dome in December.
This one is going to be a dandy, folks. Make sure you tune in with plenty of time to listen to Gary Danielson, Verne Lundquist and Tracy Wolfson give commentary to their weekly national audience.
Call it now: South Carolina 24, Florida 21
• LSU at Texas A&M (College Station, Texas, 11 a.m. CT, ESPN)
How is this game a morning kickoff? Really, ESPN?
Johnny Football gets his first shot at John Chavis’s swarming defense this weekend. All Johnny Manziel has done is set league record after league record throughout his freshman campaign as the top signal caller for Texas A&M. It’s clear that Kevin Sumlin will be a successful coach long-term for A&M, but this is the first major test for Sumlin’s offensive assault in league play.
I’m really eager to watch how Manziel can perform with his legs against Sam Montgomery, Keke Mingo and the rest of the LSU defensive line. If Johnny Football can get some big plays in the running game, watch out.
However, LSU’s win over South Carolina makes me think that Les Miles has regained his magic.
Call it now: LSU 28, Texas A&M 20
• Auburn at Vanderbilt (Nashville, Tenn., 11:21 a.m. CT, SEC-Network)
James Franklin and the Vanderbilt Commodores get their chance to pile onto the dumpster fire that has been the Auburn football team this season.
Much like last week against Ole Miss, Auburn is the more talented squad. However, Vandy has accomplished more as a team and has played better week-in and week-out so far in 2012. Heck, the ‘Dores are an 8-point favorite in Las Vegas.
The Tigers’ best chance to put it all together and get their season back on track resulted in a 24-7 loss to Arkansas two weeks ago. Now, the question is whether AU can pull off a 3-9 season or will it drop one of the remaining non-conference games on the November slate.
Call it now: Vanderbilt 31, Auburn 20
• Alabama at Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn., 6 p.m. CT, ESPN)
One of my favorite SEC football memories was going to the 2006 Alabama-Tennessee game in Knoxville.
This rivalry is tremendous, especially when you can watch it as an innocent bystander. For a rivalry with so much history, however, it’s crazy to me how streaky it can be.
Tennessee lost just three times in 13 years prior to Nick Saban’s arrival at Alabama in 2007. Now, I don’t see the Vols winning any time soon – especially not with Saban at the helm of the Crimson Tide program.
If you’re at this game, eat some Calhoun’s on the river for me either before or after the Bama win. (Or both before and after, if you’re feeling frisky.)
Call it now: Alabama 41, Tennessee 17
• Georgia at Kentucky (Lexington, Ky., 6 p.m. CT, FSN)
This is a big game for Mark Richt, believe it or not.
The Wildcats have given the Bulldogs all kinds of fits the last six years. After UGA has had a bye week to fully digest the 35-7 loss it suffered to South Carolina, this is the kind of game that can give the Georgia faithful plenty of reasons to call into the radio shows complaining Sunday morning.
Aaron Murray is a future NFL quarterback. There is no doubting that. However, he hasn’t played as well as he did a season ago. TJ Gurley and Keith Marshall, however, will give the red hats and silver britches plenty of highlights when things get tense on the Blue Grass.
Call it now: Georgia 31, Kentucky 13
• Middle Tennessee at Mississippi State (Starkville, Miss., 6 p.m. CT, ESPN2)
This game could be more entertaining than it should be as undefeated Mississippi State celebrates homecoming.
This is just the fifth all-time meeting between MTSU and MSU, which is somewhat surprising considering MTSU seems to be a favorite homecoming or early September opponent of several SEC schools. The Blue Raiders pulled off a huge program-building triumph over Georgia Tech two weeks ago and proved it can keep up offensively with everyone in the Atlantic Coast Conference in the process.
However, the ACC is not the SEC and Georgia Tech’s defense isn’t State’s defense.
Look for Tyler Russell to get some rest in the second half after he puts together a performance that replicates most of his outings in the first half of the season.
Call it now: Mississippi State 45, Middle Tennessee 21
OVERALL RUSHING PICKS
Last week: 6-1