Nearly half of the SEC East is on a bye this week with Florida, Georgia and Tennessee off, but there’s still plenty of intrigue around the conference. Here’s what to watch:
UMass at South Carolina, Noon ET, SEC Network
No one was expecting Will Muschamp to beat the Texas A&Ms and Georgias of the world his first year at South Carolina. The roster Steve Spurrier left behind just wasn’t capable of hanging with most of the SEC. But games like this weekend against UMass are important because they are the games Muschamp and his staff are supposed to win. Doing so keeps the wolves at bay, giving the time needed to rebuild. We might even see some of that rebuilding up close and personal on Saturday if Muschamp pulls the trigger and brings true freshman quarterback Jake Bentley off the bench.
No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Trevor Knight knows a thing or two about beating Alabama. Granted, that was more than two years ago and he was at a different school. But still, Knight has the confidence needed to go up against Nick Saban’s defense, and in a lot of ways that’s half the battle. What’s more, this might be the best defense Texas A&M has ever brought into Tuscaloosa. With an extra week to prepare, it will be interesting to see what coordinator John Chavis draws up to try to confuse Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Middle Tennessee State at Missouri, 4 p.m. ET, SEC Network
This game won’t be as easy as it looks on paper. After all, Middle Tennessee is 4-2 and one of those losses was last weekend by one point to a quality Western Kentucky team. So, no, Barry Odom’s squad can’t afford to sleep on this Group of 5 foe. In fact, sitting at 2-4, this game needs to be taken seriously if the Tigers hope to reach bowl eligibility. The next four games -- Middle Tennessee State, Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt -- are winnable, but the offense and quarterback Drew Lock have to improve to make it happen.
No. 17 Arkansas at No. 21 Auburn, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN
Two weeks ago, this game would have had very little buzz to it. But now, after Auburn has climbed back into the top 25 and Arkansas took down Ole Miss, we’re looking at a battle for potentially the third-best team in the West. Expect Auburn to continue to lean on the running game as it’s done the past two games with success against Louisiana-Monroe and Mississippi State. Meanwhile, Arkansas will continue to stay balanced. Austin Allen is developing nicely at quarterback and the combination of Rawleigh Williams and Devwah Whaley at running back continues to produce.
Mississippi State at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network
An extra week off won’t be enough for Drew Barker to get healthy to return under center for the Wildcats. So it’s still Stephen Johnson’s offense to run. And running is the key element because the passing game has been less productive each week since he took over. Still, with Jojo Kemp and Stanley Williams to hand the ball off to, there’s plenty for him to work with. Remember, Mississippi State’s defense put up little resistance to Auburn’s running game two weeks ago. Despite faring better last Friday against BYU, Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill had a field day in the overtime win, throwing for three touchdowns and running in another.
Tennessee State at Vanderbilt, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
OK, Commodores, don’t fall back on your old ways now. Not after that rough start to the season and how you’ve recovered. You finally have the first SEC road win of Derek Mason’s career at Georgia. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a milestone for a program in desperate need of one. Now at home, it’s time to take care of business against FCS Tennessee State. It’s time to get that offense back on track and get quarterback Kyle Shurmur some confidence. If that happens, maybe you can give your next two opponents -- Auburn and Missouri -- a run for their money.
No. 23 Ole Miss at No. 25 LSU, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Ed Orgeron has aced his audition as LSU’s interim coach thus far with wins over Missouri and Southern Miss. But that was easy. Now comes the midterm: Ole Miss. LSU will have to score points to keep up with Chad Kelly and the Rebs’ offense. In turn, the Ole Miss defensive front will pressure quarterback Danny Etling. The hope for Orgeron and the LSU faithful is that Leonard Fournette has recovered from his ankle injury and can play. Derrius Guice has been spectacular in his stead, but every weapon will count.