Hard to believe it’s already Week 6 of the season. Here are 10 items worth watching this weekend in the SEC:
1. John Brantley's ribs: Florida’s junior quarterback took a nasty shot to the ribs last week against Alabama and isn’t 100 percent. He’s done more in practice as the week has gone along, and Florida coach Urban Meyer says he’s going to play. The question is: How effectively will he play against an LSU defense that has specialized in hitting the quarterback this season? This is one of those games where Florida may use redshirt freshman Trey Burton even more, particularly when the down and distance favors the Gators.
2. Sharing snaps: Jarrett Lee was the one playing most of the snaps at quarterback for LSU after Jordan Jefferson's struggles took a turn for the worse last week. Lee says he’ll be ready when called on Saturday against Florida. Chances are he won’t have to wait long. LSU coach Les Miles said he plans to play both quarterbacks against the Gators, who’ve already intercepted 12 passes this season. In their last four games, the Tigers have thrown six interceptions and no touchdown passes. Jefferson and Lee combined to throw three picks last week against the Vols.
3. Taking down No. 1: South Carolina ended one long losing streak last season when it upset No. 4-ranked Ole Miss in Columbia. Prior to that game, the Gamecocks had lost 22 straight games to top-5 opponents and not beaten a top-5 team since a 31-13 win over No. 3-ranked North Carolina in 1981. They’re 0-14 all-time against teams in the top 2 of the Associated Press poll and get a chance to end that drought Saturday when No. 1-ranked Alabama comes to town. The Gamecocks have never beaten a top-5 team when they were also nationally ranked.
4. Another Heisman moment: It was against South Carolina last season that Alabama’s Mark Ingram became a full-fledged Heisman Trophy contender. He sliced and diced his way to a Bryant-Denny Stadium-record 246 yards and had 167 of those yards after contact in an amazing display of balance, power and toughness. You can bet the South Carolina defenders who are still around (and many of them are) haven’t forgotten how bad Ingram made them look a year ago. Likewise, given the Gamecocks’ inability to tackle Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton a few weeks ago, you can bet the Crimson Tide are going to give Ingram every chance to play human bowling ball again.
5. Third-down dominance: It goes without saying that South Carolina will want to avoid third-down passing situations against Alabama, which feasts on teams facing third-and-long. The Crimson Tide are first nationally in third-down defense with teams converting only 52.8 percent of the time against them. The next closest team nationally is Florida, which is holding teams to a 61.4 percentage rate on third down. Now, if it’s third-and-short, the pendulum swings a little more in the Gamecocks’ favor. They’ve converted 85.7 percent of third downs with 3 or fewer yards to go, which is third nationally among FBS teams.
6. Deja vu for Auburn: A year ago, 5-0 didn’t treat Auburn real well. The Tigers lost their next three games and wound up losing five of their last six SEC games. One of the most disappointing losses in that skid was the home loss to Kentucky. Well, the Tigers are 5-0 again and they go to Kentucky this weekend eager to prove they have a little more staying power this time around. This is a deeper Auburn team and a more mature team. “Last year we got to 5-0 and fell off the face of the earth,” said Auburn senior offensive tackle Lee Ziemba. “This year we’re going to try to prevent that from happening by first acknowledging that we’re not there yet and that we need to keep working.”
7. Cats taking charge: The practice field this week at Kentucky has been a little louder and a little more demonstrative. Several of the Wildcats’ leaders, including Randall Cobb, have turned up the heat on their teammates when they make mistakes or take shortcuts. We’ll see what effect that has come game time. Kentucky has lost two in a row, and Auburn’s visit on Saturday kicks off a crucial three-game homestand for the Wildcats that will likely determine whether they’re going to make a fifth straight appearance in a bowl game. After Auburn, Kentucky gets South Carolina and Georgia at home the following two weeks.
8. Preparing for Houston: A few things have changed since Mississippi State last faced Houston. The Cougars won’t have star quarterback Case Keenum, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against UCLA, and they also won’t have his backup, Cotton Turner, who went down in that same game. If that’s not enough, Houston’s top receiver, James Cleveland, has been suspended for this game. He caught 11 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns in Houston’s 31-24 win over Mississippi State last season. The Cougars are getting a pair of true freshman quarterbacks ready for Saturday’s game -- Terrance Broadway and David Piland -- although Houston coach Kevin Sumlin says he won’t name a starter until game time. The Cougars have won 18 straight games at home.
9. Dooley family reunion: Don’t look for any camera shots of former Georgia coach Vince Dooley in the stands sweating out Saturday’s Georgia-Tennessee tilt. That’s because he won’t be there. He plans to watch the game at home, as his son, Derek Dooley, leads the Vols into Sanford Stadium for the first time as head coach. Clearly, Vince will be cheering for his son, but he also couldn’t bring himself to be there in Sanford Stadium, where he served most of his adult life as either head football coach or athletic director, and cheering against the Bulldogs. Derek’s mother and Vince’s wife, Barbara, plans to be there, though, and will sit in their regular end zone box. Barbara has been known to say just about anything, and Derek has joked frequently that his mother is a regular violator of his media policy.
10. Coaching for his job: Whether or not Georgia’s Mark Richt is genuinely coaching for his job, he said the reality is that you always are, especially in this league. The Bulldogs have lost four straight games and will try to avoid their first five-game losing streak since 1953 this Saturday against Tennessee. “I can tell you that I’m coaching my tail off. I can tell you that,” Richt said when asked this week if he were coaching for his job. The Bulldogs will get receiver A.J. Green back for a second straight game, although he’s had a little hamstring issue this week. One thing that may change is Georgia’s makeup in the offensive line. On Wednesday in practice, Trinton Sturdivant was at left tackle and Clint Boling at right tackle. True freshman Kenarious Gates was working with the first team at right guard, meaning senior Josh Davis could be the odd man out.