By Kendall Webb
Hampered by suspensions early in the season, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder shuffled his personnel around this week, and it paid off on the scoreboard even if the Aggies still appear to be a little vulnerable through the air. SMU senior quarterback Garrett Gilbert and his backup Neal Burcham combined for 341 yards passing, and the Mustangs generated 434 total yards indicating the Aggies still have some holes to plug before they get into the meat of their SEC schedule.
On the flip side, though, they’ve got the man – or the Manziel, that is. And Johnny Manziel was his usual dynamic, playmaking self with 346 total yards and three touchdowns in just barely more than one half of play. As long as he stays healthy, it might not matter what the defense does as he appears capable of carrying the Aggies on his shoulders whenever they need him the most.
Week Four Recap
Straight up I went 7-2 and now stand at 36-6 overall through four weeks. I had Arkansas picked to win at Rutgers, and with a 24-7 lead in the third quarter it was looking like a solid pick.
But then Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova heated up, leading the Scarlet Knights to two late scoring drives and suddenly the Razorbacks were headed home on the short end of a 28-24 score.
The other game I wasn’t even close as I took an improved Indiana squad to beat a middle-of-the-road Missouri team at home. Yeah, right. The Hoosiers would spend the rest of the day playing catch up before eventually falling into a 38-14 hole that would prove to be too deep from which to climb out.
The rest of the picks were on the money, although Georgia’s struggle with North Texas was probably the most surprising result. Eventually the Bulldogs would pull away late in the rain for a 45-21 win, but at 21-21 in the third period, the score was turning plenty of heads as it scrolled across scoreboards in stadiums around the country.
This Coming Weekend
After a week with no high-profile matchups in the SEC, we get back to business this week with a big one – our No. 12 LSU Tigers at our No. 11 Georgia Bulldogs. For the one-loss Bulldogs, it’s essentially an elimination game in terms of the national title chase. For LSU, however, it’s just as important not to stumble in a game against the SEC East when you consider all the SEC West heavyweights that remain on the schedule. Needless to say, the winner is still right in the middle of the national title picture.
If you’re not familiar with UCF, then just a quick reminder – this is the same Knights team that upset Penn State two weeks ago in Happy Valley. You may also remember them upsetting Georgia three years ago in the Liberty Bowl. Or maybe you remember the opening game in Bright House Networks Stadium in 2007 when the Knights took Texas to the wire in a 35-32 loss. The bottom line is, historically, they aren’t exactly pushovers, and they’ll be playing in front of a sellout crowd Saturday on that same home field where they humbled a Longhorns’ team that would eventually finish 10-3. George O’Leary is still the coach, and he does a good job of finding talented players in SEC country that somehow don’t end up on an SEC roster. They’ll be amped up, and they’ll be ready for the Gamecocks.
PREDICTION: Heck, even I have a hard time believing what I just said, but this is really a talented football team. With an upset Saturday, it’s even a team that could end up running the table and possibly grabbing a BCS bowl bid. We’ll go with South Carolina as their superior talent should eventually give them an edge, but ultimately this game could hinge on a couple of big plays.
South Alabama Jaguars at Tennessee Volunteers
11:21 p.m., Saturday, September 28 (SEC TV)
STORYLINE: Finally, Tennessee catches a break in the schedule
Tennessee was respectable in a 31-17 loss at Florida last week, especially coming on the heels of a 59-14 loss at Oregon. But a loss is a loss, and suffice it to say, it’s been a tough couple of weeks up on Rocky Top especially with all the off-the-field distractions of stories involving current and former Vols players receiving extra benefits (it even led to the suspension of Maurice Couch). They can use a break this week.
PREDICTION: And they’ll get it against South Alabama. The Vols should get back into the win column with a comfortable home win against the overmatched Jaguars.
No. 12 LSU Tigers at No. 11 Georgia Bulldogs
2:30 p.m.Saturday, September 28 (CBS)
STORYLINE: It’s the game of the week in college football
Until we actually get to a playoff next year, SEC games like this kind of serve as a sort of national semifinal. For Georgia, it is almost certainly an elimination game in the national title picture because the Bulldogs already have a loss. LSU is unbeaten so we can’t say a loss would eliminate the Tigers; it would, however, make a difficult road that much harder. The Tigers still have the rest of the brutal SEC West schedule ahead of them, and they can’t really afford to be losing games against SEC East opponents.
PREDICTION: Probably the most intriguing subplot involves the return of LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger to Georgia where he first started his college career. Mettenberger was kicked off the team for an off-the-field incident in a Valdosta, Georgia, bar back in 2010 that led to his pleading guilty to two sexual misconduct charges. He eventually resurfaced at LSU, however, after a year in the juco ranks. Ironically, his mother still works as an assistant to Georgia head coach Mark Richt, who gave her the week off due to the emotional nature of the situation. It’s a nice subplot in a game that really doesn’t even need any – the football alone is enough to make us tune into this one, and we’ll take Georgia in a close battle at home.
No. 26 Ole Miss Rebels at No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide
5:30 p.m. Saturday, September 28 (ESPN)
STORYLINE: Ole Miss’ youth vs. Alabama’s experience
Alright, how good is this young Ole Miss team? Well, we’re about to find out. The Rebels are still relying on freshmen in key roles so it’s just too early to expect too much out of this team, and this is where I think we really start to see how much of a gap remains between the Rebels and the rest of the top-tier teams in the SEC West. Admittedly, they look to be on the verge of taking that next step and climbing the SEC ladder, but this is still too much to ask.
PREDICTION: We think. Alabama can be vulnerable on defense as the Texas A&M Aggies showed us, but then again, the Aggies have the best player in college football on their side. Ole Miss has some good ones and a great coach in Hugh Freeze, but they don’t have anybody of Manziel’s caliber. And they certainly don’t have the steady leadership of Alabama senior quarterback AJ McCarron who just doesn’t make many mistakes. Alabama by at least 14.
No. 18 Florida Gators at Kentucky Wildcats
6 p.m. Saturday, September 28 (ESPNU)
STORYLINE: A little closer than you might expect
The question is how much closer? Florida hasn’t lost to Kentucky in 27 years, and they’ve won the past five meetings by an average of more than 40 points. But the timing for a closer game might finally be here thanks to a couple of key injuries to the Gators who lost quarterback Jeff Driskel for the season against Tennessee last Saturday before losing defensive tackle Dominique Easley for the season in practice on Tuesday. Easley, who tore his ACL and meniscus, was one of the team’s best players and might actually be the bigger loss.
PREDICTION: Look, you can’t go against a 27-year streak, and we’re not saying Kentucky even really has a chance to win here. They should lose, and in the end, Florida probably wins comfortably (that’s my pick). It just might drag into the second half before it’s settled, and it wouldn’t be stunning to see Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops draw up a few tricks that force Florida’s new quarterback Tyler Murphy into a couple of costly mistakes. If Kentucky capitalizes or gets an opportunity on a short field a couple of times, then it could take a little longer than usual to settle it.
No. 8 Texas A&M Aggies at Arkansas Razorbacks
6 p.m. Saturday, September 28 (ESPN2)
STORYLINE: Will the Aggies continue to show improvement on defense?
My gut feeling is the Aggies could still slip up against an inferior opponent if their defense doesn’t hold together, and it’s most likely that would occur on the road. There really aren’t that many easy SEC road trips, and Arkansas is improved enough to make this one interesting for awhile if the Aggies’ defense is unable to get timely stops.
PREDICTION: Of course, nobody in two years has proven they can devise a game plan to stop Johnny Manziel, and it’s unlikely that this Arkansas squad is holding the magic formula. Suffice it to say that even if the Aggie defense reverts back to the more porous unit of the first three weeks, Manziel will probably have enough magic to overcome it. We’ll call the Aggies in a game that could be close late – maybe even 7-10 points when it’s all said and done.
Arkansas State Red Wolves at Missouri Tigers
6:30 p.m. Saturday, September 28 (CSS)
STORYLINE: Missouri looks to stay unbeaten
We really don’t know anything about this Missouri squad yet as they have put together a 3-0 record against the likes of FCS opponent Murray State along with MAC foe Toledo and Indiana which is still a lower-level Big Ten team. We won’t know much more this week either as they take on Sun Belt visitor Arkansas State.
PREDICTION: But they’ll win to get to 4-0. We’ll finally learn a little more about this team next week when they travel to Nashville to face Vanderbilt.
UAB Blazers at Vanderbilt Commodores
6:30 p.m. Saturday, September 28 (Fox Regional)
STORYLINE: Nothing more than a glorified practice for Vandy
Vandy shouldn’t have any problems against a UAB team that lost to Troy in the opener – which lost last week at Mississippi State by a score of 62-7.
PREDICTION: Vandy in a rout as they get ready to host Missouri in a key SEC East matchup next weekend.