We’ve officially hit Week 4 of the SEC football season, and there’s plenty to talk about.
Let’s get right to the newest edition of Around the SEC.
THIS WEEK’S STORYLINES
Week 3 of Southeastern Conference football was a lot of fun, and Week 4 promises to be even better. Here’s a look at some of the bigger storylines within the league as we head toward the meat of the league’s schedule.
Key injuries and their impacts
The annual rivalry between Florida and Tennessee is always fun, and will be again this year. Sadly, neither the Vols nor the Gators will at full strength this Saturday.
Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio had seized the starting job and played well as the Gators had blown out three cupcake opponents (sorry, Kentucky, that includes you). But a North Texas defender hit Del Rio late in UF’s 32-0 win over the Mean Green, and now Del Rio has a sprained knee that shouldn’t cost him the season, but will cost him some games, starting with the contest in Knoxville.
UF now turns to Purdue transfer Austin Appleby, who’s had a pedestrian career (19 touchdowns, 19 interceptions, 5.7 yards per pass) throughout his four-year career.
Appleby may have one thing that Del Rio didn’t last week: star receiver Antonio Callaway. The sophomore sat out last week with a strained quad, but has now been termed “questionable to probable” for Saturday. Callaway is a home-run threat not only as a wideout, but also as a punt returner.
Callway’s availability for the Gators would be bad for Tennessee, which won’t have Cameron Sutton, its star cover corner, around. Sutton, who also doubles as a dangerous punt returner, and appears to be out for several games (though perhaps not the season) with a fractured right ankle.
The Vols are fairly thin at linebacker, and though they’ll have star Jalen Reeves-Maybin (shoulder) ready for UF, they’ll miss starting middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. with a high ankle injury.
UT also waits to see if it’ll have offensive lineman Chance Hall, a key part of what the Vols want to do, ready for Florida.
A bad season for Kentucky may have turned worse. Talented quarterback Drew Barker is out for what’s been termed “a significant amount of time” with a back injury. UK will rest its sophomore and then perhaps opt for surgery if the issue doesn’t heal on its own.
The Wildcats’ Stephen Johnson (17-of-22, 310 yards, three TDs and 51 yards rushing on 10 tries) was terrific against a weak New Mexico State defense last week.
POWER RANKINGS (Overall record, SEC record)
- Alabama (3-0, 1-0): Two defensive, one special teams TD for ‘Tide vs. Ole Miss.
- Texas A&M (3-0, 1-0): Aggies lead the SEC in rushing average per carry (6.1)
- Florida (3-0, 1-0): Gators giving up an incredible 2.6 yards per play.
- Arkansas (3-0, 0-0): RB Rawleigh Williams III averaging 123 yards total offense.
- Ole Miss (1-2, 0-1): League-worst minus-5 turnover margin has been a killer.
- Georgia (3-0, 1-0): Offensive line is really struggling to run block.
- Tennessee (3-0, 0-0): Hard to believe Gators have won 11 in a row in that series.
- LSU (2-1, 1-0): QB Danny Ettling’s good game gets him another start.
- Auburn (0-1, 1-2): QB Sean White will start, after being benched last week.
- Missouri (1-2, 0-1): First-year offensive coordinator Josh Heupel has worked wonders.
- Mississippi St. (1-2, 1-1): Nick Fitzgerald is nation’s fourth-leading rusher among quarterbacks.
- South Carolina (2-1, 1-1): Freshman QB Brandon Mcilwain has earned the starting job.
- Kentucky (1-2, 0-1): Some are asking whether the Wildcats have quit.
- Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-1): 8.1 yards allowed per play last week is SEC’s worst single-game performance.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR (with some weight still assigned to preseason expectations)
- Isaiah McKenzie, WR, Georgia
- Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss
- Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama
- Austin Allen, QB, Arkansas
- Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
- Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama
- Justin Evans, DB, TAMU
- Arden Key, DE, LSU
- Myles Garrett, DE, TAMU
- Zach Cunningham, ILB, Vanderbilt
THIS WEEK’S PICKS
All times Central, p.m. unless noted
Season record: 27-8 overall, 10-21 vs. the spread
Florida at Tennessee (-6.5), 2:30, CBS
All eyes are on QB Austin Appleby, who’s not Luke Del Rio, but he may be serviceable. That’s a word often used with Gator quarterbacks; remember how UF got by after Will Grier’s season-ending suspension last year well enough to get to Atlanta. Granted, few schedules are softer than what the Gators have played, but what some have termed the country’s best defensive line held North Texas to a school-record 53 yards last week. Here’s the problem for Tennessee: the Vols probably shouldn’t have a lot of confidence in QB Josh Dobbs putting the ball up against corners Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson, and the Gator front seven is a nightmare for a UT offensive line that hasn’t allowed Jalen Hurd or Alvin Kamara to have the kinds of success of which they’re capable. If UT wins, it’s probably because Dobbs makes a few more good plays with his feet than bad ones with his arm, but with series history and a stronger defense on their side, I’ll go Gators 20, Vols 17.
Arkansas vs Texas A&M (-5.5), in Arlington, Texas 8, ESPN
The Aggies are one of the league’s most balanced teams—it’s hard to discern a major weakness anywhere—and the Razorbacks, after just squeaking by Louisiana Tech, are getting better each week as QB Austin Allen gets more comfortable and those big ‘Hawgs up front are finding an identity in the run game with Rawleigh Williams III. That Aggie front seven has to be a concern for the Razorbacks, who have held teams to 3.2 yards per rush in a schedule that includes Auburn and UCLA. These are good teams that are very similar to each other, I just think A&M’s a little bit better. Gig ‘em 30, Pigs 26
Georgia at Ole Miss (-6.5), 11, ESPN
It’s hard to figure how Georgia, with weapons like Isaiah McKenzie, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Jacob Eason, hasn’t managed more than 29 points per game so far—especially with the Bulldogs sporting a plus-5 turnover margin. Actually, it may not be that difficult: Georgia’s offensive line isn’t getting the job done. The Rebels, despite blowing two enormous leads in three games—last week’s came courtesy of a par of turnovers by QB Chad Kelly that went directly for scores—remain explosive offensively and at least talented enough on defense to win despite some gaudy numbers. Go with the offense and the home team here. Rebels 34, Bulldogs 24
LSU at Auburn (+3.5), 5, ESPN
I like Auburn’s defense, but seeing it yield 6.2 yards per carry to Texas A&M last week was a little disconcerting, and obviously LSU has two supremely-talented backs in Leonard Fournette and ‘Derrius Guice. Both teams have quarterback issues, but at least LSU seemed to move in a better direction last week with Danny Etling, while Auburn actually benched its starter, Sean White, for a bit. LSU makes me nervous, and especially on the road, but this is a gut feeling that Fournette puts the team on its back and carries it to victory. Purple and yellow Tigers 20, blue and orange Tigers 17
South Carolina at Kentucky (-2.5), 6:30, SEC Network
Give credit to coach Will Muschamp: he’s found a way to get the young and not-terribly-talented Gamecocks to 2-1. Last week, that was rope-a-doping East Carolina by letting it throw the ball at will—44 pass completions and 519 yards of total offense—but winning the turnover battle, 4-0. Winning that way isn’t reliable, but Kentucky is a complete train wreck on defense and there are signs of instability everywhere, and now the ‘Cats will have to worry about stopping dual-threat QB Brandon Mcilwain. Gamecocks 34, Kentucky 27
Kent State at Alabama (-44), 11, SEC Network
This week, I saw a graphic on the SEC Network comparing the number of defensive and special teams touchdowns that Alabama has as compared to the total number of TDs that Kent State has since 2015. I those numbers were 15 and 22 and I could be off a bit, but either way, you get the point. Nick Saban takes it (relatively) easy on his alma mater. Crimson Tide 40, Golden Flashes 3.
Vanderbilt at Western Kentucky (-8), 2:30, SEC Network
With the possible exception of Kentucky’s showing against Florida two weeks ago, no SEC team has looked worse than Vanderbilt did in losing to Georgia Tech last week. The Commodores looked unprepared and uninspired, much like a team that looked ready to throw in the towel on the season, and coach Derek Mason has inspired no confidence with his in-game decisions and post-game remarks. The reason this likely isn’t a get-back-on-track game for the ‘Dores is that WKU stops the run very well (2.9 yards per carry, including 3.4 vs. Alabama) and running the ball is the only thing VU has done well with any consistency. Hilltoppers 34, Commodores 17
Mississippi St. at Massachusetts (+21.5), 2:30, ESPN3
Massachusetts isn’t going to win this game, but the Minutemen are a little better at keeping things closer than people think they should be, as Florida found out opening weekend. MSU 24, UMass 7
Delaware St. at Missouri (NL), 2, SEC Network
Jeff Sagarin’s early-season ratings tend to be a little off because of sample size, but he’s got Missouri, with its home-field advantage, as a 56-point favorite in this one, and ranks Delaware State No. 241 out of the 253 teams between the FBS and the FCS. Missouri 55, Delaware State, 10