No conference has rivalries quite like the SEC. Some are historical; others, like South Carolina-Arkansas, are contrived. LSU-Florida falls somewhere in between; both were among the original members of the SEC, but they were designated East-West rivals during expansion because, well, both of them needed a rival.
For once, a contrived rivalry worked. Both teams have been ranked going into their annual meeting in all but three years since 1995. Oddly, the match-up has never been a preview of the SEC Championship Game, though it has been hyped as such many, many times. As it will be this year, with LSU the hands-down favorite in the SEC West and Florida battling with Georgia and possibly Vanderbilt for the East.
Despite what you've heard about the problems with Florida's spread, these teams come in as two of the most explosive offenses in the SEC. LSU is No. 1 in total offense with 427.3 ypg -- warning: they've played Auburn and no one else -- with Florida at No. 3, ringing up 390.2 ypg. Both are also middling in defense when compared to their SEC peers, though the Gators are 3rd in scoring defense, which is really the only one that matters, even if it's statistical significance is questionable.
QB Tim Tebow is still the driving force behind the Gators' attack, generating an average of 236.4 yards of total offense a game. WR Percy Harvin, who was "finally healthy" earlier this year but now isn't, is always dangerous. As for rushing -- well, Florida is dangerous on the ground, averaging 178.6 ypg, but they still don't have the feature back that Urban Meyer has sought ever since he came to Gainesville.
For LSU, the sparks have come from the surprising RB Charles Scott, who ranks 7th in rushing in the nation with 133.8 ypg, and efficient QB Jarrett Lee, whose compiled a 146.51 passer rating. When you rush for 206.5 ypg and pass for 220.8 ypg, good things happen. But, again, caveat emptor.
LSU 38, Florida 34
ONE OF THESE TEAMS HAS TO BE GOOD -- RIGHT?
South Carolina at Kentucky, 12:30 p.m. ET
Once again, South Carolina is involved in one of the most intriguing lower-tier tussles in the country this week. This time, it's between the erratic Gamecocks and the untested Wildcats. Both teams have displayed strong defenses, while Kentucky has looked much stronger on offense. But the Wildcats have faced Louisville, Norfolk State, Middle Tennessee State, Western Kentucky and Alabama -- so, again, caveat emptor.
The Gamecocks are hoping that the Cock 'n' Fire finally started firing Saturday against Ole Miss. Steve Spurrier's long-promised offense, though, has experienced plenty of false starts. South Carolina's offense needs to show that it's serious before being taken seriously.
This year's Kentucky team, meanwhile, needs to show that it's serious before being taken seriously. They've gotten the chance once now, in a strong showing against Alabama, but now must face a competent team that doesn't come off a game having demolished a Top 5 opponent. (The Gamecocks' win over the Rebels in no way compares to the Tide's defeat of Georgia.)
South Carolina comes into this game having won eight straight against Kentucky, and Spurrier is undefeated against the Wildcats. History might not be destiny, but when there's no other reliable guide, it'll do.
South Carolina 14, Kentucky 10
VANDY BEING VANDY?
No. 11 Vanderbilt at Mississippi State, 2:30 p.m. ET
If Vanderbilt is to be a serious contender this year, Mississippi State is a team they have to defeat. Among the statistical categories in which the Bulldogs rank 75th or lower nationally: rushing offense (101), passing offense (76), pass efficiency (96), total offense (103), scoring offense (114) and rushing defense (96). Were it not for Southeastern Louisiana from the FCS, Mississippi State would not have a win; in its 3-2 loss to Auburn, the Bulldogs literally did not score a point -- the Tigers scored for them.
Vanderbilt comes in 5-0, sitting atop the SEC East, able to lock up a .500 season and all but secure their first bowl berth since 1982. (It's almost inconceivable to imagine the SEC having more bowl-eligible teams than slots this year.) The only thing that can stand in Vanderbilt's way is Vanderbilt. That's not much comfort for the 'Dores, though. They've proven more than capable of messing these things up.
Vanderbilt 28, Mississippi State 3
THIS IS THE YEAR WE GET OUR REVENGE -- REALLY!
Tennessee at No. 10 Georgia, 3:30 p.m ET
You might remember the 51-33 beatdown Tennessee administered in Sanford Stadium back in 2006. You might remember the howls of "revenge" from fans of the Dawgs as they traveled to Knoxville last year. You might remember Tennessee holding a 28-0 lead at halftime and coasting to a 35-14 win.
Georgia should get that revenge this year. Tennessee's "Clawfense" has been an unmitigated disaster, surpassed in offensive futility only by Auburn, whose offensive coordinator was fired this week. Tennessee's defense is decent for the SEC, except for scoring defense, where the Vols rank 8th. Of course, this is problematic, as scoring tends to be how we decide who won the football game.
Of course, Georgia ranks 9th in that category, though garbage time in some nonconference games and the Alabama debacle help explain that. The weak link in the Dawgs' defense, if there is one, is in the passing game. This happens to be where Tennessee's offense goes from "bad" to "woefully inadequate."
Georgia 35, Tennessee 10
BOBBY LOWDER DOESN'T EVEN NEED A PLANE
Arkansas at Auburn, 5 p.m. ET
If it weren't for the compelling Tommy Tuberville vs. Bobby Petrino storyline, there would be absolutely no reason to pay attention to this game. Auburn is rapidly fading away in the race for the SEC West and Petrino's Hogs have been abysmal. But there is much at stake here. The last time Tuberville's job was in this much jeopardy, Petrino was holding a secret meeting with Auburn officials at an airport in Kentucky.
Add to that the fact that Tuberville's team is in chaos after the dismissal of Tony Franklin and the intrigue of Petrino leaving the Atlanta Falcons in the middle of the season to take the Arkansas job, and this is an ESPN producer's dream. There will be no television for this game, though, and it's a shame. The Hogs pull the shocker.
Arkansas 9, Auburn 3
Alabama, Ole Miss