The Weekend Open Thread begins as always at 11 a.m. ET
THIRD FOURTH SATURDAY IN OCTOBER
Tennessee at No. 1 Alabama, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
I'll stop making that joke when the SEC scheduling office returns to tradition and starts putting this game on the correct weekend. But for now, we'll have to tolerate the grudge match being set one week late and mercilessly mock the quasi-corporate hacks who seem to have moved this game for no real reason.
This is really a confusing game to try to figure out this week. If the Vols had played last week, we would have had an opportunity to assess how much of what we saw against Georgia was real and how much was either a bad weekend for the Dawgs or a good weekend for Boy Wonder's team. But all we have now is a team that looked for all the world like it was dead in the water before rebounding by annihilating Georgia 45-19.
Alabama, we're more certain of. The Gamecocks put up a nice fight in Tuscaloosa last week, but despite the fact that the score and at times the game were both close, the Tide was always pretty firmly in control. The only game where Alabama fans really had to hold their breath was against Virginia Tech; other than that, Alabama has methodically dissected every opponent that's crossed their path. As the Ole Miss and South Carolina games showed, it's not always pretty. But it's effective.
The key to Tennessee having any chance in this game is for Jonathan Crompton to play efficiently. He doesn't have to reprise his role against Georgia as a Peyton Manning impersonator, but he has to complete 60 percent or so of his passes and avoid killer interceptions. The problem is that Alabama's defense is exceptional on getting pressure on quarterbacks; they average three sacks a game, good for first in the SEC and 11th in the country, and their defensive line is likely good enough and fast enough to keep Lane Kiffin from using the bootlegs and roll-outs that proved effective against the Dawgs.
For its part, Alabama would like to get Greg McElroy back on the right foot but also knows they don't have to force the issue. If he's having trouble against Monte Kiffin's defense -- a distinct possibility -- continue to feed the ball to Mark Ingram and let him try to build up some more Heism@n hype. Tennessee has a great rushing defense statistically, but a solid one didn't help South Carolina, which feel from 54th nationally and 5th in conference before playing Alabama to 74th and 9th, respectively.
Alabama 37, Tennessee 13
No. 2 Florida at Mississippi State, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
You've almost certainly already heard this at least once this week, but Ronald Reagan was president the last time Florida won in Starkville. Steve Spurrier lost both of his trips there as head coach of the Gators -- a bizarre decision to set the 1991 game in Orlando spared him another visit -- and we all remember what happened when Ron Zook ventured into eastern Mississippi.
The pieces would seem to be in place for another upset. The Gators haven't looked as good as we all thought they would be at the beginning of this season and just escaped a potential loss to Arkansas last week. And Mississippi State not only has Dan Mullen's insights into the thinking of Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow, they have a team that looks good enough to pull an upset before the season ends.
But I find it hard to believe that the upset will actually occur. Florida got its warning shot last week and isn't likely to let anyone else close enough to see if it learned its lesson, even if the result will be another defensive win.
Florida 23, Mississippi State 10
TIGER VS. TIGER
Auburn at No. 10 LSU, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
If you're familiar with the history of this game, you know why I'm hestitant to hazard a guess at who might win. It is an unpredictable series in some respects, not just as to what might happen on the field but also as to what might happen off of it. (One well-documented incident was a large fire that raged outside the stadium in 1996 as the game was in progress.)
But we'll take a shot at looking at the actual football that likely will not matter once the whistle blows in Baton Rouge. You know Auburn as the team with no defense and quite a bit of offense. You know LSU as the team with no offense and a pretty decent defense. So we can probably expect enough points to keep things interesting even if the promised bizarreness never occurs. Of course, that bizarreness could mean that we can expect a game in which fewer than 20 points are scored.
We also have to factor in LSU's very good record at home at night. Perhaps CBS oversold the case a bit during the Florida game, but it is worth noting that the Bayou Bengals seem to do particularly well when they play in the dark in Louisiana. That is just as likely as anything else to decide this one.
LSU 21, Auburn 20
BETE NOIRE (2)
Vanderbilt at No. 23 South Carolina, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
One thing that is not supposed to happen in SEC football is Vanderbilt defeating Steve Spurrier. It didn't happen the first 14 times the Head Ball Coach faced off with the Commodores and would certainly never happen twice in a row. So most people assumed that 2007's Vanderbilt win was one of those things that happens in football and last year would prove it a fluke.
Except that a few lucky breaks last year once again gave Vanderbilt the victory and continued the Commodores' first winning streak against Spurrier. It is that streak that the Visor and his team will be looking to end when they welcome Vanderbilt into Columbia on Saturday night.
Neither team is very good on offense, but South Carolina appears to have the defensive edge. It's difficult to tell with Vanderbilt, because the 'Dores have spent too much time playing from behind to accurately assess how bad their run defense is and how good their pass defense might be if tested. It's just hard to see Spurrier losing three in a row to Vanderbilt. Then again, it was never supposed to get that far.
South Carolina 23, Vanderbitl 17
NUTT BOWL II
Arkansas at Ole Miss, 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network
At first glance -- and at second glance for that matter -- this looks like a game of offense vs. defense. After all, Ole Miss' offense hasn't performed particularly well and, save for the last two weeks, neither has Arkansas' defense. So who does that bode well for? The Rebels, after all, have played well on defense but have played just one team anywhere near as pass-happy as the Razorbacks: South Carolina, which relies on its air attack but is not nearly as good as Arkansas on that side of the ball.
Meanwhile, Houston Nutt's old team has been ringing up the yards and points against teams with little to no defense; the best teams that Ryan Mallett and Co. have faced limited the Hogs to point totals of seven (Alabama) and 20 (Florida). So it's not like Arkansas has been tearing it up against the defensive cream of the crop.
If Jevan Snead can finally find his head, this game could get out of hand pretty quickly. Ole Miss has the potential to be almost as good as Arkansas on offense and much better on defense. But if he continues to have problems, it will be a close one.
Ole Miss 27, Arkansas 24
Louisiana-Monroe at Kentucky, 7 p.m. ET, FSN
Thought we were done with these games? Not by a long shot. Several teams still have clunkers like this one left on the schedule, but it's Kentucky's turn to get only a little attention because there's not much to pay attention to. ULM is a good Sun Belt team and is not foreign to beating at least one SEC team I can think of, but the Warhawks aren't exactly a likely candidate to upset SEC teams on a regular basis. In fact, they lost their two forays into BCS play this season by a combined 97-34. Kentucky shouldn't have an overly difficult time picking up their next win on the road to bowl eligibility.
Kentucky 32, Louisiana-Monroe 12