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Week 4 Preview: Time to Sort Things Out

The Weekend Thread opens up at 11 a.m. ET

Arkansas at No. 2 Alabama, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

Go back a couple of years and this seems like an unlikely candidate to be a shootout, but this is 2009. The Crimson Tide ranks ninth nationally in total offense (512.3 ypg) and is tied for 11th in scoring offense (42.3 ppg). The Hogs are second (538.0) and eighth (44.5) respectively.

Arkansas' defense is certainly not going to keep points from going on the board -- they rank 81st in total defense (367.5) and 99th in scoring offense (31.0). The Tide, though, is a far different story. Alabama is allowing just 185.3 ypg, good for third nationally, and 15.0 ppg (24th).

The offensive transformation was expected in Fayetteville, where players have now been in Bobby Petrino's system for a second straight year now -- which is incredible considering few expected the Gypsy Coach of the South to stay at Arkansas for two years. But Alabama returned just four starters from an offense that was, shall we say, not the strong point of the 2008 team that went undefeated in the regular season.

But Greg McElroy has been a revelation, putting himself in the running for best first-year quarterback maybe in Alabama history, even if it is just three games into the year.

Passing Rushing Sacks
G Comp Att Pct Yds Y/G Y/A TD INT RAT Rush Yds Y/G Avg TD Sack YdsL
2009 - Greg McElroy 3 46 69 66.7 0 0 9.4 4 1 161.66 13 30 10 2.3 1 - -

Ryan Mallett has been even better, ranking first in the country in pass efficiency and throwing for more than 700 yards in two games. But he doesn't have a defense backing him up.

Alabama 54, Arkansas 38

No. 6 LSU at Mississippi State, 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network / ESPN360

If Dan Mullen wants to continue what has so far been a relatively successful debut as head coach in Starkville -- solid improvement even if the record isn't impressive -- this would be a good place to start. The Western Division Bulldogs have defeated LSU once since 1991, and that was ten years ago. Last season's game marked the first time since 2002 that Mississippi State lost by less than 30.

Meanwhile, the Bayou Bengals are still in search of their first awe-inspiring win. Forgive me if I fail to find anything impressive in an eight-point win at Washington, a two-touchdown victory vs. Vanderbilt and a 28-point cakewalk against Louisiana-Lafayette. Good wins, yes, but nothing that indicates the Tigers are part of the elite.

Then again, even when they haven't been, this game has never given them any trouble.

LSU 38, Mississippi State 14

No. 1 Florida at Kentucky, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2 / ESPN360

Admit it -- if I had told you at the end of last year that Kentucky would score 73 points in its first two games and Mike Hartline would have the 35th-highest passing efficiency rating in the nation, you would have laughed. And here we are, with a Kentucky offense that has been able to put up points on a weak MAC team and a dubious Big East team, but one that's been able to put up points nonetheless.

Florida, though, is coming off what might be the most disappointing 10-point SEC win in the history of the league. The Gators were supposed to score 50 or more on Tennessee and didn't, and now they have to travel to Lexington to take on a Wildcat team that nobody has a solid fix on yet.

The smart money says that Florida will be able to do what no one else has done against Kentucky so far this year -- sack Hartline -- but that UK will struggle to do what no one has done against Florida this year -- score more than a single offensive TD.

Florida 32, Kentucky 7

Arizona State at No. 21 Georgia, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU

If you had asked any reasonable Georgia fan at the beginning of the season if they would like to get through September with just one loss, they would have asked you where they needed to go to sign up. The Dawgs are on the cusp of pulling off a 3-1 start against one of the most difficult opening slates in the nation. Only Arizona State, a team that was disappointing last year after a successful 2007, stands in Georgia's way.

But to the casual observer, ASU is almost completely unreadable. Their only two games came against Idaho State and Louisiana-Monroe, both blowouts but neither giving us much to go on leading up to this game.

We do know that Georgia has a good or even great offense and a suspect defense. But this is a shot in the dark.

Georgia 31, Arizona State 30

Ohio at Tennessee, 7 p.m. ET, PPV / ESPN360

You know, the old cliche is that it's not unusual have to have a letdown game after a big win like the -- What? Tennessee didn't win in Gainesville last week? Well then why all the crowing from Knoxville and the fulminating from the Gators faithful?

Whether moral victories have the same effect on teams is a fair question, even for someone who's usually skeptical of things like "letdown games." It probably wouldn't matter in any case; this is a perfect match-up for Tennessee. The Bobcats are good at defending the pass but not the run, and so Lane Kiffin can actually win this game by running instead of just trying to keep it close.

The one reason that might give Tennessee fans reason to worry: Ohio has one of the best turnover margins in the country. If it's luck, then everything should be fine. But if the Bobcats are good at creating turnovers, then things could get interesting.

Tennessee 37, Ohio 12

Ball State at Auburn, 7 p.m. ET, FSN / ESPN360

This game tells you all you need to know about how much college football can change in a season. Last year, Auburn entered its third week coming off the infamous 3-2 and the beginning of the most serious questions about Tony Franklin's offense. This year, the Tigers are 3-0 and haven't scored fewer than 37 points in any of their three games while averaging 515 yards of total offense.

Ball State has gone the other way, losing each of its three games after an undefeated regular season that saw the Cardinals' first loss come in the MAC Championship Game. All of Ball State's games have been close, but the schedule has consisted of North Texas, New Hampshire and Army.

Auburn 48, Ball State 0

Vanderbilt at Rice, 8 p.m. ET, CSS

Remember, say, three weeks ago, when Vanderbilt fans were touting the new Vanderbilt and how last year's bowl season was a breakout year for the program and proof that they were on the way up? Well, losses against LSU and Mississippi State have pretty much wiped out that optimism, though the Commodores should win this game. The old Vanderbilt might be back, but even the old Vanderbilt wouldn't lose this game.

Rice is good at throwing the ball. And special teams. And that's about it. They lost at UAB by 20, at Texas Tech by 45 and at Oklahoma State by 17. At least their home fans finally get to see them play -- whatever small consolation that might be.

Vanderbilt 23, Rice 14