Compiled by Ray Cox


No. 13 LSU (7-2, 3-2) at No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0), 8 p.m., CBS

‘It’s just another game’

isn’t even true for Tide

Even Nick Saban isn’t protesting too loudly that Alabama-LSU is just another game.

The stakes are too high, the recent meetings too competitive and the rivalry just too compelling.

“It’s probably hard for everybody to think that this is just another game,” Saban said.

For the top-ranked Crimson Tide’s laser-focused coach, that amounts to a monumental concession to what Saturday night’s meeting with the Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium means for both teams and fan bases.

For Alabama, it represents one of the bigger remaining hurdles toward a crack at a third consecutive BCS title.

LSU hopes to spoil that bid and still turn the season into something special, despite losing to both Georgia and Mississippi by a field goal. Plus it’s Alabama.

“It’s definitely huge. I can’t even understate that,” Tigers running back Jeremy Hill said. “It’s a big game. I’m not even going to sit here and lie to you guys. You just can’t let it overwhelm you.”

Hill said that’s one thing Alabama does well in big games. “They don’t let the moment get to them,” he said.

The Tide are 15-4 against opponents ranked in the top 10 over the past six seasons. Then again, nobody has beaten Saban and the Tide as many times as LSU’s three victories since 2007, and the Tigers have won five of the past six meetings in Tuscaloosa.

“Just to play a game of this magnitude with this type of team, this is kind of our national championship right here,” Tigers linebacker Lamin Barrow said. “And I feel like those guys feel the same way, so it’s a kind of different attitude when we play these guys. You hate to lose to a team like Alabama.”

— John Zenor, Associated Press

Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4) at Florida (4-4, 3-3), noon, SPSO

Zook: Let Muschamp

do his job with Gators

Ron Zook knows exactly what Will Muschamp is going through.

Actually, Ron Zook knows exactly what Will Muschamp is going through multiplied by 100.

And, because of that, he has a message for the Internet assassins who are calling for Muschamp to be fired by the Florida Gators.

“Leave him alone and let him do his job,” said Zook, who might have been the most unfairly criticized coach in college football history when he led the Gators.

“The noise in the system doesn’t help, It only compounds the problem. When there’s all this negativity, other programs start using it against you in recruiting and it makes it worse. Will Muschamp is a good football coach, and he’ll build a great program if they just give him time.”

That’s a big if at the University of Florida, where Zook was fired 2 1/2 years into his tenure after having recruited the nucleus of the team that his successor, Urban Meyer, would win a national title with two years later. Ironically, Muschamp is 2 1/2 years into his tenure and has an overall record of 22-12, 13-9 in the SEC. Zook’s record at this point was 20-14, 14-8 in the SEC.

The similarities between Zook and Muschamp go much deeper than just their win-loss records. Both were defensive coordinators who had never before been head coaches. Both were relentless recruiters as assistant coaches who became renowned recruiters as head coaches. And both took over for iconic coaches — Muschamp for Meyer, and Zook for Steve Spurrier.

“Just because you succeed a great coach doesn’t mean the program is in great shape and the cupboard is full when you take over,” Zook says. “Will took over a program that wasn’t in the best of shape. There’s a reason coaches leave programs. Coach Spurrier didn’t just wake up one day in January (2001) and say, ‘I’m going to the Washington Redskins.’ He knew he didn’t have a lot coming back the following year. At least that’s my opinion.”

Zook recalls his legacy and doesn’t want to see it repeated for Muschamp.

“I’m the first guy who had a website. I had no chance. From the day I walked into the introductory press conference, I was fired.”

— Mike Bianchi, Orlando Sentinel

Mississippi State (4-4, 1-3) at No. 15 Texas A&M (7-2, 3-2) 3:30 p.m., CBS

Senior day could be farewell to Manziel, Evans

Texas A&M’s game against Mississippi State, Senior Day, will be the Aggies’ eighth and final home contest of the season.

Will it also be the Kyle Field finale for a couple of third-year sophomores, quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans? That’s the buzz here since both are thought to be of NFL first-round quality if they decide to declare for next May’s draft.

Manziel has spoken to reporters only three times this season, and he hasn’t been questioned about possibly entering the draft. In previous offseason interviews, Manziel said he was considering his NFL options. Evans told the Austin American-Statesman last month he wasn’t yet considering leaving A&M early.

Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said he’ll gather information to give to the players and their families so that each can make a knowledgeable decision.

“What I tell the guys is, ‘I’ll give you the information’,” Sumlin said. “‘Then if you ask me, I’ll tell you what I think. If you don’t ask me, I won’t sway you.’”

Manziel and Evans are showing up in the first rounds of various NFL mock drafts. Right now, Manziel is listed among a second-tier group of quarterbacks, behind Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. The top two are projected to be top-five picks.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. listed Manziel as the 18th-best prospect available in his rankings compiled last week. Scouts Inc. lists Manziel as the 30th-best player and Evans as No. 32.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said this week, “If Johnny Manziel scrambles around and throws one up and Mike Evans jumps over our guys and catches the ball, there’s not a whole lot you can do about that.”

— Suzanne Halliburton, Austin American-Statesman

No. 9 Auburn (8-1, 4-1) at Tennessee (4-5, 1-4), noon, ESPN

Offense’s progression put Auburn back into national picture

Just more than a month ago, Rhett Lashlee couldn’t mask his irritation.

Auburn’s offensive coordinator publicly called out his offense, saying the number of times the Tigers had fumbled was “not to our standard, even (on) the plays that we don’t turn the football over.”

In the five games since Lashlee made those comments Sept. 29, Auburn’s ball security improved. No, it hasn’t improved immensely, but it’s progress nonetheless.

Tre Mason, who has carried the ball 125 consecutive times without a fumble, said there hasn’t been a secret formula.

“That’s the key to winning: ball security,” said Mason, who leads the SEC with 13 rushing touchdowns. “You can’t put the ball on the ground.”

But what happens when you do give the ball away?

“The coaches will get you after practice,” he said.

Nick Marshall hasn’t been quite as fortunate. Arguably the biggest culprit in Auburn’s fumbling follies, the quarterback has been separated from the ball nine times this season — at least once in every game he’s played aside from Florida Atlantic, where he played only one quarter — with four resulting in turnovers. Not surprisingly, he’s become well-acquainted with the term “accountabilities,” the team’s code name for “punishment,” during practice. He did so as recently as Sunday, as he lost his grip on the ball at the end of a 28-yard run last week after an Arkansas defender’s helmet his Marshall’s elbow.

“Every (10-yard line), I had to do 10 crunches, then to the 50 and back, then do it again,” he said of his penance. “I had to do every 10 and then do 10 squat jumps.

Also, not a practice goes by that a teammate isn’t doing his best to slap the ball out of his hands. Marshall was quick to note he didn’t fumble it a single time during last week’s practices.

— Ryan Black, Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus)

No. 8 Missouri (8-1, 4-1) at Kentucky (2-6, 0-4), noon, ESPNU

Degree matters more than NFL to Mizzou’s Gaines

Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines says he tries to be a leader of his team.

The senior captain made a decision in the offseason that helped him become a leader at home, too.

Gaines likely could have left the Tigers and been selected in the NFL draft, but he chose to return in hopes of becoming the first member of his family to graduate from college.

“Some kids will rush to go make the dollars and make the money in the NFL,” cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford said. “But I think there are some that are smarter and understand the big picture.”

Gaines, like many kids, grew up wanting to play professionally; college wasn’t on the radar screen.

“No, not a chance,” he said with a laugh when asked if he would have attended school without a scholarship to play football.

But while he “definitely” made the right choice to stay in Columbia and remain on track to graduate in December, there was a moment last month when he wasn’t smiling.

In the second quarter of a game at Georgia on Oct. 12, Gaines injured his quadriceps trying to run down Bulldogs receiver Rantavious Wooten. He stayed on the field for another play before collapsing and signaling for help.

Gaines missed the team’s next two games, the first time since becoming a Tiger in 2010 that he didn’t play. The toughest part, he said, was watching Missouri lose to South Carolina without him.

“When he’s on the field, there’s a sense of confidence,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “He’s our best defensive player, certainly, coming into this year. And I think it was very difficult for him to sit out.”

— Jake Kreinberg, Associated Press

Arkansas (3-6, 0-5) at Ole Miss (5-3, 2-3), 12:21 p.m., WPCH

Nkemdiche may move permanently to tackle

Ole Miss will play Robert Nkemdiche at defensive tackle this weekend, with his position coach suggesting it may be his permanent home.

Nkemdiche, the top prospect in the country in the class of 2013 from Grayson High, will switch places with Bryon Bennett on Saturday. Bennett has played defensive end the past two weeks, while Nkemdiche was out with a hamstring injury.

“That’s the plan with who we got right now, and C.J. (Johnson) being out for the year and Bryon doing a good job,” defensive line coach Chris Kiffin said. “Maybe that’s Rob’s future, so that’s where we’re at right now.”

Nkemdiche, who has 15 tackles (four for a loss) in six games this season, has dropped 15 pounds from his 6-foot-5 frame and is now around 280 pounds, Kiffin said.

“I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but he looks quick out there,” Kiffin said.

Scott set to play

Coach Hugh Freeze said that running back Jeff Scott seems set to play. What originally was diagnosed as a thigh bruise actually was a bone spur on a nerve, and Freeze said that nerve has been “deadened.”

— Hugh Kellenberger, The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Miss.)