Looking ahead

Coaches hate this kind of talk, you know, they’re into that “one play at a time, one game at a time” thing.

But we’re not coaches, as they love to tell us, so here goes.

For a September weekend, this coming Saturday has two games that will tell us much about the future of four SEC teams and both division title chases.

Ole Miss at Alabama at 6:30 p.m. (ESPN) in Tuscaloosa will tell us whether Ole Miss really is a contender in the SEC West in coach Hugh Freeze’s second season, and it may well tell us whether Alabama’s inconsistency on offense through the first three games will continue to plague the Tide and perhaps eventually cost them a shot at a third consecutive national title.

Meanwhile LSU at Georgia at 3:30 p.m. (CBS) in Sanford Stadium will tell us whether the Tigers in their first real road game of the season are prepared to be SEC West contenders as well as whether their national-title hopes are serious.

There are two other significant storylines.

  • LSU’s Zach Mettenberger comes home as a dependable, starting SEC quarterback to face the team and coach that booted him from their program, albeit one that still employees his mother in the football office. His ability to be calm in the face of a raucous SEC road crowd and while desperately wanting a victory will be tested. He already has declined all interviews for this week except for the in-person time scheduled on Monday in Baton Rouge.
  • The Bulldogs, knowing full well that every SEC East team in their future will be underdogs when they meet, now that Florida has lost quarterback Jeff Driskel for the season, enter the game with two pretty well-known facts: an SEC East title likely won’t be affected by the result. But any national-title hopes will rest on beating LSU and then running the SEC East table, something that as of now seems plausible.

Sound bites

“When you go to an SEC town you usually find SEC teams, coaches and players. We found them, and they are a good football team. I don’t know how good everyone else is in the league, but I’m glad we don’t play against an SEC team every week.” — Troy coach Larry Blakeney after losing to Mississippi State 62-7.

“(Amari) Cooper’s toe was bothering him. We just felt like ‘We’re not going to push it. We’re not going to take a chance on playing the guy.’” — Alabama’s Nick Saban on why the No. 1 wide receiver did not play despite practicing all week. The foot has bothered Cooper since preseason camp.

“I can’t believe this is happening to me. I honestly said that in my head. It’s my first interception in college. We were rushing the passer, and I saw that one (of my teammates) was getting him, so I sat there and played it. I saw the ball getting tipped and went after it.” — Florida junior defensive tackle Darious Cummings

“Guys just didn’t keep their heads in the game. We just let off the gas pedal. Hopefully this is a lesson that everybody learned.” — LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger after a 35-21 victory against Auburn.

“I’m starting to see a change, where the more you invest, the more it hurts (to lose). I’m starting to see that. That’s why I’m disappointed, but I’m optimistic. I’m encouraged. We have to keep moving forward. I start to see it hurting (them) more.” — Tennessee coach Butch Jones, whose Vols fell to 2-2 with a loss at Florida.

“I just didn’t want to give up. I felt like if I changed positions, I would have given up on myself and I probably wouldn’t be able to live with myself.” — Seldom-used backup quarterback Tyler Murphy, now the starter, on why he stayed at Florida rather than changing positions or transferring.

TV chatter

Here’s a tasty leftover from Alabama vs. Texas A&M game that you know has everyone in the SEC office smiling and one detail that certainly has to concern the University of Texas. It gives some insight into whether the SEC was smart to bring Texas A&M into the league.

That game was the highest-rated Saturday afternoon game on any network (8.6) since No. 1 Ohio State met No. 2 Michigan in 2006.

Among the various markets, Birmingham, Ala., as usual at the top when it comes to football ratings, had a 47. The shocker? Austin, Texas, home of the Texas flagship university, had a 24.

Even bigger shocker? Half of the top 10 markets for the game were Big 12 towns, including Dallas-Fort Worth (17.1), Houston (17.3), San Antonio (18.3) and Oklahoma City (16.3). Others in the top 10: New Orleans (20.3), Greenville, S.C. (17.2), Atlanta (16) and Memphis, Tenn. (15.6)

Poll chatter

Not a lot changed in the AP Top 25, with the top 14 teams remaining the same.

Florida, which lost quarterback Jeff Driskel for the season to a broken leg, fell one spot to No. 20. The remaining six SEC teams stayed in the same place (Alabama, 1; LSU, 6; Georgia, 9; Texas A&M, 10; South Carolina, 12; Ole Miss, 21). Missouri got two votes and is 35th in voting.

By the numbers

77 String of pass attempts without an interception by LSU’s Zach Mettenberger that was broken in the third quarter by Auburn’s Jermaine Whitehead.

184 Rushing yards for LSU’s Jeremy Hill against Auburn; in his second career start, he had 25 carries and three touchdowns.

3 Number of punts Alabama has blocked and returned for touchdowns since Nick Saban became the Crimson Tide’s coach. Kenyan Drake (Hillgrove High) blocked the punt Saturday and Dillon Lee (Buford High) returned it 15 yards for the score against Colorado State.

30 Minutes in the first half of Missouri at Indiana that saw each team have a receiver top the 100-yard mark and the teams combine for 627 yards, 93 plays, six touchdowns and five turnovers.

66 Arkansas penalty yardage as the Razorbacks blew a 24-7 lead and lost at Rutgers. “I don’t know what our penalty totals were, but they were absolutely insane,” coach Bret Bielema, somewhat overstating the effect of six flags.

Conventional wisdom

Thumbs down: Arkansas. Based on the first three games, it looked as though coach Bret Bielema was turning it around quickly. But the devastating loss at Rutgers, and a home date with a Heisman winner this week seems likely to put the Razorbacks back in their place.

Thumbs up: Georgia’s Aaron Murray. The first-game loss at Clemson will be forgiven if he plays the rest of the way as he has since. On pace to set several school records, he also has the best QB rating in the SEC (201.78) and ranks fourth in the nation. Others in the SEC: Mettenberger (second at 193.61), Manziel (third at 192.51) and AJ McCarron (sixth at 159.95).


Jeff Driskel ‏@jeffdriskel

Big win. Congrats to murph for playing so well in his 1st chance. Thanks for all the good luck wishes.

College GameDay

It’s official. GameDay is headed between the hedges for #LSUvsUGA! #GetUp4GameDay

Aaron Murray ‏@aaronmurray11 (photo attached is of his 100th TD pass)

Saturday’s games

  • No. 12 South Carolina at Central Florida, noon, ABC
  • South Alabama at Tennessee, 12:21 p.m., WPCH
  • No. 6 LSU at No. 9 Georgia, 3:30 p.m., CBS
  • No. 21 Ole Miss at No. 1 Alabama, 6:30 p.m., ESPN
  • No. 20 Florida at Kentucky, 7 p.m., ESPNU
  • No. 10 Texas A&M at Arkansas, 7 p.m., ESPN2
  • Arkansas State at Missouri, 7:30 p.m., CSS
  • UAB at Vanderbilt, 7:30 p.m., FSSO

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Compiled by Ray Cox