When the leaves start turning, the games start mattering. Four SEC title contenders meet today with no preordained outcomes. We’ll see whether the SEC East is back, after being consigned to irrelevance in 2009. We’ll see whether one of these four teams might possess the fiber to challenge Alabama.
South Carolina vs. Georgia: The Head Ball Coach has added some spice to this game. He has made it competitive on the field, winning three of the last seven and losing another three by a touchdown or less. He has made it competitive off the field, by building South Carolina into a formidable recruiting outfit. Moving this game to mid-season should aid Georgia. Mark Richt can now field his full complement of players.
The Bulldogs have the SEC’s most explosive offense, averaging nearly eight yards per play. Aaron Murray is a bonafide Heisman candidate at quarterback. Precocious freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are each rushing for numbers that are downright Herschelian. Georgia has rolled over some defenses, but South Carolina is not just some defense.
Spurrier may not have the country’s best front seven, but they should be in the discussion. The Gamecocks stop the run (No. 4 Overall – 2.24 yards per carry against). They get to the quarterback (No. 2 Overall – 4.4 sacks per game). Explosions get deadened, if they’re not already diffused in the backfield. Georgia offensive line struggles could leave Murray and Co. looking very mortal.
South Carolina is less dynamic on the other side of the ball, but, no longer at the mercy of Stephen Garcia’s inconstancy, the offense has been steady. Marcus Lattimore has been taking baby steps back toward his pre-knee injury form (and likes to play against Georgia). Connor Shaw has been efficient running and throwing, despite the fracture in his shoulder. Whether they get opportunities, depends on which Georgia defense shows up and for how much of the game.
Georgia’s defensive talent rivals pretty much any school not coached by Saban. Suspensions and a flat start have led to inconsistency. Sometimes they domineer. Sometimes they mess up. Combined together they rank outside the Top 40 in both passing and rushing defense. This unit should coalesce at some point. Unfortunately, with a soft schedule following, this may be the only game where they’re needed.
Florida vs. LSU: This rivalry brings the heat and catches Les Miles at his most mad. That it has broader implications this year only adds to the fun. The Gators need a marquee win to prove they are back. LSU, after getting out-rushed by freaking Towson, needs a statement win to prove it is still here.
Zach Mettenberger has taken a lot of stick. He’s even tried shaving the stache to alter his karma. Quarterback mistakes aside the offense has been prolific (by LSU standards). The Tigers rank 24th in yards per play and third in the SEC. Mettenberger had a higher passer rating than Matt Barkley through the first five games. What changed the past two weeks was fumbles. LSU coughed up the ball six times against Auburn and Towson. They fumbled away what should have been clear wins. Florida is an excellent pass defense, but remains soft against the run (No. 51 overall). Expect LSU to pound them with their running back stable early and perhaps too often.
On the other side, the Tigers are sans Honey Badger, but just as ascendant. They are fourth overall in yards per play defense, and in the Top 10 against both the run and the pass. They will like the matchup against a Florida offensive line that has allowed 12 sacks and struggled to generate a push for the running game against Texas A&M. Brent Pease has earned plaudits for developing Jeff Driskel, though the sophomore is still operating with a learner’s permit. Methodical is not enough against LSU. He needs to step up in pressure and make plays. We like where Driskel is going. We’re not sure he’s there yet.
Team That Most Needs a Win: Michigan. Purdue has beaten Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan and Marshall, though subsequent Notre Dame games have made their near upset in South Bend more impressive. Some are touting them to win the Big Ten. If Michigan wins, they are 1-0 and playing for the Big Ten Title. If they lose to Purdue, the calculation changes. At 2-3 with trips to Ohio State and Nebraska and a home date with Michigan State left, Michigan could miss a bowl game.
Previously: College Football 2012 Picks: Week Six
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