Our five burning questions about SEC football as we finish up the month of October and set the table for next week’s Game of the Century:
1. How rusty will Florida’s John Brantley be against Georgia? No one is sure how much Florida quarterback John Brantley will actually play against Georgia, but just having him on the field should be a huge emotional lift as the Gators trty to stop their three-game slide. Florida’s offense has pretty much been a train wreck since Brantley suffered a high ankle sprain against Alabama on Oct. 1. Of course the fact that Florida had to play back-to-back games No. 2 Alabama and No. 1 LSU had something to do with that. But Florida could also manage only two field goals in a 17-6 loss to Auburn on Oct. 15. A big part of Florida’s offense—most of it in fact—is the ability to get the ball to Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps in space. Florida simply has not been able to do that effectively since Brantley went to the sidelines. In case you’re keeping score at home, Florida has won 18 of its last 21 meetings with Georgia. The Bulldogs have won five straight since an 0-2 start and have to win to keep pace with South Carolina in the SEC East.
2. Can South Carolina win on the road without Marcus Lattimore? It was painful to watch South Carolina’s great running back limp off the field at Mississippi State on Oct. 15 and then find out the next day that he was done for the season. Now the Gamecocks, who have already dismissed quarterback Stephen Garcia, have to find another way to win ugly Saturday night at Tennessee. South Carolina (6-1, 4-1 SEC) has had a week off since the 14-12 win over Mississippi State and still controls its destiny in the SEC East. But the Gamecocks must navigate back-to-back games at Tennessee this week and Arkansas next week. Freshman quarterback Justin Worley gets his first career start for Tennessee as coach Derek Dooley has decided to roll the dice in an effort to put some punch into the Volunteer offense. Because of that, look for South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier to play it close to the vest and bet that Tennessee’s rookie quarterback will make enough mistakes for the Gamecocks to win. Justin Worley, meet your fellow true freshman, Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina.
3. Can Auburn bounce back at home against Ole Miss? Auburn has been a resourceful team this season and that, combined with the suspensions at LSU, made some believe that Gene Chizik’s team might walk into Death Valley and pull off an upset last Saturday. But LSU was too big, too fast, too strong, and way too talented. Auburn (5-3, 3-2) was pressured into making mistakes, like a couple of crucial penalties which set up LSU scores, and its quarterbacks were sacked six times. But it still should be noted that Auburn’s three losses are to No. 5 Clemson, No. 2 Alabama, and No. 1 LSU. The Tigers have won the games they were supposed to win. Saturday’s game with Ole Miss fits into that category. Clint Moseley will get his second career start and this time he will have time enough to throw and room enough to breathe. Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn liked the fact that when things got bad last week in Baton Rouge, Moseley did not panic. I like Auburn to get bowl eligible on Saturday.
4. Was Kentucky’s offensive explosion a sign of things to come for the Wildcats? The way Kentucky’s offense had been struggling I thought it was more than possible that the Wildcats could lose last week to Jacksonville State, a very good FCS team. But Kentucky got 148 yards from former walk-on running back CoShik Williams and dominated the Gamecocks from the Ohio Valley, 38-14, while recording 445 yards of total offense. Williams will probably be called on again to handle the running load Saturday against Mississippi State because starter Raymond Sanders has a high ankle sprain. Kentucky (3-4, 0-3) is still 111th in scoring (16.6 ppg) and 118th in total offense (259.9 ypg) as the Wildcats prepare to host a Mississippi State team (3-4, 0-4 SEC) that is, surprisingly, still looking for its first SEC win of the season. Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen sees this game as a “turning point” if Mississippi State is going to get to a bowl game. One of these team is going to post its first SEC win over the season. I believe it will be Mississippi State.
5. Will Arkansas get out of the gate a little faster this week? Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is not sure why, but his No. 10 Hogs were completely flat last week when they played at Ole Miss. Arkansas fell behind 17-0 before waking up and finding a way to win 29-24. Ole Miss had the ball and a chance to win late in the game. Now Arkansas goes to Vanderbilt to play a Commodore team (4-3, 1-3) that is developing a little bit of an attitude. They gave Georgia all it could handle before losing 33-28 on Oct. 15. Last week the ‘Dores completely handled Army, which was leading the nation in rushing. The good news for Vanderbilt is that the Commodores have apparently found a quarterback in Jordan Rodgers, who played well against Georgia and was very solid against Army. I say Arkansas (6-1, 2-1) plays much better as they prepare for the stretch drive of South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi State, LSU.