Two Conference Games to Watch
Alabama at Florida (7 CT/CBS) –
Jedi master faces padawan in the Swamp on Saturday night in a prime-time matchup that could ultimately feature the two divisional front-runners in the SEC (although, in Alabama’s case, LSU still will have something to say about that). As much as Nick Saban and Will Muschamp have downplayed their time working together at LSU and Miami, you know they both want this one badly. Alabama is coming off a dominant performance at home against Arkansas, while Florida dismantled Kentucky in easy fashion in Week 4. The nightcap of CBS’ college football doubleheader should be a close game and could decide if one or both of these teams eventually make a trip to Atlanta. This begins a murderous month of October for Florida. A loss here could be the beginning of an ugly stretch for the Gators, while a win proves they’re a real contender for the East right now.
Will Alabama suffer a letdown on the road against a team that can physically match it?
The Tide should be up for this game, and there’s no reason to think either team will be short on emotion under the lights in the Swamp. The reality, though, is that Alabama played its most complete game of the season in Bryant-Denny Stadium against the Razorbacks. The matchup against Arkansas featured contrasting styles – high-powered offense versus stout defense; yin and yang – and Alabama was able to use its blueprint of physicality and brutality to overwhelm Tyler Wilson and the Arkansas defense by waging a war of attrition. Arkansas wanted no part of it. Florida, on the other hand, has better athletes than the Hogs on defense and a coach who shares the same physical mentality as his opponent this week. A year ago, the letdown for Alabama came on the road at South Carolina in the final week of a three-team gauntlet early in the year. After a masterful comeback in Fayetteville and a dominant performance against the Gators at home, there simply wasn’t much left in the tank when they finished up the early-season run. This year, the Tide travels on the road and hopes to avoid a similar hangover in what should be its last real slugfest before LSU comes to town on Nov. 5. Alabama passed its tests in Happy Valley and at home against the Hogs. The final exam for the September slate comes this weekend, and it should be the second-toughest challenge Alabama faces all season.
Can Florida control the edge against Alabama’s defense and use its running backs effectively in space?
Perhaps the most consistent hallmark of Alabama’s teams during the Saban era has been the ability to stop the run. That’s never been more evident than in the past two meetings between Alabama and Florida, as the Gators have been held to 88 yards or less on the ground in both games – the first featuring Tim Tebow as a running threat. In the past four games in the series overall, the team who has controlled the ground has won the game. Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps present a rushing tandem unlike Alabama has seen all season. If Florida is able to run consistently enough to force Alabama out of the nickel package it employs most often, the Gators have a chance to move the football and win the time of possession battle. With Alabama LB CJ Mosley likely out for the game with an injury, Alabama will be faced with the decision of playing freshman Trey Depriest in his place, or going with a true 3-4/4-3 base defense look. Mosley has the speed and instinct to go from sideline to sideline to stop Florida’s sweeps, and he’s good enough to match up with running backs or tight ends in pass coverage. If he’s unable to go, look for Florida to try to exploit the edge with the run and the area between the hashes with quick passes until Alabama brings up extra help in the front seven. If that happens, it immediately legitimizes Florida’s downfield passing game, as well. If Alabama can stop the run with only six men in the box, it’s unlikely that the Gators will move the ball with much success. This year’s Florida team marks a rare instance where overall talent might be strong enough to offset a learning curve in year one of a new coaching regime. The Gator’s young defensive line will have to step up early if they want to have a chance heading into the 4th Quarter. Expect this game to be close going into the final five minutes. Alabama may need to force a late turnover to avoid leaving Gainesville with a loss.
OKTC Prediction: Alabama 23, Florida 17
Auburn at South Carolina (2:30 CT/CBS) – In game one of CBS’ SEC doubleheader on Saturday, Auburn embarks on its second road trip of the season as it faces the Gamecocks. Auburn swept Carolina last year in a regular season game at Auburn and then in the SEC title game in Atlanta. The first contest marked the coming-out-party for Cam Newton. As they did often during the national title run, the Tigers fell behind early only to ride the eventual Heisman Trophy winner to a late-game comeback. It was all Auburn in the rematch as the Tigers dominated in a 56-17 win punching their ticket to Glendale.
Pre-snap Reads: The Michael Dyer watch continues.
The talented sophomore running back has been put in the shed since the 2nd Quarter of the Clemson game, and Auburn fans are beginning to grumble about the number of touches he’s receiving – or the lack thereof. He came out on fire in Death Valley two weeks ago in the first quarter, but he’s been virtually nonexistent since then. A case could be made that he wasn’t really needed in a garbage game against Florida Atlantic, but the Tigers only led 10-6 at the half in that one, and the Auburn coaching staff promised an increase in Dyer’s workload before the game. If Barrett Trotter isn’t going to be a legitimate threat in the read-option game (and to this point, there’s no evidence to suggest that will be the case,) Dyer simply must be a star for this offense to work. The attack is predicated on a downhill running style that’s been hit or miss this season, even appearing and disappearing at times during stretches in the same game. Dyer, Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason will probably need at least 35+ carries between the trio to win on Saturday. If Auburn is throwing twice as often as it’s running the ball, this won’t end well. South Carolina’s front four will make sure of that. Will Steve Spurrier leave the offense alone long enough for it to actually work? The OBC has made some bizarre coaching decisions so far this year, and it seems this team can’t get out of its own way sometimes. The Gamecocks have a decided advantage in most matchups in this game, but the X-factor is whether or not there’s enough fluidity offensively for Carolina to impose its will on a woeful Auburn defense. As was the case last season, Auburn’s defense may be short on fundamentals and talent in some areas, but it’s not short on opportunity. As it did versus Mississippi State and Florida Atlantic, and all of last season as well, the Tigers will capitalize on mistakes. They force turnovers, and if Stephen Garcia isn’t sharper than he was against Vanderbilt, it could create some short fields and keep this game closer than it should be. Auburn is bad enough on this side of the ball that South Carolina could probably gash for chunks of yardage if it just ran Lattimore like a workhorse all day. The question is, will Steve Spurrier swallow his pride and just allow that to happen? Or will he pull a replay of the first meeting last year and make a quarterback change at an inopportune time, mix in some baffling playcalling and leave Auburn just enough room in the doorway to step through? The thinking here is that even Spurrier and Garcia, maniacal and inconsistent as they may be at times, can’t screw this one up. As was the case a few weeks ago in the MSU game, however, it wouldn’t be a total shock for Auburn to sneak out with a win here.
OKTC Prediction: South Carolina 41, Auburn 28
Other quick reads: Will Arkansas rebound from the physical beating it took against Alabama in time for a showdown with the SEC’s newest member? Can the Hogs hope to slow down Texas A&M while possibly missing both starting defensive ends? Doubtful. OKTC Prediction:
Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 30
In a battle of erratic Bulldogs, which team will mentally show up for four quarters? Georgia wasn’t exactly dominant even in victory at Ole Miss, and MSU seemed to pack it in against Louisiana Tech in what was a near-disaster in Starkville.
OKTC Prediction: Georgia 27, Miss. State 21
Can Kentucky beat a 30-point spread….at halftime? This will be ugly. Early. Tune in, if only for the carnage.
OKTC Prediction: LSU 45, Kentucky 9
The rest of the picks:
Fresno State 24, Ole Miss 16
Tennessee 48, Buffalo 13