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SEC Rundown: Let the title hunt begin

Adam Luckett09/28/22

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Article written by:On3 imageAdam Luckett

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Chris Rodriguez
(Photo courtesy of Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

October arrives on Saturday, and that means the time for warmup games is over. After getting a taste of conference football with stakes in September, things really start to get ramped up in Week 5.

There are five conference games on the slate for Oct. 1, and many of the matchups will go a long way in telling us who will have a shot at contention in the rase chase down both Alabama and Georgia in both divisions.

Let’s have a Saturday.

Measuring stick for Ole Miss

Kentucky is off to a hot 4-0 start, and Mark Stoops will get All-SEC tailback Chris Rodriguez Jr. back in the lineup this weekend. The Cats have played like a top-10 defense through the first 16 quarters, have a quarterback playing at a high level, and own an impressive road win over Florida where Brad White’s defense smothered a Billy Napier offense that just put up 33 points and 6.8 yards per play against Tennessee.

Kentucky has established itself to this point and looks like a team that has a top-15 floor. The Cats will hit the road this weekend for the second time this year to face an Ole Miss squad that has yet to be challenged outside of last week’s second half scare agains Tulsa.

The Rebels have played an FCS game and three FBS opponents in the first four weeks of the season. Georgia Tech could be the worst team in the Power Five, and the ACC program just fired head coach Geoff Collins. Both Troy and Tulsa were able to hang around with the Rebs holding Lane Kiffin’s powerful to just 7 total points in the second half.

The power metrics are fans of Ole Miss, but the offense needs to prove itself against a sturdy defense. Without Matt Corral in the Sugar Bowl, the Rebels could only muster 7 points on the board against Baylor. The cross-divisional clash at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium should tell us a lot about the Rebels.

We should have a better idea just where USC transfer quarterback Jaxson Dart is in his development and if the defensive progress is legit under new play-caller Chris Partridge after Saturday.

Lessons will be learned in Oxford.

Alabama’s road blues

Alabama is once again a national title contender under Nick Saban. I’m not sure that will ever change. However, something odd is going on in road games.

In their last five road games dating back to 2021, the Tide is just 1-4 against the spread (ATS) with an outright loss last season against Texas A&M. In their last two road trips, Bama needed some fourth quarter heroics from star quarterback Bryce Young to steal wins away from Auburn and Texas. Things are getting weird when the Tide play away from Bryant-Denny Stadium.

On Saturday, Arkansas will host host Alabama fresh off a tough division loss to Texas A&M. However, KJ Jefferson is one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, and the Hogs went toe-to-toe with Alabama last season in Tuscaloosa.

All eyes will be on if Alabama can fix their road game woes. Arkansas has not owned a lead during a game in this series since 2015. That could change on Saturday as the Razorbacks might be a live dog.

Elimination game in Starkville

Both Mississippi State and Texas A&M entered the 2022 season with high expectations. Each SEC program employs a proven coach that has now been established at their current school. The Aggies had the Jimmies and Joes after multiple strong recruiting classes, and the Bulldogs had the scheme with quarterback Will Rogers entering year three in the Air Raid system.

Unfortunately, each team dropped a game as a favorite early in the year. A&M laid an egg at home against App State forcing a quarterback changed, and State was trucked in the second half by LSU at Death Valley.

Both of the maroon teams in the SEC will enter Davis-Wade Stadium needing a win to stay in the division title race. Expect a heated game between the two programs as things could potentially get wonky for the loser with two early conference losses.

SEC notebook

— The Tiger Bowl takes place on Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and the game is barely a blip on the radar. That has a lot to do with an Auburn program that is in dire straits despite a 3-1 start. Brian Kelly has a chance to give the LSU faithful a nice scoreboard win if the Bayou Bengals and set up a huge home clash with Tennessee if the purple and gold can go into the Plains and hammer a down Auburn squad.

— The way Missouri lost to Auburn will be a very tough pill to swallow. Hosting Georgia the next week probably isn’t the worst thing in a game Eliah Drinkwitz’s program was very unlikely to win. However, there is some promise coming out of CoMo. New defensive coordinator Blake Baker has a unit that is playing some good football. The Tigers rank No. 4 in defensive success rate and No. 7 in defensive expected points added (EPA). Mizzou is doing some good things on that side of the ball as Florida transfer Ty’Ron Hopper has been excellent at off-ball linebacker (23 solo tackles, 7 tackles for loss). Drinkwitz might finally have a top-25 unit, and that could give this team a chance at wins when the schedule softens.

— There’s a very good chance that Hendon Hooker won the September Heisman. The super senior quarterback is averaging 298.3 passing yards per game with a high success rate (59.3%) and an explosive yards per attempt average (10.6). The Virginia Tech transfer has 11 total touchdowns and zero interceptions through four games. Hooker tossed for 349 yards and added 127 non-sack rushing yards in Tennessee’s thrilling win over Florida. The Vols will go as far as No. 5 takes them in Josh Heupel’s spread tempo scheme.

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2022-11-30