Well, well, well…looky here. Finally! It's been quite a while since these two teams have both been ranked going into this game, but that's what Saturday yields in Knoxville - a matchup of two ranked rivals that have "missed" each other…so to speak. And, how can you not love it?
Now, both teams are still on the brink, but the question becomes on the brink of what? Is it a team teetering on the edge of falling back into the 6-6 or 7-5 abyss? Is it a team motoring on up to the top of the SEC East, ready to surprise the prognosticators and experts, alike? So many questions leading up to this one and after 60 minutes, we may find our fair share of answers.
For Florida, the key is going to be where the offense finds production as workhorse RB Mike Gillislee is not at 100%. Even if he does play, he's not in the physical shape this Florida offense covets. Throughout the A&M matchup, QB Jeff Driskel became that playmaker who found ways to beat the A&M defense with both his arm and his legs. But, this Florida offense still lacks explosive playmaking abilities on the perimeter that the Tennessee offense has in abundance.
WR Cordarrelle Patterson has burst on the scene like a supernova and will play a massive role in this game, especially with the Gators down a CB (Cody Riggs is out with an injury). Furthermore, the Tennessee offensive line will have its hands full up front against the talented Gator front, but it won't have to worry about blocking All-SEC linebacker Jelani Jenkins.
The significant difference in this matchup is that Florida is going to have to generate turnovers or win significantly on special teams to flip field position in its favor because of its lack of true weaponry. On the other hand, Tennessee can generate points in a myriad of ways offensively with QB Tyler Bray at the controls. The Vols will help keep Derek Dooley's seat a little cooler through the month of September by knocking off the hated Gators.
Florida Key Players to Watch
Tennessee Key Players to Watch
Tennessee - 24 vs. Florida - 17
I'd pay any amount of money for this to be a game, a competitive game, but after Arkansas lost to Louisiana-Monroe last Saturday, I'm highly skeptical. And, trust me, I don't want to be.
I was going to be skeptical of the Hogs throughout the season anyway, especially facing this multi-talented Alabama squad. The key for Arkansas will be to keep the heat off of QB Tyler Wilson, who I assume will start after being knocked out of the ULM game with an injury above the shoulders. Wilson got knocked out of the 'Bama game last year as Alabama DC Kirby Smart's defense came after him with a vengeance. I don't expect that to change, but what might is Arkansas' use of max protection to keep Wilson upright and healthy for all 60 minutes.
But, in so doing, the Hogs will perhaps take one of their best receivers TE Chris Gragg out of the passing game. Either way, it's not an advantageous situation for the Arkansas offense on Saturday.
Alabama offensively has been productive, if not a little bit boring. In other words, nothing has changed whatsoever, even though Alabama has new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, formerly of Washington. But, boredom still wins games and it's clear that Arkansas' defense couldn't stop the ULM Warhawks last weekend.
So, what's to make us think that the Hogs can handle the best offensive line in the country and some of the best offensive perimeter players in the Southeast? The short answer is that they can't, but what they can do is bend, but not break. 3s instead of 7s. Trade enough touchdowns for field goals and the Hogs will believe that they're in this game to win it, instead of being in it to survive.
Arkansas will show up and compete, but the fact of the matter is that it just can't play up to Alabama's level on this or any other Saturday in 2012. Alabama wins a relatively ugly matchup, escaping Fayetteville for the third straight time with a W.
Alabama Key Players to Watch
Arkansas Key Players to Watch
Alabama - 27 vs. Arkansas - 12
It's hard to believe but USC Heisman candidate QB Matt Barkley has led his team into battle against the Stanford Cardinal the last three seasons, and all three times, the Trojans have emerged with one more L in the right hand column. A Peyton Manning against Florida like 0-fer.
Well, as of today it's an 0-fer, but Barkley has one last chance at Stanford to knock off his nemesis Stanford on the road in the hostile environment that is Stanford Stadium. But, the good news is that the team that rolls off that bus with him is without question the most talented team that USC has seen since the halcyon Bush/Leinart days of the mid-2000s.
USC survived last weekend against a game Syracuse squad, so it knows full well that it can't throw its helmet out on the turf and Stanford will roll over and die. The key for USC is to keep feeding its tremendous receiving duo throughout the matchup. Whether that means working the quick game early and often or taking deep shots against the Stanford secondary, Barkley must put the ball in the hands of Robert Woods and Marquise Lee.
For Stanford, the key is that the run game has to take over as the Stanford offensive line takes control of the LOS against a USC front four that doesn't have a ton of size, nor does it have much experience. Expect the Trojans to move S T.J. McDonald into the box to slow down RB Stepfan Taylor.
If USC can consistently put the Cardinal in 2nd and 3rd and long situations, the Trojans win this one in a walk. As it is, Barkley will finally get that win he, and the Trojans, need at this point in the year to establish momentum and stay at #2 in the polls.
USC Key Players to Watch
Stanford Key Players to Watch
USC - 38 vs. Stanford - 23