SEC West: Who will emerge victorious on Saturday?

Three games feature teams with a combined one loss between them.

NCAA Football: Arkansas vs Texas A&M
Texas A&M Aggies defensive tackle Ivan Robinson (89) and Justin Manning (55) celebrate with the Southwest Classic trophy after the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at AT&T Stadium. The Aggies beat the Razorbacks 35-28 in overtime. (Matthew Emmons-USA)

(C+P) — It is not a mystery. The SEC West Division is the best in college football. Teams from the SEC West have played in the last five National Championship Games and have hoisted the crystal football five of the last seven seasons.

That run looks to continue with three SEC West teams ranked in the top 6 and six in the top 16 of the current AP Poll. In fact, Arkansas is the only team from that division not ranked among the top 15 teams in the country. Moreover, to illustrate the parity within that elite group, the Razorbacks took No. 6 Texas A&M to overtime last week before falling, 35-28.

Well, step aside NCAA playoffs, a lot is going to be decided on the field this weekend in the best division of the best conference in college football.

Three top-15 matchups highlight “Separation Saturday.” It is the first weekend of October, but these games could go a long way in determining who is and who isn’t a contender for the SEC Championship Game, played the first weekend in December.

Alternatively, it could just be the first round of what many believe will turn out to be a free-for-all where these top-ranked teams beat each other up on a weekly basis. That remains to be seen, but the Saturday card certainly rings the opening bell for what appears to be the most competitive division race in a long, long time.

Let’s take a look…

Texas A&M at Mississippi State (-1.5), Noon EST on ESPN

We begin in Starkville, where the Bulldogs look to build on a thrashing of an LSU team that tallied twice late to make it a closer game than the score indicated (34-29).

Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Amari Cooper (9) catches a pass against the Florida Gators at Bryant-Denny Stadium. (Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports)
Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Amari Cooper (9) catches a pass against the Florida Gators at Bryant-Denny Stadium. (Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports)

Quarterback Dak Prescott has already thrown for nearly 1,000 yards in just four games. He’ll no doubt have cowbells ringing on Saturday, and the Bulldogs could legitimately call themselves contenders with a victory.

But will it be enough? Aggies quarterback Kenny Hill has thrown for 1,745 yards and 17 touchdowns in five games. The cadets will be kissing and swaying at Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday. The Aggies looked like world-beaters against a South Carolina team that many thought were SEC East frontrunners. However, they barely survived Arkansas last week, which most believed to be the doormat of the SEC West. Is there that much difference between SEC East and SEC West talent? We’ll learn much more about that and the Texas A&M team on Saturday.

C+P Prediction: Texas A&M 49, Miss. State 44

It is one of the two SEC West Saturday showdowns of unbeaten teams. The other is…

Alabama (-6.5) at Ole Miss, 3:30 p.m. EST on CBS

We move northwest across the state of Mississippi to The Grove where Rebels fans are seeing this as the biggest game since Eli Manning guiding Ole Miss to a 10-win season in 2003. Alabama fans, conversely, are viewing this game as the next one on the schedule. That is the difference in the two programs, but Ole Miss has a very real opportunity to close that gap.

Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace is simply too inconsistent, throwing six picks in four games, and that could spell disaster against a tough Bama defense ranked fifth in the nation.

Much to the chagrin of their SEC brethren, the Crimson Tide is beginning to round into the dominant team that has become so prevalent in the program’s recent string of three national championships in the last five years. The running game is solid as ever. However, quarterback Blake Sims has added a new dimension, throwing for 1,091 yards and eight touchdowns. Alabama is 12th in the nation in passing. That is due largely to the outstanding play of junior wide receiver Amari Cooper, who leads the nation with 655 receiving yards on 43 catches.

C+P Prediction: Alabama 33, Ole Miss 17

Last but not least…

LSU at Auburn (-8.5), 7 p.m. ESPN

Down on The Plains, the Auburn Tigers are hungry for a SEC championship repeat. There will be many stumbling blocks in that road, and Saturday presents one of them. The Auburn-LSU series has been a wild one over the years and LSU has had the better of it lately, winning last year at Tiger Stadium, the only regular-season loss for Auburn en route to the National Championship Game. LSU has won three in a row in this series and six of the last seven.

But the last five games played in Auburn have been decided by a touchdown or less, with Auburn winning three of those. However, LSU has won two of the last three meetings at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn is averaging 260 yards rushing so far this season while LSU is 70th in the nation against the run, allowing 162 yards per outing. If LSU cannot stop Auburn’s run game, they have no chance on Saturday.

Freshman quarterback Brandon Harris gets his first start at LSU after directing seven straight touchdown drives in a relief role last Saturday against New Mexico State. It’s a daunting task that LSU head coach Les Miles is asking of his young signal-caller, but at the same time it’s also an opportunity for what would have to be considered an epic start to his career if he can guide LSU to victory.

C+P Prediction: Auburn 28, LSU 24

LSU has one loss this season, and that was to SEC West foe Mississippi State. It is the only loss among the six division teams in action on Saturday.



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