Everything you need to know about Week 4 in the SEC
Finally, a slate of honest-to-goodness SEC games.
Here are the 5 biggest storylines I’ll be following today in Week 4.
5. Feleipe Franks vs. Jarrett Guarantano
Whenever you’re ready, boys.
Right? That’s generally the feeling from both fan bases ahead of tonight’s oh-what-used-to-be clash between unranked Florida and unranked Tennessee.
It feels like forever ago that that we celebrated their signings as the heir apparents in restoring a great rivalry.
In reality, it was just 2016 and neither has yet to live up to their 4-star billing. Franks was ranked the No. 5 quarterback in that 2016 class. Guarantano was two spots back, but listed as the nation’s No. 1 dual-threat quarterback.
Shea Patterson and Jacob Eason headlined that class, but Franks and Guarantano were ranked ahead of Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State), Jalen Hurts, Jake Bentley and Terry Wilson. UCF’s McKenzie Milton was the No. 1,161 prospect overall in that class.
Without belaboring the point, both would be listed well behind those classmates in any sort of modern re-ranking.
But hindsight is for historians. Tonight, Franks will lead Florida and Guarantano will lead Tennessee, and that’s all that matters.
Well, that and procuring a signature win. Franks’ “Heave to Cleve” last year was spectacular but not terribly impactful. It wasn’t a turning point or launching pad. Franks was pulled the next week in the Gators’ comeback win over Kentucky, and his roller-coaster ride has continued.
Guarantano’s road has been even rockier. He has attempted 193 career passes, but just 6 resulted in a touchdown.
They’re not old, but they’re no longer young, either. Both quarterbacks have new head coaches, new coordinators, new systems. Both realize if patience were fuel, the warning light would be on. Recruiting never stops, and the clock is ticking. Florida has a 4-star backup in Emory Jones, and another 4-star on the way. If Guarantano’s ground is steadier, it might only be because Jeremy Pruitt hasn’t landed a 4-star or better yet.
Tonight, both have an opportunity to break through in a way that suggests a mountain has been climbed — or reaffirm the growing notion that, you know, neither might be the guy we thought they were back in 2016.
4. Does Jalen Hurts even care about preserving a redshirt?
You know the rule: Players can appear in 4 games and still redshirt.
Hurts has appeared in 3, and early enough each week to suggest it was part of the pregame script. There’s nothing to suggest he won’t play today, either, against Texas A&M.
Meanwhile the speculation and questions continue.
This is how dominant Alabama has been in 2018: The biggest story every week has been about whether the backup quarterback will play, sit, quit or transfer. All the while and largely without him, the Alabama machine rolls on at a scoring pace the SEC has never seen.
Hurts hasn’t been available to the media, but his actions soon will speak volumes about his priorities not only for this season, but beyond.
3. Dear Mississippi State … just keep winning
Some brands get the benefit of the doubt. That’s the only way to explain why Mississippi State isn’t already in the top 10. The Bulldogs won 9 games last year and pushed Alabama. They are 3-0 in 2018 with a veteran cast, one of the nastiest front sevens in the nation and a road victory against another Power 5 conference team. There’s not much more they could have done through three weeks.
Of course they’re overlooked.
Jon Wilner, an AP voter from that noted football hotbed in San Jose, Calif., actually had the Bulldogs No. 23 in this week’s ballot — one spot worse than the previous week — behind four Pac-12 teams and BYU. Perhaps he got the two big state schools confused? (Alabama crushed Ole Miss.) Or maybe he just hates Bulldogs in general? He had Georgia No. 7.
Regardless, just because AP voters are sleeping on Mississippi State does not give the Bulldogs permission to sleep on anybody. Especially not this week.
Kentucky has been building toward a knockout blow. Ending the streak against then-No. 25 Florida counts, sort of, but the last win the Wildcats had over a legitimately ranked team was the regular-season finale in 2016, when they stunned Heisman winner Lamar Jackson and No. 11 Louisville.
This is a dangerous game for Mississippi State. Kentucky, which also should be ranked but isn’t, beat these Bulldogs two years ago in Lexington. The casts are largely the same.
The stakes are higher.
2. Can Alabama continue its record-setting pace?
Alabama started playing football in 1892. The Tide scored 56 points in their first game, somehow without Tua Tagovailoa or Nick Saban.
In the 126 years since, Alabama has enjoyed a grand total of 8 seasons in which it had 3 50-point games in the same season (5 seasons since the SEC started in 1933).
The program record is 5 50-point games in a season, which the Tide accomplished in 1945.
Saban’s teams scored 50 or more 3 times in 2014, 2016, 2017 and already in 2018.
Last week, they became the first SEC program to do so in the first three games of a season.
Does anybody think Texas A&M will prevent them from making it 4 in a row today? Does anybody think the Tide won’t break their record of 5 … in Week 6 against Arkansas?
Steve Spurrier’s 1996 Gators set the SEC record with 7 50-point games in 1996. Ultimately, that’s the mark Tua and Co. are chasing.
1. Drew Lock, do you have more magic in you?
Johnny Manziel won a lot of games for Texas A&M. He scored a lot of touchdowns and threw for even more. He won the Heisman and two bowl games.
But what was his signature moment? Beating No. 1 Alabama.
Drew Lock has a similar opportunity today, at home, against No. 2 Georgia. Lock already has set school and SEC passing records. He’ll break more before he leaves.
But he might never get another shot at slaying a giant like this.
Last week, he rallied Mizzou to a last-second 40-37 victory at Purdue. Before the game, I wrote that I wanted to see Lock atone for the 2017 disaster against Purdue. I set bench marks at 360 yards, 4 TDs and a W. He responded with 375, 3 TDs … and a W.
He’ll need to be better than that today, maybe historically better.
Erik Ainge and Brandon Allen are the only SEC quarterbacks, ever, who threw 7 TD passes against another SEC team. Neither came against a defense like the one Lock will face.
That’s an outlandish, unfair, unrealistic bar to set. But if Mizzou has any chance of pulling off the biggest upset of the season, Lock has to take to the air and try to clear it.