• SEC ‘rivalries’ could use a shot in the arm
    By
     | September 19,2013
     

    Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley (14) is sacked by Oregon defensive tackle Taylor Hart (66) during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game in Eugene, Ore., Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013. Oregon won the game 59-14. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)

    Auburn at LSU and Tennessee at Florida sounds like a big day in the Southeastern Conference.

    Beyond the Deep South, though, those rivalries don’t quite resonate the way they did not so long ago, and it is part of the reason this week’s college football schedule is short on marquee matchups.

    The Volunteers haven’t beaten the Gators since 2004, and No. 19 Florida is favored by more than two touchdowns to extend its winning streak in the series to nine games.

    “We have to be the team that overachieves on Saturday,” said first-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones, whose Vols are coming off a 59-14 loss to Oregon.

    Florida (1-1) had last week off, after losing at Miami the week before. It allowed the Gators to get some banged up players such as quarterback Jeff Driskel (knee), offensive linemen Jon Halapio (pectoral) and Tyler Moore (ankle) and cornerback Marcus Roberson (knee) healthy.

    LSU has won five of the past six in the annual SEC West Tiger fight. Only Cam Newton’s one season at Auburn has produced a recent victory in the series for the War Eagle set.

    Auburn is off to a 3-0 start in its first season rebuilding under coach Gus Malzahn, including last week’s 24-20 victory against Mississippi State on a late touchdown pass, so optimism abounds on the Plains.

    A road trip to Death Valley, however, has brought the mood of many teams down.

    “I’m real curious to see our team responds (on the road),” Malzahn said.

    No. 6 LSU (3-0), like Florida, opens SEC play as a big favorite, thanks in large part to improved play at a position that’s been a trouble spot for several seasons, even with all the Tigers’ success.

    Quarterback Zach Mettenberger is third in the nation in passer efficiency rating, with seven touchdown passes and no interceptions. Coach Les Miles credited new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron with Mettenberger’s improvement.

    “I think Zach is seeing the reasons for the calls and what’s expected and has really embraced the work ethic that’s allowed him to enjoy practice, enjoy play call, and really enjoy the position that is quarterback,” Miles said. “It’s more leadership; it’s more strategic. It’s a thinking man’s position, and I think he’s enjoying it greatly.”

    An upset in either of the SEC’s big rivalry games could have a real impact on the conference races and beyond.

    The picks:

    MAIN EVENT

    No. 23 Arizona State (plus

    7½) at No. 5 Stanford

    First test for Cardinal ... STANFORD 31-21.

    MARQUEE MATCHUP

    Michigan State (plus 7)

    at No. 22 Notre Dame

    Irish defense has been more hype than production so far ... NOTRE DAME 21-17.

    BEST BET

    No. 3 Clemson (minus 13½)

    at NC State, Thursday

    No Clemsoning for Tigers ... CLEMSON 38-14.

    PLUCKY UNDERDOGS

    Auburn (plus 17½) at No. 6 LSU

    Mettenberger and Auburn QB Nick Marshall both transferred from Georgia ... LSU 31-20.

    Tennessee (plus 17) at No. 19 Florida

    Vols still searching for a quarterback ... FLORIDA 35-14.

    No. 15 Michigan (minus 17½) at UConn ... MICHIGAN 38-13.

    Purdue (plus 24) at No. 24 Wisconsin ... WISCONSIN 37-17.

    Louisiana-Monroe (plus 29) at No. 20 Baylor ... BAYLOR 62-28.

    The Wolverines tried hard to get out of this road trip, but to no avail. Boilermakers put up a fight against Notre Dame, but Badgers should be salty after odd end at Arizona State. ULM pushed Baylor last season and, if nothing else, won’t shy away from trying to keep pace with the Bears.

    MISMATCHES

    Colorado State (plus 39½) at No. 1 Alabama ... ALABAMA 42-10.

    Florida A&M (no line) at No. 4 Ohio State ... OHIO STATE 55-7.

    Florida International (plus 42) at No. 7 Louisville ... LOUISVILLE 58-10.

    Bethune-Cookman (no line) at No. 8 Florida State ... 50-10.

    North Texas (plus 32½) at No. 9 Georgia ... GEORGIA 41-14

    SMU (plus 28½) at No. 10 Texas A&M ... TEXAS A&M 56-21.

    New Mexico State (plus 42½) at No. 13 UCLA ... UCLA 58-13.

    Savannah State (no line) at No. 16 Miami ... MIAMI 62-0.

    Idaho State (no line) at No. 17 Washington ... WASHINGTON 55-14.

    Maine (no line) at No. 18 Northwestern ... NORTHWESTERN 49-10.

    Texas State (plus 26½) at No. 25 Texas Tech ... TEXAS TECH 45-14.

    ———

    Last week: Record straight: 14-4; vs. points 5-11-1.

    Season: 51-10; 22-28-1.

    Best bet: 1-1-1.

    Upset special: 1-2.

    ———

    Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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