Cooper-Hargreaves duel in Alabama-Florida clash
A look at things to watch in the Southeastern Conference during Week 4 of the season:
GAME OF THE WEEK: Florida at No. 3 Alabama: The Gators lead the nation in turnover margin, and they’ll likely need to force more takeaways to have a shot at pulling the upset in Tuscaloosa. Alabama has won its last three meetings with Florida by an average margin of 24 points, and the Tide are favored by 14 1/2 points in the latest matchup between two of the SEC’s heavyweight programs. This game features a star-studded individual matchup between Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. Cooper leads all Football Bowl Subdivision players with 33 catches and ranks third nationally with 454 yards receiving. Hargreaves is regarded as one of the game’s top cover corners.
MATCHUP OF THE WEEK: Arkansas RBs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams vs. Northern Illinois run defense: The Cooper-Hargreaves showdown will command a lot of attention, but Arkansas’ attempt to maintain its huge early-season rushing production is also worth noting. Arkansas leads the SEC and ranks third nationally with 362 yards rushing per game. Collins has rushed for 411 yards while averaging 8.2 yards per carry. Williams has run for 322 yards and has gained 9.8 yards per rush. Northern Illinois ranks 13th nationally in run defense.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Nine of the SEC’s 14 teams are averaging more than 40 points per game and 12 teams are averaging more than 30. Texas A&M is tops with 54.3 points per game. … LSU’s Travin Dural is averaging more than 30 yards per catch so far this season, which leads the league by a wide margin. … Kentucky freshman receiver Garrett Johnson caught six passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns against Florida. It’s the first time a UK freshman has caught two TD passes in a game since Randall Cobb in 2008.
LONG SHOT: Mississippi State has lost 14 straight games against No. 8 LSU and 21 of 22 dating back to 1992 when the league split into two divisions, but the Bulldogs appear to have one of their better teams in recent memory. Quarterback Dak Prescott ranks fourth in the league in total offense, and Preston Smith has been named the SEC’s defensive lineman of the week three consecutive weeks. LSU is 43-3 in night games at Tiger Stadium under coach Les Miles.
IMPACT PLAYER: Missouri’s Maty Mauk has thrown 12 touchdown passes, putting him in a three-way tie for the FBS lead with Washington State’s Connor Halliday and Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty. The sophomore might have a chance for another big game this weekend when the Tigers host Indiana, which lost 45-42 to Bowling Green last weekend.
Compiled by AP Sports Writers David Brandt in Jackson, Mississippi, and Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee.