Tennessee and Florida meet in pivotal SEC East showdown
Here are a some things to watch during the third week of the Southeastern Conference football season:
GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 23 Tennessee at No. 24 Florida: After ending an 11-game losing streak in this annual series last year, Tennessee now gets a chance to send Florida to its first 0-2 start since 1971. Florida opened the season with a 33-17 loss to No. 7 Michigan in which the Gators failed to score an offensive touchdown. The team that grabs the early lead in this game shouldn’t take anything for granted. In each of the last three Tennessee-Florida matchups, the winning team has trailed by at least nine points in the second half. Tennessee erased an early 21-0 deficit in its 38-28 triumph over the Gators last year.
MATCHUP OF THE WEEK: Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald vs. LSU’s defense: The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Fitzgerald has thrown for 363 yards, five touchdowns and one interception while also running for 152 yards and three touchdowns through two games. He’s averaging 8.9 yards per carry. LSU will counter with its traditionally stout defense, and the Tigers should get a boost from the return of elite pass rusher Arden Key, who is expected to play his first game of the season on Saturday following shoulder surgery. He had 12 sacks last season.
NUMBERS GAME: Since the start of the 2009 season, Alabama’s defense has allowed 164 touchdowns, by far the lowest total of any Football Bowl Subdivision team. LSU (203) ranks second and Florida (210) is third in that category. … Tennessee RB John Kelly is the only SEC player to lead his team in both yards rushing (208) and receptions (10). … Georgia’s Jake Fromm was just the second Georgia true freshman quarterback ever to make his first career start on the road. The other was Eric Zeier in 1991. …When Mississippi visits California this week, it will mark the first time the Rebels have ever faced a current member of the Pac-12. The only other time the Rebels played in the state of California was a 38-28 victory at Fresno State in 2011. … No. 12 LSU has played 20 true freshmen this season. According to LSU officials, that’s the highest total of true freshmen used by any FBS team thus far.
UPSET WATCH: Missouri is a 7+-point favorite at home against Purdue, but the Tigers have already lost to South Carolina and just fired their defensive coordinator … Florida is a 5-point favorite over Tennessee despite a weak offensive performance in its opening game against Michigan … Ole Miss is a 4-point favorite on the road against California, even though the Golden Bears already have an impressive road win against North Carolina .
IMPACT PERFORMER: Vanderbilt outside linebacker Charles Wright already has produced four sacks, putting him in a tie for second among all FBS players. He’s a major reason why Vanderbilt ranks second nationally in scoring defense and third in total defense. Vanderbilt foes have gone just 2 for 26 on third down, enabling the Commodores to lead all FBS teams in third-down percentage defense. Vanderbilt already has eight sacks this year after recording just 15 last year, the lowest total in the SEC. Wright and Co. face their biggest test of the season Saturday when Vanderbilt hosts No. 18 Kansas State. Jesse Ertz, the Wildcats’ quarterback, ranks fourth among all FBS players in passing efficiency.
AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, and David Brandt in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this story.
More college football coverage: http://collegefootball.ap.org and www.Twitter.com/AP-Top25 .