The calendar turns to October this week, and it's clear from the SEC schedule that the race for the division titles is on. Two enormous games headline this week in the conference with No. 1 Alabama hosting No. 12 Ole Miss and No. 8 Arkansas -- fresh off a win over Texas A&M -- visiting Athens to take on No. 2 Georgia. Those two matchups will define the landscape of the SEC as we head toward a critical few weeks in the conference.
There are other great games on the docket as well. No. 22 Auburn will travel to LSU, a place where it hasn't won since 1999. Meanwhile, No. 10 Florida will head to Lexington to take on a Kentucky team that is always tough at the line of scrimmage.
Let's break down the top storylines and make picks for Week 5 in the SEC:
Appetizer: KJ Jefferson has to light it up
There's no question that Arkansas' DNA this year is that it's a run-based, power rushing attack that has to have its quarterback, KJ Jefferson, provide enough of a downfield threat to keep opposing secondaries honest. That won't cut it this week at Georgia. The Bulldogs, led by monster nose guard Jordan Davis, lead the SEC and are seventh in the nation in rush defense at 69.5 yards per game. They lead the conference and are fifth in the nation in rushing yards per play at 2.3.
Translation: Jefferson is going to have to light it up.
The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder threw for 212 yards and averaged 14.1 yards per attempt last week against a Texas A&M secondary that was, by essentially every metric, the top pass defense in the nation. He hooked up with Treylon Burks six times for 167 yards and a score, which was a good sign that the Razorbacks are developing much-needed balance.
Balance is nice, but offensive coordinator Kendal Briles better work on the downfield passing attack in practice this week. Jefferson is the key, and if he can keep Georgia's secondary honest and prevent the Bulldogs from creeping close to the line of scrimmage, they'll have a chance.
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Main course: It's all about the Bama linebackers
Alabama's linebackers are talented, versatile and incredibly important to the outcome of this game. The best way to beat Ole Miss is to keep quarterback Matt Corral and Co. on the sideline. How can the Crimson Tide do that in the most effective way? Make sure that Corral and the running game, led by Jerrion Ealy, don't get going on the ground.
We saw two weeks ago, and throughout the Nick Saban era, that dual-threat quarterbacks give him fits. They're especially problematic when they also have the ability to stretch the field. Corral can do just that. He has 158 rushing yards (including sack yardage) and five touchdowns, which makes him much more than a willing runner.
It'll be on Christian Harris, Henry To'o To'o, Will Anderson and the rest of the linebackers to avoid getting fooled by the eye candy, remain in sync when coach Lane Kiffin and play-caller Jeff Lebby crank up the tempo and make sure that Corral doesn't get loose and stays ... corralled .. all afternoon (I don't apologize for that PUN).
"He played really well against us last year," Saban said of Corral. "I mean, the guy is very elusive. He can extend plays. Very accurate passer. Executes their offense extremely well. He can make plays with his feet. He does pull the ball every now and then."
Dessert: Auburn should start T.J. Finley
T.J. Finley came in for Bo Nix and saved the day last week in Auburn's win over Georgia State, and now coach Bryan Harsin has a full-fledged quarterback battle on his hands. He said Monday that, even though Nix is atop the official depth chart, that those are fluid and he will decide on his signal-caller later in the week. It better be Finley.
He showed on Saturday that he is not only capable of handling massive pressure in a pinch, but keeps his eyes downfield under pressure and extends plays instead of bailing and taking off like Nix has done for the majority of his Auburn career. Nix is a known liability, especially on the road where he has thrown 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions during his career on the Plains. There's no sense in Harsin beating his head up against the wall knowing that, in the end, it's going to hurt.
There will be a lot made of Finley's return to LSU -- where he played last season -- whether he starts or not. It doesn't really matter, though. Nix's woes necessitate that Harsin go with hot hand in Finley. He is the only quarterback who can give Auburn a chance to win in Baton Rouge for the first time since 1999.
Week 5 picks
Straight up: 40-7 | Against the spread: 20-17
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook
No. 8 Arkansas at No. 2 Georgia
Texas A&M was a pretender and Georgia is a contender. That's going to make all the difference for Arkansas ... and not in a good way. The Bulldogs defense will keep the Razorbacks offense in the teens, at best, and their offense will light it up once again. The return of monster tight end Darnell Washington is just another weapon that quarterback JT Daniels and the high-octane Todd Monken offense can use downfield. Daniels will go for 300-plus yards through the air and lead his team to a big win and cover. Pick: Georgia (-18.5)
Both teams are coming off road losses, but only one has the worst rushing defense in the SEC -- Missouri (271 yards per game). Tennessee has a multi-dimensional rushing attack with quarterback Hendon Hooker, as well as running backs Tiyon Evans and Jabari Small. That trio, combined with the offensive creativity of coach Josh Heupel, will wear down the Tigers defense and, most importantly, keep quarterback Connor Bazelak and running back Tyler Badie on the sideline. Give me the Vols in the upset. Pick: Tennessee (+3)
No. 12 Ole Miss at No. 1 Alabama
Before you freak out, Alabama fans ... your team is going to win. With that said, the Crimson Tide's inability to run the football (by Alabama standards) will allow Rebels coach Lane Kiffin to keep his offense on the field way more than Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban would like. Translation: This one will be close. In the end, the Crimson Tide defense will make a couple of massive plays in the fourth quarter against a Rebels team that isn't accustomed to playing in this top-tier matchups that impact the College Football Playoff race. Pick: Ole Miss (+14.5)
These two teams are strikingly similar with one glaring exception: Troy can't run the football. The Trojans are averaging just 75.25 yards per game and 2.55 yards per attempt on the ground, which isn't a good sign going into a road game vs. an SEC team. South Carolina's offense has been hit-or-miss, but expect Troy's inability to move the chains on the ground to give Shane Beamer's offense enough chances to win and pull away late. Pick: South Carolina (-7)
No. 10 Florida at Kentucky
Kroger Field will be hopping on Saturday night when the Gators roll into town, but they won't get the kind of game that they're expecting. The Wildcats offense has taken a significant step back over the last two games against Chattanooga and South Carolina, while the Gators defense has been on point since out-playing Alabama for the final three quarters of the 31-29 loss to the Tide two weeks ago. The evolution of Emory Jones will continue and the Gators will pull away in the second half to win by two or more touchdowns. Pick: Florida (-8.5)
Mississippi State at No. 10 Texas A&M
I get that Texas A&M struggled last week, but there's no way that it should only be a touchdown favorite at home against a below-average Mississippi State team. Bulldogs coach Mike Leach doesn't even try to establish a ground game, which means that the Aggies pass defense -- which still is ranked No. 4 in the nation despite struggling last week -- won't let receivers get behind them. This one will get ugly. Pick: Texas A&M (-7)
UConn at Vanderbilt
Who's hyped about this one? Me. Seriously, I can't wait to see how two of the worst teams in the FBS look in what should be an incredibly interesting game for those of us who enjoy comedy. How bad are the Huskies? They're grabbing 14.5 points against a Vanderbilt team that just lost 62-0 against a Georgia team that realistically could have put up 100 or more points. With that said, the Huskies only lost by two to Wyoming last week, which will be enough momentum to at least keep it within two touchdowns. Pick: UConn (+14.5)
No. 22 Auburn at LSU
Auburn hasn't won in Baton Rouge since 1999, and it won't get the job done this year either. Coach Bryan Harsin should start Finley at quarterback, but it's hard to imagine him having a ton of success against his former team considering the upheaval inside the Auburn coaching staff after Harsin dismissed wide receiver coach Cornelius Williams. It's been difficult for Auburn to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which will allow LSU's Max Johnson to slice and dice the secondary en route to a win and cover. Pick: LSU (-3.5)
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 5, and which Top 25 favorite will go down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread -- all from a proven computer model that has returned almost $3,300 in profit over the past five-plus seasons -- and find out.