Florida’s Mullen returns to Starkville for SEC matchup
Here are a few things to watch during the fifth week of the Southeastern Conference football season:
GAME OF THE WEEK: Florida at No. 23 Mississippi State. Coach Dan Mullen’s return to Starkville has been anticipated since he left Mississippi State for Florida back in November . Mullen led the Bulldogs for nine years — finishing with a 69-46 record — and guided the program to some of its best seasons in school history. Mississippi State fans certainly appreciate the good times — including five weeks ranked at No. 1 in the country in 2014 — but there are many who remain irritated that the coach left Starkville for another program in the SEC.
MATCHUP OF THE WEEK: Ole Miss WRs A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf vs. LSU DB Greedy Williams and the Tigers’ secondary. It’s a classic matchup of good-against-good when the Ole Miss WRs and LSU DBs meet in Baton Rouge on Saturday. Brown (381 yards) and Metcalf (368) rank second and third, respectively, in the SEC in yards receiving. Williams is one of five SEC players who already have two interceptions this season.
NUMBERS GAME: No. 17 Kentucky is ranked for the first time since Nov. 11, 2007. The Wildcats’ 28-7 victory over Mississippi State (ranked 14th at the time) was their most lopsided victory over a top-15 foe since a 34-7 triumph over No. 14 Tulane in 1973. ... No. 1 Alabama is outscoring teams by 41 points per game. ... Tennessee has lost 10 straight SEC games and hasn’t won a league contest since November 2016. The Vols are 31 ½-point underdogs Saturday at No. 2 Georgia. ... Arkansas (1-3) leads the SEC in run defense but ranks 13th out of 14 conference teams in scoring defense. The Razorbacks are allowing 33 points per game despite holding teams 88.3 yards rushing per game and 2.7 yards per carry. ... Texas A&M has scored at least 14 points in 31 straight games. The only Power Five teams with longer streaks are Oklahoma (44) and West Virginia (35). ... Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Georgia’s Jake Fromm are completing 72.5 percent of their passes. That puts both of them on pace to break the SEC single-season record of 72.3 percent, set by Kentucky’s Tim Couch in 1998.
UPSET WATCH: It’s hard to guess how the emotions surrounding Mullen’s return to Starkville might impact the Florida-Mississippi State matchup. Mississippi State is coming off a 21-point loss at No. 17 Kentucky and Florida is coming off a 26-point win at Tennessee, yet the Bulldogs are favored by nine points. Mississippi State has looked like the better team thus far, but the Bulldogs might be too keyed up as they face their former coach. No. 5 LSU understandably is favored over Ole Miss, but the Rebels’ offense may be strong enough to cover the 12-point spread.
IMPACT PERFORMER: Alabama defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs recorded 3 ½ sacks and four tackles for loss in a 45-23 victory over Texas A&M last week . That represented the fourth-highest single-game sack total in Alabama history. Buggs has 5 ½ sacks this season and is a major reason why Alabama has 16 sacks as a team, tied for the second-highest total among all FBS programs.
AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, and David Brandt in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this story.