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Barnhart's burning questions for Week 4

296 days ago
Tony Barnhart | SEC Network

Here are a few nuggets to put Saturday's Florida-Kentucky football rivalry into perspective. The last time Kentucky beat Florida in the sport of football (1986):

• Current Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops was a 19-year-old defensive back at the University of Iowa.

• Florida head coach Jim McElwain was a 26-year old graduate assistant at Eastern Michigan.

• Ronald Reagan was President of the United States.

That's 30 years ago if you're keeping score at home.

After watching Kentucky march into Williams-Brice Stadium and upset South Carolina 23-13 last Saturday, one of the most compelling questions on this, the fourth Saturday of the SEC season, is:

Can Kentucky finally, at long last, end Florida's three-decade winning streak over the Wildcats?

Social media and regular media being what it is, you can bet that Kentucky's players were asked about the streak many times this week. But Stoops said the players probably won't hear it from him.

"Honestly, I have never addressed that before," said Stoops, who is 0-4 vs. Florida as Kentucky's head coach. "These guys haven't been here for 30 years. I have great confidence in our team that it won't affect them at all."

Under Stoops, Kentucky (3-0, 1-0 SEC) has come close against the Gators. In 2015 in Lexington, Florida won 14-9 when the Wildcats' only scoring was three field goals. In 2014 in Gainesville, Florida needed three overtimes to win 36-30.

No. 20 Florida (1-1, 1-0) is coming off a dramatic 26-20 win over Tennessee at home when the Gators scored on a 63-yard touchdown pass by Feleipe Franks on the last play of the game.

Here are the rest of our five burning questions for Week 4:

Will Nick Fitzgerald have a happy homecoming at Georgia?

The Mississippi State quarterback grew up in the small community of Richmond Hill, Ga., about 20 minutes south of Savannah.

Fitzgerald played only one year of high school football on a team that went 2-8. He played in a triple option offense that allowed him to throw the ball only 76 times as a senior. He received only two scholarship offers: Middle Tennessee State and Mississippi State.

After watching Fitzgerald lead the Bulldogs to a 37-7 win over LSU last Saturday in Starkville, it's fair to say a lot of teams would love to have him now.

Now Fitzgerald gets a chance to show his home state what they missed when No. 17 Mississippi State (3-0, 1-0) goes to No. 11 Georgia (3-0, 0-0).

Fitzgerald estimates over 20 friends and family members will be there to cheer him on.

"The great thing is that it's going to be a great atmosphere against a very good SEC team on the road," said Fitzgerald. "This is huge for my family."

Can Vanderbilt's defense keep it going against Alabama and Jalen Hurts?

Back in 2014, Vanderbilt and Derek Mason, its first-year coach, went 0-8 in the SEC. A lot of people wondered if Mason, who came to Vandy from Stanford, was in over his head.

He wasn't. Mason made some changes. He fired both coordinators and put himself in charge of the defense. Vanderbilt established an identity and last season the Commodores went 6-6 in the regular season and played in the Independence Bowl.

Today Vanderbilt is 3-0 after a 14-7 upset win over No. 18 Kansas State last Saturday night in Nashville. The Commodores will now host No. 1 Alabama (3-0, 0-0) Saturday in the nationally-televised game on CBS. The SEC Network will send SEC Nation to Vanderbilt's campus.

In short, it is the biggest home game Vanderbilt has had in Mason's three-plus years as the head coach.

Since Mason took over the defense, Vanderbilt has been tough to crack. The Commodores have given up only 13 points in their first three games and lead the nation in scoring defense.

Can Austin Allen bounce back against Texas A&M?

The Arkansas quarterback had one of the toughest games of his career during a 28-7 loss to TCU on Sept. 9.

Allen, a senior from Fayetteville, completed nine of 23 passes for 138 yards against the Horned Frogs. Allen took it hard.

"Took us a couple of days to get him out of the tank," offensive coordinator Dan Enos told reporters this week. "He takes things personally and wants to play very well."

Allen is going to have to play better on Saturday if the Razorbacks (1-1) are going to beat Texas A&M (2-1) in Arlington, Texas, in what will be the SEC opener for both teams.

Allen, a senior, led the SEC in total passing yards with 3,430 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. But he also threw 15 interceptions, something he vowed to improve this season.

Also keep your eye on Kellen Mond, Texas A&M's freshman quarterback. The Aggies struggled early against Louisiana-Lafayette but they stuck with Mond. He finished the game completing 21 of 34 passes for 301 yards.

Both teams need this game. The team with the best quarterback play wins. No news flash there.

What will Auburn do if quarterback Jarrett Stidham gets dinged up?

No. 15 Auburn (2-1, 0-0) had a really tough piece of news to announce on Monday as it prepares to play its first conference game at Missouri (1-2, 0-1).

Backup quarterback Sean White, who had started 16 games for Auburn over the 2015-16 seasons, was dismissed from the team. White was arrested over the weekend for public intoxication.

White's dismissal means that true freshman Malik Willis will enter the game if Stidham, the transfer from Baylor, has to leave Saturday's game.

Willis has been impressive in drills since enrolling at Auburn last January, drawing comparisons to former Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, who led the Tigers to the 2014 BCS national championship game.