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Barnhart's burning questions for Week 4

24 days ago
Tony Barnhart | SEC Network

You're kidding, right?

This really isn't the FOURTH Saturday of the regular season, is it?

You're not telling me that come Saturday night the season will be one-third over.

You are? Well, let's get busy then.

We enter the fourth Saturday of the 2018 season with SEC teams (Alabama, Georgia) holding the top two spots in the Associated Press poll. The SEC has four in the Top 10 (No. 6 LSU, No. 9 Auburn) and a total of six in the Top 25 (No. 14 Mississippi State, No. 22 Texas A&M).

But with five of those teams being in the SEC West, this obviously cannot last. LSU beat Auburn 22-21 last week. Texas A&M goes to Alabama on Saturday. The list of heavyweight games between now and December is long. And it's going to be fun.

So here are Five Burning Questions as we go into the first turn of the 2018 season:

Of Saturday's games, which has the most intriguing matchups?

I like Mississippi State (3-0, 0-0) at Kentucky (3-0, 1-0) at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Both have big-time running backs. Kentucky's Benny Snell Jr. has 62 carries for 375 yards in his first three games. He rushed for 175 yards two weeks ago against Florida.

Mississippi State has a 1,000-yard rusher in Aeris Williams and another back, Kylin Hill, who looks like a 1,000-yard rusher. Hill, who is averaging 9.2 yards per carry, had 211 yards rushing at Kansas State on Sept. 8.

The quarterback battle - Mississippi State's Nick Fitzgerald vs. Kentucky newcomer Terry Wilson - has a chance to be something special. Wilson, a junior college transfer, is the No. 9 rusher in the SEC while Fitzgerald passed for 243 yards and ran for 107 more last week against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Can Alabama keep up this scoring pace?

The Crimson Tide (3-0, 1-0) made some history in last week's 62-7 win at Ole Miss as they became the first team in SEC history (which goes back to 1933) to score 50 or more points in the first three games of a season.

Now Alabama hosts Texas A&M (2-1, 0-0) at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS. The Aggies took then-No. 2 Clemson to the wire before losing 28-26 on Sept. 8. The task for Texas A&M and Jimbo Fisher is pretty clear: Control the football and keep Tua Tagovailoa and all those weapons on the bench for as long as possible.

Here's an interesting nugget: Through three games, Texas A&M has run 240 plays. In the SEC, only Missouri (258) has run more.

Will the magic come back to Neyland Stadium on Saturday night?

There once was a time when the Florida-Tennessee football game was a must-see TV event featuring Top 10 teams that set the stage for the SEC championship and began the narrative on the national championship. Those days are no more as both programs have fallen on hard times and both Tennessee (Jeremy Pruitt) and Florida (Dan Mullen) have new coaches.

But that doesn't mean that Saturday night's game (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) isn't big. It's huge, actually.

Florida has won 12 of the past 13 meetings with the Volunteers and has won those games in every way possible. The Gators won at The Swamp last season with a 63-yard touchdown pass by Feleipe Franks on the last play of the game.

It will be Pruitt's first SEC game as the Tennessee head coach and one that The Big Orange Nation would dearly love to win. A loss puts Florida at 0-2 in the SEC - not a place the Gators want to be in their first year under Mullen.

Will last week's layoff hurt or help South Carolina against Vanderbilt?

South Carolina's game with Marshall last week was canceled due to Hurricane Florence. The Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1) were hoping to work out the disappointment of a 41-17 loss to Georgia in order to get ready for Saturday's trip to Vanderbilt (2-1, 0-0) at 4 p.m. ET on SEC Network.

Meanwhile, Vanderbilt went into Notre Dame Stadium and almost pulled off the upset before losing 22-17. The Commodores looked like a confident team with a bit of an edge in South Bend. It will be interesting to see the turnout and the mood at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Can Auburn bounce back from last Saturday's 22-21 gut-wrenching loss to LSU?

The Tigers have certainly done it before. Last season, they had a 20-0 lead at LSU but lost 27-23. But they came back from that disappointment to beat No. 1 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama in November and win the SEC West championship.

Auburn (2-1, 0-1) can certainly still get back to Atlanta. But the landscape is different than last season as the Tigers, who host struggling Arkansas (1-2, 0-0) on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network), still have SEC road trips to Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama. In other words, the road to redemption this season is considerably more difficult than last season.