SEC game changers: New Gator QB, A&M back get chance to make memories

SEC game changers: New Gator QB, A&M back get chance to make memories
Texas A&M running back Tra Carson (5) rushes against Mississippi State on Saturday in College Station. Texas A&M won 30-17. (AP Photo/Bob Levey)
Texas A&M running back Tra Carson (5) rushes against Mississippi State on Saturday in College Station. Texas A&M won 30-17. (AP Photo/Bob Levey)

(RNN) – The Florida Gators were enjoying a top 10 national ranking and cruising toward a showdown with undefeated LSU when starting quarterback Will Grier was declared out for the season with a self-inflicted wound.

Grier was suspended for a calendar year on Monday for using performance-enhancing drugs, thrusting first-game starter Treon Harris back under center. Add to that he'll be in the Death Valley spotlight on a rowdy Baton Rouge Saturday night.

The news started a memorable week of SEC football off the field. The Gainesville shocker was followed by the abrupt retirement of Steve Spurrier, an SEC legend as a player and a coach He stepped down, effective immediately as head ball coach of the collapsing Gamecocks on Monday night.

Almost lost in the news barrage - to all but Georgia fans - was the loss for 2015 of Nick Chubb, the Bulldogs' star runner. He suffered a grisly knee injury on the first offensive play for Georgia, which went on to blow a three-TD lead in a heart-breaking defeat to Tennessee in Knoxville.

At the season's halfway point, one thing is for sure: Nothing. Grier's sudden exit came after a convincing win over defending East Division champ Mizzou that made folks reach for the pencil to write in the Gators for a trip to the SEC title game.

In the West, LSU, Texas A&M, Bama and Ole Miss are still in the hunt.

The mighty Crimson Tide will try to establish Nick Saban-style discipline again on the road, this time in College Station.  A loss in Texas would make for a long trip home for the Tide, which would then need extraordinary help to return to the familiar confines of the Georgia Dome.

The score last year when these two squads met? 59-0. Bama. Don't think that is lost on Aggie players and fans.

Florida at LSU 

Player to look out for: Gator QB Treon Harris 

LSU's faithful likely used up their hospitality hosting South Carolina after the tragic floods in The Palmetto State. So now they're savoring the opportunity to tape their own 'Swamp People' episode on Saturday night.

But sophomore Gator Treon Harris has prevailed under big-game pressure before, including a huge win over No. 9 Georgia in 2014. The upset was part of a respectable 4-2 run as a starter.

Harris was the offensive leader on opening day this fall and had a decent outing against New Mexico State, connecting on 14 of 19 tosses for 215 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

But since the second half of the East Carolina win, Grier took over the offense. Head Gator Jim McElwain has said he felt he had two starting quarterbacks venturing into the season. Florida is much better off than most in the SEC would be if the starting quarterback went down.

Harris, who checks in at 5'11'', and just less than 200 pounds, is a better runner than Grier. But that's often a fallback position to make fans feel good if a quarterback just can't throw as well as the starter, which Harris can't, and everyone knows it.

The Gators' defense should keep the game close and would logically focus on attempting to halt all-world Tiger runner Leonard Fournette, putting pressure on LSU quarterback Brandon Harris. By the way, Fournette has already amassed 1,022 yards, and that without the benefit of game one against McNeese State.

The Gators are ranked 16 in the nation in total defense, and LSU 14, each giving up less than 300 yards per game. Only Alabama ranks higher in the conference than LSU and Florida on defense.

Which Harris is able to convert on a handful of big plays and offer enough support for stingy, athletic defenses, should prevail.

Alabama at Aggies

Player to watch out for: Aggie RB Tra Carson 

While Aggie quarterback Kyle Allen is receiving most of the attention, if Carson can break off some runs and keep Bama's wrecking crew defense off guard, then Texas A&M can win the day.

The 6 '1'', 240 pound senior is a veteran of the SEC wars.

He is averaging 4.5 yards per rush and has reached the end zone four times. Carson also has gathered in 10 passes, including eight against Arkansas.

And he is coming off a 110-yard effort against Mississippi State last Saturday If Carson finds room out of the backfield while Bama defenders are looking downfield, then the Aggies can keep Bama's outstanding defense off balance.

A&M has beefed up its defense since entering the conference and will present more of a challenge to Bama's sometimes struggling offense than in years past - certainly more than last year, when the Tide rang up 59 points on the Aggies.

If Bama's tendency to commit turnovers creates short fields for offensive mastermind Kevin Sumlin, A&M could build a quick lead, lure Bama into a shootout, and this one could be Ole Miss all over again. Which is probably what CBS is hoping for.

The SEC's hottest teams, with a combined record of 20-1,  will be on display back-to-back on Saturday in two games that should be ones for the conference vault.

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