Week 4 of the 2023 college football season has arrived, meaning it's time for the SEC championship race to kick into full gear. Five conference games are featured on the schedule Saturday, including a massive game between No. 15 Ole Miss and No. 13 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The Crimson Tide are coming off a sluggish 17-3 win over South Florida and will send Jalen Milroe out to take the snaps after the failed Tyler Buchner/Ty Simpson experiment against the Bulls. The Rebels ran away from Georgia Tech last weekend, and there's no doubt that coach Lane Kiffin would love nothing more than to send the Tide into the basement of the SEC West and likely eliminate them from the College Football Playoff race.
No. 12 LSU was dominant in its win over Mississippi State last weekend, and a strong showing against Arkansas in the Battle for the Golden Boot will further validate the Tigers' case to move back into the top 10 as well as the CFP race. A loss, however, would all but eliminate the Tigers from national title contention.
SEC Smothered & Covered is here to get you ready for an intriguing Week 4 slate in the SEC universe.
Appetizer: Auburn QB rotation
The Tigers have rotated Payton Thorne and Robby Ashford during the first three games of the season with Ashford serving as the changeup option due to his ability to frustrate defenses with his legs. However, Thorne took the majority of the snaps in the 43-13 win over Samford last week when he went 24-of-32 passing for 282 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Thorne also added in 123 rushing yards with two scores on the ground. Still, the two quarterbacks will again rotate this week, according to coach Hugh Freeze.
"We have confidence and I thought he (Thorne) threw it really well the other night," Freeze said during his Monday press conference. "He made one bad decision, I thought, but the others, we kind of shed on as coaches, and so I hope he continues to build on that. The guy was 18 yards from doing something that an Auburn quarterback hasn't done in a really long time -- maybe ever. So, I hope we build on that and gain confidence from that. At the same time, I've been clear about Robby (Ashford) having a role and I do believe that, particularly against the level of athleticism we are about to see."
Freeze is clearly concerned with Texas A&M's athleticism, so it'll be interesting to see if he tries to build off Thorne's performance or bring Ashford into the mix even though the Aggies will surely know what his presence on the field means.
Main course: Watch out for the land sharks
The land sharks will be circling Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday when the Ole Miss defense faces off against a reeling offense. The Rebels rank third in the SEC in tackles for loss per game (8.0), which plays directly into the Crimson Tide's most concerning offensive problem: the offensive line. The truth is that Milroe (or Buchner and Simpson) hasn't been given much of a chance for success because of an offensive line that has been getting blown up even by average competition.
Plus, there's the Pete Golding factor. The first-year Rebels defensive coordinator Rebels spent the last five seasons in the same role at Alabama. He knows Milroe. He knows how much the Tide offensive line has struggled over the last two seasons. He knows that, by all accounts, Saban ushered him out the door of the football complex so that Kevin Steele could take over the defense.
This is personal. Sure, it's personal for Kiffin. We all know that he takes this game much more seriously than others even if he doesn't say so publicly. It isn't just Kiffin this time, though. Expect Golding to get very creative with how he schemes up pressure on Milroe.
Dessert: Yes, LSU is still a monster
Let's not play the transitive property game and say "man, since Florida State struggled against Boston College, LSU must be a pretender." All that Florida State did in the 45-21 win over the Tigers in Week 1 was exploit the one concern coach Brian Kelly had entering the season: secondary play. Two games later, things appear to be progressing nicely. More importantly, Jayden Daniels looked like a monster as he scored four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) and wide receiver Malik Nabers put up 239 yards and two touchdowns in the 41-14 win over Mississippi State in Starkville, Mississippi.
This sport is all about progress. We saw that last year with these very same Tigers, national runner-up TCU and several other teams. Why can't LSU repeat the feat? It can, and it should. The Tigers are a national title threat, and a win over Arkansas should vault them back into a rightful place in the top 10.
Straight up: 36-4 | Against the spread: 17-10-1
*Picks use SportsLine consensus odds and were made on Instagram since SEC Smothered & Covered started in Week 2
The Bulldogs offense got right in the second half of the win over South Carolina last week, and that will continue this week. Daijun Edwards cracked the 100-yard mark on the ground and Carson Beck took more control of the offense to lead the Bulldogs back from an 11-point halftime deficit. Coach Kirby Smart and offensive coodinator Mike Bobo will build off that in the first half against the Blazers. However, the staff will tap the brakes in the second half in order to keep the starters healthy with the meat of the SEC schedule looming. Pick: UAB +42
Arkansas at No. 12 LSU
Arkansas was a disaster in last weekend's loss to BYU, and LSU will light that defense up like a Christmas tree. The Razorbacks aren't built to stretch the field deep and its pass defense, while improved, is nowhere close to playing at the level it needs to be in order to shut down Daniels and Co. in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The threat of a backdoor cover by the Hogs is on the table, but give me the Tigers to get the job done. Pick: LSU -17.5
No. 15 Ole Miss at No. 13 Alabama
This one will be a shootout -- one during which the Crimson Tide will not be able to keep up. The offensive line is the unit plaguing the Tide right now, and the Rebels pass rush will tee off on Milroe when things start to get wild in the second half. It's shocking that Alabama is even favored in this game, much less by a touchdown. Take the Rebels to cover and win outright. Pick: Ole Miss +7
The status of Road Runners quarterback Frank Harris is up in the air as he continues to recover from a turf toe injury, which is a big reason the Volunteers are such big favorites. The Vols defensive front didn't play up to its capabilities last week against Florida, but it'll rebound this week either against either a limited Harris or backup Eddie Lee Marburger. The possibility for a backdoor cover is in play, but the Vols will get the job done in the end. Pick: Tennessee -20.5
Charlotte at No. 25 Florida
The Gators dominated Tennessee last week in a game that showed the offensive line has progressed in a big way. That allowed the running game to flourish, quarterback Graham Mertz to shine like a star and this Gators team to look like a threat in the SEC East. Coach Billy Napier will take that knowledge, build off of it and then pull the starters earlier than expected. That will allow Charlotte to get the late cover. Pick: Charlotte +28
Auburn at Texas A&M
The Aggies have dominated weaker competition this year, but Auburn doesn't fit into that category. The Tigers have been lights out on defense, and they'll show it again on Saturday in College Station, Texas, with a dominating performance against quarterback Conner Weigman. Will the offense build off of last week's performance? That remains to be seen. But it will do enough to spring the upset. Pick: Auburn +7.5
Kentucky's defense has been very solid all season long, giving up 4.38 yards per play including 3.62 in last week's win over Akron. Can Vanderbilt flip the script? Maybe not to get a win but enough to make it closer than the oddsmakers expect. Quarterback AJ Swann is a little banged up, but he will still find a way to connect with wide receiver Will Sheppard early and often. With that said, Kentucky's defense will force some late mistakes and get out of Nashville with a close win. Pick: Vanderbilt +14
The battle of two Tigers with 3-0 records will go down on Saturday night in St. Louis, Missouri. Memphis topped Navy last week in a wild one, but not as wild as Missouri's 30-27 walk-off win over Kansas State on a 61-yard field goal by Harrison Mevis. Missouri quarterback Brady Cook had his most impressive performance in that nail-biter, and he will continue to shine this weekend in a win over Memphis. Still, the Memphis offense is no slouch either and will keep this one close to the bitter end. Pick: Memphis +7
Mississippi State at South Carolina
Daniels lit up the Bulldogs defense last week, and Spencer Rattler will do the same on Saturday. In that case, it'll be up to the Bulldogs offense led by quarterback Will Rogers to keep up. The problem is that Rogers isn't capable of doing that since Mississippi State is starting to transition away from the Air Raid. Take the Gamecocks ... big. Pick: South Carolina -6
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 4, and which underdogs will win outright? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread -- all from a proven computer model that has returned almost $2,500 in profit over the past seven-plus seasons -- and find out.