Thanks to the SEC powers that be, the league will go into this weekend without seeing Eastern Division historical powers Florida, Georgia or Tennessee. A division devoid of real conference strength at the moment has its bigwigs sitting on the sideline this weekend, leaving the rest of the embattled division likely displaying NSFW content on Saturday.
However, I doubt any of these schools will complain about having this particular week off. Tennessee gets much-needed time to rest after consecutive losses and physical poundings it endured, thanks to contests with Texas A&M and Alabama. This team has been ravaged by injuries all season, and now finally gets a full week off to rest and truly reflect.
Georgia has been marred with inconsistencies since the Bulldogs stomped their way through North Carolina inside the Georgia Dome in Week 1. Since then, there was the way-too-close call against Nicholls, a blowout loss to Ole Miss, a devastating, last-second Hail Mary loss to Tennessee, and last week's unsettling home loss to Vanderbilt.
Then, there's Florida. The Gators had an impromptu bye week because of Hurricane Matthew two weeks ago and turned around with a 40-14 drubbing of a listless Missouri team in the Swamp. But with how much this offense still is fraught with execution issues, another extra week of prep is something this team should cherish.
Here's a bye week checklist for all three teams:
Get that "very average" offense tuned up, especially in the red zone: Coach Jim McElwain was right to call his offense "very average" after the Missouri game. The Gators needed two defensive touchdowns to put this game out of reach, and despite recording 523 yards, the offense was just 2 of 4 in the red zone and faced 16 third downs. The red zone has been Florida's Kryptonite this season, as the Gators are 13th in the SEC, converting 18-of-28 red-zone attempts. Florida is scoring a touchdown just 56 percent of the time in the red zone. Quarterback Luke Del Rio threw three interceptions against Mizzou. McElwain said he'd also like to see the coordination of the snap count improve over the bye. Even with an extra week to prepare, the Gators just didn't have much offensive rhythm against a bad Mizzou defense, and that's a problem.
Coach up Del Rio: After being out for two weeks with a knee sprain, Del Rio looked rusty against Mizzou. He went 18 for 38 with 236 yards and a touchdown with those three picks -- and they were bad throws. McElwain praised his quarterback, but added that he put himself in trouble too much and he tried to do too much. Del Rio said he needs to be better and he can't keep making those mistakes with rival Georgia next on the schedule.
Shore up run gaps: Nick Chubb won't try to be kind to this Florida rush defense next week. For as good as this defense has been, it has been susceptible to big runs. It gave up a season-high eight runs of 10-plus yards. Mizzou ran for 265 yards, with 112 coming before contact. Florida allowed nine rushes of 10-plus yards and 173 yards before contact in the two previous games against Vanderbilt and Tennessee.
Get the special teams together: On the season, Georgia has allowed only one return for a touchdown, but in the loss to Vandy, Georgia surrendered a 95-yard kickoff return and a 17-yard punt return, while the Bulldogs averaged just 14.7 yards per kickoff return and finished with minus-1 yard on three punt return attempts. Georgia is 13th in the SEC, allowing 26.3 yards on kickoffs.
Establish an identity: Coach Kirby Smart admitted that he isn't quite sure what his team wants to be. Sometimes it does well with the physical running game but can't throw the ball consistently. Then quarterback Jacob Eason gets into a nice throwing rhythm, and the Dawgs can't run it. It's frustrating for Dawgs fans to watch and Smart to coach.
Coach up Eason: His up-and-down play is to be expected, but this is a chance for him to erase that first part of the season and start anew. Eason is averaging 206 yards in SEC play, with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. He's completing only 53.4 percent of his passes and averaging 5.9 yards per attempt against SEC defenses. Smart wants to challenge Eason more this week and wants him to focus on communication with guys to change in and out of plays, settle his feet in the pocket and read coverages better. The good news is that he had a career day in the loss to Vandy, throwing for 346 yards and a touchdown, that he can feed off.
Rest: Less than 70 players dressed in that blowout loss to Alabama. Nine starters were ailing and that offensive line was without four starters for most of the game. Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin's Tennessee career is now over, and running back Alvin Kamara's season could be in doubt with a knee injury. Fill up that training room. The good news is that the offensive line should be back to strength next week against South Carolina, but all those other bumps and bruises desperately need time away from contact.
Find some explosive plays in the passing game: Alabama's defense got three sacks, forced two turnovers and held Tennessee to just 163 yards. The running game was nonexistent (32 yards on 32 carries), but this team has to get more explosive plays out of the passing game, especially with Kamara's health an issue and Jalen Hurd struggling. On the season, Joshua Dobbs has completed less than 60 percent of his passes. He also has thrown an interception in every game.
Get John Kelly ready: Hurd isn't playing to his potential and has dealt with injury. Kamara has a knee injury. Tennessee's offense has taken a ton of lumps, but this running game needs to find another body. Kelly has just 115 yards on the season, but 89 of them came in the loss to Texas A&M.