Also-rans get their chances to disrupt SEC _lowres

Associated Press/Oxford Eagle photo by BRUCE NEWMAN -- Arkansas running back Alex Collins (3) runs with a lateral from tight end Hunter Henry to get a first down on a fourth-and-25 play against Ole Miss on Saturday. The Razorbacks won 53-52 in overtime.

Vanderbilt just missed a chance to keep the SEC East race cooking last week, losing by two points in Florida’s division championship clincher.

“We made, in my opinion, way too many mistakes,” coach Derek Mason said.

There will be plenty more opportunities for the also-rans to make some noise in a league where every team in the West Division has a winning record. Arkansas raised its profile when it knocked Ole Miss out of the Top 25 with an overtime road victory last week. Auburn did the same, winning at No. 19 Texas A&M.

The Razorbacks are second in the SEC in total offense, averaging 472.6 yards, and gained 605 yards at Ole Miss. They’re averaging 57 points the last three games and have an opportunity to take down another SEC contender this week at No. 9 LSU, which can’t afford a loss and needs help if it hopes to catch the Crimson Tide for the West title.

Arkansas coach Brett Bielema said the Ole Miss victory was “one for the ages.”

“Guys are excited about trying to string some things together,” Bielema said. “We’ve got a few Louisiana kids on our roster that I know get geeked up for this game.”

Of course, there also could be drama at the top of the West.

Mississippi State has won four in a row, all by 18 or more points, and can pull into a tie for the division lead with a victory at home over Alabama on Saturday. Quarterback Dak Prescott could barge into the Heisman Trophy picture if the Bulldogs win out.

“He’s a guy we know we’re going to lean on, and if he plays well, we’re going to have an opportunity to win,” coach Dan Mullen said after last Thursday’s 31-13 victory at Missouri. “If he doesn’t, we’re probably not.”

Alabama knows that, too.

“I think the guy’s an outstanding player all the way around,” coach Nick Saban said. “They’ve just been really, really productive and he’s the key component.”

Alabama, No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, is always a tough assignment. The Crimson Tide has done exceptionally well against Top 25 competition, going 36-13 since 2007.

“You have to let everybody know that’s over with,” linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “We’re 0-0, we’ve got another game in front of us and we have to stay focused. The only thing that can knock us off is us.”

If Mississippi State can beat the Tide, the rest of its schedule breaks down like this: The Bulldogs wind up the regular season at Arkansas and at home against Ole Miss. Alabama is home against Charleston Southern before finishing in the Iron Bowl against Auburn. The Crimson Tide has won three of four in that hotly contested series.

But first things first. Saban likes the way his team has looked in practice and has focused on this game.

“So far, so good,” Saban said. “I don’t think anything that’s happened in the past is going to have any effect at all.”

With the excited Razorbacks on deck, LSU coach Les Miles reminded his players that one loss doesn’t necessarily ruin the season. After this week, the Tigers play at Ole Miss and are home against Texas A&M.

“There’s no question we’re a team that is in really good position,” Miles said. “We just have to hold point.”

Now that it has clinched the East with its first title since 2010, Florida will guard against a letdown this week at South Carolina. The 11th-ranked Gators also can climb in the polls.

“This stuff’s pretty cool, I embrace the heck out of it,” coach Jim McElwain said. “You have to explain the why and the how. It’s how we take care of business.”