Back SEC Weekend Primer

Back To SEC

SEC Weekend Primer

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
Follow us at Twitter.com/SouthernPigskin.  Become a fan at the SouthernPigskin.com Facebook Page

Auburn needs a win against Georgia to keep its SEC championship dreams alive.

The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry highlights a relatively light SEC slate on November’s middle Saturday, as five of the league’s 14 teams are idle. Georgia and Auburn have been playing for more than 120 years, but neither can say it has the advantage. The all-time series is even at 54-54-8. The winner of Saturday’s game in Jordan-Hare Stadium will not only gain the upper hand in the rivalry, but also keep SEC Championship Game hopes alive.

The other three conference games are all division contests, but all have double-digit point spreads. It’s a weekend where favorites are all expected to hold serve, which in college football is often a recipe for chaos. Could Alabama, South Carolina or Vanderbilt be the victims of major upsets?

That said, the focus of the weekend is on an increasingly healthy Georgia visiting an Auburn team that has yet to be awoken from a dream season. If the Tigers want to host the Iron Bowl for the ages in two weeks, they need to first defeat a team that has tortured them of late, winning six of the past seven meetings.

Let’s take a closer to look at the ins and outs of Week 12 in the SEC.

The Big One

(25) Georgia (6-3, 4-2) at (7) Auburn (9-1, 5-1 SEC)

Saturday, 3:30 ET/2:30 CT

TV: CBS (Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson)

Line: Auburn -3.5

The two schools just three hours apart…wait, you have to go through Atlanta…let’s try this again. The two schools just three to six hours apart have been playing football since 1892 – first at scattered locations, then in Columbus, Ga., for four decades, and for the past 55 years, on campus sites – odd years in Athens and even years in Auburn. SEC expansion changed things, however, forcing the Bulldogs to make a second consecutive trip to the Plains this season.

The quirk couldn’t have worked better for the Tigers, who now host both Georgia and Alabama, needing both to claim their fifth SEC West title. Auburn ran for 444 yards a week ago in a rout of Tennessee, with Nick Marshall needing to throw just seven passes in the victory. Things likely won’t come so easy this Saturday, but Georgia’s defense has been prone to strong starts and weak finishes, most notably in a loss to Vanderbilt and near-collapses against Tennessee and Florida.

Star running back Todd Gurley is back in the Bulldogs lineup after missing the entire month of October, but is admittedly not at full strength, having left the Florida game early due to exhaustion. With tight end Arthur Lynch (ribs) and wide receiver Chris Conley (ankle) in their first game back off of injuries, Georgia will need Gurley and the ground game to help match a red-hot Auburn offense.

Auburn’s defense hasn’t been great statistically, but it has come through at the right times, particularly in a second half comeback at Texas A&M. Despite missing two games, defensive end Dee Ford is third in the SEC with seven sacks. The Tigers have also been great in the red zone, allowing touchdowns on less than half of opponents’ trips. Settling for field goals Saturday could be a death sentence for either team.

Marshall and 1,000-yard rusher Tre Mason are as locked in as any offensive duo in the country. It’s difficult to imagine an inconsistent Georgia defense slowing them down with any regularity. Aaron Murray will keep Georgia close with three touchdown passes, but Auburn will hang on to set up the showdown with Alabama for the SEC West title (and potentially a whole lot more) in two weeks.

Prediction: Auburn 38, Georgia 30

Second Fiddle

Florida (4-5, 3-4 SEC) at (10) South Carolina (7-2, 5-2 SEC)

Saturday, 7:00 ET/6:00 CT

TV: ESPN2 (Joe Tessitore and Matt Millen)

Line: South Carolina -12.5

After a week off, South Carolina hopes to, in golf terms, post a 6-2 record in the SEC East and head to the clubhouse with a win over sputtering Florida. The Gamecocks need at least one loss by both Georgia and Missouri to get to only their second SEC Championship Game. Florida’s bowl prospects are grim, needing either an upset Saturday night in Columbia or on Nov. 30 when No. 2 Florida State comes to Gainesville to get to six wins.

Steve Spurrier has struggled in two meetings against Will Muschamp’s defenses, managing just 25 combined points. This year the Gamecocks sport the SEC’s leading rusher, as sophomore Mike Davis’ 117 yards per game is 10 more than any other player in the conference. Florida held Vanderbilt to just 183 yards of offense last week, but, as has been the custom with the Gators, committed 4 turnovers and 11 penalties in the 34-17 loss to the Commodores.

Florida is expected to start its third quarterback of the season this week, with Tyler Murphy’s shoulder likely to keep him out at least this week and potentially longer. Redshirt freshman Skylar Mornhinweg, son of New York Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, will likely make his first career start in front of 80,000-plus at Williams-Brice Stadium. He’ll hope to spark an offense that ranks last in the SEC.

South Carolina came out of its last bye week fat and happy and was abruptly punched in the mouth by UCF before rallying for a victory. Expect a similar result Saturday, with Florida showing some pride early before two Mornhinweg turnovers propel the Gamecocks to a comfortable victory.

Prediction: South Carolina 28, Florida 10

(1) Alabama (9-0, 6-0) at Mississippi State (4-5, 1-4 SEC)

Saturday, 7:45 ET/6:45 CT

TV: ESPN (Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge)

Line: Alabama -23.5

There are no two SEC schools closer to each other than Alabama and Mississippi State, located just 80 miles apart. Their respective football programs, however, could not be farther apart. The Tide, as you may have heard, are chasing their third consecutive national title and are flying high after a 38-17 win over rival LSU last week. The Bulldogs have won just twice in their past 10 SEC contests and are in danger of missing a bowl game for the first time since 2009.

Mississippi State has played musical quarterbacks (along with most other SEC teams) this season, alternating between senior Tyler Russell and sophomore Dak Prescott. An elbow injury to Prescott last week in a loss to Texas A&M has put his status for Saturday night in doubt, meaning it could be Russell who gets at least the majority of the snaps for the first time since the Aug. 31 season opener.

Alabama has no such concerns under center, as AJ McCarron vaulted himself back into the Heisman Trophy discussion with a nearly flawless second half last week against LSU. He’ll now face a Mississippi State defense that was no match for Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M last week in a 51-41 defeat. The Bulldogs have not only bent, but have broken far too often this season, allowing 21 touchdowns in 28 opponents’ trips to the red zone.

Two years ago, this was supposed to be a major trap game for Alabama coming off of the “Game of the Century” against LSU. Alabama was stodgy for a half, but rolled to a 24-7 victory. Expect a faster start this time around, rendering the 50,000-plus cowbell-ringing Bulldogs backers to relative silence.

Prediction: Alabama 38, Mississippi State 10

Quick Slants

Kentucky (2-7, 0-5 SEC) at Vanderbilt (5-4, 2-4 SEC)

Saturday, 12:21 ET/11:21 CT

TV: SEC TV (Dave Neal and Andre Ware)

Line: Vanderbilt -12.5

A season that was teetering after a blowout loss to Missouri on Oct. 5 now finds Vanderbilt just one win away from bowl eligibility after upsets of Georgia and Florida. Kentucky visits Nashville Saturday, hoping to fare better than the past two seasons, in which it lost to the Commodores by a combined score of 78-8. The Wildcats will be looking for their first road win in SEC play since 2009.

Patton Robinette will make his third career start under center for Vanderbilt, but may again be without No. 2 wide receiver Jonathan Krause, who missed the win over Florida last week. Even with possibly not having to account for Krause, can Kentucky’s secondary slow down SEC career receiving leader Jordan Matthews? Missouri’s Dorial Green-Beckham caught four touchdowns last week in the ‘Cats 48-17 defeat in Lexington.

There’s nothing Kentucky’ offense does well. The Wildcats struggle to run, are inconsistent in the passing game, don’t convert third downs, allow sacks and struggle to score touchdowns in the red zone. Bob Shoop’s defenses have, while struggling against spread offenses, bottled up less athletic units. Kentucky operates with some spread principles, but still lacks the personnel to put it to use.

Matthews will hit the 150-yard mark for just the second time this season as the Commodores strike early and grind out a win to shore up a bowl trip.

Prediction: Vanderbilt 34, Kentucky 16

Troy (5-5, 3-3 Sun Belt) at Ole Miss (6-3, 3-3 SEC)

Saturday, Noon ET/11:00 CT

TV: ESPNU (Tom Hart and John Congemi)

Line: Ole Miss -28

Ole Miss steps out of conference for the final time this season when Troy makes its first ever visit to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Trojans need one win in their final two games to become bowl-eligible (they host Texas State Nov. 29), but would likely need to fill an at-large spot to play a 13th game. Ole Miss could find itself playing on New Year’s Day for the first time since 1991 with a strong close to the season.

The Rebels have quietly righted the ship after a three-game losing streak against teams currently ranked among the top 15 teams in the country. The defense is getting healthier after seeing its depth tested over the past few weeks. Both Denzel and Robert Nkemdiche will be in the lineup Saturday for the second week in a row after each missed three games early in the season.

Troy sports a fairly potent offense led by senior quarterback Corey Robinson and a thunder and lightning backfield combination. Brandon Burks is the big-play threat and Jordan Chunn (11 touchdowns), the finisher. This will be the Trojans’ third BCS-conference opponent of the season, having already lost 62-7 to Mississippi State and 38-31 to Duke.

Troy will score and keep things interesting for awhile, but Bo Wallace will shred a suspect Trojans defense for 600 yards as the confident Rebels cruise into their showdown with Missouri next Saturday night.

Prediction: Ole Miss 52, Troy 27

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.