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SEC Primer: Week 13

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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The final weekend of the regular season is here!

The college football power brokers (aka the television networks) are contemplating a change to the college football calendar that would turn the Thanksgiving holiday weekend into Championship Weekend rather than Rivalry Weekend. Excuse me while I upchuck some turkey and stuffing (or dressing or filling).

The Thanksgiving feast of football is just that. A feast. 128 of 131 FBS teams are in action (sorry, Charlotte, Navy and UConn). If this weekend were the conference championship games, we’d have just 20 teams playing. That’s barely some cheese and crackers that hold you over until the big meal at the end of the Lions game.

For a few more years, at least, this long weekend will remain a college football smorgasbord. In the SEC, I can’t say with a straight face that this weekend is all that great. The most compelling game of the weekend might involve Vanderbilt, which should tell you all you need to know. The nation’s focus will be in Columbus and out west, where conference and national title contenders complete the puzzle for next weekend’s slate of conference championship games.

Nine games feature SEC teams, starting Thursday night with a treasured tradition in the Magnolia State. Let’s mash up Rivalry Weekend in the SEC.

 

This is a Big Week for:

Coach: Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss

By the end of the weekend, we’ll know whether or not Kiffin is the next Auburn or coach. An announcement that he’s staying at Ole Miss along with a third straight Egg Bowl victory could bring a party back to Oxford after a couple down weeks.

Player: Brady Cook, QB, Missouri

With Auburn and Vanderbilt heavy underdogs, Missouri probably has the best chance to win of the trio of 5-6 SEC teams hoping to extend their seasons beyond this weekend. Cook has had an up-and-down season, as has his team, and the Tigers seem likely to hit the transfer portal for a quarterback this offseason. If Cook has any hopes of heading into the spring and summer as the No. 1, he’ll need a big game against Arkansas on Friday afternoon.

Unit: Florida Offensive Line

Florida State is surging, and one of the reasons is the play of its defensive line. The Seminoles are playing the run well and getting after the quarterback. Florida couldn’t run the ball at all against Vanderbilt last week, so it’s a gut-check week for the Gators in the trenches. If Florida hopes to pull an upset in Tallahassee, it has to hold up in the trenches better than it did last Saturday. 

 

Trivia Time

1. Who was the last interim head coach in an Iron Bowl?

2. What two head coaches left an SEC school for another SEC school since Tommy Tuberville departed Ole Miss for Auburn in 1998?

3. In what year did Texas A&M last lose seven conference games in a season?

 

Game Predictions

Mississippi State (7-4, 3-4) at (20) Ole Miss (8-3, 4-3), Thursday, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Announcers: Matt Barrie and Louis Riddick

Last Meeting: 2021 – Ole Miss 31, Mississippi State 21

Current Streak: Ole Miss – 2

Current Streak in Oxford: Ole Miss – 1

Line: Ole Miss -2.5

Over/Under: 58.5

This is normally a weird game, but it’s even weirder now after Lane Kiffin’s tweet-storm “denial” of a report saying he would be leaving for Auburn on Friday. What will the atmosphere be like in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium if there is still no clarity on Kiffin’s future? This feels like a great opportunity for Mike Leach and Mississippi State to end a two-game losing streak in this rivalry. There’s just so much “stuff” going on in Oxford between two tough losses, a short week, and all of the coaching drama. The Bulldogs have none of that, and they had the luxury of playing an FCS opponent last week while the Rebels were shivering in the cold of northwest Arkansas late Saturday night. This is not a pick based on Xs and Os, but all of the surrounding noise has me leaning with Mississippi State here.

Prediction: Mississippi State 34, Ole Miss 29

 

Arkansas (6-5, 3-4) at Missouri (5-6, 2-5), Friday, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)

Announcers: Tom McCarthy and Rick Neuheisel

Last Meeting: 2021 – Arkansas 34, Missouri 17

Current Streak: Arkansas – 1

Current Streak in Columbia: Missouri – 5

Line: Arkansas -3

Over/Under: 55.5

Arkansas is winless in Columbia in four SEC meetings and five all-time meetings. Like Mississippi State in its rivalry game, Missouri has the benefit of having had an easy opponent last week, plus it doesn’t have to travel. Is that enough for the Tigers to become bowl eligible for a sixth straight season? Arkansas has been a high-variance team from week to week, but the Razorbacks team I watched last Saturday night against Ole Miss isn’t losing this game. Missouri’s defense will hold up better than the Rebels did, but Arkansas will still score enough to force the Tigers to have consistent success on offense, and I’m not sure Brady Cook and the Tigers can do that over the course of 60 minutes. Aside from the Chad Morris era, when these two teams play in Columbia, the games have been excellent. I expect another one on Friday afternoon, but the physicality of K.J. Jefferson and Arkansas will be just enough to get the Hogs to seven wins.

Prediction: Arkansas 31, Missouri 27

 

Florida (6-5, 3-5) at (16) Florida State (8-3, 5-3), Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Announcers: Anish Shroff and Brock Osweiler

Last Meeting: 2021 – Florida 24, Florida State 21

Current Streak: Florida – 3

Current Streak in Tallahassee: Florida – 1

Line: Florida State -9.5

Over/Under: 57.5

What to make of a Florida team that smacked South Carolina two weeks ago and then went to Nashville and were handled by Vanderbilt? The Gators are a hard team to predict, while Florida State has been consistently dominant since a three-game losing streak in early October, registering blowout wins over Georgia Tech, Miami, and Syracuse to get to 8-3. Anthony Richardson has put up some impressive stat lines this season, but most have come in losses. Florida needs to get back to leaning on its running game against the Seminoles after the unit fizzled against Vanderbilt. It’s a rivalry game, so I expect a one-score game, but I have more faith in Florida State right now.

Prediction: Florida State 30, Florida 24

 

South Carolina (7-4, 4-4) at (7) Clemson (10-1, 8-0), Noon ET (ABC)

Announcers: Sean McDonough and Todd Blackledge

Last Meeting: 2021 – Clemson 30, South Carolina 0

Current Streak: Clemson – 7

Current Streak in Clemson: Clemson – 4

Line: Clemson -14.5

Over/Under: 51.5

Do Spencer Rattler and the Gamecocks have an encore in them after delivering one of the best performances of the entire college football season last Saturday night in crushing 9-1 Tennessee? Now comes another orange-clad foe that is possibly two wins away from the College Football Playoff. It seems like a tough ask for South Carolina in Death Valley, where Clemson hasn’t lost a game in more than six seasons. The Gamecocks exposed a vulnerable Tennessee defense last week, but Clemson’s issues this season have been more on offense. For South Carolina to pull this off, it’ll have to win a game in a much different style than it did against the Vols. With the Tigers having a firm stranglehold in this rivalry, I just can’t see much of a path for South Carolina on Saturday afternoon. The Gamecocks had their night, but a dose of reality is coming on the trip upstate.

Prediction: Clemson 30, South Carolina 14

 

Georgia Tech (5-6, 4-4) at (1) Georgia (11-0, 8-0), Noon ET (ESPN)

Announcers: Bob Wischusen and Dan Orlovsky

Last Meeting: 2021 – Georgia 45, Georgia Tech 0

Current Streak: Georgia – 4

Current Streak in Athens: Georgia – 1

Line: Georgia -36.5

Over/Under: 48.5

Speaking of one-sided rivalries, Georgia has won the past four renditions of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate by a combined score of 180-35. If you’re a Yellow Jackets optimist, you can argue that the program’s only four wins over the Bulldogs this century have come on the road in Sanford Stadium. Those were far more different Georgia teams than this one, however, which can all but ensure a return to the College Football Playoff with a win on Saturday. Credit must go to interim coach Brent Key and Georgia Tech, which won four of seven ACC games since Geoff Collins was fired on Sept. 25. This Yellow Jackets team is far better than it looked in September, but both sides of the ball have a glaring area of inefficiency – the passing game on offense, and the run game on defense. Georgia shuts down opponent strengths, so it will have no problem taking advantage of Georgia Tech’s deficiencies. Even still, this line seems a bit too high with the SEC Championship Game looming.

Prediction: Georgia 38, Georgia Tech 10

 

Louisville (7-4, 4-4) at Kentucky (6-5, 3-5), 3 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Dave Neal and Deuce McAllister

Last Meeting: 2021 – Kentucky 52, Louisville 21

Current Streak: Kentucky – 3

Current Streak in Lexington: Kentucky – 1

Line: Kentucky -2.5

Over/Under: 43.5

After five straight defeats in the Governor’s Cup, Kentucky has won five of the last six meetings with the Cardinals. These teams are going in opposite directions, with Louisville turning a 2-3 mess of a season into a 7-4 mark despite a backloaded schedule. Kentucky, meanwhile, has fallen from 4-0 to 6-5 with a cratering offense. A much-maligned Cardinals defense has stabilized, now allowing fewer than 20 points per game this season. This rivalry has had some shootouts, but this round feels more like a phone booth game. The Wildcats fought hard last week in Georgia, but something still feels off within the walls of that program heading into a potentially interesting offseason. With senior quarterback Malik Cunningham trending toward playing for Louisville, the Cardinals will cap off an under-the-radar but successful season with a big road win in Lexington.

Prediction: Louisville 24, Kentucky 20

 

Auburn (5-6, 2-5) at (7) Alabama (9-2, 5-2), 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)

Announcers: Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson

Last Meeting: 2021 – Alabama 24, Auburn 22 (4OT)

Current Streak: Alabama – 2

Current Streak in Tuscaloosa: Alabama – 5

Line: Alabama -22.5

Over/Under: 49.5

The 87th Iron Bowl has as little hype as it’s had in a long time. Neither is playing for the SEC championship, and Auburn is more focused on its coaching search than trying to take down the Crimson Tide. Nevertheless, this is still Auburn and Alabama, and the game still resonates across the South and the nation. The Tigers have played their best football of the season over the past two-and-a-half games under interim coach Cadillac Williams. Alabama has struggled on the road this season, but only Texas A&M has tested the Crimson Tide in Bryant-Denny Stadium, and Bryce Young did not play against the Aggies. Young will be playing for Alabama on Saturday for what could be the final time. He’s a special player who has willed this flawed Alabama team to within four points of a perfect season. He’ll potentially close out his Crimson Tide career with a massive Iron Bowl performance.

Prediction: Alabama 42, Auburn 17

 

(5) LSU (9-2, 6-1) at Texas A&M (4-7, 1-6), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Announcers: Joe Tessitore and Greg McElroy

Last Meeting: 2021 – LSU 27, Texas A&M 24

Current Streak: LSU – 1

Current Streak in College Station: Texas A&M – 2

Line: LSU -9.5

Over/Under: 46.5

A miserable season for Texas A&M will finally come to an end on Saturday night, but not before the Aggies get one more shot to have at least one positive memory of the 2022 season. That’ll be easier said than done against an LSU team that hasn’t always looked dominant but has found ways to win to put itself in College Football Playoff contention at 9-2. Defensive coordinator Matt House has this Tigers defense playing at a high level despite the talent level not being what it’s been in the past in Baton Rouge, and Texas A&M hasn’t scored 30 points against an FBS opponent since October 2021. The Aggies will play with some fire on defense early, but this is a bad team that will eventually play like a bad team over the course of 60 minutes. I don’t see a complete blowout, but I’m not taking Texas A&M with its anemic offense at any number under two touchdowns.

Prediction: LSU 28, Texas A&M 16

 

(10) Tennessee (9-2, 5-2) at Vanderbilt (5-6, 2-5), 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic

Last Meeting: 2021 – Tennessee 45, Vanderbilt 21

Current Streak: Tennessee – 3

Current Streak in Nashville: Tennessee – 1

Line: Tennessee -13.5

Over/Under: 64.5

My how this game has changed over the course of a few days, as it’s the Commodores who come into this game riding high after two straight SEC wins. The Vols must pick up the pieces after a disastrous night in South Carolina that saw the end of their playoff chances and star quarterback Hendon Hooker’s college career. In steps 2021 opening-day starter Joe Milton, who has a live arm but struggles with accuracy, which forced his benching for Hooker in Week 2 of last season. Vanderbilt will continue riding with Mike Wright at quarterback, a running threat who threw three touchdown passes last week against Florida. This game comes down to Tennessee’s care factor. There’s still a major bowl berth to play for, but is that enough to fire up the Vols just three weeks removed from being ranked No. 1? Milton will certainly be locked in with this unexpected opportunity, and that should be enough for Tennessee to avoid another embarrassing defeat.

Prediction: Tennessee 44, Vanderbilt 23

 

Best Bets

Last Week: 3-2

Season: 38-22

Arizona -4 vs. Arizona State (Friday)

Marshall -5.5 vs. Georgia State

Wake Forest -3.5 at Duke

Texas Tech +2.5 vs. Oklahoma

Kansas State -10.5 vs. Kansas

 

The Best Game(s) I’ve Ever Watched On November 26

Nov. 26, 2010: (2) Auburn 28, (10) Alabama 27

Nov. 26, 2016: (2) Ohio State 30, (3) Michigan 27 (2OT)

I couldn’t pick between two of the greatest games in the history of college football’s top two rivalries.

The first was the famous Cam-back, as 11-0 Auburn, needing a win in Tuscaloosa to keep national title hopes alive, faced an underachieving 9-2 Crimson Tide team that was only playing for a possible Sugar Bowl berth at that point. Also spoiling a perfect season for their rivals, however, was not an immaterial achievement.

Alabama stormed out of the gates to take a 21-0 lead with three touchdown drives. The next three Crimson Tide drives all reached the red zone, but Alabama managed just three total points thanks to fumbles by running back Mark Ingram and quarterback Greg McElroy. A long touchdown from Cam Newton to Emory Blake kept the score at just 24-7 at halftime, a fortunate one for Auburn given how disastrous the game started.

The third quarter began with a bang, as Newton found Terrell Zachery for a 70-yard score to cut the deficit to ten and turn the pressure up on Alabama. The Crimson Tide couldn’t do much on offense, and the Tigers got their running game going midway through the third quarter on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to pull within 24-21.

Auburn got a stop, but a fumbled punt looked like it may be the end for the perfect season. Alas, the Tigers defense rose up and held Alabama to a field goal to keep the lead at one score. Newton was brilliant on the next drive, completing all five pass attempts, including the tying touchdown pass to the late Philip Lutzenkirchen with 12 minutes to go. The extra point put Auburn in front, 28-27.

Alabama drove into long field goal range, but Auburn’s T’Sharvan Bell made one of the plays of the game, sacking Greg McElroy at the Tigers 40-yard line and forcing a punt with just five minutes to play. Auburn killed all but a minute of the remaining time, and Alabama quickly went four-and-out in desperation time to end the game and preserve Auburn’s national title hopes.

The Tigers, of course, went on to claim that national title that had eluded them for so long despite perfect seasons in 1993 and 2004, downing Oregon on the final play of the BCS National Championship Game, 22-19. It was the second of four straight national champions from the state of Alabama. Newton won Auburn’s third Heisman Trophy, joining Pat Sullivan (1971) and Bo Jackson (1985).

Six years to the day later in Columbus, as they will this Saturday, No. 3 Michigan and No. 2 Ohio State played for a likely playoff berth, in the 113th rendition of The Game.

Michigan led most of the way, but Ohio State had a chance to tie the game midway through the fourth quarter with a chip-shot 21-yard field goal. Somehow, Tyler Durbin pushed the kick wide left, and Michigan’s 17-14 lead held. The Wolverines couldn’t manage a first down, giving J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes one last chance to tie or win the game.

Ohio State quickly marched down the field to set up a goal-to-go situation with two minutes left, but the Buckeyes went backwards thanks to a false start penalty and two negative runs from Barrett. The junior quarterback redeemed himself with a 14-yard completion to Noah Brown on third down, giving Durbin another chance to tie the game from short distance on the final play of regulation. Durbin atoned for his earlier error and sent the game to overtime.

The teams traded touchdowns, with Michigan needing a fourth-down completion to keep the game alive, before Ohio State’s defense stood tall to hold Michigan to a field goal in the top of the second overtime. The Buckeyes faced 4th and 1 at the Wolverines 16-yard line, and controversy ensued.

Urban Meyer opted to go for it, and Barrett kept the ball. He was marked right at the 15-yard line, but replays didn’t show conclusive evidence either way. The call on the field stood, and in my mind, the call was correct. Those in Ann Arbor felt differently. However, the game continued, but only for one play.

Ohio State handed it off to wide receiver Curtis Samuel, who turned the corner and scampered down the sideline for a 15-yard touchdown that ended the game. The Ohio State win sent 10-2 Penn State to the Big Ten Championship Game and the 11-1 Buckeyes, which had lost to the Nittany Lions a month prior, to the College Football Playoff despite not even winning the Big Ten East. All three had their seasons end in disappointment. Michigan lost to Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Penn State, after winning the conference title, lost a classic Rose Bowl to USC, and Ohio State was embarrassed in a 31-0 loss to No. 2 Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.

 

Trivia Answers

1. Bill Oliver, Auburn (1998)

2. Houston Nutt (Arkansas to Ole Miss) and Dan Mullen (Mississippi State to Florida)

3. 1970 (0-7, Southwest Conference)

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.