- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Now that Week 11 is behind us, we’ll break out our weekly thermometer in the SEC.
It’s that time again. Who’s hot and who’s not?
Dak Prescott’s courage: Less than a week after his mother, Peggy, lost her courageous battle with colon cancer, Prescott honored his late mother with a courageous performance on Saturday against Texas A&M. Mississippi State lost the game 51-41, but Prescott won a lot of hearts and even more respect with the way he dug down deep, channeled his emotions and played lights out against the Aggies. He came off the bench in the first quarter and kept the Bulldogs in the game with 303 yards of total offense. Prescott passed for 149 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for a career-high 154 yards on 16 carries. A couple of different times in the game, Prescott took pretty good hits and was slow to get up, but he kept getting back up and kept making plays for his team. Prescott spent most of last week in Louisiana with his family and attended his mother’s funeral on Wednesday. But he was right back with the Bulldogs on Thursday and determined to honor his mother’s memory by being there for his teammates. Prescott tweeted last week, “Heaven gained an Angel.” You can bet that Angel is one proud mom.
Missouri receiver Dorial-Green Beckham: Sort of flying along under the radar this season, Green-Beckham delivered a record-breaking day on Saturday in the 48-17 win over Kentucky. Green-Beckham set a school record with four touchdown catches. In just one game, he nearly doubled his touchdown output for the entire season. He came into the game with five touchdown catches in his previous nine contests.
Tennessee’s run defense: The Vols are bringing up the rear in the SEC when it comes to stopping the run, and by a wide margin. They gave up 444 yards on the ground last week in a 55-23 loss to Auburn and 339 yards the week before in a 31-3 loss to Missouri. That’s 783 yards in two games. The Vols are allowing 225.9 yards per game on the ground, which is 27 more yards per game than they averaged giving up a year ago in what was one of the worst defensive performances in school history.
Alabama’s schedule: Until last weekend, Alabama’s schedule was an easy target. The Crimson Tide really hadn’t beaten anybody other than Texas A&M, and perhaps tired of hearing about their cushy schedule, they went out and beat up on then-No. 13 LSU 38-17 thanks to a dominant second half. To be fair to the Tide, when you look at their entire schedule and extend it out through a potential SEC championship game appearance, it will end up being more demanding than the schedules of the other unbeaten contenders in the national championship race. Alabama has already played two top-15 teams in the BCS standings (LSU and Texas A&M) and could face two more -- No. 7 Auburn and either No. 9 Missouri or No. 10 South Carolina in the SEC championship game. Compare that with Florida State, Ohio State and Baylor.
Manziel’s chances to return: Nobody is really coming out and saying it, but Johnny Manziel’s five-touchdown performance last week in the win over Mississippi State was almost certainly his final game at Kyle Field. For that matter, it was likely the last game star receiver Mike Evans will play at Kyle Field as well. Even back in the summer, the feeling in and around the Texas A&M program was that Manziel would take his shot at the NFL following this season. I’m not sure Kyle Field will ever see another one quite like Johnny Football. The only thing more fun than watching him play would be partying with him. That is, assuming you’re a partier.
Vanderbilt’s resolve: A lot of people might have counted Vanderbilt down and out a couple of different times this season, especially with that rape investigation hanging over the program. But third-year coach James Franklin is one tough dude and so is his football team. These Commodores have personified resolve, and now they’re in great position to go to a bowl game for the third straight season. They hadn’t won at Florida since 1945, and this also marks the first time in school history that they’ve beaten both Florida and Georgia in the same season.
LSU’s ball security: The Tigers have lost their last two SEC games, to Alabama and Ole Miss, and have turned the ball over five times in those two losses. Three of the five turnovers have come with LSU driving, too. J.C. Copeland’s fumble against Alabama came on second-and-goal at the 3 and completely changed the complexion of that game. Against Ole Miss, two of Zach Mettenberger’s three interceptions occurred in the end zone for touchbacks, both coming on first down.
Florida’s bowl streak: This is obviously not what anybody is used to at Florida right now. The reeling Gators are 4-5 and have lost four straight after losing 34-17 at home last weekend to Vanderbilt, Florida’s first loss at home to Vanderbilt since the end of World War II. The Gators’ 22-year bowl streak -- the longest in the SEC -- is in serious jeopardy. They will need to win two of their last three games to qualify for a bowl, which means they would have to upset No. 10 South Carolina in Columbia this Saturday and then take down No. 2 Florida State at home the final weekend of the regular season. In other words, the Gators can plan to spend this postseason at home. Of course, given the halfhearted turnout by Florida fans at the Sugar Bowl last season, I can’t imagine they will be stewing over not having the chance to spend a few days in Memphis or Birmingham this December. But what they are stewing over is the direction of the program right now, and in particular the continued struggles on offense. It’s not just the offense, either. Some of the dumb penalties have been inexplicable. Third-year coach Will Muschamp is as mentally tough as they come, but he faces an uphill climb. Unless there’s a sudden change of heart at the top at Florida, Muschamp is going to get a fourth year. And with all the injuries the Gators have suffered this season, he should get a fourth year. Muschamp and his staff did a super job in 2012 of squeezing out 11 wins and getting to a BCS bowl game. But now he has to prove to athletic director Jeremy Foley that he’s the long-term answer for this program. That’s going to take some doing, but at the very least, it appears that Muschamp is going to get a fourth year to prove it.