SEC: Florida Gators
Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher ended a six-game skid to Florida in his first season as head coach in Tallahassee, and now he has Florida State on the verge of its fourth win in five seasons against the Gators. In all three FSU wins under Fisher, the Gators have been held to seven points.
Adding to the rivalry this season has been quarterback Jameis Winston, who has goaded Gators fans seeking his autograph by signing his name and last year’s score, 37-7, on the Florida memorabilia.
However, Florida has the distinction of being the last team to hand FSU a loss, although it came all the way in 2012, 27 games ago.
ESPN reporters Edward Aschoff and Jared Shanker break down the classic ACC-SEC rivalry:
Key to victory for Florida State: Jimbo Fisher said he will dial up the film of Florida’s win over Georgia because the Bulldogs employ former FSU assistant Jeremy Pruitt as defensive coordinator, and the Noles still run a similar scheme. Florida State has struggled to stop the rush all season, and Florida ran all over Georgia. What Florida State has to do, as it has all season, is stop the run in pivotal situations. Florida State is significantly better against the run in the second half, and if the Noles can keep Florida’s offense off the field in the second half, it will give Winston the requisite time needed for a comeback if it once again comes to that.
X-factor for Florida: While running the ball will be key for the Gators, you have to take Winston out of the game. Winston is very good against the rush, but you have to force him into bad situations if you want to beat him. Putting pressure on him will be key for Florida’s defense, and that’s where end/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. comes in. The future first-round draft pick has been one of the SEC’s most disruptive players this season (credited with 15 quarterback hurries), and if he can force Winston to rush his throws it will be a major advantage for Florida’s defense.
X-factor for Florida State: There’s no point in ignoring the obvious. Anytime Winston suits up for Florida State, he is the Seminoles’ X-factor. He is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and college football’s premier prime-time player. No deficit to this point has been too large for Winston, who continually rises to the occasion in the game’s tensest moments. He leads the country with four game-winning drives in the fourth quarter and has a QB rating of 194.26 when trailing by 15 or more points. For Florida to win, it will have to keep Winston out of the end zone for more than just the first half.
Aschoff’s favorite moment from the rivalry: Watching Warrick Dunn in this rivalry was fun, and so was having the game decide the national championship after the 1996 season. But two memories really stick out to me because I was actually there for them: Ron Zook getting carried off the field in 2004 (didn’t they rename the field “Ron Zook Field” after that?) and the 2008 Florida team’s impressive rain-soaked win in Tallahassee. The one thing about the 2008 game that really sticks out is how Tim Tebow, covered in garnet paint, taunted FSU’s student section after a touchdown because Seminoles fans cheered when Percy Harvin went down with an ankle injury. To this day, that 2008 Florida team is the best team I’ve ever covered.
Shanker’s favorite moment from the rivalry: No doubt those games were memorable ones and that 2008 image of Tebow will live on this rivalry’s lore for quite some time. However, I’m going with the 1994 “Choke at Doak.” I’ve watched it a handful of times over the last few years with the 20-year anniversary being this week, and it’s crazy how so many little plays added up to help FSU overcome a 31-3 deficit to tie it in the final minutes. That ’94 comeback makes this 2014 season look tame by comparison. This season’s renewal could go down in history, too, if Muschamp leaves like Zook did. I don’t know if Nole Nation would be able to take that a second time.
There are games with playoff implications, division implications and bowl implications to choose from. There's even a Friday afternoon game to get you through to the weekend.
The SEC's regular season has been crazy so far. Now it's time to see whether it ends with a flourish.
Friday, Nov. 28
Arkansas at No. 17 Missouri, CBS: All right, Missouri, you've been doubted all season. You've been knocked as soft on defense and woefully inconsistent on offense. You were laughed out of the room when you lost to Indiana. But here you are a win away from claiming the Eastern Division crown for a second straight season. The only thing standing in your way is Arkansas, which has won back-to-back SEC games in convincing fashion.
Saturday, Nov. 29
Kentucky at No. 22 Louisville, ESPN2: If Mark Stoops' Kentucky Wildcats are going to reach a bowl game ahead of schedule, it's not going to be easy. It would mean breaking a five-game losing streak on the road at Louisville, which would easily be their most impressive win of the season. The problem is the Cardinals boast one of the best defenses in the country.
South Carolina at No. 21 Clemson, ESPN: There's not a lot on the line for either team other than pride, which is good because there's plenty of it in this rivalry. The back-and-forth between Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney the past few years has been worth the price of admission, and on Saturday we'll find out whether the Head Ball Coach can extend his winning streak over Clemson and Swinney to six games.
No. 16 Georgia Tech at No. 9 Georgia, SEC Network: If Missouri somehow loses to Arkansas and gives Georgia the Eastern Division title, that's not the end of the story. Because if the Bulldogs want to somehow sneak back into the playoff conversation, it will take more than backing into Atlanta. It will take beating Georgia Tech convincingly, and that won't be easy seeing as the Yellow Jackets average 327.9 yards per game rushing and have won four games in a row.
No. 4 Mississippi State at No. 19 Ole Miss, CBS: Talk about two teams going in opposite directions. On the one hand, there's Ole Miss, which fell deeper into the dumps last week by losing at Arkansas 30-0. On the other hand, there's Mississippi State, which redeemed itself after a tough loss at Alabama by beating Vanderbilt 51-0. With the Bulldogs playing for a spot in the playoff and the Rebs playing for pride, it's clear which team has the greater inspiration to win the Egg Bowl.
Florida at No. 3 Florida State, ESPN: Speaking of inspiration, it will be interesting to see how Florida comes out for coach Will Muschamp's final time leading the Gators. Will his end be Ron Zookian? Or will it be one final, unceremonious note? While that's unclear, one thing is certain: Florida State likes to make things interesting. The Seminoles have struggled against teams they were supposed to blow out before. Could we be looking at a repeat?
Tennessee at Vanderbilt, SEC Network: Not a lot of people thought Tennessee would make a bowl game this year. Not with a schedule that included tough nonconference games against Utah State, Arkansas State and Oklahoma. But lo and behold, the Vols are one game away from bowl eligibility, and the only opponent left is Vanderbilt. Easy, right? It should be, seeing as the Commodores haven't won an SEC game all season.
No. 15 Auburn at No. 1 Alabama, ESPN: The best Auburn can hope for is to play the role of spoiler, to crush Alabama's dreams of an SEC title and a playoff berth with one final regular-season swing. And in a rivalry as intense as the Iron Bowl, that might be enough. But the fact of the matter is Auburn just isn't playing good football these days. Alabama has won huge games against LSU and Mississippi State in recent weeks, while Auburn has fallen woefully flat with losses to Texas A&M and Georgia.
Here are five who stood out and six more notables:
DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
What he did: In the Volunteers' loss to Missouri, Barnett finished second on the team with eight tackles, plus he posted half a tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries.
What it means: The freshman continues to be one of the SEC's most consistent pass-rushers, increasing his total of tackles for loss to 18.5 against Mizzou. He is second in the SEC in TFLs and his nine sacks are tied for third with teammate Curt Maggitt.
KOR Evan Berry, Tennessee
What he did: The little brother of Volunteers legend Eric Berry, Evan returned four kickoffs for 121 yards (30.3 yards per return) against Missouri, including a 58-yard runback in the second quarter that set up a field goal.
What it means: The freshman speedster took over the kickoff return duties around midseason and has handled the job extremely well. In 13 returns, Berry is averaging 30.9 yards per return with a long of 68 yards against Chattanooga. He has a return of at least 33 yards in each of the six games where he has returned a kick.
RB Nick Chubb, Georgia
What he did: Chubb's string of games with at least 140 rushing yards ended at five, but only because the Bulldogs didn't need to use Chubb after the earlygoing against Charleston Southern. He accumulated 113 rushing yards on just nine carries and scored on touchdown runs of 83 and 8 yards.
What it means: He piled up all of that yardage in the first half alone, so it's not like Chubb's production dropped off at all in the blowout win. In fact, the 83-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was Georgia's longest since 1985 and the eighth-longest in school history. Entering this weekend's game against Georgia Tech, Chubb has 1,152 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns and is a full-fledged star who no longer sits in Todd Gurley's shadow.
QB Treon Harris, Florida
What he did: Harris suffered a knee injury in the second quarter of Florida's blowout win against Eastern Kentucky and sat out most of the second half of the 52-3 victory. To that point, he was 4-for-12 passing for 162 yards and two touchdowns, plus he had run five times for 8 yards.
What it means: The good news is that Harris' knee contusion will not keep him out of this week's game against Florida State. Harris has helped the Gators' offense become more effective since he entered the starting lineup four games ago -- a stretch where Florida is 3-1.
DL Gerald Willis, Florida
What he did: Willis recovered a fumble that set up a touchdown and also recorded five tackles and a quarterback hurry in Florida's blowout win against Eastern Kentucky.
What it means: Willis was a huge recruit for the Gators, but has had a quiet first season for the most part. He has just 10 tackles in six games this fall. Willis and several youngsters on the defensive line had good games on Saturday, showing that the future should be bright along the line of scrimmage in 2015 and beyond.
DB Todd Kelly Jr., Tennessee: Recorded a career-high six tackles against Missouri.
PK Aaron Medley, Tennessee: Made field goals of 38 and 39 yards and hit his only PAT try against Missouri.
DB Malkom Parrish, Georgia: Recorded four tackles and a tackle for loss against Charleston Southern.
PK Gunnar Raborn, Alabama: Made field goals of 20 and 28 yards and went 6-for-6 on PATs in a 48-14 win against Western Carolina.
WR Cam Sims, Alabama: Caught a 4-yard touchdown pass for Alabama's first score and finished with three receptions for 33 yards against Western Carolina.
RB Roc Thomas, Auburn: Ran five times for 26 yards against Samford and scored on a 1-yard run, plus he made two receptions for 2 yards.
2. Tired of the “kick-six” yet? I promise this will be the last link. But if you haven’t already, I suggest you go and read Jon Solomon’s piece on how the effects of one of the wildest finishes in college football history are still being felt. It will be worth your time. The Iron Bowl rivalry itself is known for the passion and animosity felt between the two fan bases, but it’s not always that way. Earlier this season, I wrote a story on Alabama quarterback Blake Sims and how he wore a bracelet in support of Kayla Perry, an Auburn student with a rare form of pediatric cancer. Well now, Perry and an Alabama student who has a similar condition will attend Saturday’s game thanks to Kristi Malzahn, wife of Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. Kristi surprised the two girls by inviting them to attend the game with her. Watch their story here.
3. Arkansas and Missouri might be cross-division foes that will meet every season unless the SEC changes its schedule. They might have a huge game this Friday with SEC title hopes on the line. But they’re not rivals, not yet at least. The two sides haven’t played in the regular season since 1963, and they have only met five times ever. Give it time, though. It’s already catching on with some of the players. “Arkansas, they have the word Kansas in it, so it’s got to be a rival,” said Missouri center Evan Boehm. One team who will be directed by Friday’s game is Georgia. If Missouri loses, the Bulldogs are headed to Atlanta for the SEC championship. However, Mark Richt is not planning any Arkansas-Missouri viewing parties for his team.
Around the SEC
- Corey Grant gets his last crack at the Tide three years after leaving Alabama for Auburn.
- Gators’ Jeff Driskel returns to Florida State as the last quarterback to beat the Seminoles.
- Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason has a new name for rival Tennessee: “the team out east.”
Congrats to @15_DakP on being named a finalist for the Maxwell and Davey O'Brien awards. Couldn't have happened to a better young man!— Brian Johnson (@BDJohnson3) November 26, 2014
And the SEC got another team bowl eligible, as Arkansas earned its sixth win with a 30-0 victory over Ole Miss. So that's 11 bowl-eligible teams and counting in the SEC, including the entire SEC West.
As we head into the final week of regular-season play ahead of the SEC championship game, two teams have a shot at claiming bowl eligibility that haven't already: Kentucky and Tennessee. Kentucky's task is tough, going to No. 22 Louisville, Tennessee's is considerably more feasible, as the Volunteers travel to Vanderbilt.
Georgia, if it wins this weekend against Georgia Tech, looks to be in good position for a New Year's Six bid. There's still much to be decided, with the Egg Bowl and the Iron Bowl on deck. Alabama and Mississippi State must win to maintain their spots, if they don't, chaos will ensue.
But assuming the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs prevail, here's how we think it'll pan out as of today, with 12 SEC bowl-eligible teams projected:
College Football Playoff semifinal (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Alabama
College Football Playoff semifinal (Sugar Bowl): Mississippi State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Georgia
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Auburn
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Ole Miss
TaxSlayer Bowl: Florida
Outback Bowl: Missouri
AdvoCare 100 Texas Bowl: Texas A&M
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Tennessee
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: LSU
Belk Bowl: South Carolina
Birmingham Bowl: Arkansas
Florida carried Ron Zook off the field in his final game, an upset that remains so memorable, people continue to point to that win 10 years later.
Especially this week.
Because everybody wants to know: Can the Gators win one for Champ, the way they won one for the Zooker?
The similarities between Zook’s last triumph over Florida State and the 2014 Gators headed into the Florida State game on Saturday are too similar to ignore.
Both Florida teams 6-4. Both heavy underdogs. Both playing for an outgoing coach.
“We were in the same position those guys are in this year,” said former Florida running back Ciatrick Fason, a captain on the 2004 team. “Our coach got fired. We hadn’t beaten them in Tallahassee in a very long time, so it made us want to go out there and play for Coach Zook but also win at Doak. It happened to be on the same day they were naming the field for coach (Bobby) Bowden, so we wanted to go up there and upset every celebration they had.”
In the days leading up to the game, nobody gave down-and-out Florida much of a chance against the No. 10 Seminoles. Florida State had one of the best defenses in the country and had shut down just about every running back that came its way.
But Florida believed it had nothing to lose. To the Gators, all the pressure belonged to Florida State.
“Nobody expected us to win, and that just mentally makes you feel like, ‘We can go out here and cut it loose. Don’t worry about mistakes. We can go for it on fourth-and-2 or fourth-and-3 because we’ve got nothing to lose and Florida State has everything to lose,’" Fason said. "As a Gator, we know we’re trying to keep them from get a national championship, and it being a rival game with nothing to lose that works to our advantage.”
Fason also believes the way Florida played in 2004 caught Florida State off guard. He ended up with 100 yards rushing in the game and was a big reason why the Gators won, saying the Seminoles were not prepared for their smash-mouth style.
After Florida took a 10-3 lead into halftime, Fason told his teammates he wanted them to carry Zook off the field if they ended up winning. They assembled around him in the final minute, a 20-13 win theirs to celebrate.
“As soon as that final tick went off the clock, everybody picked up Coach Zook,” Fason said. “It was the best moment of my life.”
And it still remains one of the top moments not only in Gators football history, but in Zook's career. Mike Degory, the starting center on the 2004 team, later coached with Zook at Illinois. Even there, Zook talked about the way the Gators won his final game there.
“He always used to say how much it meant to him, and how much he felt the commitment from the players was there,” Degory recalled. “Everybody knows after this week, Coach Muschamp is going to be looking for another job, but the players feel a lot of commitment to that coach. We wanted to send Coach Zook out a winner. What we had 10 years ago was a connection with Coach Zook. Deep down in my heart, that is the guy that I wanted to play for and we wanted to echo that by giving him that victory.”
Muschamp was even asked about it during his press conference earlier this week in Gainesville.
“That isn't going to help us win the game. I can assure you of that,” he said. “So we'll prepare well and we'll go up there and play well. That's what we need to do.”
Florida has a history of doing that under Muschamp. It was two years ago Florida went into Doak Campbell Stadium and forced five turnovers in a 37-26 win. Florida was a much better team then -- ranked higher than Florida State, in fact. But it also happens to be the last time the Seminoles lost.
Since then, Florida has not come close to another 11-win season, while Jimbo Fisher has won two ACC championships, one national championship and 27 straight games. But this season, Florida State has played in so many close games, the expectation is this will be another close one.
Especially if the Gators play as emotionally as they did for Zook in 2004.
“Emotion always counts, but I think at the end of the day, execution wins,” Fisher said. “Hopefully, we'll be emotional. To play Florida, our kids will be high. Our kids will be excited. I think you'll see two teams that are emotionally and physically ready to play, and then who can go out and execute and win the battles in the physical and mental execution will be the team that wins.”
In one of the greatest installments of the longtime Florida-Florida State rivalry, the stakes were once again high as both teams were situated in the top 10 at kickoff -- just like the 13 other times from '90-2000. The Gators, ranked No. 4, were also hoping to match FSU's first national title with their own in '94.
Florida coach Steve Spurrier, never one to shy away from offering a punch line at the expense of a rival school or coach, stoked the fire earlier in the year when he called FSU "Free Shoes University," referring to a report that agents picked up a $6,000 tab that Seminoles players rang up at a Foot Locker near FSU.
"You respect [Spurrier], but he's like a crazy uncle," Andre Wadsworth, a defensive end on that '94 Noles team, said. "I never did like Florida. Growing up in Miami, I only respected the Canes and FSU. The Gators didn't play [Miami]. I don't care about the excuse of being in the SEC and all that nonsense."
Spurrier has always been good at getting opponents' blood boiling, but up until that point, he had not beaten his cross-state rival in Tallahassee and was 1-3 overall against Bobby Bowden.
"We were aware at that point that Steve had not won in Doak Campbell, and, I don't know if that meant anything to the players but it meant something to the coaches," said Mickey Andrews, FSU' defensive coordinator from '84-2010. "Steve, part of his deal, was trying to get under the skin of another coach. Everybody thinks some things but Steve thinks out loud. I'm sure some of the stuff bothered Coach Bowden."
When the time came to stop the talking and work it out on the field, the Gators looked as if they'd back up their words, jumping out to a 31-3 lead. Florida began resting its starters in the third quarter. Then, somehow, the momentum began to shift. Florida State made defensive play after defensive play and the offense did nothing but score touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
By the time to clock turned to zero, the scoreboard read 31-31.
It was a tie, but yet everyone involved remembers a Florida State win and a Florida loss..
"It is a pretty dang good win ... I mean tie," was Bowden's postgame Freudian slip.
Twenty years later, Florida State still beams with pride; Florida is still haunted with regret.
Here's the oral history of the 1994 "Choke at Doak" from the people who lived it.
To read the rest of Jared Shanker's full oral history, click here.
As always there was a ton of recruiting news from around the Southeastern Conference. There was a big commitment, there were key visits and new offers over the weekend. Here's a closer look at the top recruiting news from around the conference.
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Well, yes. Because the results carry even more significance now that we are in in the College Football Playoff era. Just look at the way the ACC has been dismissed as a conference. Unbeaten Florida State is ranked behind two one-loss teams in the only rankings that matter -- as much an indictment about the Seminoles’ close wins as it is about the perception of the ACC as a whole.
While it has been convenient for many to dismiss what Florida State has accomplished, it has been just as convenient to dismiss the accomplishments of No. 18 Georgia Tech, No. 22 Louisville and No. 24 Clemson. But it may be less difficult to do so if all four teams come through and all win this weekend.
The last time Florida State, Georgia Tech and Clemson swept their SEC rivals was in 2000. The last time they posted a winning record against them was in 2008, when Georgia Tech and Clemson came out victorious. That also happens to be the last time both teams won their SEC rivalry game.
This might be their best shot at a sweep in years. With Kentucky-Louisville now added into the mix, the Cards, Florida State and Clemson are favored to win. All three are at home; all three are the only teams ranked in the matchup. Georgia Tech is the only underdog, though the Jackets go into their game off a bye, with a four-game winning streak under their belts.
To take it one step further, the FPI game projections show:
- Florida State with a predicted 73 percent win percentage over Florida.
- Louisville with a predicted 77 percent win percentage over Kentucky.
- Clemson with a predicted 62.5 percent win percentage over South Carolina.
- Georgia with a predicted 80 percent win percentage over Georgia Tech.
“Winning would help the league a lot but it’s going to be how does the media portray it?” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “When I was here in ’08, my first year, we beat Georgia and Clemson beat South Carolina … but nobody said much about it. It was like, ‘Oh.’ Now the next year when they beat us, it was a big deal so would it help the league? Sure. Anytime we can go head to head with the SEC and win a game it helps the league.”
Johnson brings up an excellent point. Will a potential sweep be diminished in value because they are all against SEC East teams? Georgia is the only ranked SEC squad in the group. Florida and South Carolina have been disappointments; Kentucky is not bowl eligible. Georgia is the only school among the four with a winning record in SEC play.
So the East is not even close to its counterparts in the West, creating a no-win situation. If the ACC does well in these games, people may not dish out as much credit as they should. If the ACC winds up with a losing record, get ready for more finger pointing and laughter.
If we are looking a little closer at the matchups, there are two teams that cannot afford to lose: Florida State and Clemson. If Florida pulls the upset, Florida State will be out of the College Football Playoff, the worst result imaginable for a league that only has the Noles in the mix.
The stakes are high for Dabo Swinney and Clemson, too. After beating South Carolina as interim coach in 2008, he has gone 0-5. For the first time since 2009, Clemson will be the only ranked team in the matchup. Clemson has the No. 1 defense in the nation; South Carolina has the No. 87 defense in the nation. While Deshaun Watson’s status remains up in the air, the feeling is that Clemson simply cannot afford to lose this game again, not when it has so many obvious advantages.
“The last five years, we’ve had 15 turnovers and they’ve had three,” Swinney said. “That affects everything. That affects your plays per game, it affects your time of possession, it affects the way things are called, field position, on and on and on and on. That’s definitely something we have to get changed for us to have a chance to win the game. There’s no doubt about it.”
Georgia Tech also has lost five straight to Georgia, and 12 of the last 13. Last season, the Jackets blew an early 20-0 lead and lost 41-34 in double overtime. Todd Gurley scored both overtime touchdowns for the Bulldogs. He won't play Saturday.
While Georgia Tech has a Top 25 ranking and spot in the ACC championship game, a win over Georgia would only add to an already stellar season.
“The atmosphere is different about this week because it’s a must-win game,” Georgia Tech safety Jamal Golden said. “You don’t want to give them bragging rights for the next 365 days. You just have to hear it over and over again that you can’t beat them. It’s one of those games you look forward to playing.”
It’s one of those games that has to fall in the ACC win column this year.
The regular season ends this week, and it’s poised to close with a flourish as both the Iron Bowl and Egg Bowl have SEC and national implications.
Let’s take a quick look at some of this week’s top storylines in the SEC.
Game of the week: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 14 Auburn
Auburn just isn't a good football team right now. After losing to Texas A&M, the Tigers threw in the towel against Georgia. Meanwhile, Alabama has come on strong of late, winning close games against LSU and then-No. 1 Mississippi State. So the Iron Bowl should be a blowout, right? Maybe. Because when it comes to rivalry games, you can throw out the records. Alabama is playing for a spot in the SEC championship game while Auburn has nothing to lose. Sounds like a recipe for something strange to happen, right?
The last time we saw Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott on the national stage, it wasn’t pretty. He played arguably his worst game of the year against Alabama as his three interceptions led to the Bulldogs’ first loss of the season and a total knockout of his own Heisman Trophy hopes. In fact, eight of his 10 picks this season have come in his last six games. So it goes without saying that he needs to rebound. That started on Saturday against Vanderbilt, but the real test will come during the nationally televised Egg Bowl. If he plays well and helps beat Ole Miss, the Bulldogs’ playoff hopes remain alive.
This is it for Will Muschamp. His four tumultuous seasons at Florida will come to a close on Saturday. But what will be the final note of Muschamp’s tenure? Against No. 3 Florida State, it could be wild. It could be an upset. After all, it’s not like the Seminoles are dominant this year. As Louisville, Miami and Boston College have shown us, FSU is beatable. Now will Florida actually do it? Maybe not, but how crazy would that be if it happened in Muschamp’s final game?
Storyline to watch: Who will win the East?
There's nothing Georgia can do about it. If Missouri wins on Saturday, the Eastern Division title will go to the Tigers for a second consecutive season. But a win is far from guaranteed as Missouri must host the suddenly red-hot Arkansas Razorbacks. Bret Bielema's squad has come on strong this season, knocking on the door against the likes of Georgia and Alabama before finally breaking it in the past two weeks with wins over LSU and Ole Miss. So how will Shane Ray and the rest of the Missouri defense handle Alex Collins and the Arkansas running game? And how will Maty Mauk take care of the football against an Arkansas defense that forced Ole Miss into four turnovers this past weekend? A win for Missouri would win a trip to Atlanta. A loss would give Georgia the pleasure.
Intriguing matchup: Alabama front seven vs. Auburn zone-read
Alabama’s defense has been stout up the middle. Just ask Arkansas, LSU and Mississippi State, as the three power running teams had little success between the tackles against the Tide, averaging a combined 3.04 yards per carry. That’s due in no small part to Alabama’s size up front with big linemen like Brandon Ivory and physical inside linebackers like Trey DePriest. But Auburn’s zone-read attack is a different animal. While there’s power components to Gus Malzahn’s offense, it’s predicated on speed, too. Against the fleet-footed Nick Marshall and Corey Grant, Alabama’s front seven will have to pay close attention to the running lanes and not give Auburn room to run on the outside.
We saw the state of Mississippi take over the state of Alabama in one weekend. We saw the rise of Bulldogs and the fall of Gators. The West was wild and the East was,well, there.
There's SEC bias everywhere and still a chance for two SEC teams to make it into the inaugural College Football Playoff.
The SEC had two legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates in Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, who both still have at least another weekend to impress everyone.
The league started the season with seven teams ranked in the AP Poll. Six are ranked in the AP Poll now, and Alabama and Mississippi State are ranked in the top four of the College Football Playoff Rankings. Both are also still in the running for the SEC West title.
From top to bottom, this league has been way more competitive than usual. Just think about this for a second: The West will be decided by the Iron Bowl and the Egg Bowl. The Iron Bowl made plenty of sense at the beginning of the year because you had the defending SEC champs in Auburn returning just about everyone, while Alabama was Alabama.
But the Egg Bowl? Mississippi State and Ole Miss? Sure, these two teams had the personnel to compete in the West, but to have the Egg Bowl actually mean something when you think of Atlanta is great for the league. Both serious playoff aspirations, and now Ole Miss is set up to play major spoiler for the Bulldogs.
Arkansas is relevant again. Bret Bielema's Hogs are rejuvenated and dangerous. After losing 17 straight SEC games, Arkansas has now won two straight by a combined 47-0. Those wins came against LSU and Ole Miss, both ranked. And Ole Miss was still in line for a spot in Atlanta and maybe a trip to the playoff, but the Hogs saw to it that Ole Miss' special run ended in a 30-0 romp.
Texas A&M fooled us with that commanding opening victory, but then it suffered three straight SEC losses before beating Auburn, who at the time was playing like one of the nation's best teams. LSU has a slew of young talent and beat Ole Miss before taking Alabama to overtime. Just wait until next year ...
The East hasn't exactly wowed anyone all year, but with things so even, the race to Atlanta has been a fun one to follow. Georgia -- clearly the most talented team on that side of the division -- might not even make it to the title game because of losses to South Carolina and Florida, who have combined to lose nine SEC games. Those pesky Missouri Tigers are now a win away from back-to-back Atlanta trips. The team that barely had an offensive pulse for most of the SEC season just doesn't know how to lose anymore. Remember when it was embarrassed by a bad Indiana team at home and then got trounced 34-0 at home to Georgia? Well, Missouri is 5-0 since.
Mizzou isn't as good as it was last year, but that doesn't matter one bit. The defense has been outstanding in SEC play, allowing just 302.6 yards and 19.9 points per game in seven league games. With the defense being so good, Maty Mauk's inconsistent play at quarterback gets considerably overshadowed. The defense turned it up 10 notches, thanks in large part by ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden, who have combined for 22 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss.
Mizzou ain't pretty, but it's winning. Deal with it.
South Carolina was supposed to win the East, but owns the division's worst defense and loved blowing fourth-quarter leads. Then, the Gamecocks somehow beat a slightly surging Florida team in comeback fashion that cost Will Muschamp his job.
Kentucky's offense had bite during a 5-1 start, but after five straight losses, it's pumpkin time for the Wildcats. Tennessee has been so up-and-down, but the emergence of quarterback Joshua Dobbs at least makes the offense watchable. Florida had a rain out, a couple of bad blowouts, two quarterbacks, nearly three overtime games, plenty of heartache and blew out Georgia.
The SEC has been a blast. It hasn't always been great, and there's no dominant team, but there's been plenty of fun drama along the way ... and two weekends still remain.
The Gators got some good news on that front when they learned that quarterback Treon Harris, who injured his knee Saturday against Eastern Kentucky, should be able to practice this week and start against the Seminoles.
FSU might not be the juggernaut it was last season, but not much has been able to slow down the Seminoles. Not even the game officials.
Beating FSU would be a poetic ending for Will Muschamp in his final season as Florida’s head coach, who had to work to keep the team together after the news broke that he will not return in 2015.
Razorbacks playing spoiler: Bret Bielema’s Arkansas Razorbacks are suddenly the darlings of the SEC following back-to-back shutouts against LSU and Ole Miss that ended a two-year conference losing streak. Some are already discussing the Hogs as potential SEC contenders in 2015, but they still have work to do this season. They could play spoiler again with a win this weekend at Missouri. The Tigers must win to represent the SEC East in the conference championship game. Otherwise Georgia will be the Eastern Division team in Atlanta. Missouri believes it has come into its own in the second half of the season, and it’s hard to argue with a team that’s riding a five-game winning streak. In fact, the Tigers seem to be handling the underdog role fairly well.
Rocky road for Auburn: Coordinators Rhett Lashlee and Ellis Johnson made their weekly visits with reporters on Sunday night and acknowledged they’ll have their work cut out when Auburn visits No. 1 Alabama on Saturday. For one thing, they’re not entirely sure whether all of their most valuable personnel will be available. Johnson said that team sack leader DaVonte Lambert probably will not play after suffering a leg injury against Samford over the weekend. On the offensive side, Lashlee said Duke Williams is still day to day, but he’s optimistic that the star receiver will be able to play. On a separate note, Lashlee said he had a laugh afterward over Samford -- where he coached in 2011 -- using play-calling placards that featured pictures of him in Saturday’s game.
Around the SEC:
" Oxford, Mississippi, is bracing for a massive crowd for Saturday’s Ole Miss-Mississippi State game -- a matchup that could be the most pivotal game in Egg Bowl history.
" The Baton Rouge Advocate’s Ross Dellenger examines LSU’s issues at quarterback and the parallels between this season and 2008, Les Miles’ least successful season as the Tigers’ coach to this point.
" Looking toward the future, a number of young reserves got a chance to shine in Alabama’s win against Western Carolina on Saturday.
" Arkansas coach Bielema said running back Korliss Marshall will likely not return to the Razorbacks' program.
" By the numbers, rivals Georgia and Georgia Tech appear to be closely matched.
Tweet of the day
Mississippi State wide receiver commit Farrod Green sent out a very cryptic tweet in regards to Ole Miss linebacker commit Leo Lewis. The ESPN 300 linebacker has been to Ole Miss and Mississippi State several times over the last few months and looks to be torn between the two schools. He visited MSU for its 51-0 win over Vanderbilt.
Coach Lawing and I ?????????????????????? pic.twitter.com/jqr1VHVkBP— CeCe Jefferson (@cecejeferson7) November 22, 2014
Unofficial visit to University of Georgia has been great ?????? I like it ????Fans are AWESOME ?? #UGA— ToronMLB13 (@ToronMorten) November 22, 2014
Nick Chubb, Georgia: The freshman only carried the football in the first half on Saturday, but that’s all the Bulldogs needed in their 55-9 win over Charleston Southern. Chubb had nine carries for 113 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 12.6 yards per carry. It is Chubb’s sixth consecutive game of more than 100 rushing yards and despite backing up Todd Gurley the first half of the season, he is second in the SEC in rushing yards (1,039) to only Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne (1,276). Only Gurley (7.4 yards per carry) averaged more yards per tote than Chubb has this season (6.8).
Jeff Driskel, Florida: The junior has had more than his fair share of struggles in Gainesville but capped off Florida’s home schedule with a nice performance coming off the bench to relieve Treon Harris, who left with a bruised knee. Driskel scored four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) and was 9-of-11 passing for 164 yards in the Gators’ 52-3 win over Eastern Kentucky. The victory clinched bowl eligibility for Florida.
Markus Golden, Missouri: The senior defensive end said last week that he’s 100 percent healthy after playing through a nagging hamstring injury that bothered him for weeks, and it shows. He picked up two sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, six total tackles, recovered a fumble and had two quarterback hurries in Missouri’s 29-21 win over Tennessee. Golden has four sacks in his last two games and 7.5 for the season. He showed relentless effort, not just in rushing the passer, but pursuing tackles well downfield away from his customary defensive end spot.
Skai Moore, South Carolina: Moore tied for the team-lead with nine tackles and had two interceptions for the Gamecocks on Saturday in their 37-12 win over South Alabama. Moore returned his two interceptions for a combined 71 yards. The effort was part of a five-turnover performance for the South Carolina defense, the first time the Gamecocks have posted that many in a game since last November, when they had six vs. Clemson.
Martrell Spaight, Arkansas: The entire Arkansas defense was great in its 30-0 shutout win over Ole Miss, but the senior linebacker was at the heart of the effort. He had a team-high 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one pass breakup and one quarterback hurry. Spaight was hitting hard and was all over the place in the Razorbacks’ win, which was their second straight shutout and made them bowl-eligible.
12:00 PM ET South Carolina 21 Clemson 12:00 PM ET 16 Georgia Tech 9 Georgia 12:00 PM ET Kentucky 22 Louisville 3:30 PM ET Florida 3 Florida State 3:30 PM ET 4 Mississippi State 19 Ole Miss 4:00 PM ET Tennessee Vanderbilt 7:45 PM ET 15 Auburn 1 Alabama