Wednesday, November 23, 2011
What to watch in the SEC: Week 13
By Edward Aschoff
It only makes sense that the most exciting weekend in the SEC will be the last one.
Here are some things to keep an eye on Friday and Saturday after that delicious turkey dinner:
1. National championship berths: Depending on the outcomes Friday and Saturday, we could see two SEC teams punch their tickets to the national title game. A win over Auburn on Saturday will likely send Alabama to New Orleans for the big game if LSU beats Arkansas on Friday. If the Tigers win, they too might be headed to the national title game, regardless of what happens in the SEC title game against Georgia. Arkansas has a chance as well. If the Hogs win and Alabama loses, Arkansas will play in the SEC championship game and a win there will send the Hogs to the national championship. Arkansas needs Alabama to lose because even if the Hogs beat LSU, the Tigers, not the Hogs, could still appear in the national title game.
2. Twenty-seven and counting: Derek Dooley might have reiterated to his team that what Tennessee did was “kick the [expletive] out of Vandy,” but the same rowdy speech could be given when talking about Kentucky. Tennessee has won 26 straight games against Kentucky. Total dominance. Kentucky has had a very disappointing season, but would love nothing more than to end a bowl-less season with a win over rival Tennessee. However, Tennessee’s quarterback has returned. Tyler Bray was rusty against Vanderbilt, but without him, Tennessee might not be in a position this week to become bowl eligible.
3. Ten SEC bowl teams?: Speaking of bowl eligible, the SEC has a chance to send 10 teams to the postseason for the second straight year. But it won’t be easy. Seven teams are eligible, but three have a chance to get to that critical sixth win in order to be considered for postseason play. Those teams are Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs host 2-9 Ole Miss, Tennessee plays a Kentucky team it hasn’t lost to since 1984 and Vanderbilt travels to Wake Forest. Mississippi State and Tennessee probably have the best chances of getting to that sixth win, considering their opponents, while the Commodores will have to overcome their road woes to make it back to a bowl for the first time since 2008.
4. Heisman moment?: There is no question that the Heisman Trophy race is wide open. No player has yet to consistently stick out nationally, so this weekend will be big for one last Heisman moment for a few players. One of those players is Alabama running back Trent Richardson. The junior is the SEC’s top rusher (1,380 yards and 20 touchdowns), and has a strong case to be the nation’s best running back. He’s built like a tank, but can outrun some of the SEC’s most fleet-footed defenders. This weekend, all eyes will be on him as he takes on Auburn. Another strong performance on national television could keep Richardson at the top of some voters’ ballots. This is a revenge game and a national championship berth is on the line. Richardson will have no problem getting motivated.
5. Friends meeting in the Swamp: Neither Florida coach Will Muschamp nor Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher has really wanted to talk about facing each other this weekend. Everyone knows the backstory: They coached together at LSU under Nick Saban, are buds and own a beach house together. Now, they’re facing each other for the first time as head coaches in a very bitter rivalry. This game could help make both coaches’ seasons, considering the disappointments that have come along for both teams. Muschamp needs this win to finally notch another win over a rival, while Fisher needs to develop a winning streak over the Gators. This has the potential to be ugly on both sides offensively, but all anyone can wait for is the postgame handshake. Winner takes the beach house?
6. Curing those road woes: Vanderbilt has yet to get a win on the road this season, and that doesn’t bode well for a team looking to earn a bowl berth. The Commodores have to go to Wake Forest Saturday in a game that will determine if Vanderbilt makes it back to the postseason for the first time since 2008. There is no question that new coach James Franklin has one of the better, more exciting Vandy teams we’ve seen in a while, But the Commodores have seen the same results on the road and didn’t get that big, signature SEC win. A win over Wake would give the Commodores even more to be thankful for: bowl eligibility.
7. Slowing down that Clemson offense: Clemson’s offense was all the rave earlier in the year, but after a blowout loss to N.C. State last week, the Tigers are battered and bruised heading into Columbia, S.C. Waiting for them will be a hungry defense looking to put an exclamation point on South Carolina’s season. The Gamecocks don’t win games with their offense, but it hasn’t mattered much with that defense patrolling the field. South Carolina is allowing 19 points a game, and Clemson is scoring 35. The Gamecocks are giving up less than 280 yards per contest, while Clemson is racking up 465 yards. There isn’t a lot of love when these two get together, so this one should be fun.
8. Atlanta success: Georgia doesn’t like Georgia Tech, and the feeling is mutual on the other side. What really frustrates the Yellow Jacket faithful is that Georgia hasn’t lost to Georgia Tech in Atlanta since 1999 – and that was an overtime thriller. Georgia Tech’s offense is having a special year, but the Bulldogs will be back in Atlanta next week for the SEC championship game. A loss won’t knock the Dawgs out of the title game, so the pressure is off Georgia. The Yellow Jackets must protect their house better then they have against Georgia. The thing is that Georgia Tech has yet to face a defense like Georgia’s this year.
9. Redemption song: Last year’s unbearable loss to Auburn still stings around Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Crimson Tide had video of Cam Newton’s valiant comeback inside Bryant-Denny Stadium running all around Alabama’s football complex during the spring and over the summer. You better believe that the Tide is out for redemption. Alabama blew a 24-point lead to the Tigers last year and football life just hasn’t been the same for the Tide. Another loss to Auburn would ruin a great season for the Tide.
10. Emotions flowing: There will be moments this weekend in the SEC that will be bigger than football. Friday, Arkansas will take on LSU without redshirt freshman tight end Garrett Uekman, who died suddenly Sunday. Arkansas players and coaches haven’t had much media contact this week as they continue to mourn, and no one can blame them. The Razorbacks will carry heavy hearts into Baton Rouge, La. Saturday, Alabama and Auburn will meet nearly seven months after the devastating tornadoes that ravaged the state of Alabama, including the city of Tuscaloosa. Both sides of the rivalry were affected by the devastation, but reached out to help one another. There will be times Saturday when Auburn fans and Alabama fans will embrace and set football aside before the game is played.