Wednesday, November 21, 2012
What to watch in the SEC: Week 13
By Edward Aschoff
It's a big final week in the SEC, so here's what to watch out for:
1. SEC championship matchup: We already know that Georgia is locked into its spot in the SEC championship game, but its opponent hasn't been determined yet. Obviously, the overwhelming favorite is Alabama, which takes on hapless Auburn, but LSU and Texas A&M are still in the mix. Alabama goes to Atlanta with a win or if LSU, which plays Arkansas, and A&M, which plays Missouri, lose. LSU has to win and hope that at least Alabama loses because it owns the tiebreaker with the Aggies. The Aggies needed Alabama and LSU to lose.
2. BCS bound? The BCS is SEC heavy at the top and six teams could all still make a BCS bowl game. Wins by Alabama and Georgia pretty much guarantee that the winner in Atlanta is headed to Miami for the Discover BCS National Championship Game. But the most interesting BCS scenario revolves around Florida. The Gators are fourth in the BCS standings, and with a win over Florida State on Saturday, they probably are headed to a BCS bowl game at 11-1. If Notre Dame loses and Florida wins, the Gators could back right into the national championship. LSU and A&M are still alive as well for a BCS bowl, but both need to win and need Florida to lose. South Carolina is 12th in the BCS, so the Gamecocks have to beat Clemson and need Florida, LSU and A&M to lose in order to get that second BCS slot for the SEC.
3. Making the bowl cut: Two SEC teams are still looking for bowl berths. The SEC won't fill all of its bowl slots, but it's also in real danger of sending only eight teams unless Ole Miss and Missouri win this weekend. The Rebels host archrival Mississippi State at home in an Egg Bowl that has real significance this year. The Tigers have an even tougher task, as they head to College Station to take on red-hot Texas A&M. Ole Miss wasn't even supposed to be in this situation, but now that it is, a loss would be a big disappointment for players. Missouri was expected to compete in the SEC, so not making a bowl would be a major disappointment for a program that had so much confidence coming into its new league.
Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel has one more chance to impress Heisman voters Saturday against Mizzou.
4. One last Heisman push: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is at the top of the Heisman list, and he'll have one last chance to impress voters around the country against Missouri's defense. The Tigers have been decent on defense and get their best player, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, back from suspension. But only two defenses have been able to stop Johnny Football this season, and they currently rank fourth and fifth nationally in total defense. Missouri comes in at 40th nationally in total defense, giving up 367.4 yards per game. Manziel is averaging 378.3 yards of total offense in games this season.
5. A very strong SEC finish: People keep crowing that the SEC is overrated, but the BCS standings beg to differ. Six teams are ranked in the top 12 of the standings and there's a chance that the conference could end the weekend with three one-loss teams and three two-loss teams. A win by Mississippi State, and the Bulldogs wouldn't just have nine wins but could be back in the Top 25 of the BCS standings as well, giving the conference seven in the Top 25. A Vanderbilt win also could propel the Commodores into the Top 25 with their eight wins. Wins by Florida and South Carolina over top-11 BCS teams will be icing on the cake for the conference.
6. Playing for four quarters: Ole Miss has had to swallow three tough losses in a row because of second-half letdowns. The Rebels were down four to Georgia at halftime a few weeks ago, but were outscored 23-0 in the second half. They were then outscored 45-24 in their losses to Vanderbilt and LSU. If Ole Miss is going to stop its three-game losing streak to Mississippi State, it has to play an entire game Saturday. There can't be a second-half lull like the past three weeks. The Bulldogs don't have the depth issues that Ole Miss has, so they can go deeper into games with more options on the field. The Rebels will have a ton of emotion going into this game, but Hugh Freeze needs his team to finally get back to playing four-quarter football or its shot at a bowl will be lost.
7. Crazy 8s: If Vanderbilt can get past Wake Forest on the road, they'll reach eight wins for the first time since 1982. Talk about a total turnaround by Vanderbilt under the watch of James Franklin. He has made this program really relevant in the SEC and the Commodores are no longer a pushover. They are riding a five-game winning streak and are already bowl eligible. The Commodores are headed to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history. Vandy's offense is hot right now, and Wake Forest is giving up 433 yards a game and 30 points a contest.
8. Coaching finales: The SEC will officially say goodbye to two head coaches Saturday. Kentucky's Joker Phillips will coach his final game for the Wildcats when they take on Tennessee in Knoxville. Arkansas' John L. Smith also will coach his final game with the Hogs against LSU on Friday. Smith held interim status all year after the dismissal of Bobby Petrino and while he has publicly said he's confident about his coaching future, it won't be as Arkansas head coach after Saturday. Kentucky made the announcement about Phillips weeks ago, but he decided to coach through the last two weeks of the season. Tennessee also cut ties with Derek Dooley; offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will coach the Vols Saturday. Things are at a boiling point in Auburn, so this could be Gene Chizik's final game as the Tigers' coach when they take on No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
9. Jeff Driskel's health & Florida's offense: Florida's 10 wins haven't all been pretty, and Saturday doesn't figure to be very pretty for the Gators' offense with the nation's No. 1 defense lining up opposite them. With Driskel hobbled by a bad ankle, no one knows how durable or how effective he'll be this Saturday. He will play, but for how long has yet to be determined. Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease are surely working this week to put him and the offense in the best positions to make plays, considering Driskel won't be 100 percent. Expect a lot more Mike Gillislee and some more Wildcat with Trey Burton. Maybe Jacoby Brissett will take some snaps. The bottom line is that the Gators can't trot out the same offense that has taken the field in recent weeks, or they won't stand a chance Saturday.
10. Stopping Clemson's offense: The Gamecocks are quietly ranked 13th nationally in total defense (310 yards per game) and scoring defense (17.5). What might be the most impressive stat is how this once-young and relatively inexperienced secondary is allowing under 200 yards passing a game. But South Carolina's defense will face its toughest test of the season Saturday when it travels to Clemson. The Tigers are averaging 535 yards a game and scoring 44 points a contest. Clemson can do it through the air with Tajh Boyd and his talented duo of DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins (121 combined catches for 1,842 and 18 TDs), and on the ground with Andre Ellington (959 rushing yards). In order for the Gamecocks to get their fourth straight win over Clemson, the defense has to play its best game of the season.