What to watch in the SEC: Week 12


It’s the unofficial week to schedule scrimmages in the SEC.

Even so, we look closer at Week 12 in the league:

1. Winning the East: Even when Georgia was 0-2 back on Sept. 10, coach Mark Richt was trying to tell people that the Bulldogs weren’t out of it and that he felt good about his football team. Obviously, Richt knew what he was talking about. The Bulldogs never panicked, took advantage of a softer schedule the rest of the way and made the necessary improvements to get to where they are right now. They’ve won eight straight games and can secure their first trip to the SEC championship game since 2005 on Saturday by beating Kentucky at home.

2. Crowell’s toughness: There’s still another level of toughness, both physical and mental, that Georgia freshman running back Isaiah Crowell needs to get to if he’s going to reach his vast potential. He’s an exceptional talent and bearing down on a 1,000-yard season. It’s not every day that a true freshman in this league rushes for 1,000 yards, but Crowell has a chance to be special once he understands that playing with bumps and bruises and being dog-tired in the fourth quarter is simply part of the game. Here’s betting he reports to preseason camp in better shape next season. He’s already had a very good season. But these next three or four games are when Georgia really needs him to turn it up a few notches.

3. Richardson’s campaign: Alabama running back Trent Richardson isn’t going to garner a lot of Heisman Trophy votes this week with the Crimson Tide going against Georgia Southern, but it might be a chance for him to get a little rest heading into next week’s regular-season finale with Auburn and whatever comes after that. The best news for Richardson is that it sounds as if Eddie Lacy is healthier, which means Alabama fans might see more of No. 42 on Saturday. He’s averaging 7.8 yards every time he carries the ball.

4. Running back by committee: There’s such a thing as running back by committee, and then there’s what LSU has done this season. The No. 1 Tigers have four running backs, and they’re using them all. What’s more, with Jordan Jefferson stepping into the starting role at quarterback last week and his ability to run the ball, LSU has a fresh set of legs carrying the ball on every possession. In the last two weeks, Michael Ford and Alfred Blue have gotten more of the work, but 240-pound freshman Kenny Hilliard was the star of the Auburn game a few weeks ago. And until his suspension, Spencer Ware was the workhorse. The bottom line is that LSU is averaging 195.1 rushing yards per game and has three different players (Ware, Ford and Blue) with more than 350 yards. Again, they just keep coming at you with fresh legs.

5. Miles can do without the advice: Speaking of LSU’s quarterback situation, LSU coach Les Miles understands and respects that there are all sorts of opinions out there about who should be starting for the Tigers and how Miles should handle his quarterback situation. Jefferson started last week after Lee had started the previous nine games. Miles said he gets that fans and media are going to analyze the whole quarterback dynamic at LSU, but added. “They’re entitled to their opinion, but that opinion has little effect on the decisions that are made within this program.”

6. Nutt’s last stand: Ole Miss’ Houston Nutt coaches in his final game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday, at least as the Rebels’ head coach, and does so against No. 1 LSU. Nutt has pulled off some of his biggest wins in the past in this type of situation. It’s a little different this time, though. The Rebels already had several players injured, and a few more, including quarterback Randall Mackey, were suspended for this game. With Nutt on his way out, everybody in Oxford wants to know who’s going to replace him. One of the guys to keep an eye on is Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora.

7. Bulldogs’ secondary vs. Hogs’ receivers: One of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend should be Arkansas’ receivers against Mississippi State’s defensive backs. The Hogs have been ripping through pass defenses with Jarius Wright and Joe Adams leading the way, although it hardly stops with just those two. The Bulldogs will counter with a couple of ball hawks in their secondary. Junior cornerback Johnthan Banks is having an All-SEC season with five interceptions and 14 passes defended, while sophomore safety Nickoe Whitley has four picks.

8. Bray’s way: How healthy will Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray be Saturday? Well, his coach, Derek Dooley, has said Bray hasn’t been close to his old self in practice this week after missing five games with a broken thumb. Bray’s teammates have painted a more positive picture, and Bray was ready to go last week against Arkanasas. It remains to be seen how rusty he is, but he had 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions before suffering the injury against Georgia. Even at 75 or 80 percent, he gives the Vols a better chance.

9. Vanderbilt’s offensive awakening: It’s been impressive what first-year coach James Franklin has been able to do with the Commodores’ program this season. They’re one win away from qualifying for a bowl game. Just don’t tell him that. That’s not even on his radar. What has been on his radar is an offense that’s made dramatic improvement during the course of the season. Quarterback Jordan Rodgers deserves a lot of the credit, but the offensive line has gotten much better. Running back Zac Stacy is closing in on the first 1,000-yard rushing season at Vanderbilt since 1995, and sophomore receiver Jordan Matthews has emerged as that big-play threat down the field for the Commodores. This doesn’t look like the same team that was kept out of the end zone in two straight games against South Carolina and Alabama.

10. Blowout City: We’ll end with a trivia question of sorts: How many of the eight games this weekend will be under 30 points? The over/under has been set at two, and that might be a tad high. In fact, we could see four or five in the 40-point range, which is what happens when you have four of your teams (Alabama, Auburn, Florida and South Carolina) playing FCS schools.