- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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The regular-season finales are upon us. Can you believe it?
It’s safe to say there are a few compelling games around the league. Here’s a look at what to watch in the SEC in Week 13:
1. Going streaking: Everywhere you look this week there are streaks on the line. Auburn has won 11 in a row this season. Alabama has won 20 in a row at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Florida has won six in a row against Florida State. Florida coach Urban Meyer has won 17 of 18 games against the Gators’ traditional rivals (Florida State, Georgia, Miami and Tennessee). Tennessee has won 25 in a row against Kentucky. Georgia needs to beat Georgia Tech to keep its bowl streak alive. The Bulldogs have been to bowl games each of the last 13 years. Arkansas’ Knile Davis has rushed for 100 yards in four of his last five games.
2. Dominance at home: It’s one thing to win 20 consecutive games at home, which Alabama has done under Nick Saban. But to do it with the dominance the Crimson Tide have done is quite another. They’ve allowed just one rushing touchdown during the 20-game winning streak while scoring 43 of their own. During the streak, Alabama is 11-0 against SEC competition and 5-0 against nationally ranked teams. In 19 of the 20 wins, Alabama has held the opposition to 15 points or less. And in 13 of the wins, the Crimson Tide have held their opponents to single digits.
3. Farewell to underclassmen: A bevy of juniors could be playing their final regular-season games in the SEC. In fact, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper has eight juniors on his Big Board this week of the top 25 prospects in the 2011 NFL draft. Several others have shown up in the first round of mock drafts for next year. The bottom line: Make sure you say your goodbyes to the top juniors in this league this week. In particular, Alabama’s Julio Jones, Mark Ingram and Marcell Dareus; Auburn’s Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett, LSU’s Patrick Peterson, Georgia’s A.J. Green and Justin Houston, Florida’s Janoris Jenkins and Kentucky’s Randall Cobb could all be playing their final regular-season games.
4. Newton’s brilliance: It’s worth taking a second look at what kind of season Auburn quarterback Cam Newton has put together. He’s three rushing touchdowns away from becoming only the second player in NCAA history to pass for 20 touchdowns and run for 20 touchdowns in the same season. He’s already broken the SEC record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a season, and he has a chance to pass for 2,500 yards and rush for 1,500 yards, which no NCAA quarterback has ever done. Newton is leading the SEC in rushing with 1,297 yards and has accounted for 39 touchdowns in 11 games.
5. Balanced Hogs: More than ever, it’s been difficult to defend the Hogs this season. We all know about their passing game and how capable they are of stretching the field and striking quickly. But this season, they’re the only team in the country with a quarterback (Ryan Mallett) who’s passed for 3,000 yards, a running back (Knile Davis) who’s rushed for 1,000 yards and three receivers (Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and D.J. Williams) who have at least 500 receiving yards. That’s the epitome of balance and a big reason Arkansas enters Saturday’s game with LSU riding a five-game winning streak.
6. Jefferson responds for Tigers: Les Miles’ patience with junior quarterback Jordan Jefferson has been rewarded. The Tigers have 903 yards of total offense in their last two SEC games, and a big part of their success has been the success they’ve had on first down. Jefferson feels like the Tigers have attacked more on first down the last two games against SEC defenses. He was 9-of-10 on first-down throws last week against Ole Miss. And in his last six quarters against SEC defenses, he’s 17-of-25 for 351 yards. Yes, this is the same quarterback who had a miserable seven-game stretch leading into the Alabama game where he threw six interceptions and no touchdown passes.
7. Big Blue homecoming: Not only is it a homecoming for Kentucky’s Randall Cobb, who grew up about 15 minutes from Neyland Stadium in nearby Alcoa, Tenn., but his position coach just happens to be Tee Martin, who quarterbacked the Vols to the 1998 national championship. Cobb was a part of four straight state championship teams at Alcoa High and played quarterback in high school. Tennessee didn’t offer him until late. By that time, he’d made up his mind that he was going to Kentucky. Martin talked to current Tennessee coach Derek Dooley and his predecessor, Lane Kiffin, about positions on the Vols’ staff in the last two years, but got his chance to come back closer to home from New Mexico when Kentucky’s Joker Phillips offered him a job.
8. Brantley’s show?: If Florida is going to win for a seventh straight time against Florida State, the Gators will have to be able to throw the ball some to soften up the Seminoles’ defense. That’s supposed to be John Brantley’s job, but Jordan Reed has thrown touchdown passes in each of the last three games. Reed is better equipped to avoid the rush back there, which will be key. The Gators have struggled at times to protect Brantley and have given up 21 sacks on the season. The Seminoles, meanwhile, lead the country with 41 sacks.
9. Boiling Egg: Houston Nutt hasn’t fired back publicly, but he’s bristled privately at Dan Mullen’s assertion that there’s one program on the rise in the state of Mississippi. As longtime Jackson Clarion-Ledger columnist Rick Cleveland noted in his piece on the Egg Bowl earlier this week, these are indeed two coaches who don’t care for one another. It’s not a trumped up dislike, either. Both would take great delight in rubbing the other’s nose in it Saturday in Oxford. Mullen has repeatedly referred to Ole Miss as the “school up north.” Nutt has passed the whole thing off as childish gamesmanship. One thing’s for sure: Nobody has to worry about spicing up this game any.
10. Specter of a championship: Judging by the way South Carolina played last week, the Gamecocks will absolutely be ready for their game at Clemson. As rivalries go, this is an underrated one nationally and has gotten nasty at times. Still, it’s an awkward position to be in for South Carolina, knowing the SEC championship game is a week away. For what it’s worth, Steve Spurrier faced this same scenario five times when he was at Florida with Florida State and was 1-3-1 against the rival Seminoles the week before playing in the SEC championship game.