Articles By Mitch Light
Conference tournament time is back, serving as a reminder that essentially any team has a chance to play for a national championship in college basketball.
Of course, that’s not realistic, but for most of the teams in the country starting last week, the only thing that separates them from the NCAA Tournament is three, four or five wins in a row.
Last season, Ole Miss won the SEC Tournament to clinch an NCAA bid. Colorado came from obscurity two years ago to win the Pac-12 Tournament and knock regular season champion Washington to the NIT.
In our look at potential dark horses for conference tournament titles, not all of them need to win out to get into the NCAA field, but they’re certainly not the favorites to cut down nets by Saturday or Sunday.
Others, though, are conference tournament or bust and just might have the ability to catch a hot streak all the way to Selection Sunday.
ACC: NC State
The Wolfpack have been average at best for most of the season, but sophomore forward T.J. Warren has been one of the top scorers in the nation of late. He scored a total of 83 points in the final two regular-season games to power him to ACC Player of the Year honors.
The Tigers lacked consistency throughout much of the regular season, but they will have the luxury of playing the tournament on their home floor, the FedExForum. Josh Pastner’s team won its final seven AAC home games.
Atlantic 10: Dayton
The hottest team in the league started 1-5 but finished 10-6. Archie Miller, the brother of Arizona coach Sean Miller, doesn’t need to win the A-10 Tourney to get in the field, but it could happen anyway.
Big 12: Oklahoma State
The Cowboys had a losing record in league play, but this is probably the second-most talented roster in the Big 12. Marcus Smart is capable of leading his team to four wins in four days.
Big East: St. John’s
In an honest moment, most coaches in the league will tell you that St. John’s might have the most talented team in the league. The Red Storm rallied late to finish 10–8. This is a dangerous team.
Big Ten: Nebraska
Tim Miles has done a tremendous job making Nebraska basketball (or Nebrasketball) relevant in the Big Ten. The Huskers won nine of their final 10 games to earn the No. 4 seed in Indianapolis.
Mountain West: Nevada
The Wolf Pack are a streaky group with an elite point guard who can take over in Deonte Burton. The Pack finished with a losing record overall but won three of their last four, including wins over Boise State on the road and UNLV.
It was a strange season for the Ducks, who lost five in a row in January and then ended the regular season with seven straight wins. This team has a ton of weapons.
It’s always dangerous to pick Tennessee in the SEC Tournament — the Vols have not advanced to Saturday since 2010 — but this team is playing its best basketball of the season at the right time.
Picking No. 1 seeds is no fun. It’s not fun on your NCAA bracket and certainly not fun in the conference tournaments.
Not to mention it’s statistically impossible for all No. 1 seeds to advance all the way to a tournament championship.
All of the teams at No. 1 in the league tournaments have their NCAA bids wrapped up and some, including Florida and probably Arizona, already have No. 1 seeds in the NCAAs in play. In other words, a few No. 1 seeds don’t have much more they need to accomplish in the conference tournaments.
How much will that come into play this season? We’ll find out this week.
The Cavs will enter the ACC Tournament with something to prove. They won the regular-season title but probably have not been given proper credit due to their relatively soft league schedule. Tony Bennett will have his team ready to play.
Russ Smith and the defending national champs head to Memphis on a mission. A No. 1 seed is probably out of reach, but a title this weekend could vault the Cardinals to a No. 2 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Atlantic 10: VCU
Top-seeded Saint Louis is in a cold snap and few of the league’s bubble teams look like they can pull of tournament championship. VCU’s offense doesn’t always click, but the havoc defense is a difficult matchup in a tournament setting.
Big 12: Iowa State
The Cyclones are built for postseason success. They have star power (three players average at least 16 points per game), experience (two senior starters) and are very well coached.
Big East: Creighton
The Bluejays have some deficiencies on the defensive end of the floor, but they score with tremendous efficiency. This team, led by senior Doug McDermott, will be eager to shine on the big stage of Madison Square Garden.
Big Ten: Michigan
The Big Ten is loaded with elite coaches, but Michigan just might have the best game day coach in the business in John Beilein. He will find a way to lead the Wolverines to their first Big Ten Tournament championship since 1998.
Mountain West: New Mexico
The Lobos routed top-seeded San Diego State the first time around in Albuquerque and controlled the rematch until the Aztecs switched defensive game plans in the second half. New Mexico won’t be caught off guard if these teams meet a third time around.
The Wildcats have only lost three times this season — all on the road. On a neutral court, Arizona is by far the best team in the league. Look for Sean Miller’s team to coast to the title.
Florida doesn’t have a ton to play for — the Gators have already secured a No. 1 seed — but Billy Donovan has done a great job keeping his team motivated this season.
Stringing together wins in the Big Ten hasn’t been easy this season, even for the most historically consistent of teams.
Wisconsin and Ohio State have faltered since undefeated starts. A different Indiana team shows up nearly any night.
And then there’s Northwestern, winners of four of five and in fourth place in the league standings. The Wildcats are one of four teams without a losing record in conference play.
Drew Crawford has led the way in the last week in a pair of road wins over Wisconsin and Minnesota, earning Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors.
Crawford missed all but 10 games last season due to shoulder surgery but has returned to lead the Wildcats to a surprising season in the first year under coach Chris Collins. Crawford scored 30 points in a 65-56 win at Wisconsin on Wednesday and 17 points in a 55-54 win over Minnesota on Saturday.
Athlon Sports National Award Winners: Feb. 3
National Player of the Week: Drew Crawford, Northwestern
It was a huge week for the Northwestern program, which won at Wisconsin on Wednesday night by 11 and Minnesota on Saturday by one. Crawford, a fifth-year senior who flirted with transferring in the offseason, averaged 23.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in the two wins. The Wildcats, under first-year coach Chris Collins, have won three straight Big Ten road games for the first time since the 1959-60 season.
Freshman of the Week: Jordan Mickey, LSU
The Tigers had their best week of the season with home wins over Kentucky and Arkansas. One of the centerpieces was the forward Mickey. The freshman had 22 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks in an 88-74 win over Arkansas on Tuesday. Earlier in the week, Mickey added 14 points, six rebounds and five blocks in the 87-82 win over Kentucky on Tuesday.
Under-the-Radar Player of the Week: Maurice Ndour, Ohio
Ohio moved into a tie for the MAC East division and a three-way tie for the best record in the league overall thanks to a pair of double-doubles from Ndour. The junior college transfer from Senegal had 28 points and 12 rebounds in the 95-90 win over MAC leader Toledo on Saturday. Earlier in the week, Ndour had 21 points and 11 rebounds in a 71-67 win over Central Michigan.
Other Top Performers
C.J. Fair, Syracuse
Fair scored 28 points and played all 45 minutes as Syracuse held off Duke 91–89 in overtime in one of the most exciting regular-season games in recent years. Fair, a senior forward, controlled the paint for the bigger, more physical Orange, who are now ranked No. 1 in the nation with a 21–0 record.
Justin Cobbs, California
Cobbs delivered one of the most memorable shots of the season, drilling a step-back jumper with 0.9 seconds remaining to lift Cal to a 60–58 win over top-ranked Arizona. Cobbs, who scored the Golden Bears’ final 12 points, scored 19 points and handed out seven assists. The Bears had lost their previous three games.
DeAngelo Harrison, St. John’s
Harrison scored 27 points and added six rebounds and two blocked shots to lead St. John’s to a convincing 74–59 win over Marquette. The Red Storm lost their first five Big East games but have since won three of four to improve to 3–6 in the league. Harrison, a junior guard from Texas, ranks third in the conference in scoring at 18.1 points per game.
Jabari Brown, Missouri
His team came up short on Saturday afternoon — losing 84–79 at home to Kentucky — but Brown was the best player on a court loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans. Brown, a former 5-star recruit who began his career at Oregon, led Missouri with 33 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the floor and 10-of-12 from the foul line. Earlier in the week, Brown scored 24 points (on only 11 shots) in the Tigers’ 75–71 win at Arkansas.
Juwan Staten, West Virginia
Surging West Virginia won for the third time in the last four games thanks to a career day from its junior point guard. Staten, a one-time Dayton Flyer, scored 35 points and had four rebounds and five assists (and only two turnovers) in 38 minutes of action in the Mountaineers’ 81–71 win over Kansas State. West Virginia, who upset Baylor in Waco earlier in the week, is now 5–4 in the rugged Big 12.
Marcus Kennedy, SMU
SMU bounced back from a midweek loss at South Florida to beat Memphis 87–72 on Saturday in one of the biggest games the school in decades. Kennedy, a 6-9, 245-pound Philadelphia native, led the way with 21 points (on a perfect 10-of-10 from the field) and 15 rebounds for Larry Brown’s team. Kennedy has recorded a double-double in four of the last five games.
Josh Scott, Colorado
Scott scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead struggling Colorado — which had lost four of five games — to a 79–75 overtime win at home against Utah. The Buffaloes were expected to be one of the top teams in the Pac-12 but have struggled since point guard Spencer Dinwiddie went down a season-ending injury.
Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
Tennessee bounced back from a disheartening 67–41 loss at Florida with two convincing wins over SEC foes last week. Stokes, a junior forward, scored 13 points and had 14 rebounds in a midweek 86–70 win over Ole Miss and then had a dominating 22-point, 15-rebound effort in Saturday night’s 17-point victory at Alabama.
Tyler Haws, BYU
BYU has been a disappointment this season, but the Cougars are getting great production from Haws. A junior guard from Alpine, Utah, Haws averaged 35.5 points while shooting 59.5 percent from the field to lead BYU to wins over Pacific and Saint Mary’s last week. He is averaging 24.6 points.
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
With Indiana desperate for a quality win, Ferrell delivered in the clutch, scoring 27 points to lead the Hoosiers’ offense and helping slow down Michigan’s Nik Stauskas on the defensive end of the floor. Ferrell hit 8-of-10 from the floor, including 7-of-8 from 3-point range, in Indiana’s most important win of the season.
The line about shot blockers is that they can cover up a ton of their team's mistakes.
Beyond the defensive end, freshman Joel Embiid did his share of covering for his Kansas teammates on Saturday against Oklahoma State.
Perry Ellis scored only six points. Wayne Selden was 2 of 9 from the floor. And Andrew Wiggins made only one field goal against the Cowboys. Yet Kansas defeated one of the top challengers in the Big 12 80-78 thanks to an overwhelming performance from Embiid.
A contender for the top spot in the NBA Draft, Embiid finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks. He also had 16 points, nine rebounds and tow blocks in Monday’s win at Iowa State to earn Athlon Sports National Player of the Week and National Freshman of the Week honors.
In two games against then-top 10 competition, Embiid was 12 of 14 from the floor — and Kansas coach Bill Self thinks he could be getting more opportunities.
“If we would just remember to throw it to him, he is pretty good,” Self said. “That would probably help our team. If you think about it, Perry, Wayne and Wiggins, who would have thought we would win the game with those guys having off-days the way they did.”
National Player of the Week and National Freshman of the Week: Joel Embiid, Kansas
Embiid is playing like the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. The freshman center was sensational in Kansas’ 80–78 win over Oklahoma State on Saturday, scoring 13 points (on 5-of-6 shooting) with 11 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Earlier in the week, the Cameroon native scored 16 points and had nine boards and five blocks in a key Big 12 road win at Iowa State.
Under-the-Radar Player of the Week: Julius Brown, Toledo
Toledo’s steady rise in the MAC turned a key corner during the weekend as the Rockets defeated Akron, the league’s representative in the NCAA Tournament in three of the last five seasons, on the road for the first time since 2001. Brown scored 25 points in the 75-61 win over the Zips. Brown added 20 points and a game-winning buzzer beater in Wednesday’s 67-65 win over Buffalo. Toledo is 3-1 in the MAC with wins over two of the league’s better teams.
Other Primetime Players
Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall
Edwin fueled Seton Hall’s second-half rally with 19 of his 24 points in the final 17 minutes to help the Pirates beat Georgetown 67–57 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. A senior guard, Edwin connected on all five of his 3-point attempts in the second half as the Pirates turned a 10-point deficit into a 10-point win. Edwin also recorded five steals and is now the school’s all-time leader with 263. Seton Hall, now 2–3 in the Big East, had not defeated Georgetown on the road since January 2003.
Gavin Ware, Mississippi State
Ware recorded a double-double with 22 points (tying an SEC career high) and 10 rebounds to lead Mississippi State to an 81–72 overtime win over Texas A&M at home. The sophomore forward hit 8-of-11 from the field and 6-of-8 from the foul line en route to his third 20-point game of the season. Guard Craig Sword chipped in a team-high 23 points for Mississippi State, which is 2–2 in the SEC.
Kameron Woods, Butler
Four days after being held scoreless on 0-of-9 shooting in a 28-point loss at Creighton, Woods scored 16 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in Butler’s 69–57 overtime win over Marquette. The Bulldogs had been 0–5 in the Big East, with three of the five losses coming in overtime. Woods, a 6'9" sophomore, has had at least 10 rebounds in four straight games.
Drew Crawford, Northwestern
Northwestern won its first Big Ten road game in more than a calendar year thanks to a big game from Crawford, who scored 17 points and added 11 rebounds in the Wildcats’ surprising 54–47 win at Indiana. Northwestern, under first-year coach Chris Collins, is 9–10 overall and 2–4 in the Big Ten, but the Cats have won two of their last three games.
Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Stauskas scored 23 points to lead Michigan to a rare win over Wisconsin at the Kohl Center. The sophomore sharpshooter hit three 3-pointers, none more important than a step back jumper from the left side that gave the Wolverines a four-point lead with under a minute to play. Stauskas added four free throws down the stretch to secure Michigan’s first win in Madison since 1999. The Wolverines, who are playing without standout big man Mitch McGary (out for the season with a back injury), have won seven straight games.
Bryce Cotton, Providence
Cotton scored a game-high 23 points to lead short-handed Providence to an 81–68 win over Creighton, which entered the game with a 5–0 record in Big East play. Cotton, a senior guard, has scored 20 points or more in three straight games — wins over Georgetown, St. John’s (on the road) and Creighton. He is averaging 20.4 points per game.
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Harrell recorded a double-double for the third time in four games, scoring 18 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in the Cardinals’ 76–64 win at UConn on Saturday night. Harrell, who is shooting .634 from the field, connected on 8-of-10 from the field and also blocked three shots for the surging Cards, who have won three straight games.
Johnny O’Bryant, LSU
O’Bryant, a former McDonald’s All-American, rebounded from a subpar game in LSU’s loss at Ole Miss to score 22 points and grab 12 rebounds in the Tigers’ 81–58 win over Vanderbilt in Baton Rouge. O’Bryant and the LSU frontline dominated Vanderbilt on the glass, outrebounding the Commodores 48-to-24.
Chasson Randle, Stanford
Randle tied a career high with 33 points to lead Stanford to a 79–67 win over Washington late Saturday in Palo Alto. A junior guard from Illinois, Randle hit 11-of-15 from the field and 10-of-13 from the foul line en route to his third game with 30-plus points this season. He leads the team in scoring at 19.5 points per game.
Roberto Nelson, Oregon State
Nelson, the Pac-12’s leading scorer, led the way with 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting as the Beavers knocked off rival Oregon 80–72 Sunday night in Corvallis. Nelson, a 6-4 guard, is averaging 21.5 points and shooting .390 from 3-point range and .877 from the foul line.
Three undefeated teams remain to start this week, and at least one will stay that way by Sunday morning.
Top-ranked Arizona is off this weekend after defeating Arizona State on Thursday. After Wisconsin and Iowa State lost their unbeaten status last week on the road, Syracuse and Wichita State at least have the comforts of home for the weekend.
The Orange face Pittsburgh at the Carrier Dome while the Shockers bring Indiana State to Wichita.
Whether the weekend ends with three undefeated teams or not, we’re sure to see more changes in the power rankings if this week is any indication. Baylor suffered an embarrassing loss. Colorado suffered a key injury. And Kentucky endured a loss on the road in Fayetteville. All played a major role in shuffling this week’s rankings.
College Basketball Power Rankings: Jan. 17
*All games Satuday unless noted.
1. Arizona (18-0, 5-0 Pac-12)
This weekend: Off
Pac-12 opponents are shooting 36.4 percent against the Wildcats.
2. Syracuse (17-0, 4-0 ACC)
This weekend: Pittsburgh
C.J. Fair, Trevor Cooney, Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis make up nearly 75 percent of Syracuse’s scoring.
3. Michigan State (16-1, 5-0 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Illinois
Adreian Payne is the latest to fall to the Michigan State injury bug, and Gary Harris has hit a cold snap from 3-point range (3 of 17 in the last three games).
4. Villanova (15-1, 4-0 Big East)
This weekend: DePaul
DePaul is not as horrendous as you think this season. Will ‘Nova get caught looking ahead to Creighton on Monday?
5. Wisconsin (16-1, 3-1 Big Ten)
This weekend: Michigan
Indiana’s bench outscored Wisconsin’s 17-6 in the Badgers’ first loss of the season Wednesday.
6. Florida (14-2, 3-0 SEC)
This weekend: at Auburn
Michael Frazier (21 points vs. Georgia) and Dorian Finney-Smith (22 points, 15 rebounds vs. Arkansas) are filling the void left by injured Casey Prather.
7. San Diego State (15-1, 4-0 Mountain West)
This weekend: UNLV
The Aztecs lead the nation in allowing the fewest points per possession at 84 points per 100 possessions.
8. Kansas (12-4, 3-0 Big 12)
This weekend: Oklahoma State
The Jayhawks are in the ninth game of a streak of 11 consecutive games against KenPom.com top 100 teams.
9. Iowa State (14-2, 2-2 Big 12)
This weekend: Texas
DeAndre Kane answered any questions about his health with 21 points and eight rebounds against Kansas.
10. Iowa (14-3, 3-1 Big Ten)
This weekend: Minnesota (Sunday)
Athlon Sports National Player of the Week Roy Devyn Marble is averaging 19.8 points per game against Big Ten opponents.
11. Wichita State (18-0, 5-0 Missouri Valley)
This weekend: Indiana State
The Sycamores could be Wichita State’s toughest opponent in MVC play.
12. Oklahoma State (15-2, 3-1 Big 12)
This weekend: at Kansas
Marcus Smart scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds in his last trip to Lawrence last season.
13. Creighton (15-2, 5-0 Big East)
This weekend: at Providence
Doug McDermott took the top spot in Ken Pomeroy’s first kPOY watch list.
14. Kentucky (12-4, 2-1 SEC)
This weekend: Tennessee
Kentucky’s last game featured 81 total free throws in an overtime loss to Arkansas.
15. Louisville (15-3, 5-1 American)
This weekend: at Connecticut
Luke Hancock is averaging 16.8 points per game since conference play began.
16. Ohio State (15-3, 2-3 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Nebraska
Two mentally draining Big Ten losses and a 10-point defeat at Minnesota may signal Ohio State's 15-0 start was a mirage.
17. Memphis (12-3, 3-1 American)
This weekend: Le Moyne-Owen
Suddenly, Memphis has dropped back-to-back American Athletic Conference home games to Cincinnati and UConn ... with a road win over Louisville sprinkled in.
18. Cal (13-4, 4-0 Pac-12)
This weekend: Washington
Never doubt Mike Montgomery: Cal started conference play with three consecutive road wins.
19. Saint Louis (16-2, 3-0 Atlantic 10)
This weekend: Fordham
After a key road win over Dayton, Saint Louis got a scare against St. Bonaventure at home.
20. Baylor (13-3, 1-2 Big 12)
This weekend: Oklahoma
The Bears allowed Texas Tech to shoot 60.5 percent from 2-point range in an embarrassing loss.
21. UMass (15-1, 3-1 Atlantic 10)
This weekend: at Elon
The Minutemen began a three-game road swing with a one-point win over a 7-10 George Mason team.
22. Cincinnati (16-2, 5-0 American)
This weekend: USF
Opponents are shooting only 40.1 percent from 2-point range against the Bearcats.
23. Duke (13-4, 2-2 ACC)
This weekend: NC State
The Blue Devils can’t guard anyone and now face ACC leading scorer T.J. Warren.
24. UCLA (14-3, 3-1 Pac-12)
This weekend: at Utah
The Bruins took advantage of Colorado team missing Spencer Dinwiddie for easy win Thursday.
25. Michigan (12-4, 4-0 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Wisconsin
The Wolverines are 8-0 without Mitch McGary this season, but the schedule is about to get much tougher.
Vanderbilt is headed to a bowl game for the third straight season and will be making its first trip to an out-of-state postseason game since the 1982 Commodores played in the Hall of Fame Bowl at Legion Field in Birmingham. James Franklin’s team struggled early in the season — the Dores were 3–3 overall (0–3 in the SEC) after six games — but won five of its last six games, highlighted by victories over Georgia at home and Florida and Tennessee on the road.
Vanderbilt, however, will not have the services of starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels. The fifth-year senior had surgery to repair a torn ACL a few days after the season-ending win over Wake Forest. Carta-Samuels injured his knee in a mid-October win over Georgia but managed to start the final three games, wins over Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest. Patton Robinette, a redshirt freshman who started two games and played significant snaps in three others, will get the nod for the Dores.
Houston is back in a bowl game after missing out on the postseason in two of the last three years. Tony Levine’s first season as a head coach did not go too well — the Cougars went 5–7 in 2012 — but he bounced back with an 8–4 overall record and a 5–3 mark in the new American Athletic Conference. The Cougars lost to BYU by one point in non-conference action and lost to the three teams that finished ahead of them in the AAC (UCF, Louisville and Cincinnati) by an 6.3 points. This is a solid team that doesn’t have any bad losses but doesn’t really have any good wins, either.
Vanderbilt vs. Houston
Kickoff: Saturday, Jan. 4 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Vanderbilt -2.5
Vanderbilt’s Key to Victory: Run the ball
Vanderbilt features one of the elite wide receivers in the nation in senior Jordan Matthews, but the Commodores’ first order of business will be to establish the running game. Vanderbilt’s rushing numbers down the stretch weren’t impressive — the Dores averaged under 3.0 yards per carry in four of the final five games — but there’s no doubt it will be a big part of offensive coordinator John Donovan’s game plan, especially with Robinette at quarterback. The redshirt freshman, a better runner than passer at this stage of his career, rushed for a combined 85 yards on 19 carries in the final two games of the season. The Commodores will also have starting running back Jerron Seymour back in the lineup. The sophomore only carried the ball five times against Tennessee and did not play against Wake Forest while nursing a leg injury. Vanderbilt will look to attack a Houston defense that ranked ninth in the AAC in stopping the run, allowing 143.8 rushing yards per game.
Houston’s Key to Victory: Keep forcing turnovers
Houston has done one thing better than any team in college football in 2013 — force turnovers. The Cougars lead the nation in both takeaways (40) and turnover margin (plus-2.08), which is a huge reason why this team improved from five wins in 2012 to eight wins in ’13. Houston has forced at least one turnover in every game and has had three or more takeaways in nine of 12 games. This team can win a game without winning the turnover margin — the Cougars went 1–1 with a margin of zero — but Levine would much prefer to keep this seemingly unsustainable pace going for at least one more game.
Key Player: John O’Korn, QB, Houston
O’Korn, a true freshman from Florida, was thrust into the starting role early in the season when veteran David Piland was forced to retire from the sport due to ongoing issues with concussions. O’Korn responded with a terrific season, completing just under 60 percent of his passes for 2,889 yards with 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Now, however, he must play his first game without offensive coordinator Doug Meachem calling the plays. Meachem resigned following the end of the regular season to take a similar position at TCU, leaving Travis Bush, formerly the running backs coach, as the play-caller. Bush called plays for the final 11 games of the ’12 season after offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt was fired following a Week 1 loss to Texas State. O’Korn will also be facing an outstanding secondary that features four senior starters, including two All-SEC performers (safety Kenny Ladler and cornerback Andre Hal). The Commodores rank second in the SEC with 16 interceptions and had a total of 11 in their last four games. You can bet that defensive coordinator Bob Shoop will do all he can to confuse the true freshman quarterback.
On paper, you would figure any 8–4 team from the SEC would be quite a bit better than an 8–4 team from the American Athletic Conference. But the boys in Vegas have only made Vanderbilt a 2.5-point favorite. The Commodores, despite winning their last four games, weren’t playing great down the stretch. They played well enough to win but struggled in home games against Kentucky and Wake Forest and had to rally to beat Tennessee late in the fourth quarter. Houston has put up some impressive offensive numbers against some inferior defenses, but has struggled against the better defensive teams on its schedule — scoring 14 vs. UCF, 13 vs. Louisville and 17 vs. Cincinnati. With the possible exception of Louisville, Vanderbilt figures to be the best defensive team Houston will face this season.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 27, Houston 23
Alabama arrives at the Sugar Bowl eager to prove that its one loss — on one of the most amazing plays in the history of college football — was a fluke. The Crimson Tide ranked No. 1 in the nation until that defeat at Auburn, would like to show the college football world that they truly are the best team in the land. They have no hope of earning the No. 1 ranking — in any poll — but a win over Oklahoma will allow this senior class to go out on a high note. One of those seniors, quarterback AJ McCarron, has an opportunity to add to one of the most impressive résumés we have seen in decades — he’s 36–3 as a starter with two national titles and three bowl wins.
Oklahoma under Bob Stoops has become one of the steadiest programs in the country. Like clockwork, OU is good for at least 10 wins and a major bowl game every year. The 2013 season, though, might be one of the better achievements of Stoops’ tenure. Oklahoma began the year ranked outside of the Associated Press top 15 for the first time since 2000, the year OU won the national championship.
Despite uncertainty at the quarterback position, the Sooners went 10–2 and beat rival Oklahoma State on the road in a thrilling season-finale. Sure, there were some rough patches — most notably in lopsided losses to Texas (36–20) and Baylor (41–12) — but the Sooners managed to reach a BCS bowl for the ninth time in the Stoops era.
Alabama vs. Oklahoma
Kickoff: Thursday, Jan. 2. at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Alabama -15
Three Things to Watch
The quarterback position at Oklahoma
Stoops has yet to determine whether Trevor Knight or Blake Bell will get the starting assignment at quarterback against one of the elite defenses in the nation. Knight, a dynamic runner, started the final two games of the season but left the Oklahoma State game with an injury. Bell, regarded as the better passer, guided the Sooners on the game-winning drive in Stillwater that ultimately led to the Sugar Bowl invite. Very few quarterbacks have had success against Alabama, but the numbers suggest that going with the better runner might be the prudent decision for Stoops. Only two teams scored more than 17 points against Alabama this season, and both teams received solid production from their quarterback in the running game. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel rushed for 98 yards on 14 carries in the Aggies’ 49–42 loss to Bama in September, and Auburn’s Nick Marshall ran for 99 yards on 17 carries in the Tigers’ 34–28 victory. Obviously, having a running quarterback doesn’t guarantee success against Alabama, but it appears you at least need to the threat of the run from the quarterback position to test this defense. Even if Knight does get the start, it would be a surprise if both quarterbacks don’t play in the Sugar Bowl.
Alabama’s running attack
AJ McCarron will go down as one of the most successful quarterbacks in the history of the collegiate game, but Alabama is at its best when the running game gets going. The Crimson Tide boast arguably the deepest collection of quality tailbacks in the nation, but only two — T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake — have received significant carries. Yeldon leads the way with 1,163 yards (on a 6.1-yard average) and 13 touchdowns. Drake, whose workload diminished late in the season as the Tide relied more on Yeldon, has 694 yards on 92 attempts for an impressive 7.5-yard average. If either one is injured, Alabama can turn to true freshman Derrick Henry (10.1-yard average), Jalston Fowler (6.6-yard career average), Altee Tenpenny or Dee Hart. This group of tailbacks will look to attack an Oklahoma defense that struggled against the run — due in part to some key injuries on the front seven — for much of the 2013 season. The Sooners ranked fourth in the Big 12 in rushing defense (fifth on a yards-per-attempt basis) and allowed at least 200 rushing yards in four games — Notre Dame (220), Texas (255), Baylor (255) and Oklahoma State (200). Look for Alabama to be the fifth OU opponent to top the 200-yard mark.
Oklahoma’s return game
The Sooners, more than a two-touchdown underdog, will have to win the battle of special teams to make this game competitive. Fortunately for OU, it has one of the elite punt returners in college football. Jalen Saunders, also a top-flight wide receiver, ranks sixth in the nation with a 16.8-yard average on his 18 punt returns, and he scored on returns against Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Alabama, which has allowed only 52 total punt return yards all season, will do its best to kick the ball away from Saunders.
Key Player: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Mosley will be the best player on a field that will be loaded with 4- and 5-star recruits at every position. He leads Alabama in tackles by a wide margin — his 88 stops are 37 more than anyone else on the team — and did some his best work on the other side of the line of scrimmage with nine tackles for a loss and eight quarterback hurries. It will be important for Mosley and the rest of the Alabama linebacking corps to slow down Oklahoma’s running game and make the Sooners beat them with the forward pass. Oklahoma ranks ninth in the Big 12 in passing offense and has only topped 250 yards in a game once — against Tulsa in September.
There’s a reason Alabama is the big favorite. This is an elite Alabama team that was on the verge of playing for its third straight national title before losing late at Auburn on the final weekend of the regular season. Alabama’s secondary might not be up to its usual high standard and the kicking game can be an issue — remember the Auburn game? — but Nick Saban’s team has few weaknesses.
Oklahoma won 10 games — hitting double digits for the 12th time in 14 seasons — but this is not a great OU team. They were blown out twice — vs. Texas (36–20) and at Baylor (41–12) — and won five games by 10 points or less. The offense is mediocre (and a bit too one-dimensional), and the defense has had difficulty stopping the run. Too many things will have to go well — at least one special teams score, force multiple turnovers, etc. — for Oklahoma to win this game.
Prediction: Alabama 34, Oklahoma 14
Northern Illinois’ quest for a second straight trip to a BCS bowl was derailed by Bowling Green in the MAC Championship Game. The 47–27 loss cost the Huskies a spot in the Fiesta Bowl and a shot at the school’s first undefeated season since 1963. But a week in San Diego is not a bad consolation prize — especially when you make DeKalb, Ill., home.
Northern Illinois opened the season with wins over two Big Ten schools (Iowa and Purdue) in September before sweeping through the MAC without a loss for the second consecutive year. The Huskies won their eight league games by an average of 22.3 points, with only one game decided by less than 14 points. Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch pilots an offense that leads the MAC and ranks fifth nationally with 535.5 yards per game. The Huskies’ defense is average (at best), but it didn’t matter for the majority of the 2013 season.
Defense is the specialty for NIU’s opponent in San Diego, the Utah State Aggies. Matt Wells, in his first season as the head coach, did a masterful job guiding his team — ravaged by injuries — to the Mountain West Championship Game. Chuckie Keeton, one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, missed the final seven games, but Utah State still managed eight wins, including a 7–1 mark during the regular season in the MWC. The Aggies rank first in the league and 12th in the nation in total defense (332.2 ypg) and have held nine of their 13 opponents to 17 points or less.
Northern Illinois vs. Utah State
Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 26 at 9:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Northern Illinois -1.5
Northern Illinois’ Key to Victory: Play some defense
In the biggest game on the season — with a berth in a BCS bowl on the line — the Northern Illinois defense was shredded by a good (but hardly great) Bowling Green offense for 574 total yards, including an alarming 393 through the air. The lack of defense was not an issue against teams like UMass, Kent State and Eastern Michigan, but NIU will have to be better on that side of the ball in the bowl game. Very few teams have rolled up a big number on Utah State — the Aggies held Fresno State to 24 in the MWC title game — so NIU can’t simply rely on Jordan Lynch & Co. to win this game. Utah State has had its issues on offense, but this team did score 40 points or more four times in the regular season. The Huskies could catch a break if quarterback Darell Garretson, who was knocked out of the Fresno State game with a helmet-to-helmet hit, is not able to play.
Utah State’s Key to Victory: Slow down Jordan Lynch
It’s a bit of stretch to say that Bowling Green shut down Jordan Lynch — he did throw for 219 and run for 126 — but the senior quarterback was clearly not at his best in the MAC Championship Game. He only completed 52.5 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions in the Huskies’ 20-point loss. Utah State has been outstanding against the pass for the majority of the season. The Aggies held their opponents to under 60 percent passing in all but two games and led the Mountain West by limiting opposing quarterback to 6.5 yards per passing attempt. Lynch will get his yards on the ground — he’s had at least 90 in all but three games — but it’s key for Utah State to limit his effectiveness throwing the ball. A one-dimensional Northern Illinois offense is much easier to contain.
Key Player: Darell Garretson, QB, Utah State
Things weren’t looking good for Utah State in early October. The Aggies were 3–3 overall and had just lost star quarterback Chuckie Keeton to a torn ACL. Wells was forced to turn to Garretson, and the true freshman from Arizona responded. Utah State lost his first start, 34–23 to Boise State, but proceeded to win five in a row to capture the Mountain Division title. Garretson has completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 1,325 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions. He isn’t as much of a threat on the ground as Keeton, but he does have a run for at least 10 yards in each of the last five games. Garretson was knocked out of the MWC title game with a concussion but is expected to be ready to go in the bowl game.
This is an intriguing matchup between two of the top mid-major programs in the country. With a BCS trip last year and a Heisman finalist this season, Northern Illinois is more known nationally, but Utah State has been very good in recent years. The Aggies broke through in 2011 with a 7–6 record — the first winning season at the school since 1996 — and then won 11 games in ’12, Gary Andersen’s final season. Wells, in his first season as a head coach, carries an 8–5 record into the postseason.
The key for Utah State will be on defense. Assuming Garretson plays, the Aggies should be able to score some points on the NIU defense. But it will be difficult for USU to shut down Lynch, who should be motivated in his final game in college.
Prediction: Northern Illinois 27, Utah State 24
Tulane is back in postseason play for the first time since 2002, when Chris Scelfo guided the Green Wave to the Hawaii Bowl after a 7–5 regular season. This time around, Tulane will be playing its bowl game in its home stadium, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The players no doubt would have preferred to leave the city of New Orleans, but any bowl is a good bowl for a program that averaged 2.9 wins from 2005-12. Curtis Johnson, who spent 10 years on the staff at Miami (Fla.) from 1996-05, won only two games in 2012, his first as the Wave’s head coach. This year, Tulane won six of its first eight games before struggling late and settling for a 7–5 record. The Wave’s 5–3 mark in Conference USA was the school’s first winning league record since the 1998 team went undefeated.
A trip to the Big Easy has become a December tradition for Tulane’s opponent, Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns will be playing in the New Orleans Bowl for the third straight season — and they will be searching for their third straight bowl victory after beating San Diego State 32–20 in 2011 and East Carolina 43–34 in ’12. Mark Hudspeth’s team opened the season with two losses and closed the season with two losses. In between, the Cajuns won eight straight and have now gone 8–4 in the regular season in each of Hudspeth’s three years on the job.
Tulane vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 21 at 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Tulane -2.5
Tulane’s Key to Victory: Stop the Run
The Green Wave rank second in Conference USA in rushing defense, allowing only 119.7 yards per game. Those stats have been padded a bit by quarterback sacks — Tulane had 34 for a negative-235 yards — but this defense does an outstanding job defending the run. The Wave held eight of their 12 opponents to under 4.0 yards per carry and four of those eight to under 2.0 yards per carry. Those are impressive numbers. Tulane will be tasked with slowing down a Louisiana-Lafayette team that leads the Sun Belt in rushing with 208.7 yards per game. The Cajuns have two backs who rushed for 800 yards — including Elijah McGuire, who averaged 8.9 yards on his 92 attempts — and also get production on the ground from quarterback Terrance Broadway (421 yards, eight TDs). Turnovers will also be key for Tulane. The Wave are third in the nation in turnovers forced (33) and tied for ninth in turnover margin (plus-1.00). Tulane, which struggles on offense, can have a tough time putting points on the board when it is not forcing turnovers and setting up the offense with solid field position. The Wave were plus-15 in their seven wins and minus-3 in their five losses.
Louisiana-Lafayette’s Key to Victory: A healthy and productive Terrance Broadway
With Broadway in the lineup, Louisiana-Lafayette went 8–3, with losses at Arkansas, at Kansas State and vs. ULM (by three points). Without their starting quarterback, the Cajuns lost 30–8 at South Alabama in the season-finale. The lesson here is that Broadway is very, very important to this team. The senior broke his arm in the fourth quarter against ULM and is questionable for the bowl game. Three redshirt freshmen played in the South Alabama game, combining to complete 9-of-26 passes for 143 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. If Broadway can’t play, the Cajuns figure to struggle in the passing game and will be forced to rely on their running game against the stout Tulane rush defense.
Key Player: Orleans Darkwa, RB, Tulane
Darkwa needs 75 yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career. He struggled in the season-finale, rushing for only 26 yards on 14 carries in a 17–13 loss to Rice. In the two previous games, however, he combined for 240 yards on 37 carries as the Wave lost to UTSA and beat UTEP. Earlier in the year, he had 118 yards (on a 6.9-yard average) in a season-changing win at ULM, and he averaged 4.7 yards and 5.1 yards in key wins over East Carolina and Tulsa, respectively. The Nashville native was not offered by any SEC schools coming out of Ensworth High School, but he’s had a very solid career in Conference USA.
So much of this game hinges on Broadway’s availability. Louisiana-Lafayette has multiple weapons at running back, but its offense will be too one-dimensional if one of the redshirt freshmen is forced to start. Hudspeth has done a great job during his time in Lafayette, but this is probably the worst of his three teams — each of which won eight games in the regular season. The 2013 Cajuns have only one win over a bowl team (Arkansas State) and struggled in some of their wins against lesser opponents. Tulane‘s schedule was a bit more challenging, and this game probably means more to the Green Wave, who will playing in their first bowl game in over a decade.
Prediction: Tulane 27, Louisiana Lafayette 20
The 2013 season was one of the most unpredictable we have seen in the SEC in quite some time. The two teams that met in the league title game — Auburn and Missouri — combined to record a 2–14 record in conference play last season. Florida, which went 11–2 last season, lost its last seven games and finished with the program’s first losing record since 1979. And Texas A&M, a preseason top-five team in many polls, only managed to win four SEC games in what figures to be Johnny Manziel’s last season in College Station.
SEC 2013 Awards
Coach of the Year: Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers authored an unlikely worst-to-first script, taking a program that went 0–8 in the SEC last year to the BCS National Championship game. Auburn made an incredible improvement on offense, increasing its per-game average by more than 200 yards per game — from 305.0 in 2012 to 505.3 in ’13. On the strength of 545 yards rushing against Missouri in the SEC title game, Auburn now leads the nation in rushing with 335.7 yards per game. If that holds up, the Tigers will be the first non-triple option team to win the rushing title since Nevada — led by Colin Kaepernick — did so in 2009.
Offensive Player of the Year: Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
Mason surged past Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews in this category after rushing for 304 yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries in Auburn’s 59–42 win over Missouri last Saturday. Mason led the league with 1,621 yards and was at his best against the best competition and in the biggest games. He had 132 yards at LSU, 178 in a season-changing win at Texas A&M, 164 against Alabama and 304 against Missouri. Against SEC competition (eight regular-season games and the title game), Mason averaged 143.2 yards — the best in the league by almost 20 yards per game — and rushed for 17 touchdowns.
Defensive Player of the Year: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Mosley, a consensus first-team All-American in 2012, shined in his final season at Alabama. The Theodore, Ala., native leads the Crimson Tide in tackles with 88 (37 more than any other player on the team), tackles for a loss with nine and quarterback hurries with eight. Nick Saban offered this praise for his star linebacker after he executed a successful fake punt in Alabama’s win over LSU: “I trust C.J. to do anything — watch my kids, take care of my house. So a (punt) fake is not much. C.J. is just so conscientious about everything he does that you know he's going to execute and do it exactly like you told him to do it. He did a good job.”
Newcomer of the Year: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
Hargreaves III emerged as a bright spot in a dismal season in Gainesville. The true freshman from Tampa, a 5-star recruit, recorded 38 tackles and led the Gators with three interceptions and 11 pass break-ups. Hargreaves III will be a sure-fire first-team preseason All-American in 2014.
Biggest Disappointment of 2013: Florida
Coming off an 11–2 season that featured wins over Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State, the Gators were expected to challenge for the SEC East title. Didn’t happen. Florida stubbed its toe in a Week 2 loss at Miami and then imploded in the latter half of the season, losing its final seven games to finish 5–7 overall and 3–5 in the SEC. The low point of the season came on Nov. 23 when Georgia Southern, an FCS school that went 4–4 in the Southern Conference, topped the Gators 26–20 in Gainesville. Yes, this team suffered more than its share of injuries, but there is no excuse for Florida to struggle so much.
Biggest Surprise of 2013: Auburn
Missouri would also be a solid choice, but it’s hard to pick against Auburn, which made the well-documented climb from winless in the SEC to league champion — and possibly national champion. Gus Malzahn is worthy of all the praise he is receiving of late; he did a masterful job in 2013.
Athlon's 2013 All-SEC Team
|First-Team Offense||Second-Team Offense|
QB AJ McCarron, Alabama
QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB Tre Mason, Auburn
RB Mike Davis, South Carolina
RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
RB Jeremy Hill, LSU
WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
WR Jarvis Landry, LSU
TE Arthur Lynch, Georgia
TE Hunter Henry, Arkansas
T Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
T Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt
T Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
T Antonio Richardson, Tennessee
C Reese Dismukes, Auburn
C Travis Swanson, Arkansas
G Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
G Chad Slade, Auburn
G Anthony Steen, Alabama
G Trai Turner, LSU
|First-Team Defense||Second-Team Defense|
DE Dee Ford, Auburn
DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DE Michael Sam, Missouri
DE Chris Smith, Arkansas
DT Anthony Johnson, LSU
DT Ego Ferguson, LSU
DT Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
DT Donte Rumph, Kentucky
LB A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
LB Lamin Barrow, LSU
LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
LB Avery Williamson, Kentucky
LB Ramik Wilson, Georgia
LB Andrew Wilson, Missouri
CB E.J. Gaines, Missouri
CB Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
CB Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida
S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
S Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
S Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt
S Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State
|First-Team Specialists||Second-Team Specialists|
K Marshall Morgan, Georgia
K Zach Hocker, Arkansas
P Cody Mandell, Alabama
P Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
KR Christion Jones, Alabama
KR Solomon Patton, Florida
PR Chris Davis, Auburn
PR Christion Jones, Alabama
Auburn is 60 minutes away from extending the SEC’s national title streak to eight in a row. The Tigers are a surprise contender for the BCS title, but this team is one of the hottest in the nation and moved to the No. 2 spot after Ohio State’s loss to Michigan State.
The Tigers were a dismal 3-9 in 2012 but rebounded quickly under the direction of first-year coach Gus Malzahn. Behind quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason, Auburn is averaging 335.7 rushing yards per game. Marshall is still developing as a passer, but the junior has made progress over the second half of the season.
Auburn lost 35-21 to LSU in late September, but the Tigers rallied with nine consecutive victories to close out 2013, including a huge victory over Alabama to win the SEC West.
Here are five reasons why Auburn is the team to beat on Jan. 6 in Pasadena.
5 Reasons Why Auburn Will Beat Florida State for the National Championship
1. Auburn can run the ball … on everyone
We realize that Florida State is stout against the run. The Seminoles rank 14th nationally in rushing defense, allowing only 116.5 yards per game. Looking at yards per attempt — a more accurate indicator — they are tied for ninth in the country at 3.14. This, however, should not be too big of a concern for Auburn, which has proven it can run the ball on any defense. Want proof? Tigers rushed for 545 yards against Missouri (378 more than it allowed per game vs. SEC competition), 296 against Alabama (173 more than its SEC average), 323 against Georgia (163 more than its SEC average) and 444 against Tennessee (209 more than its SEC average). On the strength of the aforementioned 545 yards against Missouri, Auburn now leads the nation in rushing with 335.7 yards per game. If that holds up, the Tigers will be the first non-triple option team to win the rushing title since Nevada — led by Colin Kaepernick — did so in 2009.
Related Content: 5 Reasons Why Florida State Will Beat Auburn for the National Title
2. The Tigers are very good on the offensive line
Auburn’s scheme and the skill players who operate that sheme are no doubt key reasons for the success of the Tigers’ running game, but we can’t forget this team is outstanding on the offensive line. Four of the five starters were 4-star recruits, and three of those four were ranked in the top 100 nationally in their respective classes. Alabama coach Nick Saban, during his guest spot on ESPN’s College GameDay on Saturday morning, singled out Auburn’s offensive line as one of the best in the SEC. The group, led by center Reese Dismukes, has done a tremendous job opening holes for the Auburn ball-carriers and has protected quarterback Nick Marshall when the Tigers decide to throw the ball — which isn’t often. The line has held up against some of the best the SEC has to offer, but Florida State will present a huge challenge. The guess here is that veteran position coach J.B. Grimes will have his guys ready to play.
3. Nick Marshall continues to improve
Nick Marshall showed up at Auburn over the summer with a ton of ability but not much experience as a quarterback at a high level. After playing defensive back at Georgia as a freshman in 2011, Marshall signed with Garden City (Kan.) Community College as a quarterback. The results were mixed: He proved to be one of the nation’s most productive dual-threat weapons, but he threw 20 interceptions in 12 games. Surely, a quarterback who was picked off 20 times in the junior college ranks couldn’t get the job done in the SEC. Well, Marshall has proven his skeptics wrong. After a decent start to his junior season, Marshall has been playing as well as any quarterback in the nation over the latter half of the season. He has only thrown one interception in the last seven games, and that came in a 32-point win over Tennessee. In Saturday’s win over Missouri in the SEC Championship Game, Marshall did lose two fumbles but was otherwise superb running the Tigers’ attack. He completed 9-of-11 for 132 yards and one touchdown and added 101 yards rushing and one TD on 16 carries. With about a month to prepare for the Florida State defense, Marshall could emerge as the biggest difference-maker in the BCS title game.
4. Auburn has experience playing in close games
Half of Auburn’s 12 wins have come by eight points or fewer. That could be an indication that this team is a bit lucky, or it could simply mean this team knows how to win close games. Depends on your point of view. But there is no arguing the fact that Auburn is more prepared to play in a tight game than its opponent in the BCS National Championship Game. Florida State, the most dominant team in the nation from wire to wire, did not have a game that was decided by less than 14 points. The Seminoles never had to play under pressure in the fourth quarter. What will happen if this team, quarterbacked by a redshirt freshman, is forced to make plays late with the game on the line? Conventional wisdom suggests that Florida State will be fine in such a scenario — it’s good to have talent on your side — but coach Jimbo Fisher can’t be 100 percent sure how his team will respond. That is not a concern for Auburn, which has proven many times this season that it can operate under the most stressful of conditions.
5. Auburn is a team of destiny
We can dive into the numbers, look at the strengths and weaknesses on each side, but sometimes in sports, certain teams seem to have destiny on their side. How else can we explain what has happened on the Plains this season? A team that went 0–8 in the SEC last season — and was outgained by more than 200 yards in those eight league games — won the SEC West. A team that needed two key fourth-quarter stops to beat Washington State at home in the opener, is playing for the national title. A team that was responsible for two of the unlikeliest endings in the history of college football — in consecutive games — finds itself in position to complete the greatest worst-to-first script since … maybe forever. Florida State appears to be the more talented team — just ask the boys in Vegas — but Auburn has made a habit of defying the odds this season.
It’s fair to say that back in the preseason no one predicted these two teams — who went a combined 2–14 in the league in 2012 — to meet in the SEC Championship Game. Auburn completed the unlikely worst-to-first journey with a stunning win over Alabama last Saturday afternoon. The Tigers were outgained by more than 100 yards and did not force a turnover yet somehow found a way to beat the No. 1 team in the nation. The win sent Auburn to the SEC Championship Game for the fifth time.
Missouri, of course, is making its first trip to the title game. The Tigers, 2–6 is the SEC last season, cruised through their non-conference schedule with a 4–0 mark and then established themselves as a legitimate contender by beating Vanderbilt, Georgia and Florida by an average of 19.0 points. The Tigers stubbed their toe in a home loss in overtime to South Carolina — with backup quarterback Maty Mauk running the show — but closed by winning four straight to claim the outright SEC East title. The most surprising aspect of Mizzou’s surprising run has been its dominance at the line of scrimmage, especially on defense. The Tigers allowed only 5.11 yards per play in SEC games — tied for second-fewest with Alabama and behind Florida — and led the league with 37 sacks.
Auburn vs. Missouri
Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Auburn -2
Three Things to Watch
It’s no surprise that Auburn and Missouri, two of the top offensive teams in the league, have the ability to strike quickly. Auburn leads the SEC with 21 plays from scrimmage of at least 40 yards; Missouri ranks second with 20. Auburn also leads in plays of at least 50 yards (13) and is tied for the lead in plays of 60 yards (seven) and 70 yards (four). Missouri isn’t far behind. Auburn, however, has been prone to giving up the big play — like the 99-yard touchdown pass by Alabama in the Iron Bowl — allowing 16 plays of 40-plus yards (13th in the league) and seven plays of 50-plus yards (ninth). So which team can deliver the big play (or plays) on Saturday? And which team gives up the big play (or plays)? The answers to these questions could go a long way in determining the outcome.
Forcing turnovers is a product of solid play on defense and a little bit of luck. For Missouri, this combination has translated into 27 takeaways — tied for most in the SEC — and league-best plus-1.25 turnover margin. The Tigers were either even or on the plus side in turnover margin in all but one game — a lopsided win over Kentucky. Auburn did a solid job protecting the ball in 2013, committing only 16 turnovers (fifth-fewest in the league). Quarterback Nick Marshall, in his first season as a starter at the FBS level, only threw five interceptions in 201 attempts, including only one in his last seven games. A key on Saturday will be Missouri’s ability to pressure Marshall — remember, the Tigers led the league in sacks — on passing downs and force him into making a big mistake.
There won’t be many games played this season with as many productive running backs on the field. Consider the following: Each team has three running backs who have rushed for at least 500 yards — and that does not include the quarterbacks, who have a combined 1,334 yards rushing between them. Missouri’s top three backs are Henry Josey (951 yards, 6.2-yard average), Russell Hansbrough (624, 6.3) and Marcus Murphy (561, 6.9) while Auburn counters with Tre Mason (1,317, 5.6), Corey Grant (585, 9.8) and Cameron Artis-Payne (573, 6.5).
Key Player: James Franklin. QB. Missouri
Nick Marshall has made a tremendous transformation from defensive back at Georgia to junior college quarterback to leader of one of the top offenses in the SEC. But the guy taking snaps for the other team, fifth-year senior James Franklin, is also a dynamic playmaker. Franklin has completed at least 63 percent of his passing attempts in every game in which he’s played, and he has averaged 244 yards passing and 51.5 yards rushing with 16 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. His ability to make plays with his arm and his legs — to go along with an outstanding set of skill players — will put a ton of pressure on an Auburn defense that is allowing 414.3 yards per game.
Auburn went 7–1 in the SEC — no doubt a tremendous accomplishment — but this was far from a dominant team. Five of the Tigers’ seven league wins came by eight points or fewer, and they only outgained their eight SEC opponents by an average of 3.2 yards per game — a very low number for a team that won seven games. Obviously, Auburn deserves a ton of credit for its dramatic turnaround, but the numbers indicate that this team is fortunate to be playing for the SEC Championship.
Missouri, however, was the best team in the SEC East all season long. The Tigers’ only loss came at home to South Carolina in overtime in a game in which they led 17–0 entering the fourth quarter. Mizzou outgained its league opponents by 80.1 yards per game and won its seven SEC games by an average of 19.5 points. The schedule wasn’t as difficult as Auburn’s — Mizzou didn’t play Alabama or LSU — but this team was very good from wire-to-wire.
The key will be Auburn’s play on defense. Auburn will no doubt get its yards and find a way to put points on the board, but the concern for Gus Malzahn’s club will be on defense; can it do enough to slow down the diverse — and often explosive — Mizzou attack?
SEC Championship Game Predictions
|Athlon Editor||Championship Game Prediction||Season Record|
|David Fox||Auburn 31-24||93-19|
|Braden Gall||Missouri 38-34||91-21|
|Steven Lassan||Missouri 34-31||92-20|
|Mitch Light||Missouri 37-30||90-22|
True college football fans like to examine and dissect statistics, whether it's a quarterback's completion percentage or a team's winning record on the road. We, however, love stats. With that in mind, we put together some of the strangest, most amazing, and just plain cool numbers for the two teams in the SEC title game, Auburn and Missouri.
Stats to Know about the SEC Championship
Average yards per game that Auburn outgained its eight SEC opponents in 2013 — a very low number for a team that went 7–1 in the league. The Tigers averaged 461.3 yards of offense vs. league foes to rank third in the SEC but gave up an average of 458.1 yards per game (11th). Last year, en route to an 0–8 SEC record, Auburn was outgained by 214.3 yards per game, by far the greatest yardage deficit of any team in a BCS conference.
Sacks recorded by the Missouri defense in eight SEC games this season, second-most by any team in the league in the last seven seasons. Only Georgia, with 30 in eight regular-season games in 2011, had more than Mizzou during this span.
Auburn Tigers with at least 500 yards rushing — Tre Mason (1,317), Nick Marshall (922), Corey Grant (585) and Cameron Artis-Payne (573). Oregon is the only other team in the nation to have four 500-yard rushers.
Games in 2013 in which Missouri lost the turnover battle — at Kentucky, in a 48–17 victory. The Tigers led the league in turnover margin, with plus-1.25 per game overall and plus-1.38 per game in league play. Mizzou recovered nine fumbles and intercepted a league-best 18 passes while only committing 12 turnovers (six lost fumbles, six INTs).
Touchdowns scored by Auburn in its eight SEC games this season. Last year, the Tigers scored a total of nine touchdowns in SEC play. Auburn has scored at least five touchdowns in seven straight games.
Losing conference seasons for Gary Pinkel in 23 years as a head coach. Pinkel went 53–23–3 in the MAC in his 10 seasons at Toledo and is 56-49 in conference games (47–42 in the Big 12, 7–9 in the SEC) in 13 seasons at Missouri. Three of those five losing records came in his first four seasons at Missouri.
Times in the past seven seasons that a Gus Malzahn-coached offense has either finished first or second in the league in total offense. The 2011 Auburn Tigers, who ranked eighth in the SEC in total offense, are the only team to buck this trend. Auburn (2013), Arkansas State (’12) and Auburn (’09) ranked second in the league, and Auburn (’10), Tulsa (’08) and Tulsa (’07) ranked first.
Average national recruiting rank by Rivals.com for Missouri over the last five seasons. The Tigers’ highest-ranked class during this stretch was 21st in 2010 and lowest was 48th in 2011. Auburn’s average rank is 9.6, with a high of fourth in 2010 and 19th in 2009.
The Iron Bowl highlighted one of the wildest weeks in recent college football history. Auburn’s unlikely win is the obviously headliner, but there were other intriguing games in the SEC. Missouri punched its ticket to the SEC title game with a win over Texas A&M; Georgia finished on a strong note by rallying past Georgia Tech in overtime; LSU beat Arkansas in Baton Rouge despite losing quarterback Zach Mettenberger to an injury in the fourth quarter; South Carolina topped rival Clemson for the fifth straight time; Mississippi State became bowl-eligible with an overtime win over Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl; Vanderbilt picked up win No. 8 by beating Wake Forest on a late field goal; Butch Jones recorded his first road win as the UT head coach as the Vols took care of Kentucky; and Florida’s miserable season ended in predictable fashion — with a loss at home to Florida State.
SEC Week 14 Recap and Awards
Offensive Player of the Week: Nick Marshall, Auburn
His stats weren’t overly gaudy, but Marshall ran Gus Malzahn’s offense to near perfection in Auburn’s thrilling 34–28 win over No. 1 Alabama. The junior quarterback completed 11-of-16 passes for 97 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and added 99 yards and one TD on the ground on 17 attempts. Auburn tied the game at 28–28 with 32 seconds remaining when Marshall found Sammie Coates for a 39-yard score on a brilliantly executed option pass. Marshall has completed just under 60 percent of his passes this season with 11 TDs and five INTs.
Defensive Player of the Week: Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
Quarles, a junior defensive tackle, was a key cog in a South Carolina defense that limited Clemson to 17 points and 352 yards of offense in the Gamecocks’ 31–17 win in Columbia. Quarles had six tackles, including two sacks — one for negative six yards midway through the second quarter and one for negative 19 yards just before halftime that forced Clemson to settle for a field goal. Quarles, who leads the team with 13.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for a loss, is expected to declare for the NFL Draft after the season.
Team of the Week: Auburn
Who else but the Auburn Tigers? Gus Malzhan’s club completed the unlikely worst-to-first journey by stunning Alabama 34–28 in one of the most memorable college football games ever played. Auburn, which never led until the clock hit 0:00, scored two touchdowns in the final minute — one a Sammie Coates 39-yard reception with 32 seconds remaining and one on a 100-yard return by Chris Davis on a missed field goal. Auburn, which went 0–8 in the SEC last year, finished the 2013 season with a 7–1 mark despite only outgaining its eight league opponents by an average of 3.2 yards per game.
Coordinator of the Week: Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Rhett Lashlee has the title of offensive coordinator, but Malzahn is the man who runs the offensive show at Auburn. The Tigers, playing against one of the elite defenses in the nation, rolled up 393 yards of offense, including 296 on the ground — the most by an SEC team against Alabama in the Nick Saban era. Auburn closed the season by rushing for 444 yards against Tennessee, 323 against Georgia and 296 against Alabama.
Freshman of the Week: Josh Dobbs, Tennessee
In his fourth career start, Dobbs completed 14-of-23 passes for 199 yards with two touchdowns and one interception to lead Tennessee to a 27–14 win over Kentucky in the season-finale for both teams. Dobbs, a true freshman from Georgia, also rushed for 52 yards on seven carries, including a 40-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that put the Volunteers up 20–0. Prior to Saturday, Dobbs had zero touchdowns and five interceptions four career games.
|Rank||Team||LW||Record||Last Week||Next Week|
|1||2||11-1, 7-1||W, Alabama 34-28||vs. Missouri|
|2||1||11-1, 7-1||L, Auburn 34-28||Off until bowl|
|3||4||11-1, 7-1||W, Texas A&M 28-21||vs. Auburn|
|4||3||10-2, 6-2||W, Clemson 31-17||Off until bowl|
|5||5||9-3, 5-3||W, Arkansas 31-27||Off until bowl|
|6||6||8-4, 4-4||L, Missouri 28-21||Off until bowl|
|7||7||W, Ga. Tech 41-34 (2ot)||Off until bowl|
|8||8||7-5, 3-5||L, Miss. State 17-10 (ot)||Off until bowl|
|9||9||8-4, 4-4||W, Wake Forest 23-21||Off until bowl|
|10||10||6-6, 3-5||W, Ole Miss 17-10 (ot)||Off until bowl|
|11||11||4-8, 3-5||L, Florida St. 37-7||Season over|
|12||12||5-7, 2-6||W, Kentucky 27-14||Season over|
|13||14||L, LSU 31-27||Season over|
|14||13||L, Tennessee 27-14||Season over|
The most heavily anticipated Iron Bowl in decades highlights the holiday weekend slate, but there are plenty of other intriguing matchups. South Carolina seeks its fifth straight win over Clemson; Missouri looks to wrap up the SEC East title with a win at home against Texas A&M; Georgia heads to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech without Aaron Murray under center; Mississippi State searches for its sixth win of the season in the Egg Bowl; Florida hopes to avoid a beatdown at home against Florida State; Kentucky and Tennessee look to end disappointing seasons on a positive note; Vanderbilt eyes win No. 8 with Wake Forest in town; and Arkansas travels to Baton Rouge riding an eight-game losing streak.
SEC Week 14 Game Power Rankings
1. Alabama (-10.5) at Auburn (3:30 ET, CBS)
Auburn’s dramatic turnaround from 0–8 in the SEC to top-five in the nation has set the stage for an epic Iron Bowl showdown at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Alabama is ranked No. 1 — and for good reason. Nick Saban’s team has been dominant on defense — the Tide are allowing an SEC-low 4.6 yards per play — and efficient on offense. The schedule hasn’t been overly taxing, but Alabama has won its 11 games by an average of 30.2 points, with all but one decided by 13 points or more. Auburn has returned to national prominence with an offense that is averaging just under 500 yards per game and just over seven yards per play. The Tigers are especially dangerous on the ground; Gus Malzahn’s run-based spread attack is producing a league-best 6.4 yards per attempt for an average of 320.3 yards per game. The difference in this game, however, could be Auburn’s inability to stop Alabama from running the ball. The Tigers are allowing 4.3 yards per rushing attempt — eighth in the SEC — and have given up more than 200 yards in a game four times this season.
2. Clemson (+5) at South Carolina (7:00 ET, ESPN2)
The Iron Bowl is stealing the headlines — and rightfully so — but the annual battle for bragging rights in the Palmetto State should be just as intense. For the first time ever, these two teams will meet with both schools ranked in the top 10. Clemson, at 10–1, is on the fringe of the national title chase, but the Tigers can put themselves in position to earn an at-large invite to a BCS bowl with a win over South Carolina. The Gamecocks will no doubt be focused on winning this game, but they will also have an eye on the scoreboard. If Missouri loses at home to Texas A&M — in a game that kicks off 45 minutes later — South Carolina will represent the East in the SEC title game. Diving into the matchup in Columbia, you might be surprised to learn that South Carolina has been the more efficient team on offense on a per-play basis (6.6 for the Gamecocks to 6.3 for the Tigers) and Clemson has been better on defense (5.1 to 5.4). The schedules haven’t been the same — South Carolina’s has been more difficult — but these stats seem to contradict the national perception of both teams.
3. Texas A&M (+4.5) at Missouri (7:45 ET, ESPN)
This is not a traditional Thanksgiving weekend rivalry, but it’s one of the most important games on the schedule. It’s simple for the Missouri Tigers: Win this game and play in the SEC Championship Game. Gary Pinkel’s team is 11–1 overall and 6–1 in the league with the only loss coming in overtime to South Carolina. It’s been a magical season in Columbia, but the Tigers will no doubt be disappointed if they fall one game short of Atlanta. Texas A&M is trying to avoid a .500 record in the SEC. That’s right: One of the most explosive offensive teams the league has ever seen is in danger of finishing with a 4–4 record in the league. The Aggies still lead the SEC in total offense, but they were held to a season-low (by a wide margin) of 5.1 yards per play in a 34–10 loss at LSU last weekend. Missouri has been terrific on both sides of the ball, but one of the keys to its success this season has been consistently winning the turnover battle. The Tigers lead the league (plus-1.27 per game) and have only had more turnovers than their opponents once this season — in a 48–17 win at Kentucky.
4. Georgia (+3) at Georgia Tech (3:30 ET, ABC)
For the first time since December 2009, someone other than Aaron Murray will be starting at quarterback for Georgia. Murray, one of the top quarterbacks in SEC history, is sidelined with a torn ACL suffered in Georgia’s win over Kentucky last Saturday. In steps Hutson Mason, a junior who has thrown a total of 82 passes in his three seasons. Mason’s task will be simple this week: Don’t make many mistakes and hand the ball off to Todd Gurley on a frequent basis. Todd Grantham has had his struggles as the defensive coordinator at Georgia, but his defenses have done a solid job against Georgia Tech’s option attack in his three seasons at the school. Georgia has won all three vs. Tech by an average score of 38–20.
5. Ole Miss (-3) at Mississippi State (Thursday, 7:30 ET, ESPN)
Ole Miss has spent part of the season in the national rankings. It has wins over Texas and LSU. Mississippi State has been an afterthought throughout the ’13 season. Its only SEC wins have come against Kentucky and Arkansas, teams with a combined record of 0–14 in the SEC. But guess what happens if State beats Ole Miss Thursday night in Starkville? Both teams would be tied with a 3–5 mark in the SEC, and MSU would technically finish ahead of the Rebs by virtue of the head-to-head win. Will this happen? Probably not — Ole Miss is the more talented team — but it’s still interesting that these teams are so close in the standings even though the Rebs are considered to be the much better team.
6. Florida State at Florida (Noon ET, ESPN)
The annual meeting for bragging rights in the Sunshine State is usually one of the most-anticipated matchups of rivalry week. However, this season’s game has a feeling of two teams headed in opposite directions. Florida State is two wins away from playing for the national championship, while Florida is in the midst of its worst season since 1979 when it went 0–10–1. The Gators enter Saturday’s contest on a six-game losing streak, including a 26–20 defeat to FCS opponent Georgia Southern last week. Injuries have hampered Florida’s season, and quarterback Tyler Murphy is questionable to play with a shoulder injury. Backup Skyler Mornhinweg has struggled in his two starts and faces a Florida State defense that leads the nation with 23 interceptions. Florida ranks second in the SEC in total defense, but the Seminoles average 7.9 yards per play and have scored at least 40 points in every game this year.
7. Tennessee (-4) at Kentucky (7:00 ET, ESPNU)
These two SEC rivals have a combined one league win, by Tennessee over South Carolina. The Vols’ hopes of reaching a bowl game in Year 1 of the Butch Jones era were dashed last Saturday night with a loss at home to Vanderbilt. Tennessee has not won an SEC road game since November 2010 (Vanderbilt) and has not won a league road game out of state since beating Kentucky the previous November. Kentucky has many issues, but the Cats’ biggest problem has been on offense; they have 325 yards or fewer in all but one SEC game and have not scored more than 17 points in any of their last three games.
8. Wake Forest (+14) at Vanderbilt (12:21 ET, SEC TV)
Vanderbilt returns home after its thrilling win in Knoxville with a chance to win eight games in the regular season for the second straight season — something that hasn’t been done since 1927-28. Here’s an interesting stat: Vanderbilt has averaged only 289.4 yards in its last five games, but the Commodores are 4–1 during that stretch with wins over Georgia, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee. Wake Forest has shown signs of life in the last month — they lost by three at Miami and by seven to Duke — but the Deacons have lost four straight and will miss a bowl game for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Vanderbilt has won two straight over Wake by a combined score of 96–28.
9. Arkansas (+24.5) at LSU (Friday, 2:30 ET, CBS)
This Thanksgiving weekend rivalry has produced some classic games and some monumental upsets. That, however, won’t be happening this week. Arkansas enters the final weekend searching for its first win since mid-September. The Razorbacks have been outgained by an average of 142.3 yards in their seven SEC games, and only one — last week’s 25–17 loss to Mississippi State in overtime — has been decided by less than 10 points. LSU is fresh off what could be the most impressive performance by any SEC team this season — a 34–10 win over Texas A&M. Beating the Aggies was not a great surprise, but holding Johnny Manziel & Co. to 299 total yards and one touchdown was shocking. Stopping Arkansas shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.
5 Pivotal Players
Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn
Marshall has been terrific in his first season at Auburn. He’s completed just under 60 percent of his passes, averaged 8.3 yards per attempt and only thrown five interceptions. Not bad for a guy who does his best work on the ground. This week, Marshall will have to be productive both on the ground and through the air to beat Alabama, the best team in the nation. At some point, he will need to make some plays down the field in the passing game. He’s done it before, but the stage will be bigger and the opponent more difficult this time around.
T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama
The biggest mismatch in this game will be Alabama’s rushing attack against the Auburn run defense. Led by Yeldon and Kenyan Drake, the Crimson Tide are averaging 247.4 rushing yards in SEC games on a gaudy 6.4-yard average. Auburn, in league play, is allowing 178.8 yards per game and gave up 200-plus against Mississippi State, LSU, Arkansas and Tennessee. Look for heavy doses of Yeldon on Saturday afternoon.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Clemson
There will be pressure on Clowney, a preseason All-American, to finish off what has been a relatively disappointing junior season with a big game against the archrival Clemson Tigers. Clowney, who has been slowed by injuries, only has two sacks this season — down from 13 during his breakout sophomore season. Oh, and we can’t forget that Clowney said back in July that Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is “scared” of him. Should be a fun night in Columbia.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
We learned last week that it’s not a given that Manziel will throw for 300 or 400 yards and the Aggies will roll up 40 or 50 points. A good defense, with a great plan of attack, can actually slow down the Texas A&M offense. This week, Manziel & Co. will be facing what many consider to be the best defensive line in the SEC. And while he would never admit it publicly, Manziel is well aware that a huge game — against a top-five opponent — can vault him back into the Heisman Trophy race.
Florida defensive line
Florida’s defensive front — still one of the best in the SEC — will need to play its best game of the season to give the Gators the chance at pulling off the upset Saturday in Gainesville. Florida State’s Jameis Winston has shown very few signs of weakness, but any quarterback is less effective when under pressure. Florida has no shot if Winston is able to sit back in the pocket with no fear of the pass rush.
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
Ole Miss (-3) at Miss. State
Ole Miss 35-17
|Ole Miss 34-28||Ole Miss 31-24||Ole Miss 30-20|
Arkansas (+24.5) at LSU
|LSU 42-17||LSU 38-17||LSU 38-10|
Florida State at Florida
|FSU 63-7||FSU 52-13||FSU 45-10||FSU 34-0|
Wake (+14) at Vanderbilt
|Vanderbilt 21-17||Vanderbilt 38-28||Vanderbilt 34-13||Vanderbilt 28-13|
Georgia (+3) at Ga. Tech
|Ga. Tech 35-21||Georgia 34-31||Georgia 34-27||Georgia 34-27|
Alabama (-10.5) at Auburn
|Alabama 27-24||Alabama 31-20||Alabama 34-21|
Clemson (+5) at S. Carolina
|S. Carolina 31-21||S. Carolina 38-34||S. Carolina 30-24||Clemson 30-20|
Tennessee (-4) at Kentucky
|Tennessee 23-13||Tennessee 24-20||Tennessee 17-10|
Texas A&M (+4.5) at Mizzou
|A&M 41-38||Mizzou 34-31||Mizzou 34-33|
The Week 13 slate was highlighted by LSU’s dominating win over Texas A&M in Baton Rouge and Missouri’s 14-point victory over Ole Miss in Oxford. Elsewhere, Vanderbilt topped Tennessee 14–10 on a fake jump pass in the closing seconds; Arkansas remained winless by losing in overtime to Mississippi State; and Georgia crushed Kentucky on Senior Night in Athens. Oh, and we can’t forget about Florida. The Gators’ disastrous 2013 season took another shocking turn with a loss at home to FCS foe Georgia Southern.
SEC Week 13 Recap and Awards
Offensive Player of the Week: Terrence Magee, LSU
Magee made the most of his 13 carries, rushing for a career-high 149 yards (on an 11.5-yard average) and one touchdown in LSU’s impressive 34–10 win over Texas A&M in Baton Rouge. A junior from Franklinton, La., Magee has topped the 100-yard mark three times this season — 108 vs. Kent State, 108 vs. Furman and 149 vs. Texas A&M. His previous career high against an SEC opponent was 31 in the loss to Alabama two weeks ago.
Defensive Player of the Week: Chase Garnham, Vanderbilt
Garnham, a senior linebacker, recorded 10 tackles (one for a loss) to lead an injury-ravaged Vanderbilt defense that held Tennessee 237 yards and one touchdown in the Commodores’ 14–10 win in Knoxville. Vanderbilt lost its entire secondary during the game — safety Jovan Marshall and cornerbacks Andre Hal and Steven Clarke to injury and safety Kenny Ladler to an ejection due to a targeting call. Garnham injured his leg in a Week 1 loss to Ole Miss and missed the ensuring seven games.
Team of the Week: LSU
LSU played its way out of the SEC West race by losing three of its first six league games, but the Tigers reminded everyone on Saturday afternoon that they still have one of the most talented rosters in the nation. Les Miles’ team jumped all over Texas A&M in the first half and cruised to a surprisingly easy 34–10 win in Baton Rouge. The Tigers used a familiar formula to post their second straight win over the Johnny Manziel-led Aggies — they ran the ball well (324 yards rushing) and were dominant on defense (holding A&M to a season-low 299 total yards). LSU hosts Arkansas next weekend to close the regular season.
Coordinator of the Week: John Chavis, LSU
Chavis and his LSU defense did the impossible — shut down Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense. The Aggies’ 299 total yards were 279 below their season average and 187 below their previous season low (486 in the opener against Rice). Manziel completed only 16-of-41 passes for 224 yards — the fewest in any of his 10 starts this season — with one touchdown and two interceptions. Texas A&M also had its streak of 13 straight games with at least 40 points snapped. Not bad for a defense that had to replace eight starters from last season.
Freshmen of the Week: Rashard Robinson, Tre’Davious White, LSU
Robinson and White, two of the top true freshman cornerbacks in the nation, played key roles in LSU’s defensive masterpiece against Texas A&M. Robinson, from Pompano Beach, Fla, had two tackles and one interception, and White, a native of Shreveport, La., chipped in with three tackles and one pass break-up. As a team, LSU held Texas A&M to 224 yards passing on only 5.5 yards per attempt, by far the lowest of the season for the Aggies.
|Rank||Team||LW||Record||Last Week||Next Week|
|1||1||11-0, 8-0||W, Chattanooga 49-0||at Auburn|
|3||4||9-2, 6-2||W, C. Carolina 70-10||Clemson|
|4||5||10-1, 6-1||W, Ole Miss 24-10||Texas A&M|
|5||8||8-3, 4-3||W, Texas A&M 34-10||Arkansas|
|6||3||8-3, 4-3||L, LSU 34-10||at Missouri|
|7||7||7-4, 5-3||W, Kentucky 59-17||at Georgia Tech|
|8||6||7-4, 4-4||L, Missouri 24-10||at Miss. State|
|9||9||7-4, 4-4||W, Tennessee 14-10||Wake Forest|
|10||11||5-6, 2-5||W, Arkansas 24-17 (ot)||Ole Miss|
|11||10||4-7, 3-5||L, Ga. Southern 26-20||Florida State|
|12||12||4-7, 1-6||L, Vanderbilt 14-10||at Kentucky|
|13||13||2-9, 0-7||L, Georgia 59-17||Tennessee|
|14||14||3-8, 0-7||L, Miss. State, 24-17 (ot)||at LSU|
There are three key games in the SEC this Saturday. In Oxford, Missouri hopes to keep its SEC East title hopes alive with a win over Ole Miss; in Baton Rouge, Johnny Manziel will have an opportunity to impress Heisman voters on a national stage; and in Knoxville, Vanderbilt will be seeking its first two-game winning streak against Tennessee since the 1920s.
SEC Week 13 Game Power Rankings
1. Missouri (-2.5) at Ole Miss (7:45 ET, ESPN)
With South Carolina in the clubhouse with a 6–2 SEC record, Missouri (5–1) needs to beat both Ole Miss and Texas A&M to reach the SEC Championship Game. The Tigers expect senior James Franklin back at quarterback after missing four games with a shoulder injury. Backup Maty Mauk played well in relief, but the Mizzou offense is at its best with Franklin running the show. The Tigers, even with Franklin out for much of the SEC schedule, are averaging a solid 6.6 yards per play in league games — almost a full yard more than Ole Miss (5.8). The two teams have similar passing stats, but Missouri has been far more efficient running the ball against SEC teams — 5.4 yards per carry to 3.7 for the Rebs. The defensive numbers also favor the Tigers, but keep in mind that Ole Miss has played a far more difficult SEC schedule to date.
2. Texas A&M (+4.5) at LSU (3:30 ET, CBS)
It’s a bit of a surprise that these two teams are a combined 7–5 in the SEC at this point of the season. Texas A&M continues to put up gaudy numbers, but the defense has let this team down against quality competition. The Aggies scored 42 points against Alabama and 41 against Auburn — yet lost both games. That’s why LSU is in a good spot on Saturday. The Tigers are only 3–3 in their last six games, but their offense is capable of putting up a huge number against a suspect defense. Led by strong-armed quarterback Zach Mettenberger, LSU leads the league with an average of 10.7 yards per passing attempt. One key could be turnovers: Texas A&M has committed 12 in its last four SEC games.
3. Vanderbilt (+3) at Tennessee (7:00 ET, ESPN2)
The stakes are high for this intrastate showdown. Tennessee needs to beat Vanderbilt and Kentucky to reach bowl-eligibility for the first time since 2010. Vanderbilt, which picked up win No. 6 last weekend, is looking for its first two-game winning streak against Tennessee since 1925-26. The Commodores have not been putting up gaudy numbers on offense, but they have done two things very well in the past month: force turnovers (16 in the last four games) and convert in the red zone (17 of 18 in last four games; SEC-best 88.6 percent for the season). Tennessee has lost three straight games in convincing fashion, but the Vols’ schedule has been brutal. This weekend will break a streak of five straight games against teams ranked in the top 12 at the time of the game.
4. Mississippi State (-1.5) at Arkansas (in Little Rock) (12:21 ET, SEC TV)
These two teams are battling to stay out of last place in the SEC West, but the numbers suggest that Mississippi State is the much better team. In league games, the Bulldogs are only being outgained by 17.7 yards per game — a very low number for a team with a 1–5 record. Arkansas, on the other hand, is being outgained by an average of 142.0 yards per game and has lost all six of its SEC games by at least 10 points. Simply put: Mississippi State has been competitive this season; Arkansas has not. The Bulldogs, however, are battling a potentially serious injury situation at quarterback. Both Tyler Russell (shoulder) and Dak Prescott (elbow) are questionable for Saturday. If neither is able to play, the Bulldogs likely will turn to true freshman Damian Williams, who went 0-of-5 passing in limited duty against Alabama last week.
5. Kentucky (+23.5) at Georgia (7:00 ET, ESPNU)
Georgia must regroup after suffering one of the most excruciating losses in recent memory — and that is not an exaggeration. The Bulldogs were on the verge of completing an epic fourth-quarter comeback … until Auburn completed the unlikeliest of 73-yard touchdown passes. Now, the Dawgs return home to face a Kentucky team searching for its first SEC win since the end of the 2011 season. The Wildcats played relatively well last week in Nashville, but dropped to 2–8 with a 22–6 loss. The offense continues to be the biggest problem; UK is last in the SEC in total offense in league play (266.7 ypg) and has not scored more than 24 points in its last 17 SEC games. Georgia, as long it has mentally recovered from last week’s game, should have little difficulty.
6. Georgia Southern (+27.5) at Florida (2 ET, PPV)
In almost every other season, the thought of an FCS school like Georgia Southern posing any kind of threat to Florida would seem a bit of a stretch. But this isn’t like most seasons. Florida has lost five straight games due in large part to an offense that has not scored more than 20 points in any game since early October. Georgia Southern, which is transitioning to the FBS ranks, is 6–4 under fourth-year coach Jeff Monken. The Eagles run an option attack that is averaging 453.7 yards per game, including 353.5 yards on the ground. Florida’s front seven will be charged with slowing down Georgia Southern’s running game and forcing the Eagles out of their comfort zone.
7. Coastal Carolina (+34.5) at South Carolina (1 ET, PPV)
South Carolina concludes its 2013 regular season with a pair of non-conference games against in-state foes that currently only have one loss — Coastal Carolina and Clemson. The Chanticleers have done their damage against an FCS schedule, but this is still a decent team. They rank third in the FCS in both rushing offense (283.9 ypg) and scoring offense (45.5 ppg). South Carolina will have a distinct talent advantage at almost every spot on the field, but the Gamecocks — who are dealing with some key injuries — could be tested for a bit on Saturday.
8. Chattanooga (+49) at Alabama (2 ET, PPV)
Alabama steps out of league (and FBS) play for a tune-up with Chattanooga before one of the most anticipated Iron Bowls ever. Chattanooga is 8–3 overall and has secured a share of the Southern Conference title with a 6–2 record. The Mocs excel in the run game (223.3 ypg) and at stopping the pass (148.6 ypg). They will have trouble in every facet on Saturday afternoon.
SEC Week 13 Pivotal Players
Listen to Athlon Sports writers Braden Gall and David Fox discuss Auburn's win and preview Week 13 in this edition of Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast.
Franklin returns to action for the first time since injuring his shoulder in the second half of the Tigers’ win at Georgia on Oct. 12. The fifth-year senior was completing 66.7 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and three interceptions while also averaging close to 50 yards rushing per game. With Franklin healthy — complemented by an elite set of wide receivers and a solid group of running backs — Missouri’s offense is among the most potent in the nation.
Ole Miss’ offensive line
Ole Miss has played Texas, Alabama and LSU, but Missouri might have the best defensive line the Rebels will see this season. The Tigers, led by senior end Michael Sam, lead the league in sacks with 34 and rank second in rushing defense (111.9 ypg). The Rebs’ offensive line will need to protect quarterback Bo Wallace, who has done a great job this season limiting his mistakes. Last season — his first as a starter — Wallace threw 17 interceptions in 13 games; this year, he has five in 10 games.
Texas A&M cornerbacks
Texas A&M’s struggles on defense are well-documented, but the Aggies do feature a pair of talented cornerbacks in Deshazor Everett and De’Vante Harris. They will be matched up with the most talented wide receiving duo in the league, LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. The Aggies might need a few big plays from their secondary — a pick-6 would certainly help — to win this game in Baton Rouge.
Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee
McCullers is a huge — as in 351 pounds — defensive tackle who is capable of being a difference-maker on a Tennessee defense that ranks last in the SEC in stopping the run. Vanderbilt has struggled at times against big run-stuffing tackles; last week, Kentucky’s Donte Rumph had 10 tackles and was a big reason the Commodores’ two tailbacks (Jerron Seymour and Brian Kimbrow) only averaged 3.4 yards per carry. If McCullers can help slow down the rushing attack and make quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels uncomfortable in the pocket, Tennessee will have a great chance to win the game.
Jonathan Krause, WR, Vanderbilt
The Commodores hope to get Krause, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, back into the lineup. The senior wideout has 32 receptions for 608 yards, and his 19.0 yards-per-catch average ranks fourth in the SEC. While he was out of the lineup, Vanderbilt only dressed four wide receivers — Jordan Matthews, seldom-used junior Trent Pruitt, true freshman Jordan Cunningham and walk-on Trey Wilkin. Krause’s return would be a huge boost for the Dores, who only averaged 248 yards in the two games he missed.
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
Miss. State (-1.5) at Arkansas
|Miss. State 31-13||Miss. State 34-30||Arkansas 27-24||Miss. State 24-20|
C. Caro. (+34.5) at S. Carolina
S. Carolina 35-7
|S. Carolina 38-7||S. Carolina 48-13||S. Carolina 41-10|
Chattanooga (+49) at Alabama
|Alabama 45-7||Alabama 52-7||Alabama 58-0|
Ga. Southern (+27.5) at Florida
|Florida 27-3||Florida 38-10||Florida 30-10|
Texas A&M (+4.5) at LSU
|LSU 45-41||LSU 38-34||LSU 49-45|
Kentucky (+23.5) at Georgia
|Georgia 38-17||Georgia 38-17||Georgia 34-13|
Vanderbilt (+3) at Tennessee
|Tennessee 23-21||Tennessee 27-24||Vanderbilt 24-20|
Missouri (-2.5) at Ole Miss
|Missouri 34-27||Ole Miss 34-30||Ole Miss 38-31|
True college football fans like to examine and dissect statistics, whether it's a quarterback's completion percentage or a team's winning record on the road. We, however, love stats. With that in mind, we scoured the SEC to put together some of the strangest, most amazing, and just plain cool numbers from around the conference in Week 12.
SEC Stats to Know from Week 12
16: Turnovers forced by Vanderbilt in its last four games, more than 55 teams have for the entire season.
The Commodores are 3–1 during this stretch thanks in large part to a plus-11 turnover margin. In the last two games, wins over Florida and Kentucky, Vanderbilt has not committed a turnover on offense while forcing eight (seven interceptions and one fumble recovery) on defense. For the season, Vanderbilt ranks second in the league to Missouri in both turnovers forced (23) and turnover margin (plus-9).
2: Interceptions thrown by AJ McCarron in Alabama’s 20–7 win over Mississippi State.
It was only the third time in McCarron’s three seasons as a starter that he has thrown more than one interception. He threw two in his first start, against Kent State in 2011, and two in last season’s loss at home to Texas A&M.
19: Punt return yards by Mississippi State this season, the fewest in the nation.
The Bulldogs also rank last in college football with only 1.3 yards per return. For comparison’s sake, Kansas State leads the nation with a 17.9-yard average.
284.9: Yards per game rushing by Auburn in SEC games this season, an increase of nearly 200 yards per game from last season.
A year ago, en route to an 0–8 record in the league, the Tigers averaged only 86.8 rushing yards per game and 2.6 yards per carry against conference opponents.
17: Consecutive SEC games in which Kentucky has failed to score more than 24 points.
The Wildcats last scored more than 24 points on Nov. 5, 2011, in a 30–13 win over Ole Miss in Lexington. This season, the Cats are averaging 14.5 points in six league games.
55: Offensive snaps for Florida in Saturday’s 19–14 loss at South Carolina, the fewest by a UF team since the Gator Bowl at the end of the 2011 season.
With third-string quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg getting the start, Florida leaned heavily on the running game and did its best to slow the tempo of the game. The Gators had 307 yards on their 55 plays, and South Carolina had 377 yards on 63 snaps.
1: Number of touchdowns South Carolina scored against Florida, its fewest in a win since also scoring one TD in a 16–10 victory over Ole Miss on Sept. 24, 2009.
On Saturday night, the Gamecocks’ only touchdown came on a 32-yard strike from Connor Shaw to Bruce Ellington. Placekicker Elliott Fry nailed four field goals.
31.5: Georgia’s scoring average in its four losses this season, the most by any team in the nation with at least four defeats.
The Bulldogs scored 35 against Clemson, 26 against Missouri, 27 against Vanderbilt and 38 against Auburn.
751: Yards gained by Ole Miss on Saturday against Troy, a school record.
The Rebels rushed for 382 yards (on a 6.3-yard average) and passed for 369 en route to the 51–21 win. Quarterback Bo Wallace led the way with 272 yards passing and three touchdowns.
1: Number of seniors among the top 15 rushers in the SEC this season.
Tennessee’s Rajion Neal, ranked sixth in the league with 89.5 yards per game, is the only senior on the list. There is one freshman (Arkansas’ Alex Collins), nine sophomores and four juniors.
The following is a list of the best college players among the current crop of FBS college football coaches. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier tops the list, but Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury had prolific careers in their playing days. This ranking does not take into account coaching records — only how these coaches performed during their playing careers.
Ranking the Top 10 College Football Coaches as Players
1. Steve Spurrier, QB, Florida (1963-65) — now at South Carolina
A native of Johnson City, Tenn., Spurrier was a two-time All-American and the winner of the Heisman Trophy in 1966. As a senior, he threw for 2,012 yards with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions while completing 61.5 percent of his passes. In 2006, the Gainesville Sun ranked Spurrier No. 2 on its list of the top 100 Gators from the first century of Florida football.
2. Pat Fitzgerald, LB, Northwestern (1993-96) — now at Northwestern
Fitzgerald was key part in one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of college football. He was a two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time consensus All-American at linebacker for the Wildcats in the mid-1990s. Northwestern went a combined 6–15 in Fitz’s first two seasons but broke through with a 10–2 record in ’95, highlighted by a Big Ten title and appearance in the Rose Bowl.
3. Kliff Kingsbury, QB, Texas Tech (1999-2002) — now at Texas Tech
Kingsbury was the first in a long line of successful quarterbacks at Texas Tech during the Mike Leach era. As a senior, he completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 5,017 yards with 45 TDs and 13 INTs — numbers that earned him National Offensive Player of the Year honors from the AP. Kingsbury ended his career in Lubbock with 12,423 passing yards and 95 touchdowns.
4. Mike Gundy, QB, Oklahoma State (1986-89) — now at Oklahoma State
Gundy broke into the starting lineup midway through his freshman season and went on to throw for 7,997 yards and 54 touchdowns for the Cowboys. Gundy, who had the luxury of playing in the same backfield with Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas, led the Pokes to two 10-win seasons.
5. Kyle Whittingham, RB/LB, BYU (1978-81) — now at Utah
Now the boss at Utah, Whittingham starred for the rival BYU Cougars in the late 1970s and early ’80s. He was named WAC Defensive Player of the Year in 1981 and capped off his career by earning Defensive MVP honors of the 1981 Holiday Bowl.
6. Bob Stoops, DB, Iowa (1979-82) — now at Oklahoma
Stoops was a four-year starter at defensive back for Hayden Fry at Iowa and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as a senior. The Hawkeyes won a share of the Big Ten title in Stoops’ junior season and made the school’s first appearance in the Rose Bowl since 1959.
7. P.J. Fleck, WR, Northern Illinois (1999-03) — now at Western Michigan
Fleck’s coaching career is off to a rocky start, but he was a big-time playmaker during his time at Northern Illinois. As a senior in 2003, he caught 77 passes for 1,028 yards and six touchdowns for the 10–2 Huskies.
8. Kevin Sumlin, LB, Purdue (1983-86) — now at Texas A&M
Sumlin has a well-deserved reputation as one of the top offensive coaches in the nation, but he was linebacker during his days at Purdue. He was a four-year starter for the Boilers and ended his career with 375 tackles.
9. Willie Taggart, QB, Western Kentucky (1995-98) — now at South Florida
Taggart played for Jack Harbaugh (father of Jim and John) during his time at Western Kentucky. He was a four-year starter and a two-time finalist for the Walter Payton Award, given to the top player in the Division I-AA ranks.
10. Gary Pinkel, TE, Kent State (1970-73) — now at Missouri
Pinkel was a two-time All-MAC tight end at Kent State, where he teamed with Nick Saban and Jack Lambert to play for legendary coach Don James.
The game of the day in the SEC — and the nation — took place at Jordan-Hare Stadium, where Auburn beat Georgia in a game that will be talked about for decades. Elsewhere, Vanderbilt reached bowl-eligibility for the third straight season with a 22-6 win over Kentucky; Alabama remained perfect with a sluggish 20-7 victory over Mississippi State; and South Carolina edged Florida 19-14 in a closer-than-expected battle in Columbia.
SEC Week 12 Awards and Power Rankings
Offensive Player of the Week: Aaron Murray, Georgia
Murray engineered a comeback for the ages … that was thwarted by one of the most amazing endings in recent college football history. Playing rival Auburn for the final time, the senior quarterback led Georgia on three fourth-quarter scoring drives that turned a 20-point deficit into a 38-37 lead. The final Georgia touchdown came on a 5-yard run from Murray on 4th-and-goal with 1:49 remaining. Murray ended the game with 33 completions for 415 yards and two touchdowns but was on the painful end of a legendary finish.
Defensive Player of the Week: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
His stats weren’t overwhelming — eight tackles and one forced fumble — but Mosley led an Alabama defense that limited Mississippi State to 197 total yards in a 20-7 win over the Bulldogs in Starkville. Mosley, a senior linebacker, is the overwhelming favorite to earn SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Team of the Week: Auburn
The dream Iron Bowl matchup is now a reality thanks to a miracle ending that gave Auburn a 43-38 win over Georgia at Jordan-Hare Stadium. For a few anxious moments — when Georgia grabbed a 38-37 lead with under two minutes to play — it appeared as though Auburn had let it all (as in 20-point fourth-quarter lead) slip away. But angst turned into delirium shortly thereafter when Nick Marshall hooked up with Ricardo Louis for a 73-yard score on what might be the most memorable touchdown pass in the history of Auburn football. The Tigers are now 10-1 overall and 6-1 in the SEC, and they host No. 1 Alabama in two weeks. Last year at this point, Auburn was 2-8 overall and 0-7 in the SEC after losing at home to Georgia 38-0.
Coordinator of the Week: Bob Shoop, Vanderbilt
Kentucky marched 75 yards on 12 plays for a touchdown on its first possession but managed only 187 yards on 51 snaps — and no points — the rest of the game. The Wildcats did not have a drive that went for more than 40 yards in the final three and a half quarters, and they did not penetrate the red zone after their initial possession. The Commodores have held three of their last four SEC opponents to under 350 yards.
Freshman of the Week: Kelvin Taylor, Florida
With a redshirt freshman (Skyler Mornhinweg) making his first career start at quarterback, Florida leaned heavily on its running game. And Taylor, a true freshman and the son of Gator legend Fred Taylor, delivered with career highs of 96 yards and two touchdowns to lead a Florida rushing attack that netted 200 yards on 41 attempts in a 19-14 loss at South Carolina. Taylor has 345 in his last five games.
|Rank||Team||LW||Record||Last Week||Next Week|
|1||2||10-0, 7-0||W, Miss. State 20-7||Chattanooga|
|2||2||10-1, 6-1||W, Georgia 43-38||Bye|
|3||3||8-2, 4-2||Bye||at LSU|
|4||4||8-2, 6-2||W, Florida 19-14||Coastal Caro.|
|5||5||9-1, 5-1||Bye||at Ole Miss|
|6||7||7-3, 3-3||W, Troy 51-21||Missouri|
|7||6||6-4, 4-3||L, Auburn 43-38||Kentucky|
|8||8||7-3, 3-3||Bye||Texas A&M|
|9||9||6-4, 3-4||W, Kentucky 22-6||at Tennessee|
|10||10||4-6, 3-5||L, S. Carolina 19-14||Ga. Southern|
|11||12||4-6, 1-5||L, Alabama 20-7||at Arkansas|
|13||13||2-8, 0-6||L, Vanderbilt 22-6||at Georgia|
|14||14||3-7, 0-6||Bye||Miss. State|
The biggest game of the weekend in the SEC will be at Jordan-Hare Stadium, where Auburn hosts Georgia. It’s possible (but not likely) that these two teams could meet up next month in the SEC Championship Game. Elsewhere, South Carolina hosts the struggling Florida Gators; Vanderbilt hopes to become bowl-eligible with a win over Kentucky; and Alabama heads to Starkville to play Mississippi State.
SEC Week 12 Game Power Rankings
1. Georgia (+4) at Auburn (3:30 ET CBS)
Auburn continues its quest to go from worst to first in the SEC West. Employing one of the nation’s most potent offenses — the Tigers rank seventh nationally with 7.1 yards per play — Gus Malzahn’s team is 9–1 overall and 5–1 in the SEC. While Auburn has done most of its work on the ground, this team has been surprisingly efficient when it does elect to pass the ball, ranking fifth in the SEC by averaging 8.5 yards per passing attempt. Statistically, Georgia has been decent on defense (fifth in the SEC, 367.0 ypg), though the Bulldogs have allowed 400 yards or more four times this season — including 404 to Tennessee, which ranks 13th in the league. Surprisingly both teams rank near the bottom of the league in turnover margin in SEC games; Auburn is eighth (minus-0.17) and Georgia is 11th (minus-0.67). You don’t see that too often with teams that are a combined 9–3 in league games.
2. Florida (+13.5) at South Carolina (7 ET, ESPN)
South Carolina can secure a spot in the SEC Championship Game with a win Saturday night. Florida, on the other hand, is simply trying to avoid its first losing season since 1979. The Gators slipped to 4-5 overall with a 34-17 loss at home to Vanderbilt last week. Assuming a win over Georgia Southern on Nov. 23, Florida will have to beat either South Carolina (not likely) or Florida State (highly, highly unlikely) to become bowl-eligible. The Gators could be without starting quarterback Tyler Murphy, who has been dealing with a sprained shoulder. If Murphy, who threw three picks against Vanderbilt, can’t go, redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg (son of Marty) will get the start. A former 4-star recruit from Pennsylvania, Mornhinweg has yet to throw a pass in college. No matter who is takings snaps, Florida must do a better job running the ball. Last week against Vanderbilt, Kelvin Taylor and Mack Brown combined to rush for 79 yards on 24 carries with a long of 10 yards. That’s simply not good enough.
3. Kentucky (+13) at Vanderbilt (12:21 ET, SEC TV)
Vanderbilt beat Georgia and Florida this season despite averaging only 260 yards in the two games. The reason? Turnovers and efficiency in the red zone. Against Georgia, the Commodores only had a 3-to-2 advantage in turnovers, but they scored on all five trips to the red zone, with four touchdowns and a field goal. In the win over Florida, the Dores scored on all six visits to the red zone (four TDs, two FGs) and won the turnover battle 4-to-0. While not the sexiest way to win games, it’s a formula James Franklin would no doubt love to replicate each week. Kentucky is looking for its first SEC win under first-year coach Mark Stoops. The Wildcats have really struggled on offense in league play, averaging only 267.6 yards per game and 4.27 yards per play. Those rank last in the league by a wide margin.
4. Alabama (-25) at Mississippi State (7:45 ET, ESPN)
This Alabama team is playing as well right now as any in the Nick Saban era. The Crimson Tide are undefeated, with eight of their nine wins by 21 points or more. Last week, Bama was magnificent in a 38–17 win over LSU in Tuscaloosa. The Tide scored a touchdown on their final five possessions of the game (not including kneel-downs at the end of each half), with each drive at least 70 yards. Mississippi State has played some decent football this season but only has one SEC win, over Kentucky, to show for it. State has been able to move the ball — it has at least 385 yards in all five SEC games — but those yards haven’t always translated to points (or wins). Quarterback Dak Prescott is questionable with an elbow injury. He gives MSU a major threat in the running game, but the Bulldogs struggle to throw the ball down the field against good competition. In SEC games, they have only five passing plays of 30 yards or more and three of 40 yards or more.
5. Troy (+29) at Ole Miss (12 ET, ESPNU)
Ole Miss concludes its non-conference schedule with a visit from Troy on Saturday afternoon. The Rebels have won three straight — all at home — and are now gunning for a nine-win regular season. To do that, they must beat Troy and Missouri in Oxford and knock off Mississippi State in Starkville. Troy is 5-5 overall and has scored more than 30 points in all but one game — in a 52-7 loss to Mississippi State in late September. This team has some talent, especially on offense, but the Rebels shouldn’t have to break too much of a sweat.
5 Pivotal Players
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
We’re not breaking news here, but Gurley — when healthy — is one of the elite offensive players in college football. He missed three games with a ankle injury; Georgia lost two and won the other in overtime. He returned two weeks ago against Florida and keyed the Bulldogs’ win, rushing for 100 yards on 17 carries and catching three passes for 87 yards and a score. It’s pretty simple: Georgia is much more explosive when Gurley is in the lineup.
Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn
It’s not often that a player has the opportunity to play against his former school. It’s even more rare — if it’s ever happened at all —when that player is a quarterback after playing a different position at his previous school. Well, that’s Marshall’s story. The former defensive back at Georgia is now running the show for Auburn, the most improved team in the nation. He is coming off a brilliant performance at Tennessee, when he rushed for 214 yards and two scores on only 14 carries. Marshall hasn’t been asked to throw the ball a ton, but he did throw for 339 yards against Mississippi State and 200-plus against LSU and Texas A&M.
Georgia coach Mark Richt compared Auburn’s rushing attack to Georgia Tech’s triple-option. The alignment isn’t the same, but the plan of attack is similar — the offense is “accounting for just about every single guy on your team,” Richt said, because the quarterback has the ability to run the ball. When Georgia hands the ball off to a running back, quarterback Aaron Murray is out of the play, and no defender has to worry about him. However, when a running quarterback, like Nick Marshall, initiates the action, a defender has to account for him and another defender has to account for the running back. What does this have to do with Georgia’s linebackers? A lot. This group will have to play with discipline and be able to tackle in space.
Florida’s offensive line
We understand that injuries have hit this unit especially hard, but at some point the guys on the field simply need to play better. Last week against Vanderbilt, Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy was sacked five times, and tailbacks Kelvin Taylor and Mack Brown combined to average 3.3 yards per carry and did not have a run longer than 10 yards. This week, the Gators will be facing one of the top defensive lines in the nation at South Carolina. If the O-line doesn’t play better, it’s almost impossible to envision Florida hanging around in this one.
Jerron Seymour, RB, Vanderbilt
Last week, Vanderbilt dressed only four wide receivers at Florida — and only one (Jordan Matthews) had more than three career catches in SEC action. The Commodores hope to have Jonathan Krause (hamstring) back this week, but if the senior is unable to play, offensive coordinator John Donovan will rely heavily on the running game once again. Seymour has emerged from a crowded backfield to be the Commodores’ No. 1 running back. He doesn’t have the gaudiest stats — 541 yards on 118 carries (4.6 per) — but he is a tough runner with a nose for the end zone. Seymour is tied for third in the league with 12 rushing touchdowns, three of which came last week in the Dores’ win at Florida. Don’t be surprised if the Florida native gets the ball 25 times on Saturday.
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Troy (+29) at Ole Miss|
Ole Miss 35-10
|Ole Miss 45-17||Ole Miss 45-17||Ole Miss 41-10|
|Kentucky (+13) at Vanderbilt|
|Vanderbilt 34-17||Vanderbilt 34-20||Vanderbilt 28-17|
|Georgia (+4) at Auburn|
|Georgia 38-34||Auburn 34-31||Auburn 41-35|
|Florida (+13.5) at S. Carolina|
S. Carolina 35-7
|S. Carolina 31-13||S. Caroina 31-10||S. Carolina 30-17|
|Alabama (-25) at Miss. State|
|Alabama 35-7||Alabama 41-13||Alabama 31-10|
True college football fans like to examine and dissect statistics, whether it's a quarterback's completion percentage or a team's winning record on the road. We, however, love stats. With that in mind, we scoured the SEC to put together some of the strangest, most amazing, and just plain cool numbers from around the conference in Week 11.
More Stats from Week 11: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12
29: Touchdowns scored by Missouri in six SEC games in 2013, eight more than it scored in eight league games last season.
The Tigers are averaging 38.5 points in SEC games, good for third in the league behind Texas A&M (46.0 ppg) and Alabama (42.8 ppg). Last season, Mizzou ranked 11th in the SEC, averaging 21.9 points in league games.
3.27: Yards gained per play by Vanderbilt in its win at Florida.
The Commodores beat the Gators 34-17 despite gaining a season-low 183 yards. Vanderbilt won the turnover battle 4-to-0 and sacked Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy five times. The Dores’ first three touchdown drives went for 10, 22 and 4 yards. Vanderbilt also won its last game in which it averaged less than 4.0 yards per play; last year, the Dores beat NC State 38-24 in the Music City Bowl despite averaging only 3.31 yards per play.
220.1: Yards per game increase for Auburn in SEC action from 2012 to ’13.
Last year, en route to an 0-8 league record, the Tigers averaged 235.1 yards against SEC opponents. This year, under the guidance of Gus Malzahn, Auburn is averaging 455.2 yards per game.
6: Straight losses by Arkansas of 10 points or more, the longest such streak in school history.
The Razorbacks have actually lost seven straight games, but each of the last six has been by at least 10 points. The Hogs are 0-6 in the SEC — the school’s first 0-6 start in league play since 1990 when it was in the Southwest Conference.
8: Total touchdowns scored in the second half of Texas A&M’s 51-41 win over Mississippi State, the most in any SEC game this season.
Four of the eight touchdowns were scored in a two-minute stretch of game time late in the third and early in the fourth quarter. And none of the four was scored on special teams.
0: Interceptions thrown by AJ McCarron in Alabama’s win over LSU.
The Crimson Tide’s senior quarterback has only thrown an interception in two of his 14 regular-season games dating back to the beginning of the 2012 season. McCarron threw one against Ole Miss this season (in a win) and two against Texas A&M last season (in a loss).
12.0: Average yards per carry for Corey Grant in Auburn’s 55-23 win over Tennessee.
Grant, a junior tailback, leads the SEC (min. 50 attempts) with a 10.1 yards-per-carry average — more than two yards higher than any other player in the league.
2: Ole Miss receivers who had over 100 yards receiving in the Rebels’ 34-24 win over Arkansas.
Donte Moncrief had 149 yards on seven receptions and Ja-Mes Logan had 110 on five catches, giving the Rebs two 100-yard receivers in the same game for the first time since 2003.
Alabama proved it’s the No. 1 team in the SEC — and the nation — with an impressive 38-17 win over LSU on Saturday night. Earlier in the day, Vanderbilt beat Florida with surprising ease in Gainesville; Auburn ran past Tennessee in Knoxville; Missouri rolled past undermanned Kentucky in Lexington; and Ole Miss handled Arkansas in Oxford.
SEC Week 11 Recap and Awards
Offensive Player of the Week: Nick Marshall, Auburn
On the Tigers’ first possession against Tennessee, Gus Malzahn called four straight pass plays. The result was a punt. Wisely, Malzahn decided to let Marshall’s legs do the work. The electric quarterback rushed for 214 yards on only 14 carries (15.3 ypc) as the Tigers racked up 444 rushing yards in a 55-23 win in Knoxville. Marshall now has three games with a least 100 yards rushing and three games with at least 200 yards passing — including one when he accomplished both, at Texas A&M
Defensive Player of the Week: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
Mosley was a force for an Alabama defense that limited LSU to a season-low 284 yards and two touchdowns in the Crimson Tide’s 38-17 win in Tuscaloosa. Mosley, a senior linebacker, recorded a game-high 12 tackles (including 1.5 for a loss) and had two pass break-ups to spearhead the Bama defense. He leads the Tide in tackles with 71 — 23 more than anyone else on the team.
Team of the Week: Vanderbilt
Despite gaining only 183 total offense, Vanderbilt dominated Florida wire-to-wire en route to its first win over the Gators since 1988 and first win in Gainesville since 1945. The Commodores’ 31-17 victory was keyed by a defense that forced four turnovers and sacked Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy five times. Vanderbilt’s first three touchdown drives — all set up by Murphy interceptions — went for 10, 22 and 4 yards. Then, after Florida cut the deficit to 24-10 midway through the third quarter, the Dores marched 87 yards on 17 plays on a drive that was capped off by Jerron Seymour’s third touchdown of the game. The Commodores are now 5-4 overall and need one win to become bowl-eligible for the third straight season.
Coordinator of the Week: Kirby Smart, Alabama
For the first time since mid-September, Alabama gave up more than 10 points in a game. That’s the bad news (and that’s a stretch). The good news? LSU averaged a season-low 5.3 yards per play, netted just 43 yards rushing and only scored three points in the second half. After giving up a field goal on LSU’s first drive of the third quarter, the Alabama defense took over, allowing only 35 yards on LSU final three possessions. In nine games, Alabama has allowed a total of 11 touchdowns and is giving up 10.6 points per game.
Freshman of the Week: Maty Mauk, Missouri
Mauk made the most of what could be his final start of the 2013 season. The Ohio native completed 17-of-18 passes for 203 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions in Missouri’s 48-17 win at Kentucky. Four of Mauk’s five TD tosses went to sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham, who caught seven passes for 100 yards to go along with his four scores. Mauk, who is 3-1 as the starter, is expected to give way to senior James Franklin when the Tigers return to action in two weeks.
|Rank||Team||LW||Record||Last Week||Next Week|
|1||1||9-0, 6-0||W, LSU 38-17||at Miss. State|
|2||3||9-1, 5-1||W, Tennessee 55-23||Georgia|
|3||4||8-2, 4-2||W, Miss. State 51-41||Bye|
|5||6||9-1, 5-1||W, Kentucky 48-17||Bye|
|6||7||6-3, 4-2||W, App. State 45-6||at Auburn|
|7||8||6-3, 3-3||W, Arkanas 34-24||Troy|
|8||2||7-3, 3-3||L, Alabama 38-17||Bye|
|9||10||5-4, 2-4||W, Florida 34-17||Kentucky|
|10||9||4-5, 3-4||L, Vanderbilt 34-17||at South Carolina|
|11||11||4-6, 1-5||L, Auburn 55-23||Bye|
|12||12||4-5, 1-4||L, Texas A&M 51-41||Alabama|
|13||13||2-7, 0-5||L, Missouri 48-17||at Vanderbilt|
|14||14||3-7, 0-6||L, Ole Miss 34-24||Bye|
The annual Alabama-LSU clash is the main attraction on the SEC slate this weekend, but there are other games of note. Auburn remains in contention in the SEC West, but the Tigers will have to play well to beat Tennessee — a team that has been tough at home. Elsewhere, Florida hopes to stop the bleeding against Vanderbilt; Texas A&M closes out its home schedule with a visit from Mississippi State; Ole Miss, fresh off a bye, hosts struggling Arkansas; and Missouri heads to Lexington to play a Kentucky team searching for its first SEC win of the season.
SEC Week 11 Game Power Rankings
1. LSU (+12.5) at Alabama (8 ET, CBS)
LSU’s two losses have knocked the Tigers out of the national title conversation, but this is still a very good team that is capable of winning in Tuscaloosa. The LSU staff has to be a bit concerned with quarterback Zach Mettenberger. The fifth-year senior has thrown five interceptions in the last two games after throwing a total of two in his first seven games. You have to be nearly perfect to beat Alabama — just ask Johnny Manziel. The Crimson Tide have been on a mission since giving up 42 points (in a win) at Texas A&M. Alabama has outscored its last six opponents 246-46, with the “closest” victories by 25 points, over Colorado State and Ole Miss.
2. Auburn (-7.5) at Tennessee (12 ET, ESPN)
Amazingly, these two traditional powers combined to win one SEC game last season — by Tennessee, over Kentucky (which went winless in the league). Auburn has made a quick turnaround, with an 8-1 overall record and a 4-1 mark in the SEC. The biggest improvement has been on offense, where the Tigers’ production is up by nearly 200 yards per game, from 305.0 in 2012 to 494.9 in ’13. Things are going a bit slower at Tennessee, where Butch Jones is 4-5 overall and 1-4 in the SEC in his first season. The Vols, however, have been good at home in league play, losing in overtime to Georgia and beating South Carolina. Josh Dobbs did some good things in his first start last week at Missouri, but he threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. He will have to limit the mistakes to give his team a chance to win on Saturday.
3. Vanderbilt (+10) at Florida (12 ET, FSN)
These are not good times for Florida football. The Gators have lost three straight games to fall to 3-3 in the SEC — and the three teams they beat have a combined one win in league play. They rank last in the SEC in total offense (334.6 ypg) and are the only team in the league averaging less than 4.0 yards per play. Florida will need to split its final four games (Vanderbilt, at South Carolina, Georgia Southern, Florida State) to become bowl-eligible. Vanderbilt, like Florida, is 4-4 overall, but the Commodores — against a more difficult schedule — have only one SEC win, at home vs. Georgia. Redshirt freshman Patton Robinette will be making his second start at quarterback. He completed 15-of-28 for 216 yards with one touchdown and two INTs at Texas A&M two weeks ago. Vanderbilt has not defeated Florida since 1988 and has only one win over the Gators in Gainesville, in 1945.
4. Mississippi State (+19.5) at Texas A&M (3:30 ET, CBS)
It’s the final game at Kyle Field before the renovations begin. The Aggies have been brilliant on offense this season, scoring at least 41 points in all nine games and topping the 500-yard mark in all but one game. The defense, however, is an issue. Even after holding Vanderbilt to 329 yards and UTEP to 198 yards, A&M is still last in the league in total defense, allowing 443.1 yards per game. Mississippi State, despite its struggles, has been able to move the ball this season. Last week, the Bulldogs had 385 yards against South Carolina, breaking a streak of six straight games with at least 400 yards. Dak Prescott, who leads State in rushing and passing, is a dual-threat quarterback who should have success against the Aggies’ defense. The key, though, will be Mississippi State’s ability to slow down Johnny Manziel & Co. — something that no team has been able to do this season.
5. Arkansas (+17) at Ole Miss (12:21 PM, SEC TV)
Ole Miss dives back in to SEC play for the first time since beating LSU on Oct. 19. The Rebels, at 5-3 overall, are set up for a strong finish. Beating Missouri at home (on Nov. 23) will be a challenge, but Ole Miss could be favored in each of the last four games. An 8-4 regular season, considering the tough schedule and amount of key injuries, would be a great accomplishment for Hugh Freeze and his staff. Arkansas’ staff, on the other hand, is simply looking to win a game. The Hogs have lost five straight games — all in SEC play. Their “closest” loss was by 12 points at home to Texas A&M in late September. This is a mediocre team that is playing with no confidence.
6. Missouri (-14) at Kentucky (12 ET, ESPNU)
Missouri showed its maturity last week by taking care of Tennessee with ease one week after it’s devastating loss to South Carolina. Quarterback James Franklin is listed as questionable on the Tigers’ depth chart, but Maty Mauk is likely to get the start for the fourth straight game. The best plan of attack would be to rest Franklin for one more game then have him ready for Ole Miss after a bye week. Kentucky is searching for its first SEC win of the season. The Wildcats are battling under first-year coach Mark Stoops, but there just isn’t enough talent on this roster at this point. The defense has really struggled in league play, allowing 492.5 yards per game and 6.94 yards per play. Those numbers might go up after Saturday.
7. Appalachian State (+31.5) at Georgia (12:30 ET)
Georgia’s season hasn’t gone quite as well as expected, but Bulldog fans can’t be too upset with a team that already has wins over South Carolina, LSU, Tennessee and Florida on its résumé. The return of Todd Gurley last week provided a big boost, as expected. The sophomore tailback rushed for 100 yards on 17 carries and caught three passes for 87 yards, highlighted by a 73-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Appalachian State has fallen on hard times under first-year coach Scott Satterfield. The Mountaineers are 2-7 overall and will have the school’s first losing season since 1993.
SEC Week 11 Pivotal Players
Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Mettenberger was one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks through the first half of the season. He averaged at least 10 yards per attempt in five of his first six games and only threw two interceptions through the first seven games. In his last two SEC games, however, Mettenberger has been rather ordinary, averaging 213 yards with a combined one touchdown and three interceptions. He can’t be ordinary on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa. He has to be elite.
Alabama’s “other” cornerbacks
Senior Deion Belue is an established veteran at one cornerback spot in the Alabama secondary. The other starter will be either sophomore Bradley Sylve or true freshman Eddie Jackson. These young corners will be facing an LSU offense that features two elite wide receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. There will be times when Sylve and/or Jackson will be matched up with an All-America-caliber receiver.
Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
LSU’s great players will have to play great on Saturday night. Johnson is the best player on a defense that has given up 400-plus yards in four of its last five SEC games. The Tigers need their big man to be disruptive on the interior of the defensive line.
Tennessee’s offensive line
The Vols’ offensive line is loaded with future pros, but the unit has been underwhelming in 2013. Last week, Tennessee was manhandled in the trenches in a 31-3 loss. With a true freshman at quarterback (Josh Dobbs), Tennessee needs its offensive line to play well this week against Auburn. The Tigers are perhaps the most improved team in the nation, but the defense is mediocre. Tennessee should have some success moving the ball — if its offensive line plays up to its ability.
Patton Robinette, QB, Vanderbilt
Florida is vulnerable. The Gators have lost three straight games and have not defeated an SEC team with a winning record. Can Vanderbilt pull off the upset in Gainesville? It’s possible if Robinette, a redshirt freshman making his second career start, plays well and does not turn the ball over.
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
Auburn (-7.5) at Tennessee
|Auburn 31-24||Auburn 37-21||Auburn 34-17||Auburn 27-24|
Vanderbilt (+10) at Florida
|Florida 17-14||Florida 24-17||Florida 24-17||Florida 28-17|
Missouri (-14) at Kentucky
|Missouri 35-13||Missouri 38-13||Missouri 38-13||Missouri 28-7|
Arkansas (+17) at Ole Miss
|Ole Miss 42-17||Ole Miss 38-17||Ole Miss 41-20||Ole Miss 27-17|
App. State (+31.5) at Georgia
|Georgia 38-10||Georgia 44-13||Georgia 52-10||Georgia 47-10|
Miss. St. (+19.5) at Texas A&M
|A&M 56-21||A&M 44-24||A&M 48-24||A&M 44-34|
LSU (+12.5) at Alabama
|Alabama 35-21||Alabama 34-17||Alabama 30-20||Alabama 35-24|
With the favorite winning all four of the SEC games on Saturday, there wasn’t much movement in the weekly Power Rankings. Arkansas, which has lost six straight game, did fall from No. 13 to No. 14.
SEC Post-Week 10 Power Rankings
|1||1||Alabama (8-0, 5-0): Alabama had the week off before its huge showdown with LSU in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide, who have allowed 10 points or fewer in all but one game this season, lead the nation in scoring defense (9.8 ppg). Next Week: LSU|
LSU (7-2, 3-2): After playing nine straight weeks, LSU had its first bye of the season leading up to next Saturday’s trip to Alabama. The Tigers have lost two of their last three on the road — at Georgia and Ole Miss, by three points each. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has thrown five interceptions in the last two games after throwing a total of two in his first seven games. Next Week: at Alabama
|3||3||Auburn (8-1, 4-1): Gus Malzahn is making a strong case for National Coach of the Year. Auburn improved to 8-1 overall with a relatively stress-free 35-17 win over Arkansas in Fayetteville. The Tigers only attempted nine passes, but they completed eight for 135 yards — an average of 14.8 yards per attempt. Tre Mason led a productive running attack with a career-high 32 carries for 168 yards and four touchdowns. Quarterback Nick Marshall added 59 yards rushing on nine attempts. Auburn’s offensive production is up by nearly 200 yards per game this season. Next Week: at Tennessee|
Texas A&M (7-2, 3-2): It was a slow start on a late kickoff (8 p.m. local time), but the final result was no surprise: Texas A&M 57, UTEP 7. The Aggies only led 9-7 at the end of the first quarter but outscored the Miners 48-0 over the next 30 minutes to take control of the game. Johnny Manziel threw for 273 yards and four touchdowns and added 67 yards and two scores on the ground. Mike Evans, who was getting some recent Heisman talk, only had 46 yards on four receptions. UTEP was without starting quarterback Jameill Showers, who began his career at Texas A&M but transferred following the 2012 season. Showers was sidelined with a shoulder injury. Next Week: Mississippi State
|5||5||South Carolina (7-2, 5-2): The Gamecocks only had 307 yards of offense (on 54 snaps) and converted just 1-of-11 on third down yet had little trouble with Mississippi State in a 34-16 win in Columbia. Quarterback Connor Shaw, the hero in Carolina’s win at Missouri last week, threw for 148 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. Mike Davis was terrific on the ground, rushing for 127 yards on an 8.5-yard average. He leads the SEC with 117.6 yards per game. The Gamecocks have next week off then close out their SEC season with a home against Florida. Next Week: Bye|
|6||6||Missouri (8-1, 4-1): The Tigers bounced back from an excruciating overtime loss to South Carolina with an impressive 31-3 win over Tennessee. Mizzou controlled the line of scrimmage, which led to a productive night running the ball. Surprisingly, quarterback Maty Mauk was the Tigers’ leading rusher with 114 yards on 13 carries. Henry Josey, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy combined for 179 yards on 31 carries. Mauk threw three touchdowns and did not have a pass intercepted, but he completed only 12-of-25 attempts. In his three starts, Mauk has completed 46.6 percent of his passes. Starting quarterback James Franklin could possibly return next week, but the Tigers may opt to keep him out another game since they have a bye following their trip to Kentucky. Next Week: at Kentucky|
|7||7||Georgia (5-3, 4-2): Georgia needed a big win to lift its spirits following consecutive losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt. Mission accomplished. The Bulldogs surged to a 20-0 lead on rival Florida but had to hold on for a 23-20 win — their third straight in the series. The final offensive numbers weren’t overwhelming (414 total yards), but the Bulldogs were terrific in the first half when they grabbed the big lead. The return of All-America tailback Todd Gurley was a big boost; he rushed for 100 yards on 17 carries and caught three passes for 87 yards, highlighted by a 73-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter. Wide receiver Michael Bennett, who missed two games with a knee injury, returned and caught five passes for 59 yards. Next Week: Appalachian State.|
|8||8||Ole Miss (5-3, 2-3): Ole Miss did not play. The Rebels are 5-3 overall after ending a midseason three-game slide with wins over LSU and Idaho. The Rebels are out of the SEC West race but are set up for a strong finish, with Troy and Missouri at home followed by a season-ending trip to Starkville for the Egg Bowl. An 8-4 regular season against a difficult schedule — not to mention a slew of key injuries — would be a huge accomplishment for Hugh Freeze’s team. Next Week: Troy|
|9||9||Florida (4-4, 3-3): Give the Gators credit for a spirited comeback against Georgia in Jacksonville, but this is a team with a ton of problems right now — most notably on the offensive side of the ball. The Gators had only 319 yards against Georgia and have not topped the 400-yard mark in a game since beating Kentucky 24-7 on Sept. 28. Quarterback Tyler Murphy, who played well in his first three games after replacing Jeff Driskel, has completed only 50.6 percent of his passes and averaged 4.5 yards per attempt over the last three games. The Gators have now lost three straight games and have to win two of their final four games — Vanderbilt, at South Carolina, Georgia Southern, Florida State — to become bowl-eligible. Next Week: Vanderbilt|
Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4): The Commodores did not play last weekend. At 4-4, they need to win two of their final four games — at Florida, Kentucky, at Tennessee, Wake Forest — to become bowl-eligible for the third straight season. Vanderbilt has lost 22 straight games to Florida and has only won one time in Gainesville — in 1945, the first game between the two programs. Next Week: at Florida
|11||10||Tennessee (4-5, 1-4): The Vols lost 31-3 at Missouri in Josh Dobbs’ first start at quarterback. The true freshman threw for 240 yards and completed 61.9 percent of his passes, but he tossed two interceptions and lost a fumble. Marlin Lane ran well, averaging 6.2 yards on six carries, but Rajion Neal was limited to eight yards on eight attempts. The Vols had trouble slowing down Mizzou’s rushing attack, giving up 339 yards on 54 carries. Since upsetting South Carolina on Oct. 19, Tennessee has been outscored 76-13 in losses at Alabama and Missouri. Next Week: Auburn|
|12||12||Mississippi State (4-4, 1-3): Mississippi State outgained South Carolina 385-to-307 in Columbia and converted 6-of-13 on third down but never really threatened the Gamecocks because it lost the turnover battle 5-to-0. Dak Prescott did some nice things at quarterback (235 yards passing, 78 rushing), but he threw three interceptions. The Bulldogs are 2-7 in their last nine SEC games dating back to the middle of last season. Next Week: at Texas A&M|
|13||14||Kentucky (2-6, 0-4): Kentucky climbs out of last place in our weekly power rankings for the first time this season. The Cats rolled past FCS foe Alabama State 48-14 on Saturday, but their move to No. 13 has as much to do with Arkansas’ struggles as their improvement. UK used a balanced attack (233 yards rushing, 189 passing) to wear down Alabama State after a tight first quarter. Jalen Whitlow played most of the way at quarterback, throwing for 186 yards and two TDs and rushing for a game-high 101 yard and two more scores. Former Georgia tailback Isaiah Crowell led Alabama State with 84 yards on 12 carries. Next Week: Missouri|
Arkansas (3-6, 0-5): Arkansas’ losing streak is now at six games after a 35-17 loss at home to Auburn. The Hogs did a decent job on the ground, with 222 rushing yards, but they continue to get subpar play from the quarterback position. Brandon Allen completed only 10-of-22 passes for 112 yards. In SEC games, Arkansas is averaging 138.2 passing yards per game (13th in the league) and has four touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Overall, the Hogs only have eight touchdowns in five SEC games; to put that in perspective, Texas A&M has 30 touchdowns in five conference games. Next Week: at Ole Miss
SEC Week 10 Recap and Awards
Offensive Player of the Week: Tre Mason, Auburn
He doesn’t often get mentioned with some of other elite backs in the SEC, but Mason is enjoying a tremendous junior season under first-year coach Gus Malzahn. On Saturday night in Fayetteville, Mason rushed for 168 yards and four touchdowns on 32 carries to lead Auburn to a 35-17 win over Arkansas. In SEC play, Mason is averaging 117.8 yards per game with a league-best eight rushing touchdowns.
Defensive Player of the Week: Garrison Smith, Georgia
Smith, a senior defensive end, had the most productive day of his career in a very important game for the Georgia program. The Atlanta native had nine tackles and was credited with 2.5 sacks (for 12 lost yards) in the Bulldogs’ 23-20 win over Florida — their third straight over their rivals from Gainesville. Georgia held the Gators 319 total yards and allowed only one drive that went for more than 50 yards.
Team of the Week: Georgia
The Bulldogs survived a spirited second-half comeback to edge Florida 23-20 in a battle of proud programs seeking a feel-good win. Georgia dominated the first half and appeared on its way to a lopsided win until one play — a lateral that tight end Arthur Lynch failed to pick up — changed the complexion of the game. Florida outscored the Dawgs 17-0 the rest of the way but came up just short and lost for the third straight time in the series. The win keeps Georgia in the hunt in the SEC East. The Bulldogs and South Carolina each have two losses. Missouri has one loss. The Tigers, however, still have to play Ole Miss on the road and Texas A&M at home.
Coordinator of the Week: Mike Bobo, Georgia
It might seem odd to give Bobo the nod here since Georgia only scored 23 points and was shut out in the second half. But consider a few stats: The Bulldogs had 414 total yards and averaged 6.8 yards per play (only Missouri has done better against Florida this season), and Georgia averaged 9.9 yard per pass attempt — the most against Florida since October 2011. The Bulldogs also converted 7-of-12 on third down — their first game over 50 percent for the season — and ended the game on a 67-yard drive that ate up the final 8:17 of the game.
Freshman of the Week: Kelvin Taylor, Florida
It was far from a banner week for the league’s freshman. We’ll give the nod to Taylor, who rushed for 76 yards on 20 carries against Georgia in his first career start. The son of former Florida star Fred Taylor has been forced into a prominent role due to injuries at the tailback position. He has rushed for 202 yards on 42 carries in the last three games.
• Tyler Russell, Mississippi State’s starting quarterback at the beginning of the season, did not play a snap in the Bulldogs’ 34–16 loss at South Carolina. Coach Dan Mullen said Russell, who has been dealing with an ankle injury, was cleared to play “but if he didn’t have to play he wasn’t going to, which (will allow) him to be very healthy getting into next week.” Dak Prescott threw for 235 yards and rushed for 78 yards and two scores, but he threw three interceptions.
• South Carolina’s Connor Shaw has 17 touchdowns and only one interception in seven SEC games. Only two other quarterbacks have more than 10 TDs in league games — Johnny Manziel (15) and Aaron Murray (15).
• Missouri rushed for 339 yards in a 31-3 win against Tennessee, the Tigers’ highest single-game total in SEC play since joining the league last season. Mizzou was led by quarterback Maty Mauk, who had a career-high 114 yards on 13 attempts, and Henry Josey, who ran for 74 yards on 16 carries.
• Arkansas is averaging only 4.8 yards per passing attempt in SEC games. Only two teams nationally are worse in league play — Purdue (4.5 in the Big Ten) and Syracuse (4.1 in the ACC). Two years ago, in the final year of the Bobby Petrino era, the Hogs averaged a league-best 7.7 yards per pass attempt in SEC games.
• Auburn had a season-low 366 total yards (on a season-low 55 snaps) yet still beat Arkansas with ease, 35-17. The Tigers’ previous season low was 375 yards in a 30-22 win at home against Ole Miss.