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.
Auburn (-7.5) at Tennessee
Vanderbilt (+10) at Florida
Missouri (-14) at Kentucky
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
Miss. St. (+19.5) at Texas A&M
LSU (+12.5) at Alabama