All 14 SEC teams are in action this weekend, but there are only three games involving two league teams. And all three feature at least one team that needs to win to keep its bowl hopes alive. Tennessee is 4–6 and needs to beat Vanderbilt this week and Kentucky next week to get to the six-win mark. Arkansas, also 4–6, has a tougher road. The Hogs need to win at Mississippi State and beat LSU in Fayetteville on the Friday after Thanksgiving. And Ole Miss, at 5–5, needs to win one more game, either at LSU this weekend or vs. Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.
Other Week 12 Previews and Predictions
SEC’s Top Storylines to Watch in Week 12:
1. Can Ole Miss pick up win No. 6 in Baton Rouge?
After losing at Georgia and at home to Vanderbilt, Ole Miss is down to two more opportunities to pick up that elusive sixth win. Conventional wisdom suggests the Rebels have a better chance of beating Mississippi State at home than LSU in Baton Rouge. And while that is probably true, the Rebels do have a history of playing very well at Tiger Stadium. Ole Miss is 4–4 in their last eight games in Baton Rouge with three of the losses coming by three points or fewer and the other by seven points. One of the most noteworthy wins in the series came in 2008, when Houston Nutt’s first Rebel team won 31–13 at Tiger Stadium. That is the last time LSU has lost by more than 10 points at home. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, a Mississippi native who was a member of Ed Orgeron’s staff from 2005-07, knows the history of this series quite well. “One of the earliest memories I have is sitting in the stands and hearing exactly how the Ole Miss fans felt about LSU in almost any game,” Freeze says. “You always remember the Billy Cannons and all of those things. It's quite clear to me the rivalry that this is and how well Ole Miss usually plays LSU.”
2. Can we now call LSU a passing offense?
Something strange is happening in Baton Rouge. For the first time since November 2010, LSU has had more yards passing than rushing in two consecutive games (against FBS opponents). Two weeks ago, the Tigers threw for 296 yards and rushed for 139 in a 21–17 loss to Alabama. Last Saturday, they threw for 273 and rushed for 119 in a 37–17 win against Mississippi State. The reason for this new-found success in the passing game has been the improved play of quarterback Zach Mettenberger. In his first four SEC games, Mettenberger completed 46.2 percent of his passes with one touchdown and two interceptions; in his last two games, he has completed 66.2 percent with three touchdowns and no picks. It’s not likely we will ever see a Les Miles-coached team fling the ball all over the field on a consistent basis, but it’s a positive sign that the Tigers are able to throw the ball down the field when needed.
3. Can Mississippi State slow down the Arkansas passing attack?
Mississippi State’s secondary has taken a beating in recent weeks. The Bulldogs have given up an average of 280 passing yards during their three-game losing streak. After seven games, all wins, MSU ranked 21st nationally in pass defense, allowing an average of 188.6 yards per game. After losses to Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU, the Dogs have dropped to 43rd (216.0 ypg). This week, Arkansas comes calling. The Razorbacks have been one of the biggest disappointments in the nation, but they still do one thing very well — throw the ball down the field. The Hogs ranks 19th nationally in passing offense (302.6 ypg) and lead the SEC with eight passing plays of 50 yards or more. Arkansas isn’t as balanced as State’s three previous opponents, but this offense is more than capable of putting up a bunch of points on what has become a suspect Mississippi State defense.
4. Can Arkansas score some touchdowns?
There’s one stat that best illustrates Arkansas’ struggles in 2012. And it’s quite simple: The Razorbacks aren’t scoring enough touchdowns. Last year, with Bobby Petrino calling the plays, Arkansas scored 32 touchdowns in eight SEC games. This year, the Hogs have scored 16 touchdowns in six league games. There are mitigating factors — injuries to some key personnel, losses to graduation at wide receiver, etc. — but this is still a significant decrease in production. As a result, a team that was hoping to contend for an SEC West title is now fighting for bowl-eligibility.
5. Which SEC team is most at risk to losing to a FCS opponent this week?
No SEC team has lost to a member of the FCS ranks since Ole Miss opened the 2010 season with a 49–48 loss to Jacksonville State. This week, there are an unprecedented seven games featuring an SEC team vs. an FCS opponent. The league figures to win all seven, but there are a few teams that should be on upset alert. Kentucky, which is 1–9, hosts Samford (7–3) in the final home game of the Joker Phillips era. South Carolina takes on a solid Wofford team that is 8–2 overall and 6–2 in the SoCon. The schools have met twice in the past seven years, with Carolina winning 27–20 in 2006 and 23–13 in ’08. Struggling Auburn hosts Alabama A&M, which has a gaudy 7–3 record but plays in the weak SWAC. The biggest mismatch has to be Western Carolina vs. Alabama. The Catamounts are 1–9 and are allowing 519.8 yards and 40.0 points per game. It’s a safe bet that Alabama will bounce back from its only loss of the season with a comfortable win.
6. Can Vanderbilt do the unthinkable — end the season with a winning SEC record?
There have been a lot of firsts at Vanderbilt this season. Among the highlights: The Commodores have become bowl-eligibile for the second-straight season for the first time in school history; they recorded their first SEC shutout since 1968; and they have won three straight on the road in the SEC for the first time ever. Another significant milestone can be reached with a victory over Tennessee on Saturday — a winning record in the SEC. This has happened only one time since 1959, when Whit Taylor led the Dores to a 4–2 mark in league play in 1982. Since the SEC expanded in 1992, Vanderbilt has won more than two conference games only twice, 2005 (3–5) and 2008 (4–4).
7. Can the Tennessee defense step up?
Tennessee is allowing an average of 511.2 yards and 43.7 points in SEC games — staggering numbers for a program that has produced so many great defensive players over the past two decades. This weekend, the Vols face a Vanderbilt team that has some nice weapons but is far from an offensive juggernaut. The Commodores have scored 67 points over the last two weeks (in wins at Kentucky and Ole Miss) but had scored 19 or fewer in their first five SEC games. Tennessee’s suspect secondary will be challenged by the league’s most productive wide receiver duo — Jordan Matthews (1,003 yards) and Chris Boyd (686 yards). Historically, the Vols have made life very difficult on the Commodores. Tennessee has only lost to Vanderbilt once since 1982 and has only allowed the Dores to score more than 28 points once (in 2004) since 1987. This season, however, has defied history — for both schools.
8. Can Dorial Green-Beckham finish strong?
He’s had some big catches, but it’s fair to say that Missouri’s Dorial Green-Beckham, the nation’s top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2012, hasn’t been quite as productive as most expected. In nine games, DGB has caught 22 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns. His most productive game was against Florida two weeks ago, when he caught six passes for 73 yards, but his biggest catch came last week in the overtime win at Tennessee. Facing 4th-and-12 from the 25-yard line with under one minute to play, Mizzou quarterback James Franklin found Green-Beckham alone in the corner of the end zone for a game-tying touchdown. DGB added a 10-yard touchdown reception in the third overtime. With two regular-season games remaining, plus a potential bowl game, Missouri would love to see Green-Beckham close his rookie campaign on a strong note.
9. Can Joker Phillips win his last game at Commonwealth Stadium?
Joker Phillips will coach his last game in Lexington on Saturday against Samford. It will be an emotional day for a man who has spent the majority of his adult life at the University of Kentucky. The Franklin, Ky., native played for the Cats from 1981-84 and served on the UK staff in some capacity for 19 of his 25 years in coaching. Phillips has a 12–23 record overall and a 4–19 mark in the SEC in his two-plus seasons as the head coach. The high-water mark of his tenure was a 10–7 win over Tennessee — the program’s first over the Vols since 1984 — in the final week of the 2011 season. The low point had to be a 40–0 loss to Vanderbilt two weeks ago before fewer than 20,000 at Commonwealth Stadium. This Saturday, the Cats host Samford, which is 7–3 in the FBS ranks, and then close the Phillips era with a trip to Knoxville to play Tennessee.
10. Who will win the SEC rushing title?
Two freshmen have separated themselves from the field in the quest for the SEC rushing title. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, with 1,014 yards, leads Georgia true freshman tailback Todd Gurley, who has 973 yards while sharing time with fellow rookie Keith Marshall. Gurley has a slight edge in yards per carry (6.53 to 6.50), but Manziel has more touchdowns (15 to 11). Vanderbilt true freshman Brian Kimbrow leads the league in yards per carry (7.20) but only has 55 attempts. Among players with at least 100 attempts, Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon tops the list with 6.61 yards per carry.
Arkansas at Miss. State
Miss. State 35-21
Miss. State 31-28
Miss. State 27-24
Miss. State 31-24
W. Carolina at Alabama
Jacksonville St. at Florida
Wofford at South Carolina
S. Carolina 38-10
S. Carolina 31-7
S. Carolina 41-17
S. Carolina 31-13
Ga. Southern at Georgia
Alabama A&M at Auburn
Ole Miss at LSU
Sam Houston St. at Texas A&M
Texas A&M 42-13
Texas A&M 41-10
Texas A&M 56-20
Texas A&M 48-10
Syracuse at Missouri
Tennessee at Vanderbilt
Samford at Kentucky