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.
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
Georgia (+4) at Auburn
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