There isn’t a ton of drama remaining in the regular season. Assuming Alabama beats Auburn — and Nick Saban’s team is favored by over four touchdowns — the SEC Championship Game is set: Georgia vs. Bama. Two teams are fighting for bowl-eligibility; Ole Miss must defeat Mississippi State and Missouri needs a win at Texas A&M to reach the six-win mark. Four league teams will play an opponent from the ACC this weekend — Georgia (Georgia Tech), South Carolina (Clemson), Florida (Florida State) and Vanderbilt (Wake Forest)
Other Week 13 Previews and Predictions
SEC’s Top Storylines to Watch in Week 13:
1. Will this be Gene Chizik’s final Iron Bowl?
Two years after winning a national title, Auburn is on the verge of the program’s first winless SEC season since 1950. Nothing has been announced, but there is speculation that Gene Chizik will be fired shortly after Auburn concludes its season, which most assume will end with a lopsided loss to rival Alabama. The Tigers are a 31.5-point underdog. While it seems a bit rash to fire a coach who delivered the school its second-ever national championship, there is ample evidence to suggest Chizik is not the long-term solution. Auburn has had one winning SEC record in Chizik’s four seasons; his predecessor, Tommy Tuberville, had eight winning records in nine seasons. Not only will Auburn likely fail to a win a game in the league this season, but the Tigers have been alarmingly uncompetitive. Through seven SEC games, they have been outgained by an average of 199.2 yards and outscored by an average of 20.3 points. And, the stat that everyone loves to point to: Chizik is 24–37 overall and 9–30 in conference play as a head coach when Cam Newton is not his quarterback.
2. Will Alabama’s defense pitch a shutout?
There won’t be much drama at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday. It’s pretty much a given that Alabama will beat rival Auburn — and do so with ease. But Nick Saban will keep a close eye (as usual) on his defense. With a date with Georgia looming in the SEC Championship Game, it’s important that Alabama plays well on the defensive end after giving up 435 yards and 418 yards to LSU and Texas A&M, respectively, in its last two SEC games. Prior to that, the Tide had not allowed any team to gain more than 282 yards this season. Auburn’s issues have been well-documented (see above). It will not be a good sign if Alabama struggles on defense this weekend.
3. Can Ole Miss reach bowl-eligibility?
Ole Miss is 0-for-3 in its quest to become bowl-eligible under first-year coach Hugh Freeze. The Rebels’ last two losses have been especially painful —a 27–26 defeat at home to Vanderbilt in a game in which Ole Miss led 23¬–6 and then last week’s 41–35 heartbreaker at LSU. “We are coming off of another disappointing loss,” Freeze said earlier this week. “I don’t know that in my years of coaching high school, NAIA or Division I football if I’ve ever had three [Ole Miss also lost by three to Texas A&M this season] more difficult ones in one year. I’m extremely proud of our kids and coaches and the way that they bounce back from those.” Motivation should not be a problem this week against hated rival Mississippi State. The Rebels have lost three straight and five of the past seven in the series. Freeze would like nothing more than to snap the streak in his first Egg Bowl as the head coach. “There’s a lot riding on this game for us,” he said. “Obviously the Egg Bowl is enough, but I sure would like to send these seniors out going to play in a postseason game and our fans to get to experience that.”
4. Can Florida get its offense going?
We thought Florida had figured some things out on offense after scoring 31 points or more four times in a five-game stretch from late September through late October. We were wrong. The Gators have averaged only 18.3 points in their last four, and that includes games against Louisiana-Lafayette and Jacksonville State. Overall, Florida ranks 12th in the SEC in total offense (332.9 ypg) and 10th in scoring offense (25.8 ppg). Those are troubling stats that become even scarier when you have a trip to Tallahassee looming. Florida State ranks first nationally in total defense (236.3 ypg) and has given up more than 22 points only once this season. It’s strange to say this about a team ranked fourth in the BCS standings, but it’s tough to envision a scenario in which Florida musters enough offense to win this game.
5. Can Georgia control Georgia Tech’s option attack?
Georgia is 3–1 against Georgia Tech since Paul Johnson and his option attack arrived in Atlanta. After losing 45–42 in Athens in the first meeting, the Dawgs have won three straight. But even in the victories, Georgia has had trouble with Tech’s option offense; the Jackets have averaged 317 rushing yards and 30 points in the four games. Last week, Georgia prepped for Tech by playing Georgia Southern, an FCS team that has been running the option for years. The results couldn’t have thrilled Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham: Georgia Southern rushed for 302 yards on 58 attempts, with three different players averaging over 4.5 yards per carry. Stopping Tech’s attack this week will be a challenge.
6. Can Johnny Manziel finish strong?
Johnny Manziel, now considered the Heisman frontrunner, has one more opportunity to impress the voters. The redshirt freshman from Texas A&M closes what has been a magical regular season against Missouri on Saturday. Manziel leads the SEC in rushing (144.1 ypg), ranks fourth in the league in passing efficiency and ranks second nationally in total offense (378.3 ypg). He had one bad game — three picks and no touchdowns in a loss against LSU — but shined on the biggest of stages in the Aggies’ win at Alabama two weeks ago. He completed 24-of-31 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns and added 92 yards rushing against arguably the nation’s finest defense.
The Heisman is Manziel’s to lose.
7. Can Carolina make it four straight against Clemson?
South Carolina is in the midst of its most successful run in school history. The Gamecocks are 17–7 in the SEC over the last three seasons and have won three straight against their rivals from Clemson. It will be a significant challenge to increase that streak to four games. The Tigers, 10–1 overall, have been on a tremendous roll offensively for the majority of the 2012 season. They rank fourth nationally in scoring (44.6 ppg) and are fresh off of a 62-point, 754-yard performance last week against NC State. It was the sixth time in the last seven games that Clemson has scored at least 40 points. South Carolina was one of the top defensive teams in college football through the first half of the season but has not been as stout in the past month. Sophomore end Jadeveon Clowney, arguably the best defensive player in the nation, has been slowed by a foot injury. Carolina will need Clowney to be back to his disruptive self on Saturday to slow down the potent Tigers’ attack.
8. Can Vanderbilt handle prosperity?
James Franklin has done a great job keeping his team focused on the task at hand — the next game — throughout the 2012 season. But that will more difficult than ever this weekend. The Commodores are riding high after beating Tennessee 41–18 on Saturday night in Nashville. It was their fifth straight win overall and their first win over Tennessee at home since 1982. This week, the Commodores head to Wake Forest to play a struggling Demon Deacon team that has lost its last two games (at NC State and at Notre Dame) by a combined score of 75–6. Last year, Vanderbilt closed its regular season with a 41–7 win at Wake Forest. Franklin is no doubt guarding against overconfidence this week.
9. Can the LSU offense take its show on the road?
LSU has played well offensively in recent weeks, scoring 41 against Ole Miss, 37 against Mississippi State and gaining 435 yards in a 21–17 loss to Alabama. But all three of those games were at home. The Tigers have not played well offensively in their three previous road trips — and yes, they have only played three road games. LSU has averaged 14 points and 289 yards on the road this year, and only one of those opponents (Florida) is ranked in the top half of the SEC in total defense. The Tigers scored 12 points in a way-too-close win over Auburn, six in a loss at Florida and 24 in a win at Texas A&M. Zach Mettenberger has shown tremendous improvement at quarterback in the latter half of the season. Now it’s time for the junior to prove he can perform at a high level on the road.
10. Will Tennessee actually go winless in the SEC?
Tennessee dropped to 0–7 in the SEC with its 41–18 loss at Vanderbilt last week. The Volunteers need to beat Kentucky on Saturday to avoid their first winless conference season in school history. On two occasions Tennessee has only won one game (1–5–1 in 1964 and 1–5 in 1977), but never have the Vols done the unthinkable — fail to win an SEC game. And it probably won’t happen. As much as Tennessee is struggling, it is still a much more talented team than Kentucky, which is also winless in the SEC. The Vols would have to play really poorly not to win this game.
LSU at Arkansas
Georgia Tech at Georgia
Kentucky at Tennessee
Vanderbilt at Wake Forest
Florida at Florida State
Florida State 28-10
Florida St. 24-20
Florida St. 24-17
Florida St. 27-17
Auburn at Alabama
Miss. State at Ole Miss
Ole Miss 28-24
Ole Miss 34-30
Miss. State 31-30
Ole Miss 31-27
South Carolina at Clemson
Missouri at Texas A&M
Texas A&M 35-14
Texas A&M 30-21
Texas A&M 41-24
Texas A&M 33-20