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.
James Franklin, QB, Missouri
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.