November 24, 2011

Week 13 preview in the SEC

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It's Rivalry Week in the SEC, which means it's time for the "Iron Bowl," the "Egg Bowl" and three ACC-SEC showdowns.

This will be the fourth season in a row that the Alabama-Auburn game has had a bearing on the national championship race. In 2008, Alabama was No. 1 in the BCS going into the contest. In '09, the Tide was No. 2. Last season, Auburn was No. 2. This season, the Tide again is No. 2.

Arkansas at LSU, 2:30 p.m.
Georgia at Georgia Tech, noon
Tennessee at Kentucky, 12:20 p.m.
Alabama at Auburn, 3:30 p.m.
Vanderbilt at Wake Forest, 3:30 p.m.
Florida State at Florida, 7 p.m.
Ole Miss at Mississippi State, 7 p.m.
Clemson at South Carolina, 7:45 p.m.
Arkansas-LSU is our national game of the week, and we will have a complete breakdown of that game Friday.
One difference from the past three seasons is that neither of these teams is in control of the SEC West race. While Alabama is No. 2 in the BCS, it lost to LSU on Nov. 5, and the top-ranked Tigers will win the SEC West title if they defeat Arkansas on Friday. Should the Hogs pull the upset, Alabama will take the field Saturday knowing it has a shot at ascending to No. 1 in the BCS standings.

Last season, Alabama roared out to a 24-0 lead at home but fell apart in the second half of an eventual 28-27 loss to Auburn. Coach Nick Saban said his team hasn't forgotten.

"This team has a tremendous opportunity in a big game for us," he told reporters early this week. "But you know, we weren't able to finish last year. It's always tough to play down there. So this is probably as big as of a challenge as we've had all year, so it will be interesting to see how we respond."

While the Tide is a 21-point favorite, the intensity of the rivalry likely has some Alabama fans uneasy. Anything can happen in a rivalry game.

"I think that's certainly the theme, and we know that and I think people across the country know that with any great rivalry," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said.

[Video: Video: Which one-loss NCAA football team is best?]

A quick look at the storylines in the other rivalry games this week:

Clemson-South Carolina: Can the Gamecocks win three in a row over the Tigers for the first time since 1968-70? If Tigers WR Sammy Watkins is truly healthy, he could wreak havoc in South Carolina's secondary - assuming QB Tajh Boyd has time to throw.

Florida-Florida State: Can a win in this rivalry be used as a springboard back to national relevance? Consider: From 1990-2000, both teams were in the top 10 every season they met, but this season, for the first time since 1986, neither is ranked at kickoff.

Georgia-Georgia Tech: Can Tech's rushing offense, which is ranked second nationally, have any success against Georgia's rush defense, which also is ranked second nationally? More on this matchup in a minute.

Kentucky-Tennessee: Is it really a rivalry when one team (Tennessee) has beaten the other (Kentucky) 26 seasons in a row? The Vols have to win to become bowl-eligible. And, hey, if the Vols win, maybe we can see another Derek Dooley-led locker room celebration.

Mississippi-Mississippi State: Will the Rebels send Houston Nutt out as a winner? Ole Miss has been horrible this season and suffered the ignominy of having LSU take a knee at the goal line with five minutes left last week. In addition to sending Nutt out with a victory, Ole Miss can keep its archrival out of a bowl game.

[Video: Video: Does LSU have margin for error?]

BEST MATCHUP: Georgia Tech run offense vs. Georgia run defense. As noted earlier, Tech is No. 2 offensively in rushing offense and the Bulldogs are No. 2 nationally in rushing defense. Georgia has held seven opponents under 100 rushing yards - but just one of their past nine foes ranks better than 55th in rushing and four rank 83rd or worse. Tech has rushed for at least 272 yards in every game but two - and it lost both those games. Miami, which is 68th in run defense, held the Yellow Jackets to 134 yards. Tech needs to rush for at least 275 yards if it wants to pull the upset.

PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson. It seems unlikely that the Hogs are going to have sustained success on the ground against LSU, which means Wilson needs to be sharp. Wilson threw for 365 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-17 blowout of Mississippi State last week - but Mississippi State isn't LSU. Wilson struggled against Alabama, throwing for just 185 yards in a 24-point loss. He has to at least reach the 250-yard plateau against LSU.

KEEP AN EYE ON: South Carolina's pass rush. Clemson's defense isn't great, but neither is South Carolina's offense. The Gamecocks have no shot at winning a shootout, so they need to stifle Clemson's offense. A consistent pass rush would be a giant step in that direction. Despite a good front four, the Gamecocks have just 20 sacks; Clemson has allowed 24, though. Look for Gamecocks defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson to throw a new wrinkle or two at Clemson in an effort to get to Tigers QB Tajh Boyd. Melvin Ingram, Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor need to make Boyd know they're around.

NUMBERS GAME: Georgia senior K Blair Walsh has struggled at times this season, but he's still in an excellent position to finish as the leading scorer in SEC history. He has 394 career points, 15 behind former Bulldogs K Billy Bennett (2000-03). Walsh has three games left in his career.

[Video: Video: Alabama wants Iron Bowl revenge]


"Winning helps everything; it puts everybody in a better mood. You become a better coach all of a sudden when you win a game." - Florida coach Will Muschamp

"I don't like going out this way and I don't like losing. I am very competitive and losing wrenches my gut. I try to do everything I can to win. ... I would have liked to have gone out a little bit different, but we still have one game left and that is what I am focused on." - Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, whose final game as Rebels coach is Saturday against Mississippi State

"In this game, it's not that they have nothing to lose; it's that both teams have everything to gain. When you are in the state of Mississippi, everything is that 'Golden Egg' trophy. That is everything, as it pertains to this state." - Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen

"It helps both schools. It helps our state. If we were both 11-0, that would be better, but we're both 9-2. They lost a couple of conference games and we lost a couple of conference games. It worked out they're the division winner. Ours didn't work out. It's neat for our state."- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, on Saturday's matchup with Clemson. Both teams are ranked at kickoff for just the fourth time in the 110-year history of the rivalry

"We'll talk about it next year a lot. We'll watch it as many times as we need to watch it. That's a wound I'm going to leave open for a year and we'll discuss it next year. I look at that as respect. Some people act like they won a Super Bowl when they beat a team that the previous two years ... won two games. But we'll move on. We'll have a lot of discussions about this next year when the time is right." - Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, on the post-game celebration in Tennessee's locker room after the Vols beat the Commodores in overtime last week

"It's like there is no sacred place, and I think probably all 120 coaches out there in football have a side to them where they loosen up with team that they don't do in public. Am I excited after a win? I always am. After a win is emotional, and certainly when you win a close game that is down to the wire, it's exciting." - Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, who expressed disappointment that the video of the celebration became public

POLL WATCH: The top three teams in the BCS standings are from the SEC - LSU, Alabama and Arkansas. It is the first time that a conference has had the top three teams in the BCS standings. The SEC also has the top three teams in The Associated Press, coaches' and Harris polls. It is the first time since the final poll of the 1971 season that a conference has had the top three teams in the AP poll (it was the Big Eight in '71, with Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado).

ETC.: Former longtime Georgia radio announcer Larry Munson died at age 89 last Sunday. Georgia will honor Munson by wearing a helmet decal against Georgia Tech. "It will be something that will be very recognizable and obvious that we are honoring him," Richt said. ... South Carolina (9-2) has won nine games for just the fourth time in school history. The Gamecocks have won 10 games only once, in 1984. ... LSU has scored six non-offensive TDs this season; the Tigers' defense has allowed just 11 TDs. ... Arkansas (10-1) has consecutive 10-win seasons for just the third time in school history (1988-89 and 1964-65). ... Tennessee (5-6), Mississippi State (5-6) and Vanderbilt (5-6) must win Saturday to become bowl-eligible. Vandy has made just one bowl appearance since 1982. ... Alabama's 2011 senior class has won a school-record 46 games; that's second-best in SEC history to Florida's 48 from 2006-09. Nebraska holds the BCS record with its 1997 class - 49 wins (and three national titles). ... LSU's winning streaks of 16 home games and 12 games overall represent the longest in the nation. ... Mississippi State has won the past two "Egg Bowls." The Bulldogs haven't won three in a row over Ole Miss since winning four straight from 1939-42. ... After going the entire season without an interception return for a touchdown, Florida had two in last week's win over Furman. ... Clemson and South Carolina have met every season since 1909, making the series the second-longest-running consecutively played rivalry in college football at 103 in a row, behind only Minnesota-Wisconsin (105). ... LSU has allowed only 50 points in seven SEC games. ... Arkansas has outscored its past three opponents 137-52, scoring 40-plus points in three consecutive conference games for the just the second time in school history (1970). ... There are nine former Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas players combined on the Florida and Florida State rosters. UF has CBs Cody Riggs and Marcus Roberson and G/C Dan Wenger ; FSU has OTs Andrew Datko and Bobby Hart, C Austin Barron, S Lamarcus Joyner and WRs James Dolan and Rashad Greene. ... The Web site shows that Arkansas, Florida and Vanderbilt have 14 plays of at least 40 yards this season, tied for the most in the SEC. ... Arkansas will be LSU's seventh top-25 opponent of the season - and the third ranked in the top three at game time. ... Friday's game is the fourth time Arkansas has been involved in a game in which both teams are in the top five (the other three were Arkansas-Texas matchups in 1965, '69 and '70). ... Since 1967, the team that has outrushed the other has gone 37-7 in the Alabama-Auburn series. The last time a team won when rushing for fewer yards than the other was Auburn in 1997. ... Kentucky seniors Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy are the SEC's top two tacklers. Trevathan leads the league with 135 and Guy has 106. ... Auburn has won 17 games in a row when intercepting a pass. ... Tennessee has won 28 consecutive regular-season finales since 1983. The Vols also have won 35 of their past 36 regular-season finales since 1975, with the lone loss at Vanderbilt in 1982. ... From 1917-24, Georgia and Georgia Tech did not play because of a dispute caused by a Georgia parade float that ridiculed the Yellow Jackets for playing football during World War I. ... Arkansas is 4-13 all-time against No. 1 teams. The Razorbacks' last win over a No. 1 team? It was a 50-48 thriller over LSU in Baton Rouge on Nov. 23, 2007. That's also the last time the AP No. 1 team lost on its home field.

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Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for He can be reached at

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