Revenge is a dish best served cold.
The proverbial phrase holds meaning on the gridiron, especially in the Southeastern Conference when rivalry games often feature nationally-ranked SEC heavyweights going toe-to-toe with another league for another year of bragging rights. There’s nothing sweeter than payback against the nearby enemy, an opportunity at exorcising a season’s worth of demons with a single win while turning the tides in local in-state recruiting wars. Only two rivalry games this weekend pit ranked SEC teams against Top 25 adversaries, but the rest could be just as appetizing after you recover from all the turkey.
Here’s a viewer’s guide to the games that matter in the SEC and beyond as we draw closer to the end of college football’s regular season.
No. 8 LSU at Arkansas (Friday, 2:30, CBS): The annual ‘Friday after Thanksgiving’ affair opens rivalry week for the SEC as LSU guns for its 10th win to strengthen the Tigers’ BCS at-large resume. Les Miles stole the show after last weekend’s back-and-forth win over Ole Miss in Baton Rouge, delivering a postgame speech for the ages based around the fight and tenacity of his senior class. Odell Beckham’s 89-yard punt return with 9:10 remaining knotted the score at 35 before Jeremy Hill’s 1-yard plunge inside the final 20 seconds sealed the victory. The Tigers will focus on ball security against the Razorbacks after giving it up three times vs. the Rebels — the first turnovers in four games.
Auburn at No. 2 Alabama (Saturday, 3:30, CBS): Now, this one means something. Benefiting from two elites falling late Saturday night, the Crimson Tide are back in the BCS Championship picture ranked second in the AP Top 25 following a 49-0 win over Western Carolina. With two more victories, Alabama can defend its BCS crown in Miami. Standing in the way is Auburn and an SEC title date with Georgia. Nick Saban’s squad doesn’t get caught looking ahead and it would take a monumental collapse on both sides of the ball to lose the Iron Bowl to this season’s Tigers. Another dismal loss will only add additional stress to the Gene Chizik household.
Georgia Tech at No. 3 Georgia (Noon, ESPN): The Bulldogs are re-energized now that the BCS Championship is within striking distance. Perhaps no team has been more excited over the last two weeks after witnessing the BCS picture clouded by upsets and Johnny Football. It would appear, now ranked third, Georgia controls its own destiny the rest of the way. Since a midseason loss to South Carolina, the Bulldogs have won five straight games and haven’t lost its instate rivalry matchup with the Yellow Jackets since 2008. Imagine the pressure on Mark Richt if Georgia Tech’s triple option led to a loss. An up-and-down fanbase would got ballistic. Don’t worry though. UGA won’t overlook the Yellow Jackets.
Kentucky at Tennessee (12:21, SEC Network): Someone will finish 1-7 in the SEC while the other goes winless. Both will have new head coaches next season. So, why do we care who wins Saturday? We don’t, but it doesn’t mean this game won’t be exciting. The Wildcats snapped a 26-game losing streak to the Vols last season — an ugly, 10-7 affair — and could send Tennessee to an unthinkable 0-8 conference season. Last week’s loss at Vanderbilt for the Vols was Tennessee’s worst loss in the rivalry in 60 years. Sad to see what has happened in Knoxville under Derek Dooley’s watch.
No. 6 Florida at No. 10 Florida State (3:30, CBS): SEC vs. ACC. Sunshine State bragging rights. A potential BCS-buster for the Gators. A lot rides on this game in Tallahassee as Floridia tries to keep its name in the national title hunt with a victory against the projected ACC champion. The Seminoles will receive an automatic BCS bid regardless of what happens in this one if they win the conference title next weekend in Charlotte. Improving on offense is something the Gators have tried to do all season. Will Muschamp and company is hoping incumbent starter Jeff Driskel will be ready to go under center. If not, Jacoby Brissett will be prepared.
No. 13 South Carolina at No. 12 Clemson (7, ESPN): This one ought to be a dandy — if quarterback Connor Shaw and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney are cleared to play for the Gamecocks. Both have ailing foot problems and Clowney missed the first game of his career in Saturday’s 24-7 win over Wofford. Clemson’s offense continues to put up sizable numbers against weak competition and is hoping to snap a three-game losing skid in this heated, Palmetto State fight. A win for South Carolina likely sets up another bowl invite to Florida and a shot at a second consecutive 11-win season. The Tigers’ spread attack is the best the Gamecocks have seen this season. South Carolina’s weakness against the pass is noted.
Mississippi State at Ole Miss (7, ESPNU): Ole Miss has to win the Egg Bowl to be bowl eligible in Hugh Freeze’s first season while Mississippi State appears to be back on solid footing after an emphatic win at Arkansas. A nine-win regular season with losses to Alabama, A&M and LSU is commendable for the Bulldogs, but winning on the road in Oxford will be no easy feat. The Rebels’ last win in this matchup was a 45-0 beating at home in 2008. Miss. St. went 4-8 that season while Ole Miss was on its way to the Cotton Bowl.
Outside the SEC notables: Oregon at Oregon State (3, PAC-12 Network); Michigan at Ohio State (Noon, ABC); Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (3:30 p.m., ABC); Notre Dame at Southern Cal (8, ABC)