Week nine is just two days away, and the SEC features eight huge storylines this weekend:
1. Closeout Saturday: Undefeated Florida can put a bow on the SEC East with a win over Georgia, boosting them into the SEC Championship. However, Georgia still controls their own destiny with a win over Florida and two very winnable games against Ole Miss and Auburn left. Florida will be the second and final ranked team Georgia plays during the regular season. Will Muschamp is trying to turn his 7-6 program around to an 8-0 start, but he’s never been on the winning side of the Georgia-Florida game as a player or a coach. He’ll try and break that streak Saturday.
2. Mark Richt’s Legacy: Richt has taken a lot of heat over the last few years for his teams always blowing their best opportunities against ranked opponents. We saw it a couple weeks ago when UGA was thrashed on the road against South Carolina, who ran for 230 yards and jumped out to a 21-0 lead with 5:00 left in the first quarter. In the last five years, Richt is 5-16 against top 25 opponents, and the last win against a top ten team came in 2009 against #7 Georgia Tech. If he wins Saturday, he’ll silence the critics and gain another shot at an elusive SEC Championship, but if he loses, Richt will really start to feel the heat. With only two ranked opponents on the schedule, most thought this would be the Bulldogs’ year. And it still might be.
3. Underrated Unbeatens: The only two undefeated teams popping pads this weekend lies in the SEC when #1 Alabama and #11 Mississippi State go at it. Could all the noise of November 3rd get in the way of Alabama’s preparation for Mississippi State? After all MSU catches Alabama at the best possible time – after Tennessee and before LSU. Both teams excel at creating turnovers and taking care of the football. MSU and Bama have the same prescription for winning, and both quarterbacks – Tyler Russell and AJ McCarron – take exceptionally great care of the ball, as both have combined for only one interception. But something has to give, and it will come down to whether the Bulldogs can slow down the Tide’s running game. Remember, this game was just 10-0 entering the fourth quarter last season.
4. The Goal of 6: Ole Miss (4-3), Arkansas (3-4) and Vanderbilt (3-4) are on the quest to six wins and a bowl berth. However, Ole Miss and Arkansas will punt a dent in each other’s hopes Saturday, while Vanderbilt plays baby seal UMASS. The Rebels and Hogs are really in a must-win situation if they want to go bowling. Vanderbilt has the most favorable schedule remaining of the three with UMASS, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Wake Forest left. I really think Ole Miss and Vandy will go bowling with Arkansas left scratching their heads with five wins. But that’s why we play the game, folks.
5. Blazing Seats and Stools: Gene Chizik and Derek Dooley are almost dead men coaching. Chizik is scheming to play against Johnny Manziel, and Dooley is trying to figure out how to make his knucklehead quarterback not be his downfall. All kidding aside, if Chizik wins one SEC game, I really think he returns. But if he goes 0-8 in the SEC and gets thumped by Alabama, look out. Nick Saban will speed up Chizik’s firing process. Dooley, on the other hand, has a chance to beat South Carolina and win out, amassing eight wins. Does he return to Tennessee with eight wins? It will be interesting to see, but losses this weekend only throws gasoline on each dumpster fire.
6. Johnny Football’s Crooked Numbers: Johnny Manziel came back to reality last week in his three-turnover day against LSU. He’s a great player and can single-handedly dominate lesser opponents, but to win against top defenses, he’s going to have to protect the ball better. LSU made an adjustment after first quarter and slowed him down. However, Auburn doesn’t have the type of defense to contain him this week. I think the Tigers keep it close, but there will be too much Manziel for the battered Tigers. He won’t set any records, but he’ll get a big SEC win on the road.
7. Battle of the Beatens: SEC-winless Kentucky travels to goose-egged Missouri Saturday, in which neither team will have their starting quarterback. So, a cast of Kentucky quarterbacks – Jalen Whitlow, Morgan Newton and Patrick Towles – will face off against Missouri backup Corbin Berkstresser. It’s really only fitting that one of the backups will get their team the first SEC win of the season, right? It’s been a very forgettable 2012 for each team. Missouri is coming off a bye week, while Kentucky gave Georgia all they wanted last weekend in Lexington. May the best worst team win?
8. Revving the Running Game: Steve Spurrier probably has insomnia because of his lingering frustration over the way his team spotted Florida 21 points last weekend, but he should really be focused on the running game and getting Marcus Lattimore going again. In their first six wins, the Gamecocks averaged 181.5 yards per game on the ground, but in their last two losses against LSU and Florida, they have rushed for 34 and 36 yards consecutively. Whether it’s been suffocating defenses, the offensive line or the lack of an explosive passing game, the running game is on life support. Tennessee’s worst-ranked SEC defense may just be the lucky ones to get the Gamecocks back on track.
Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE