Top storylines for each SEC team in Week 12
The college football chaos that gripped the nation last Saturday was felt in the SEC, and it wasn’t just Texas A&M inexplicably falling at home to a Chad Kelly-less Ole Miss team.
But that same Week 11 circus also brought us a simplified scenario for the final two weeks of the regular season. Alabama, again above whatever fray there is, won big and then watched old friend Kirby Smart take out Auburn, punching the Crimson Tide’s ticket to Atlanta. Over in the already chaotic SEC East, Kentucky’s drought continued in Knoxville, meaning Tennessee is the only team that can block Florida’s path to Atlanta — with a little help from LSU.
Which brings us to our Week 12 headliner, as the controversial makeup game caused by Hurricane Matthew takes place in Louisiana, not in Florida, among the SEC’s annual mid-November cream puff matchups. LSU and Florida were supposed to be part of that, playing South Alabama and Presbyterian, respectively. Instead, the Gators’ season will be on the line as they try to earn an SEC Championship Game rematch with Bama next month.
And Tennessee, flawed but with renewed hope, will be praying for just a little more chaos this week in Death Valley.
Texas-San Antonio at Texas A&M, noon (ET): In a span of two horrific Saturdays, the Aggies went from being No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings to barely being in the AP poll — they check in at No. 23 this week. The 5-5 Roadrunners from Conference USA will likely get run over by the dazed Aggies, but right now the only thing that can somewhat revitalize A&M’s season is a win over LSU on Thanksgiving night. Meanwhile, this Saturday don’t look at the scoreboard to size up the state of Kevin Sumlin’s team, look at the Aggies’ body language.
Louisiana-Lafayette at Georgia, noon (ET): The Bulldogs have run the gamut this fall, losing at home to Vanderbilt and on the same Athens field less than a month later slaying Auburn, which might have been the hottest team in college football besides the one in Tuscaloosa. After the Bulldogs’ biggest win of the season, they can still salvage eight wins in Smart’s first year, as 8-4 would look awfully good after being 4-4. They should easily take the first step toward that against the Ragin’ Cajuns at home before the always-tricky rivalry game against Georgia Tech.
Florida at LSU, 1 p.m. (ET): Here it is — finally. The game that was supposed to take place on Oct. 8 in Gainesville will be staged on an early Saturday afternoon in mid-November. The noon local time kickoff shows this matchup wasn’t meant for Tiger Stadium on this day, because if it was it would be either a primetime kickoff or a 3:30 Eastern time start. Of course, amid the sleepy noon-time kickoff, the Gators’ season will be in the balance, with a victory finally sealing the wild and underwhelming SEC East.
Florida knows if it falls Saturday, Tennessee is waiting to scoop up the division with wins over Missouri and Vanderbilt. Austin Appleby was an efficient 17-of-21 passing against South Carolina, but he also turned the ball over twice. It didn’t matter at home against the Gamecocks, but Appleby will have to be about 10 notches better in Death Valley against a defense that blanked Bama for more than three quarters and didn’t let down at all last week at Arkansas.
The Tigers appear to be in a good spot. They’ve got Leonard Fournette and the blossoming Derrius Guice running at full throttle. They know they aren’t going to Atlanta, so they aren’t saddled with the pressure the Gators have. And Florida is mighty banged up on both sides of the ball. Then there’s the dirty little secret that Florida, despite playing for a division title this late, still hasn’t beaten a quality team in a road game this year, stumbling at Tennessee and at Arkansas — we don’t count the neutral-site win over Georgia. This game would look so much better for Florida if it was at home. Talk about irony.
Missouri at Tennessee, 3:30 p.m. (ET): The Volunteers seem to have regained some of the swagger they possessed coming out of the gate this season. They dispatched upstart Kentucky from the SEC East race with an offensive explosion (and not much defense), and suddenly they’re in prime position to see the division fall in their lap if LSU comes through. Missouri comes in off its first SEC win since early October — of 2015 — and it was at home against Vanderbilt. If the Vols have their heads screwed on straight there’s no reason this game should be close in the fourth quarter, by which time they’ll know the all-important final score in Baton Rouge.
Western Carolina at South Carolina, 4 p.m. (ET): After three home wins to start his college career, Jake Bentley finally got a taste of the road at The Swamp and took his lumps, and that’s perfectly fine for a rebuilding program like South Carolina. Now the Gamecocks return to Williams-Brice with a chance to be bowl eligible, and they should be celebrating by early Saturday night after beating the FCS Catamounts.
Austin Peay at Kentucky, 4:30 p.m. (ET): Kentucky is in the exact same position as South Carolina on Saturday. The Wildcats can become bowl eligible for the first time under Mark Stoops by taking care of an FCS team, at home, to put a check mark on a respectable turnaround season. And, like South Carolina, which visits Clemson next week, the Wildcats travel to Louisville in Week 13, so Saturday is definitely the day to get that sixth win for a team that two weeks ago was on the verge of leading the SEC East. Kentucky’s defensive woes won’t matter Saturday, and its offense should go crazy again to grab that elusive sixth victory.
Chattanooga at Alabama, 7 p.m. (ET): There was no letdown after the big win at LSU against Mississippi State, and there shouldn’t be one Saturday against the FCS Mocs, although you can be sure Nick Saban will be “coaching for next week” for the entire 60 minutes, with the Iron Bowl looming. And there’s this: Saban can (and will) pass Ohio State’s Woody Hayes and Florida State’s Bobby Bowden for the most wins as coach of a No. 1 team. The trio are tied with 40.
Arkansas at Mississippi State, 7 p.m. (ET): This should be a scoring fest in Starkville between teams that allowed a combined 89 points last week to Alabama and LSU. These capable but flawed teams are a combined 4-8 in the SEC, and while the once-ranked Hogs have somehow staggered to six wins and bowl eligibility, the Bulldogs are 4-6 and need to win Saturday and against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. The Arkansas defense should be a welcome sight for Nick Fitzgerald, who was eaten alive by Bama.
Alabama A&M at Auburn, 7:30 p.m. (ET): The Tigers just weren’t the same offense without Kamryn Pettway in Athens, and it cost them an Iron Bowl that would have decided the SEC West and a possible Playoff spot. Pettway might sit out this Saturday, too, not that it will matter, and his status is week-to-week. Auburn’s got to be deflated after such a stunning and thrilling six-game run to playoff relevance, but its motivation against the FCS Bulldogs should be that it’s the final rehearsal for the Bama game that still carries the ultimate pride factor.
Ole Miss at Vanderbilt, 8 p.m. (ET): It’s the battle for bowl eligibility in Nashville. Vandy, coming off a putrid loss at Missouri, needs to win Saturday and then slay Tennessee. Meanwhile, the underachieving Rebels have renewed life after the riveting debut of quarterback Shea Patterson in a stunning win at Texas A&M and only need one more victory to at least be bowl eligible for the fifth consecutive season.