Rivalry week is finally here, and the GameDay crew had a lot to say about the matchups in the SEC today.

ESPN analyst Desmond Howard wasn’t with the crew today because his number was being retired in Ann Arbor, while Sam Ponder had travel troubles, and the weather kept her from joining the team in Stillwater as well.

Most of the SEC conversation centered around the matchup on the Plains between No. 2 Alabama and unranked Auburn.

Fellow ESPN analyst David Pollack said he thinks Auburn is in for a long day today in the Iron Bowl, and while Kirk Hebrstreit agreed, he warned everyone of the dangers of rivalry week.

“Coaches and players on the teams that are expected to win and that have everything to lose have got to guard against playing and coaching NOT to lose. They’ve got to be aggressive,” Herbstreit said.

“You’re playing a team that’s going to throw caution to the wind, and you’re just trying to manage the game and just [trying] to not make a huge mistake, and by doing that, your team on the other side is trying to make their season, so this is one of those weeks where crazy things happen.”

Alabama head coach Nick Saban has been echoing that sentiment to his team.

“The players need to understand the level of energy that goes into a game like this,” Saban said. “And they need to be focused on the field.”

The Tide has had trouble in previous years when it comes to this part of the season, and Saban said they’ve got to finish the season in 2015.

Herbstreit praised the improvements Alabama has made since last season in light of the struggle to finish.

“Offensively, they go tempo with [offensive coordinator] Lane Kiffin,” Herbstreit said. “From where this offense started against Wisconsin to where they are now, the offense has been amazing, to watch it grow and they build it around Derrick Henry, and they’ve done a good job with Coker.”

Pollack feels it’s the Tide defense that will make the biggest difference today, and Herbstreit felt the same.

“I think David’s right with their defense. You know, they made changes in the off season for these kind of games. They did move their corners to safety, they got faster in the second level with linebackers, and the defensive line because of depth, they stay fresh,” Herbstreit said.

“So you get them out in space in the past, they had some challenges. Now you get them out in space, and they pride themselves now on being able to make those plays. I think the only chance Auburn has in this game is being at home in an underdog role.”

“Their defense with Will Muschamp — they looked like a high school team trying to stop Leonard Fournette earlier this year, and now they get Derrick Henry. They’ve got to put everybody in to stop Derrick Henry,” Herbstreit said.

“If you can get Coker into obvious passing situations, he’ll still throw into coverage. So if you Derrick Henry, you’ve got a chance to give your own offense a short field.”

The conversation then shifted to rumors of LSU head coach Les Miles being fired after the disappointing 2015 season.

“I think this is the most asinine thing I ever heard of in my entire life,” Herbstreit said. “The fact that if Les Miles wants to maybe go away on his own and retire, he’s 62 years old, that would be one thing.”

“The No. 1 ranked recruiting class in the country this morning is LSU, and I know there are going to be people out there that say talent isn’t an issue. Look in the NFL, there’s LSU players everywhere. They’re still not winning to the level that they should. And I get that,” Herbstreit said.

“But I’d rather err on the side of, ‘Let’s give Les Miles the chance to adjust his staff and keep bringing in the freaks’ than starting all over with another coach.”

Pollack disagreed, reminding the team that LSU has been on a steady downhill slide, but Herbstreit didn’t miss the opportunity to respond.

“You’re saying it’s trending in the wrong direction, yet they’re the No. 1 ranked recruiting class in the country,” Herbstreit shot back. “Why not go out and find an offensive coordinator like (Sooners) Lincoln Riley who can help you go tempo and spread, and again, bring you into 2015. Why not do that instead of getting rid of him?”

Lee Corso and Herbstreit both think the controversy surrounding Les Miles will inspire and motivate the Tigers to get the win today against the Aggies.

There is still a question of who would come in to lead LSU if Miles is out. One thing is for sure though, according to Herbstreit: “If you’re willing to part with Les Miles, you better have a plan already in place.”

LSU isn’t the only team needing a big boost today. The struggling offense of the No. 12 Gators is facing off against the No. 13 Seminoles today.

Corso thinks that Florida could slip quietly into the playoffs with wins over Florida State and Alabama, but Herbstreit said not so fast, even though he had some praise for the Gators.

“The resume would look good, but can you really look at Florida as a complete team and say that they deserve to be a Top 4 team? I can’t,” Herbstreit said. “I think their defense is great. I think what [McElwain] has done this year with the offense that’s been handed to him. It’s been amazing. He should be the national coach of the year, right up there in that discussion, but I can’t say that they’re on the Top 4 teams.”

The Egg Bowl got some attention, too.

“This is one of the more underrated rivalries in rivalry week. Everybody gets caught up in some of the more high profile ones. This is chippy and can get nasty, and I think there’s always pride on the line in that state,” Herbstreit said. “Dak Prescott will find a way.”

Many think South Carolina will lose in an ugly way today, but it’s not in the bag yet. Herbstreit knows No 1 Clemson will still need to be focused and control its emotions to beat the Gamecocks.

And South Carolina isn’t the only SEC East team struggling.

“Georgia just feels like they’ve had a down year,” Herbstreit said. “Jeremy Pruitt—we’ve talked on air about some of the soap operas that have been going on within that staff. And Jeremy Pruitt still puts a good defense out week in and week out. As you know, playing option football, they’ve got to be able to play with some discipline today against the Yellow Jackets.”

Herbstreit’s Week 13 SEC picks

  • No. 2 Alabama over Auburn (but Alabama may not cover the spread; ALA -14.5)
  • No. 12 Florida over No. 13 Florida State (upset alert; FSU -2)
  • Georgia Tech over Georgia (upset alert; UGA -4.5)
  • Kentucky over Louisville (upset alert; LOU -6)
  • LSU over Texas A&M (LSU -5.5)
  • No. 23 Mississippi State over No. 19 Ole Miss (upset alert; MISS -1)
  • No. 1 Clemson over South Carolina (CLEM -18.5)

Vanderbilt at Tennessee (TENN -18) was not picked by the GameDay crew.