SEC East: Not-so-great teams, perhaps, but great drama in Week 11
The SEC West has easily been the best division in 2016.
It’s 9-1 against the East. Alabama is undefeated and the nation’s No. 1 team; Texas A&M was one of the hottest programs for much of the season; Auburn is still a possible Playoff contender; LSU righted the ship after a rocky start, and both Ole Miss and Arkansas have had some thrilling moments of their own.
In Week 11, however, it’s the SEC East that demands attention. With a possible six-way tie still in the mix, there is late-season divisional drama that the West won’t potentially match for another two weeks.
The reality is, Florida clinches a trip to Atlanta if the Gators beat South Carolina and Kentucky takes care of Tennessee on Saturday.
Any other combination continues the chaos.
That’s not to mention Georgia, which is looking to end Auburn’s Playoff hopes between the hedges in The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.
Let’s break down the stakes for each game.
South Carolina (5-4, 3-4 SEC) at Florida (6-2, 4-2): 12 p.m. ET on CBS
What’s at stake: After a 2-4 overall start, South Carolina still has life in the division race. To keep those hopes alive, however, everything must fall right for the rest of the season.
Starting Saturday, when the Gamecocks must beat a Florida team that views this game as a virtual must-win before a trip to LSU.
A South Carolina win would knock Florida from atop the division race and give control to Tennessee (as long as Tennessee keeps winning). As mentioned, if the Gators win and the Vols lose to Kentucky, however, Florida returns to Atlanta for the second consecutive season on the basis of its victory over Kentucky.
This looks to be a defensive struggle between two of the SEC’s better groups, but freshman quarterback Jake Bentley has South Carolina’s offense rolling right now and will face his greatest challenge to date.
Kentucky (5-4, 4-3) at Tennessee (6-3, 2-3): 12:00 p.m. ET on SECN
What’s at stake: Similar to the Florida-South Carolina game, this is a critical matchup for both teams’ division hopes. Kentucky must win and hope for a Florida loss to keep any Atlanta dreams alive but will have to win in Knoxville for the first time since 1984 to do so.
After a disappointing season, Tennessee is still in a position to win the division if it can take care of business in its next three games. The Vols will need Florida to drop another SEC game, but both South Carolina and LSU are capable of beating the Gators. Even at home, Tennessee can’t afford to look past Kentucky and its potent run game.
Given the injuries to Tennessee’s defense, Kentucky might be able to run the ball effectively. The game could be decided on a big offensive drive or defensive stand.
No. 9 Auburn (7-2, 5-1) at Georgia (5-4, 3-4): 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS
What’s at stake: By winning its next two games, Auburn sets up another pivotal clash against Alabama in the Iron Bowl to decide the SEC West and potentially a Playoff spot. None of that is possible, however, if the Tigers can’t win between the hedges for the first time since 2005. To make matters worse, Georgia coach Kirby Smart has plenty of experience with Gus Malzahn’s offensive schemes.
Georgia can impact who wins the East but its division hopes are nonexistent; this year was all about growth from the beginning. Smart hasn’t had the most successful start to his head coaching career, but he has an opportunity to earn his first signature victory against a rival. The Bulldogs are starting to see improvement from their young players and will be ready to go Saturday.
Auburn has several key injuries coming into this game, which is by no means an easy one for the Tigers. Everything could depend on the type of performance Georgia’s offense puts together, but the last time a rival came to Athens it turned into one of the best games of the year.