We’re down to the final week of the regular season, which means there’s a certain showdown in Tuscaloosa looming on Friday that will draw some considerable interest.
Before we go there, let’s take a look at what we learned in the SEC in Week 12:
1. Eye of the Tiger: With the game hanging in the balance, few teams in college football have been better this season than LSU. The Tigers love close games. They love living on the edge, and they love finding a way to pull it out at the end. It’s almost become an art form for Les Miles and his Tigers. They’re 5-0 in games decided by six points or fewer this season as they rallied to beat Ole Miss 43-36 on Saturday thanks to a Stevan Ridley 7-yard touchdown run with 44 seconds remaining. Fittingly, Patrick Peterson sealed it with a leaping interception near the goal line of a last-second Jeremiah Masoli heave in what was almost certainly Peterson’s final game in Tiger Stadium.
2. Road Warriors: Arkansas could have faded into oblivion this season following that heartbreaking home loss to Alabama in September. Getting shredded in the fourth quarter by Auburn last month was equally disappointing. But the Hogs have kept up the fight, and here they are riding a five-game winning streak with a chance to win 10 games in the regular season if they can knock off LSU Saturday in Little Rock. They survived 38-31 in double overtime against Mississippi State and did so in a raucous environment at Scott Field. The Hogs are now 4-1 away from home this season, and two of their victories have come over nationally ranked teams. That Texas A&M win in Arlington, Texas, is also looking better and better.
3. Logjam for No. 2: To this point, Auburn has established itself as the best team in this league. But who’s No. 2? This coming week should provide more answers with a handful of teams jockeying for position. LSU has a chance to finish 11-1 and has already beaten four nationally ranked teams. Arkansas has won five straight games, and two of those have been on the road against nationally ranked teams. The Tigers and Hogs meet on Saturday in Little Rock, so we get some answers there. South Carolina is certainly playing some of its best football. If the Gamecocks can win at Clemson this coming Saturday and then upset Auburn in the SEC championship game, they would get the conference’s automatic berth in the BCS and play in the Sugar Bowl. Don’t forget about Alabama, either. If the Crimson Tide can take down Auburn at home on Friday, they would stake their claim as one of the premier teams in this league. In short, the SEC has been as strong and as balanced as ever at the top this season.
4. Finishing the job: Maybe this really is a different South Carolina team like the Head Ball Coach promised back in the preseason. The old South Carolina would have stumbled and bumbled its way past Troy. But not these Gamecocks. They’re intent on finishing this season out the right way, which was obvious by the way they took apart Troy in a 69-24 blowout on Saturday. They also know that finishing it out the right way entails winning next week at Clemson. It always means something to beat Clemson in the realm of South Carolina football. And to do it twice in a row? That hasn’t happened in 40 years when the Gamecocks won three in a row from 1968-70. Already with eight wins, South Carolina could become only the third team in school history to win nine or more by taking care of its business at Clemson.
5. Dose of stupidity: Some of the senseless penalties we’ve seen around the league came to a head Saturday. You had Markeith Summers’ unnecessary dive into the end zone that cost his Ole Miss team dearly on the ensuing kickoff, allowing LSU to start near midfield on its game-winning drive. Florida receiver Carl Moore, playing his final game at the Swamp, managed to get kicked out of the game for fighting on Senior Day, and Arkansas linebacker Anthony Leon was also ejected for throwing a punch against Mississippi State, which means he will have to miss the first half of the LSU game next week. That’s at least four SEC players ejected for fighting or throwing punches in the past two weeks. Come on: There's dumb and then there's just plain ... well, you get the idea.