Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Are we really entering the final weekend of the regular season? This season has flown by. And even though the SEC Championship Game has been set for a while now, this is still a compelling week. It's Rivalry Week in the SEC, headlined by the Iron Bowl. Everybody knows that strange things tend to happen these last few weeks, so sit back and enjoy. Here's a checklist of what to watch in the SEC in Week 14:
1. Bleeding crimson: Alabama's senior class consists of just nine players. Don't let that fool you. This is one of the strongest senior classes the Crimson Tide have had in some time and a big reason they head into Saturday's Iron Bowl matchup with Auburn unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the country. The senior leadership on this team is rock-solid, and that goes back to the offseason when they made sure everybody was on the same page. From quarterback John Parker Wilson, to center Antoine Caldwell, to safety Rashad Johnson, to tight ends Travis McCall and Nick Walker, the seniors have set the tone for what's been one of the more memorable seasons at Alabama in the last two decades.
2. Taking charge: Everybody knows how effective Alabama has been this season at jumping on teams early. The Crimson Tide have led after the first quarter in 10 of their 11 games and have outscored teams 120-20 in the first quarter. They run into an Auburn team, though, that has also been tough to dent defensively in the first quarter. The Tigers haven't allowed a first-quarter touchdown all season and have outscored opponents 63-13 in the first quarter. But get this: Auburn has been especially stingy against Alabama over the years in the first quarter. The last time the Tide scored a first-quarter touchdown against the Tigers was 1996.
3. Trouble in Tallahassee? If you're looking for a reason to believe that Florida State could upset Florida, history says the Gators don't fare very well in this game the week before playing in the SEC Championship Game. Florida is just 2-5-1 against Florida State in those years that the Gators have gone on to play in the SEC Championship Game. The only win in Tallahassee came during the 2006 national championship season when the Gators broke a 14-14 tie with a fourth-quarter touchdown to win 21-14. During the 1996 national championship season, Florida lost 24-21 to Florida State in Tallahassee before getting a second shot at the Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl and rolling to a 52-20 rout.
4. Turning pro: This could be the final regular-season games for several talented underclassmen in the league. Among those most likely to come out early are Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno, Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith, Florida running back/receiver Percy Harvin, Vanderbilt cornerback D.J. Moore, Auburn defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, Auburn defensive end Antonio Coleman, South Carolina safety Emanuel Cook, South Carolina tight end Jared Cook, Ole Miss defensive end Greg Hardy, LSU offensive tackle Ciron Black and LSU defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois.
5. Fulmer's farewell: After 30-plus years at his alma mater as a player, assistant coach and head coach, Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer coaches his final game for the Vols on Saturday against Kentucky. It's a shame that Fulmer didn't get to go out on his terms. Then again, how many coaches do anymore? His legacy will endure at Tennessee, and while the last five or six years haven't been the best, he took Tennessee football to dizzying heights in the 1990s that ultimately contributed to his ouster. When you go 45-5 over a four-year span and win two SEC championships and one national championship, nothing you do is ever going to be good enough again.
6. Tuberville's fate: There won't be a postseason for Auburn unless the Tigers upset No. 1-ranked Alabama on Saturday. That means we should know pretty soon whether Tommy Tuberville is going to be back at Auburn next season. Who could blame Tuberville if he took a walk? They tried to get him in 2003, and something tells me he'd already be gone if he didn't have that $6 million buyout hanging over his head. Assuming Tuberville is back next season, he's almost certainly going to have to make some changes on his staff with some guys who've been with him for a long time. We'll see if Tuberville is willing to do that.
7. Cobb's return: You think Randall Cobb wants to win this game? He's going to say all the right things and is mature beyond his years for a true freshman. But he'd like nothing more than to waltz into Neyland Stadium and be a big part of ending Kentucky's 23-game losing streak to Tennessee. Cobb grew up about 10 minutes from Tennessee's campus in nearby Alcoa, Tenn., and used to sell concessions at Neyland Stadium as a kid. The Vols sort of thumbed their noses upward at Cobb until late in the recruiting process. By that time, he'd already committed to Kentucky and wasn't about to renege on his pledge to the Wildcats.
8. Any more fake punts? Houston Nutt and the Rebels are 2-for-2 this year with fake punts in their two biggest wins. They ran one for 15 yards to keep a scoring drive alive in the 31-30 win at Florida when Lionel Breaux scooted around the corner on a reverse. That play set up the fake punt last week against LSU. Jason Cook, the upback on the play, took the snap and faked a handoff to Breaux. Cook then threw a 33-yard pass to a wide-open Kendrick Lewis, who ran to the LSU 5. The Rebels scored to go ahead 14-3 and never looked back in winning 31-13.
9. D.J. Time: With Arkansas headed for a losing season and not going anywhere for the postseason, one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the country has sort of flown under the radar. So if you haven't seen sophomore D.J. Williams play, do yourself a favor and watch him Friday against LSU. He leads the team with 53 catches for 672 yards and ranks sixth in the nation among tight ends in catches per game (4.82) and receiving yards per game (61.1). He's caught at least four passes in nine of 11 games this season, knows how to get open and is a treat to watch after the catch.
10. Defending their pride: South Carolina's defense has had two weeks to fume and stew over the 56 points Florida put up against the Gamecocks on Nov. 15 in the Swamp. But before anybody suggests that Ellis Johnson's bunch got a dose of a reality after going into that game ranked third nationally in total defense, they might want to consider that Florida's first 21 points came courtesy of offensive or special teams blunders by the Gamecocks. This is easily the best defense Steve Spurrier has had at South Carolina, and the Gamecocks get another chance to prove that Saturday at Clemson.